Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sept. 11 Remembrance, Interpretation Observations, Cuban Democracy Advocate Lost & Found, More on Cuba, Honduras, Venezuela, Trump Hotel Opens in DC

Fall flowers

            With all the ceremonies around the 15th anniversary of 9/11, I am reminded that I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras then. I happened to be in the PC office in Teguc, