Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Nigeria, France, Cuba, Life in these United States with President Trump, Quality vs. Length of Life, Honduras, Dreams

After complaining about the cold since their arrival in late March (45-55 F), now when we had a couple of humid days in the ‘80’s, my Nigerian visitors began complaining about the heat. They each have window A/C in their rooms and can turn it on any time, also fans. I’ve told them this has been nothing compared to the heat and humidity in June and July.

As I said to my Nigerian visitors: Congratulations to Nigeria on the release of some of the Chibok girls. However, the girls have apparently not been returned to their families—at least not yet—but have been put on display as a group by the government to tout its success in recovering them. My visitors have reminded me that the capital of Nigeria, where they work, is Abuja, not Lagos, as many Americans seem to think.

Glad Macron won election in France, breaking the retrogressive streak started by Brexit, continued full bore by Trump.

I have a new article on-line: https://democraciaparticipativa.net/forum/iberoamerica-y-espana-latin-america-spain/9328-for-sirley-avila-a-bridge-too-far.html#9886
I usually also try to post on Huffington Post, but now they’ve changed the name to HuffPost and have a new system that I haven’t been able to figure out yet.

According to Spanish-language news service Cubalex, our Cuba panelist at Amnesty Int’l USA’s 2016 annual conference in Miami, attorney Laritza Diversent, is throwing in the towel and has been granted asylum in the US along with 13 other members of her legal office. Their harassment, no doubt, was exacerbated by her appearance on our forum.
Todos abandonarán la isla por estar “en situación de riesgo”
Jueves, mayo 4, 2017 | Agencias

Juan Gonzalez, one of the 26 Cuban political prisoners released with Jesse Jackson, as per my Confessions book, has just died. After more than 20 years in prison and with indefinite sentences, they were all released overnight back in 1984, thanks to the intervention of our local Amnesty International group, 211, and, of course, Jackson. Juan had spent his first nights in freedom at my house. At least, they all enjoyed some post-prison years, though Juan had been paralyzed and bedridden after a stroke, so his death had been expected for some time.

In a reversal of Cuban government policy of sending doctors abroad (to earn money for the Cuban government)—now volunteer American surgeons are going to Cuba to perform knee and hip replacements.  Of course, I am very familiar with such medical and surgical brigades to Honduras and have participated as a helper and interpreter in many. I do think such exchanges are helpful not only to the patients but in terms of intercountry relations, whatever country is involved.

May 4, 2017 Russia resumes sending oil to Cuba News expected to raise eyebrows in Washington, D.C.
By Thomson Reuters, Russia has begun shipping large quantities of oil to Cuba for the first time this century, sources said, as supplies to the island from crisis-wracked Venezuela have dwindled.

Russia has also agreed to foot the repair bill for Havana’s crumbling capitol building, its design inspired by our own capitol.

I did take time out the other evening with a friend to attend a new Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, performed in Spanish, at the Gala theater in DC. Called In the Heights, it follows events day and night in NYC’s Washington Heights’ neighborhood, using a very authentic-looking stage set. Miranda, who appeared as the lead in his creation Hamilton, alas was not at our performance. A very lively bilingual cast made up for it, including singing and dancing with flags, showcasing the rivalry between Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. I was glad to see a senior citizen in a lead role.

I agree with Neil Buchanan that Hillary Clinton has been criticized well beyond what she deserves.  I have thought that ever since I first met her as First Lady years ago. She is not charismatic—no dis agreement there-- but is that the most important attribute of a president? Apparently so—Trump seems to have it, at least according to his supporters. I thought both the emphasis on Clinton’s e-mail server and Benghazi were overblown and I have said as much previously on this blog. I was surprised at a recent conference when a woman from Germany told me Hillary Clinton had been a weak candidate. Why did she think that? Because “everyone” knew it. I think Hillary got a bad rap. And I’m glad she’s going to try to get Democrats more involved now in challenging Republicans at all levels.

One advantage of not having a single payer health system, like we don’t have now, is that our country is less vulnerable to the sort of cyberattacks that have hit other nations.

Can I avoid mentioning Donald Trump? Living here on Capitol Hill, in the belly of the beast, it’s hard to avoid even thinking about him. He does seem to have a way of grabbing attention.  Now he has declared himself inventor of the phrase “prime the pump,” as if that didn’t come out of the experience of getting a water pump going long before he or any of us were born.

Whatever Trump’s true motivations in firing Comey, at the very least, it looks suspiciously like a cover-up. He seems hell bent on squelching any further investigation into his Russia ties and is pulling out all the stops in self-defense. OK, Republicans, time to step up to the plate and, even though you may have no feeling of responsibility to the nation as a whole, for the sake of your party and of your own political survival, it’s time to jettison your support of Trump although he has hypocritically adopted the Republican label. Is he loyal to you and your party? Does he care if you get re-elected?

Robert Reich sent out this message, which seems to hit the nail on the head:
I've got a bridge to sell to anyone who believes Donald Trump's claim that he fired FBI Director James Comey because Comey wasn't fair to Hillary Clinton.
Trump fired Comey because the FBI was getting closer—by the day—to the truth about Trump's ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign.
Just days before he was fired, Comey had asked for more resources for the investigation. And prosecutors had just issued grand jury subpoenas for associates of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Trump is not just a liar (although that's well established). He may also be a traitor. And for the sake of our democracy, we need to know the full truth.
Republicans have, to put it politely, not led the way in doing what's necessary to protect our democracy.
When Trump walked off in an apparent huff when questioned about his accusation that Obama had “tapped my wires,” you certainly have to wonder again about his mental health—also his mental acuity. In anyone else, his confusion, lack of comprehension, and garbled vocabulary all would be signs of dementia and/or mental illness. (Apparently his father had dementia.) Of course, for his base, it doesn’t seem to matter what he says, does, or actually achieves—they are simply in love with the guy and so whatever he says or does is fine by them. And Trump is in love with himself too and apparently feeling no pain or self-doubt. Either Trump is crazy and/or demented, or he is crazy like a fox (less likely as the days go by), trying to throw off everyone else—all of whom he sees as adversaries. That may be what he has been doing his whole life and either he doesn’t care for any real connection or communication with others or he is leading a very lonely existence. Say what you will about Hillary, she is not crazy. I think that Jared and Ivanka may have inserted themselves into the White House partly to do damage control.

Some Trump supporters have been thrilled at be given apparent license to express their basest feelings, throw temper tantrums, hurt or bully others, lie, and amass unneeded wealth, beginning with the example set by president himself and others among his appointees who already have more money than they can actually spend. I do think a president and other public officials should lead by example. Trump’s supporters say he “won,” so that gives them license. He won only because of a quirk in our laws that allowed a minority vote getter to triumph. Many of his supporters are saying “it’s our turn,” after having long felt disenfranchised by so-called “liberal elites.” It’s understandable that those who feel they are in the minority would resent being ruled by a majority, but is it better that the minority now rules over the majority and is exacting its revenge? From what’s been happening at town halls, it does seems that the fickle electorate and even some Trump sycophants are now turning against him and his Republican sheep, so populism can also go the other way. If the Republican Party cannot stand up to Trump, then they have to be defeated at the ballot box, but that means a two-year delay while still more damage can be done. Now Trump’s possible sexual exploits in Moscow seem trivial compared to more serious Russia charges, the former only important in terms of their blackmail potential. While decrying the emphasis on his collusion with Moscow, Trump apparently ends up sharing classified information with the Russians.

As usual, many Republican spokespersons, both in Congress and in the right-leaning media, have bemoaned the leaks flowing out like from a sieve rather than on the actual contents of the leaks. Does it occur to them that the leaks are the result of genuine concern by public servants about the unprecedented carelessness of our current president. (I bet Melania is sick and tired of her marriage and is only sticking with it now because of her son and maybe because she fears retribution from her husband if she should complain at this juncture. If Trump is forced to leave office soon, maybe she doesn’t have to move from NYC after all.)

It is not so surprising that Mr. Trump invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House. Birds of a feather.

In the May 1 issue, New Yorker editor David Remnick has written a long, thoughtful, and scathing piece about Donald Trump and his first 100 days as president, his history of trickery and dishonesty to get where he is, his excessive self-inflation and lying, but what to do about him is the problem. It’s hard to keep saying and hoping that the government will settle down to business as usual, because obviously as long as Trump is in office, that won’t happen. The man appears to be incapable of learning on the job or learning anything. He’s not funny anymore.

Conservative pundit George Will has also written a blistering article questioning Donald Trump’s state of mind which, I hope, will cause some Republicans to take notice and take action. As Americans, we are pretty much at the mercy of the Republican establishment and of the Republican Party, now holding all the reins of power. It has an obligation to protect us that goes above party loyalty to Trump. After all, Trump evidently feels no particular loyalty toward the Republican Party.

George F. Will: A president who does not know what it is to know

Trump is already warning that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom he derisively calls “Pocahontas,” may run for president in 2020. Well, I hope she will, especially if Trump is her challenger and, this time, we will swamp him so completely in the right states (having learned that bitter lesson from 2016) that his only defense will be to blame “fake media,” “illegal voters,” and “voter fraud,” or maybe even “Obama,” all favorite scapegoats, and to exit the presidential stage saying he was absolutely the very best, most fabulous, greatest ever American president, bar none, that our nation has ever known. He can then still travel around the country giving speeches to his few remaining adoring supporters to stoke his ego. (Warren, no doubt, will sew up the Native American vote, thanks to Trump’s derisiveness toward that small, but, iconic constituency.)

Republicans in general and Trump in particular seem to be appealing to voters’ most vengeful and just plain mean instincts, countenancing the bullying of others by name-calling and punishing them with new laws, whether tax, gun, or so-called religious freedom laws. Muslims, Hispanics, gays, women, poor people, the mentally ill, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and others are all fair game. And voters are being deliberately misled. In Kentucky, the expansion of Obamacare or the ACA was sold to voters as a program called “Connect,” to deliberately disassociate it from the actual program of which it is a part. A majority of that state’s voters went for Trump and probably have no idea that their “Connect Care” is in any way threatened by the Republican health care plan.

Of course, there must be some limits on what health care, whether or not publicly supported, can provide. Potential costs are almost unlimited—limited only by current knowledge and resources. We have already extended life perhaps beyond optimal limits for many people. Very wealthy people are now able to invest in cryonics, efforts to freeze their bodies after death and potentially revive them. Also, there is a move afoot to do a “head transplant,” really, as I understand it, a body transplant onto someone’s head and brain. These might be seen as efforts to extend life indefinitely and defer death, but death—I would argue—will always come sooner or later. Over many years, accidents will inevitably happen to an individual and, at the very least, when earth implodes at the end of eons, human beings, if any are still left, will go with it. The whole effort to keep extending life and deferring death, while understandable, has been taken to extremes by some fanatical death avoiders. What about trying to live the life you now have as well as possible? What about extending quality of life for all people, rather than focusing on life extension for a few? And maintaining quality of life may require some limits on how many lives Mother Earth can accommodate at any one time. Life extension means fewer people living longer rather than more people living shorter, but perhaps more fulfilling and productive lives. Already, with so many dependent elderly people who are disabled and mentally challenged having their lives extended in group care facilities, fewer resources are available for younger people who must sustain them. At the same time, cutting back on current levels of care and support will be felt as a deprivation, so it may be best to proceed slowly in adding new benefits.

While Trump’s ascendency to the US presidency might be reversible, at least so far, Republicans have mostly been clinging to him—not breaking faith, trying to make excuses for him, defending his obvious gaffes. With the Republican Party holding so many political cards, it may be hard to overcome their unified hold—and by extension—that of Donald Trump. But we must be aware and beware, learning from the example of other nations where a leader who seems to have been elected democratically slowly erodes democratic institutions to seize more lasting power. There are many examples: Russia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Turkey, just to name a few, and perhaps our country is not exempt. So, we have to keep on pushing, even as the other side has so many advantages of money and influence. And while I don’t think at age 79, I am the right person to enter the political arena right now, younger folks do need to step up and not lose heart of they are defeated on the first round. (I might actually do as well as many of them, but ageism would defeat me.) They need to make their plans and ideas known to voters and constituents. And I put my hope in the usual oscillation between political extremes and the backlash that the current Trump administration might be promoting.

Here was a woman’s reply to Congressman Rod Blum (R-Iowa) (perhaps referring to himself?)  asking why a 62-year-old man has to support maternity care in the health care system. By any chance, do women just spontaneously become pregnant and cannot a 62-year-old man still impregnate a woman? It takes two to tango.

Meanwhile it is no surprise to me to read that Honduran violence especially targets women. We who are familiar with that country already know that. When I was in the Peace Corps there, Honduran women who had been raped and impregnated by their rapists would never dare report the rape to the police. Instead, they just went ahead and bore the child. Do I have fear every time I go to Honduras? Yes, and I do take precautions, but you cannot take every precaution. Even wealthy families with servants and security guards have their members kidnapped and killed.  I just accept the risk as part of the territory. But, at some point, I have promised my kids that I will stop going—though not yet.

In my writings, in speeches, and on this forum, I have said before that as an adoptive as well as a birth parent, I am not 100% pro-choice on abortion and that I attended the January women’s march because of other issues.  Most of the American public wants some limits, despite Roe vs. Wade—or perhaps because of it. A morning-after pill, no argument there—maybe even no limits on abortion within the first trimester. After that, the question and opinions get more nuanced and less dogmatic, in fact, most Americans do favor some limits after three months. Hispanic voters especially, by and large, are anti-abortion. Being pro-life is pretty well embedded in Hispanic culture, which is one reason that the Democratic Party and candidates need to open the party’s tent to pro-life Democrats. (Even Hillary has said they should be welcome.) http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-robert-pro-life-democrats-abortion-20170501-story.html

Lately, in my dreams—at least those I can remember—my late ex-husband Tom and I are together once again, interacting quite amicably. It surprises me that we get along so well and naturally in my dreams (wishful thinking?) when that wasn’t the case near the end of and after our 24-year marriage in 1980, when he left the family, married someone else, became a father again, and died in 1999. In my dreams, as in real life, he is blind but unusually friendly toward me. Nothing there about how I had to struggle to try to get adequate child support, nothing about his refusal to even speak to me for so many years. Very interesting how the unconscious may play into our desires, even though Tom and I broke up 37 years ago and he died in 1999. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Trump’s First 100 Days, Czech-Cuban Human Rights Partnership, FMG, Transgenderism

Six days before marking his first 100 days in office, President Trump had the lowest approval rating of any president in the more than 70 years since such polls have been taken, this, according to a pair of polls published Sunday. However, true to his past reaction to bad news both in his business and personal life, he has been tweeting about how great he is and how successful—showing, he says, the most achievements of any president ever! So far, apparently, his hard-core base has been willing to still believe in him, but will they continue to be satisfied with nothing but hot air and self-promotion? About the only victory he can really point to is the appointment of a Supreme Court justice, that accomplished by the questionable shenanigans of the Senate, refusing to give a hearing to President Obama’s nominee. I guess Trump cannot control his urge to brag about himself. Trump's popularity in polls has never risen, though apparently his smallish hard-core base remains stubbornly loyal. 
As Donald Trump completes his first 100 days in office, he has, of course, characterized them as the most successful ever in the history of the American presidency. By any other measure, they have been one of the least successful, but who cares if you are citing “alternative facts?” And when news media and think tanks contradict Trump, he just attacks them as “fake news.” All his life, he has been winging it, tricking others, and boasting about himself, so why stop now? Vicariously, his base identifies with him and loves his boldness in saying whatever he wants, whether true or not. But can the country and the world survive a Trump presidency?
I’ve tried to imagine Donald Trump when he was a roly-poly baby or a silly blond elementary school kid. He was probably a fairly likeable human being back then—when did he start morphing into the obnoxious braggart and bully that he has since become? Are his parents somehow to blame? When did he become tone-deaf to how other people think and feel? How could the warped development of someone like him be prevented? Now that he is 70 years old and showing no signs so far of learning from the experience of actually being president, it may be too late for him to change. Very sad for him, for his family including his wife and young son, for our country, and for the world although perhaps Trump himself, who seems to live exclusively in a virtual world inside his own imagination, feels no sadness at all, though he says being president is harder than he had expected. I will grant Mr. Trump one achievement since he has assumed the presidency: his anti-immigration stance has had a psychological effect in reducing the numbers of people trying to illegally cross our southern border. He doesn’t even need that wall! And it’s better that he leaves details to others. Also, while chaos may put his political adversaries (and friends) off guard and give a strategic advantage as an opening gambit, some coherence needs to develop over time. Obama may have been too predictable—mostly you knew where he stood and he seemed to have a plan laid out.  Trump likes to upset the applecart with weird out-of-the blue tweets. I suppose his followers like it that he can upset the political establishment and world markets with just a simple tweet, sometimes containing bad grammar and misspellings.
               Trump may be the law-and-order candidate but when it comes to skirting the law himself, he doesn’t hesitate (though this was taken down after protests, slowing that protests sometimes work):
When Trump gave a speech at the NRA, I would bet that the audience was not allowed to carry guns. Why not, if guns are so protective and, of course, a patriotic constitutional right under the Second Amendment? Concealed carry, open-carry, who cares, as long as you have your firearm always at the ready, even on a college campus or in church or at your bedside at night?
Say what you will about Donald Trump and the Republican Party, the Democrats have been MIA. They seem to have been confused and devastated and unsure about what to do next. Of course, we all have to roll up our sleeves and not just lament, but get to work at the grassroots level. I agree with West in the following article:

The Democrats delivered one thing in the past 100 days: disappointment
Cornel Westwhttps://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-delivered-one-thing-100-days-disappointmenthttps://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-delivered-one-thing-100-days-disappointmentww.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-deliThe Democrats delivered one thing in the past 100 days: disappointment | Cornel West | Opinion | The Guardian

Bernie is not the answer any more, neither is Hillary, but then who is? Any volunteers? We Democrats need new faces, fresh blood, something to light a fire under us. A dark horse! I don't think we’ve gotten over being stunned by Hillary's loss, even though many folks weren't crazy about her, and not yet over the shock of Trump's unimaginable ascendancy to the presidency--I still cannot bring myself to actually say he won, because of his big loss of the popular vote. As I've mentioned, I was in Chappaqua for a book talk the day after the election where the whole town was in mourning. I've been pretty depressed myself about the election ever since and Trump's performance hasn't improved my mood. He's as crazy, dishonest, and unreliable as we had feared. But we Democrats have to start climbing out of the slough of despond and get to work! And do more than just sign petitions and march, because this administration and this Congress don't care about any of that, they just care about their own voters and campaign donations. Unfortunately, we here in DC are handicapped by being dis-enfranchised. I’ve been waiting, looking for a silver lining with Trump, but haven’t found it yet.

While reducing upper income tax brackets may promote some job creation through rich peoples’ investments and purchases, giving tax breaks and income support to lower income levels can also increase jobs by producing customers for basic products they would be unable to afford otherwise like food, housing, transportation, and child care. My vote instead would be for lower level tax benefits—even subsidies—to promote more overall economic activity.
As with Trump supporters here--or Brexit, or Le Pen supporters in France—Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban is playing on people's suspicions and fears of outsiders. But nothing stands still. The political pendulum does seem to swing back and forth--let's hope it's gone as far as it can in this protectionist xenophobic direction and that a backlash will push it again more toward the center--though not too far in the other direction either, as that brings its own problems.  

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR,

NY Times, The Cost of Trump’s Retreat From Rights

[Scathing article about Trump administration’s human rights record.].html ays-disappointmenthttps://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-Had the opportunity to attend a talk and film showing by Dr. Marin Palous on Czech-Cuban human rights collaboration at European Union Delegation headquarters. The late Cuban democracy advocate Oswaldo Paya had a chance to meet Vaclav Havel in Prague and their meeting was filmed. (I also once met Paya in Cuba before his movement was underway, as recounted in my Confessions book.)

It turns out that FGM on some young girls is being practiced in the US, despite being illegal. It would be even more harmful for girls living here because it is not the cultural norm and so they won’t have cultural and social support which may to some extent mitigate the harm where it is widely practiced. Misery loves company. I do recall it was a routine practice in South Sudan when I was there, sometimes with fatal consequences, but not all tribes participated. At least one tribe whose members I met there had another rite of passage for children of both genders, still harmful, but much less so, namely extracting their 2 lower permanent front teeth. Why or what that signified, I am not sure, but they were able to manage by biting with side teeth. Scarring, ear piercing (I have that myself), and neck stretching are other practices, though some are dying out. In the US and the west, tattoos are in vogue.  The girls in my family all have them.

The most drastic sort of body change now apparently gaining popularity is transgenderism, but not just cross-dressing and passing for a person of the opposite sex, as happened at times past—especially among women passing as men to engage in work open only to men, such as joining the military or a ship’s crew.  Now, hormones and surgery are available to actually transform the physical body and probably even the emotions and intellect in the direction of the desired gender.  A hundred years ago, a man aspiring to become female could not actually grow breasts and a woman aspiring to become male could not grow a beard and deepen her voice. But the voice apparently doesn’t go in the opposite direction—the male voice remains  despite hormone treatment. Have you ever heard Caitlyn Jenner being interviewed? Sounds pretty much like Bruce.  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Easter, Milestones, Cuba, Trump on the Warpath and Just Being Trumpian, SOS to Sessions: Hawaii Is a State!

 Stephen from Nigeria, Easter Sunday, 2017, Cathedral Shrine, Catholic University, Washington, DC

                                 Redbud in our front yard finally blooming, April 2017

 ¿ ñ íóúá üé ¡
Easter, Milestones, Cuba, Trump on the Warpath and Just Being Trumpian, SOS to Sessions: Hawaii Is a State!

[Redbud flowers—spring has finally sprung--Easter]

Stephen, one of my 2 Nigerian GAO visitors, and I attended 10:30 am Easter Sunday Mass at the cathedral at Catholic University. We went by metro. It was a very warm day, lots of flowers and flowering trees, and crowds of people going into the cathedral. We entered first at the lower level and I showed him what is called the underground church. Then, we took an elevator up to the main or upper church. A woman with two little girls got on the elevator with us and, to my surprise, Stephen began speaking to them in an unfamiliar language and the woman answered him back. He told me later, though he had never seen her before, that he knew by intuition that she was from his native village and that they shared a language. He said as soon as he saw her, he had a feeling of kinship with her—he just knew she was from there! What are the odds of that happening by chance in an elevator in Washington, DC?

There was standing room only inside the upper cathedral with its valued ceiling and many alcoves and statues. I did find a seat on a bench in one of the side chapels, where I could still hear, but not see the main service. Stephen chose to stay standing up in front. DC’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl presided. I don’t know why, but those of us in our side cubicle never had the collection basket passed to us. The cathedral must have lost hundreds of dollars or more by neglecting us. The organ music and choir were magnificent, especially one or more sopranos who performed solos, their voices echoing off and traveling throughout that huge vaulted chamber.  Later, Stephen and I went back downstairs because he wanted to buy a rosary. The ones for sales, some made of precious stones, were too expensive. But at the information desk, we were each given a free plastic one and I gave mine to Stephen for his wife.

When we came back from the cathedral, we walked again past the Eastern Market outdoor vendors, then stopped for a while outside Java Café to hear a trio playing music, not for tips, just for fun. They had brought an upright piano, which a middle-aged man wearing shorts played with vigor, accompanied by two other men playing a trumpet and a trombone. Stephen filmed and recorded them with his Samsung phone. So Easter turned out to be a fun day.

My childhood friend Anna, living in another state, after being run over by a vehicle belonging to her assisted living facility some 2½ years ago, then spending 2 years in the hospital and losing a leg, finally got a pretty fair settlement in a jury trial. I’ve mentioned her here before. The other side kept stalling, probably hoping she would die first. She was someone who had visited me in the Peace Corps in Honduras. With grit and the help of medical experts, she survived. However, now new health problems have arisen. I fault (bad) luck, God, and, more especially, the facility that maimed her for stalling on compensation, so that she will probably have a reduced time left to enjoy her settlement. As Jimmy Carter said, life is unfair.  (We already knew that.)

Another long-time friend living in DC, Velma (“Vee”) whom I had known almost since moving here  in 1969, died at age 95 after a fall in her own home, where she was still living alone, but with help coming in. She had lived a good, productive life and is survived by children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She was not ill for long, so she might be said to have had a good death. We held a remembrance party at her home in her honor, something of which I think she would have approved, although she definitely did not want an actual funeral and having people standing around weeping.  As we get older and closer to death ourselves, we start having more friends and contemporaries becoming ill and dying, which is only to be expected, but most deaths come as a surprise and certainly as a loss. I remember that my mother, who died at age 92, kept going to more frequent funerals until, finally, it was her turn. My own most profound personal losses, obviously, have been of younger family members, those who left before their time, namely my son Andrew at age 27, my own life’s worst calamity, and my Cuban foster son Alex at age 31.

Speaking of the loss of young people, has MS 13 now brought its lethal ways to the United States? Its threats and now actual murders need to be nipped in the bud.  (I’m referring to the four young men murdered gang-style in New York State.) 

Cuba will open up to a U.N. human rights expert for first time in a decade https://www.yahoo.com/news/m/df3c4ad2-be08-3b36-8582-6892726756f7/cuba-will-open-up-to-a-u.n..html

We already knew about this at Amnesty Int’l, 588 Cubans allowed residency in Mexico, not their first choice, but still OK, they get to be in a Spanish-speaking country with more freedom and opportunities than in Cuba, (However, I understand that Cubans arriving at the southern border have been sent back to Cuba.)

Moving on to Africa, where I am less familiar, only having been to Morocco, Kenya, and South Sudan, the nation of Zimbabwe, though troubled, is not high on anyone’s radar screen. However, the Zimbabwe country specialist for Amnesty Int’l USA, a volunteer like I am for the Caribbean, spoke to our local Amnesty Group 211. She said presidential elections are scheduled for July 2018 and octogenarian Robert Mugabe is planning to run, if he survives until then, as he is now in fragile health. She said there are many other aspiring candidates, none very inspiring. Zimbabwe is in terrible financial trouble, with rampant inflation—and no longer using US dollars—and it is an authoritarian state despite nominal elections. But it is not in as bad shape in terms of violence as some other African countries, so gets little attention.  We sent notes of moral support to be given to women human rights advocates, but just signing our first names and not putting a return address. The idea was to let them know they are not forgotten.

We don’t know if Trump had a strategy mapped out for following up on his order to make an airstrike in Syria—probably not. But for once, it seemed to be an action that might be considered presidential in the traditional sense. It also has helped divert attention away from his Russia ties and Russian interference in his election. Some cynical Democrats think that was the main impetus behind his Syria action. While some Republican voters and lawmakers may have heralded Trump’s decisiveness on Syria, they should remember how the same Republicans hampered Obama’s ability to act on Syria and in many other spheres. Trump’s meeting with China’s president also has seemed presidential, so maybe he’s finally starting to get the hang of the office and starting to do more of what’s usually expected of a president after his rocky and disorganized start and his many lies and ridiculous statements and tweets. (But he may be losing some of the hard core who love those outrageous tweets.) Probably the successful placing of Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, whatever one thinks of Gorsuch, was also a big plus for Trump.  

The apparent downgrading of Bannon is also positive—and maybe we have young Jared to thank for that? However, Bannon may have too much dirt on Trump for him to get rid of him entirely—at least that’s the rumor (or maybe just another instance of fake news? These days, it’s hard to tell.) Now can Trump, who was so concerned about Syrian babies, wrap his flighty mind around the prospect of granting of refugee status to fleeing and already heavily vetted Syrians with babies that would be progress.  Meanwhile, he seems to be enjoying a bit too much the feeling of power coming from ordering military strikes, so there needs to be some curb or forethought there, preferably from a Congress that becomes more than a rubber stamp. Trump vs. Kim, 2 crazies facing off, a dangerous situation.
Perhaps someone on Kim’s team was executed for the recent failed nuclear display?

Nor should we feel secure with Trump’s finger on our nuclear trigger, though it has begun dawning on him that we need allies in Asia. Or, at least, it has dawned on Mike Pence. Trump has learned a few things on the job—i.e. health care is complicated, who knew?  But as a self-inflating 70-year-old man who has bluffed and bullied his way through life so far, we cannot expect Donald Trump to make a major transformation. After the election, I’d hoped against hope that he might begin to modify, since his positions have seemed pretty changeable. But, so far, he and his chosen acolytes have shown themselves to mostly be mean-spirited (trying to take away poor kids’ school lunches!), willing to wreak havoc, and lie outright. Also, his continued  braggadocio is unattractive in a leader or in anyone. He has gone out of his way to praise his own capacities (“I’m very smart”), tout the luxury of his DC hotel and, at the White House Easter egg roll, he loudly praised Melania’s role there, saying more or less, “Look what a good job she did!” regarding one of the few public events at which she has appeared (where was their son?). In bad taste and something that only highlights how few public appearances Melania has actually made. Can you imagine Barack Obama publicly praising Michelle for participating in an Easter egg roll? You have to feel sorry for a guy so clueless and socially awkward. No wonder he has to grab women, because he would seem so wildly unattractive to most women. But his base is still clinging to him and Republican lawmakers, whatever their private misgivings, are mostly hanging tight so far. If voters turn against them, then they might begin to see the light. The US now has become a bad example to the rest of the world, which often looks to us for moral guidance and leadership. Indeed, the retrograde elements of other nations now seem emboldened by the Trump phenomenon.

To some extent, though we must continue to fight against the odds, we just have to suck it up to some extent and keep on going, as with any of life’s major calamities and hurdles. When Trump is gone, then we can try to do major damage control and remediation. I’ve been depressed ever since election night. Trump has turned out to be just as terrible as I’d feared on that fateful night.

As someone who has been advocating on social media and in person that Trump release his tax returns, I wish I had known, as Trump loudly claims, that we are all being paid for making our demands. I’d like my cut!  Since Trump is such a shameless liar and Republicans are not daring to call him out, our tactic must be, even against unfair odds, to undermine his credibility with voters and topple some of the lawmakers who have been supporting him, even when they know better.

Rich old overweight white guys like Trump, O’Reilly, and Roger Ailes with negative sex appeal, all married, of course, apparently like to feel “macho” by bullying women into going to bed with them. At least, that’s my perspective. They are really physically repulsive as far as I can see and certainly falling back on threats and coercion would not enhance their attractiveness. Why do some men, especially, seem to identify with them? Because they vicariously enjoy their domination of women? I don’t get it, but maybe men do. That all three have gotten as far as they have before being taken down is a sad commentary. Trump is still left to go.

Hello Mr. Sessions, Hawaii is a state, just like the one you come from.

Kellyanne Conway, who apparently coined the term “alternative facts,” got a laugh here in DC at a recent speech at the Newseum (a news museum) when she complained about negative press and opined that “people literally say things that just aren't true.” Imagine that? She, Sean Spicer, and her big boss, Donald Trump, would find themselves getting a little more favorable press coverage if they actually were more truthful and more credible.  

Meanwhile, despite some fall-off in NYC, Ivanka's biz prospers as politics mixes with business https://apnews.com/d9e34f23a64947d99e4a7d757012c509

As for Arkansas’s spate of pending executions—whether or not all eight are actually carried out (as of this writing, one has actually gone forward)—they do seem to have brought some negative publicity to that state. Would you want to live in a state known for executing more inmates than ever before in a single month? Or maybe that’s just my perception as someone who would like to see the death penalty abolished. Not that those men are likely to be innocent, though that’s always a possibility judging by the success of the Innocence Project. Although rare, I don’t doubt that some innocent prisoners have been executed. No, that’s not my main objection; I just don’t think the death penalty is much of a deterrent (some murderers actually seem to crave martyrdom) or that the government should be in the business of executing people. I don’t like the idea of government—at whatever level—executing people in your and my name and with our tax dollars. That’s something done by Saudi Arabia, China, and North Korea, but our country should move away from such retribution. At the same time, I have little sympathy for the Norwegian mass murder who constantly complains about his cushy incarceration. According to polls, a slight majority of Americans still favor the death penalty for capital crimes, though that majority has been shrinking. The death penalty is especially favored by Republican voters.

Vehicles seem to be the new attack weapon of choice being used by terrorists against unsuspecting civilians. Cars, trucks, we do need them to transport people and goods, but how can civilians be better protected from being directly targeted by malevolent drivers? Having ridden in my brother’s self-driving Tesla, I can also envision a self-driving vehicle being programmed to ram into a crowd with no driver actually inside.

Finally, after an absence—I attended a recent meeting of Compassionate Friends, a support group for bereaved parents. For a while, I was leading a Spanish-speaking group at Providence Hospital, but a Colombian nun working with me there became very ill and we had to give up the effort. I cannot say that belonging to a parental support group takes away the grief, but it does make the parent who has lost a child feel less alone. It's hard enough to lose a child, but worse when others shun you or say stupid things like, "I know how you must feel because my son was very sick once and we feared we'd lose him, though he's just fine now." There's a big difference in the latter case--your son is still alive; mine is not. When I attend meetings now, it is mainly to help newly bereaved parents who are often in a state of shock.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Another Birthday, Nigerian Visitors, Peace Corps on Trump’s Chopping Block? Sen. Kaine’s Letter, Obamacare’s Half-Life, Cuba, Jamaica, South Sudan

                                              My birthday--I won't say which one.


Two visitors from Nigeria are staying with me temporarily while attending a GAO course here, perhaps their last chance to do so during the Trump administration. Although, back home, they do not cook, wash clothes, iron, or clean up, since both have wives and also servants, now they are gamely trying their best, with some messiness in the kitchen, but that’s improving. One man was going to put his woolen suit jacket into the washing machine, but I stopped him in time! He also burned a pot of rice, sending smoke throughout the house. I hope he won’t start that. I once had a young woman from Italy staying with me who regularly burned rice at least once a week. It’s kind of scary to have the house fill up with smoke.

While the future of the Peace Corps is threatened by the proposed slashing of the foreign aid budget, here is part of a letter Va. Senator Tim Kaine wrote to a former volunteer asking about the corps’ future. (The cost of supporting and protecting the Trump family seems to exceed the cost of the entire Peace Corps.)

I understand the value of serving abroad to help people in need.  When I was in law school, I decided to take a year off from my studies to work with Jesuit missionaries in El Progreso, Honduras, where I taught young students carpentry and welding skills.  This experience taught me the importance of skills-based training-both abroad and at home-and inspired me to pursue the issue of expanding career and technical education in the U.S. Senate.  In February 2015, I had the pleasure of returning to El Progreso and seeing the success and expansion of the campus where I taught.
In March 2015, I wrote a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, urging full support for the President’s 2016 budget request of $410 million for the Peace Corps.  I am glad that this budget request was included in a bipartisan agreement by the House and Senate to fund operations of government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016.  In March 2016, I joined 29 of my colleagues in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, reiterating the need to continue strong investments in the Peace Corps for Fiscal Year 2017.  As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will continue to support a strong diplomatic corps, including the Peace Corps.

#ProtectPeaceCorps just got a big boost as well. In a powerful show of support for the Peace Corps from Congress, a record 175 House Members signed the Peace Corps Funding Dear Colleague Letter in support of level funding for the agency for FY18. 

A New York Times’ editorial questions the wisdom of slashing any part of foreign aid:

Donald Trump and the Republican leadership have found out how hard it is to take away an entitlement once it is in place. Trump’s boasts of his deal making prowess notwithstanding, he could not make the healthcare deal, at least not yet. He didn’t even really try—did no apparent homework—just found health care surprisingly complicated! How about that? Basically, his main operational method is bluster and threat, not the careful working out of details and the lining up of support. (Lyndon Johnson was the champion of persuasive arm-twisting.) And since Trump has a notoriously short attention span, he wasn’t willing (or able?) to put in the required effort. He wanted to move on to something easier where he could tout success. Americans also want easier health coverage, as well as less costly, and a number of them voted for Trump based on his promises in that regard; it’s so much easier to promise on the campaign trail than to deliver. Trump should realize that he is a minority president, that most Americans did not vote for him (and many find him repugnant), and that he needs to win them/us over, not just keep playing to his shrinking base. If he fails to keep his promises, he will lose even more support among the diehard faithful. It was instructive that a grumpy Donald Trump decided he was not going to sign some pending executive orders because he just didn’t feel like it. Sounds like being president is not as much fun as he had imagined.

As far as health care, the number of conceivable medical interventions is practically infinite and none can deter decline and death forever. However, there are certain basic interventions that Americans may or may not agree are necessary in any health system. Of course, we now have a firm bloc of Republican lawmakers who don’t think government has any role in health care (patient, health thyself!) and even some who think that government itself (including them?) is unnecessary and evil. So moving forward on any future health plan looks murky. There are bipartisan fixes that could be made to Obamacare, but is anyone willing to stick out his/her neck to try to make them happen?

For one thing, there needs to be a moratorium on increases in compensation for US healthcare workers, from physicians on up, since one reason our system is so costly is that payment here is far above what the same professionals earn in other developed countries. I remember when I worked at the American Occupational Therapy Association that Canadian therapists flocked here because of the much higher salaries. This problem could be better controlled under a single-payer, government-sponsored system, which, no doubt, the health professions would lobby against. However, the compensation problem, especially incentives for highly paid surgeons to provide costly interventions, while important, is secondary to the current threat to Obamacare and to government support of our hybrid health delivery system. Would Republicans have us go back to just using home remedies and paying doctors with chickens?  

At the same time, Trump is so quirky and unpredictable that he might get behind some actual fixes to Obamacare with the help of moderate Republicans and some Democrats, making it more operational and effective and getting us closer to universal coverage. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I’d like to hope that having Ivanka in the White House might offer a moderating influence and maybe Jared as well, a young man who is in way over his head but may also be more moderate than Trump himself and his other advisers, except perhaps on the question of Israel? That Bannon is off the National Security Council and that Kellyanne has not been seen lately are positive developments.

Russian intervention may or may not have been the final straw that made the catastrophic accident of the Trump presidency possible. Trump’s margin was so thin in key Electoral College states, it probably did make a difference, but we don’t live in that alternative universe. FBI chief Comey’s gratuitous announcement of a further investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails just days before the election, based on the seizure of Anthony Weiner’s laptop, also bears blame. Whatever factors contributed to the unfortunate outcome, we are now stuck for the duration, however long that might be. Still, we do need to combat further Russian interference and find out—even in the face of Republican obstructionism--whether Putin holds a blackmail card against Trump for supposedly cavorting with Russian prostitutes in 2013 (“I don’t even know Putin,” The Donald has said since). That remains to be seen—or maybe will never be seen. Trump’s evangelical supporters would not like to find out about something like that, though Trump himself would dismiss it is as “fake news.” No doubt, Vladimir Putin is rubbing his hands gleefully at the success of his plot, well beyond his wildest dreams. US decline is in full swing.

Here is a scathing editorial about Trump and his presidency in the LA Times. It hits the nail on the head (though he would certainly dismiss it as a media conspiracy and “fake news.” ) https://www.yahoo.com/finance/news/nothing-prepared-us-magnitude-trainwreck-163115116.html

Here is a NY drug case involving a former Honduran president and possibly the current one, running for reelection under controversial terms because a second consecutive term has not been allowed before in Honduras.

Mexico is offering to consider asylum for 500 Cubans stuck at the border since President Obama announced the end of “wet-foot/dry-foot.”

Sirley Avila, the Cuban woman whose hand was severed and who suffered other serious injuries in May 2015 after objecting to a local school closing, is now in a shelter near Miami, trying to get assistance to move out. As stated on this blog, I just saw her in March. After 6 months in rehab, she had returned to Cuba, only to be harassed by State Security (with lights and sirens) and threatened by her former attacker, roaming free. Now, with documents that she says prove government complicity, she is asking the Cuban government to recognize the crime against her and provide compensation. As a result, her son, who has remained in Cuba caring for her elderly mother and is also the father of two children, has been threatened by an unknown individual if Sirley does not withdraw her demand. Sirley says she is worried sick that her son will be killed, but she doesn’t think she should withdraw her just demand under threat. As a mother who has lost a son and a foster son, I told her to think carefully about going forward, as we both know that as long as the current Cuban government is in power, it is not going to recognize the crime against her, its own complicity, or pay any compensation. If her son is killed, she may have a further cause to pursue, just as is being done by family of the late Dama de Blanco Laura Pollan after her suspicious death and by Oswaldo Paya’s daughter, Rosa Maria, after he was killed. But whatever justice may eventually prevail in those cases (not any time soon), that will be cold comfort, as those lost will not return and I can attest to the difficulty of living after the death of a child—of any age—regardless of subsequent successes.

Re Jamaica, a country within my Amnesty International Caribbean volunteer orbit, see:
Together we are stronger By Shackelia Jackson, sister of Nakiea, killed by the Jamaican police in 2014

Amnesty International has issued a new Urgent Action (UA) on behalf of Dr. Eduardo Cardet in Cuba following a national’s court decision to sentence him to three years’ imprisonment for criticizing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Dr. Cardet is a prisoner of conscience imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and we are therefore demanding his immediate and unconditional release.

Here’s another Cuba UA: Four family members in prison since Fidel’s death, three on a hunger strike. https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr25/6001/2017/en/
However, the three sibling hunger strikers were recently released conditionally to the hospital and their mother remains under house arrest, so the matter is not resolved: http://www.amnestyusa.org/get-involved/take-action-now/urgent-action-update-prisoner-of-conscience-siblings-released-cuba-ua-7617

I attended a presentation at the EU Delegation’s DC headquarters by Professor Martin Palous, on Cuba-Czech ties, including details of a meeting between the late Cuban democracy advocate Oswaldo Paya and Vaclav Havel, which included a film of a performance by Porno Para Ricardo (including reference to piglet artist El Sexto) and appearances by Paya’s daughter Rosa Maria. As per my Confessions book, I met Paya early on, met his daughter after his death, and also describe the irreverent group Porno Para Ricardo, which makes fun of the Castro brothers. Afterward, I gave a copy of my book, plus some material on Sirley Avila, to Dr. Palous, since he teaches a diplomacy class at Florida International University and his students would be interested and also might be able to help Sirley.

As for South Sudan, those of us who have visited and been involved with that beleaguered country, were thrilled by the overwhelming independence vote that in 2011 led to the birth of a new nation. (I spent almost a month in South Sudan in 2006.) But the (divided) leadership simply could not jettison its warlike rebel and tribal mode of thinking, with each leader always seeking to win exclusive advantages for his own side/tribe. That sort of mindset is typical of all governing systems to an extent—our own included—but in South Sudan, already ravished by years of war with the north, it has proved catastrophic.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Adding Miami and Albuquerque

Dear Friends, Not being IT savvy, I find posting photos on this blog, even with a bare minimum of narrative to be quite challenging, so thanks for your understanding. Let's see if I can finish this today.

Above, Homestead shelter where injured Cuban dissident Sirley Avila has been staying for 3 months , after lost paperwork and other problems. Below, Sirley can now walk short distances with a cane. I wrote about her: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-e-joe/a-revolution-with-promise_b_9801712.html

                          Below, I invited Sirley and our mutual friend John to lunch.

Below, with another friend, Gerardo, at his home and he and his wife with their pet parakeet. She is from Argentina; he is Cuban.

At lunch below with another Cuban, Dr. Federico, a retired academic and physician, a versatile gentleman who also writes and sings romantic songs in Spanish--and plays the guitar to accompany himself.

Below with Silvia L (Cuban), Carlos (Bolivian), and Karen (USA) 

For some reason, I have no photos of my TV interviewer (in Spanish), nor links to either of my TV appearances, but most readers of this blog don't know Spanish anyway. Regrettably, I also don't have photos of Armando and his family (from my Cuba book), whom I also saw in Florida. 

Below is my brother Bob and his girlfriend Jean next to his new Tesla, a self-driving car that gets free electricity, so no gas, no noise. 

First photo below of flowering tree when I cam back from Honduras and Florida, followed by photo of surprise snow storm that wilted all the flowers.

Below with my new Jamaica assistant Sarah at Amnesty International's 2017 conference in Albuquerque. 

Sarah and Nick below

                                                  AI candle logo at conference hotel

                                                 Below, pro-immigration display

                                       Amnesty leaders from other countries speak in solidarity

                                                Entertainment by local musicians


                                Cathedral from 1700's refurbished below and cathedral gardens below that

                                  Albuquerque is a city of murals and friendly, interesting, quirky people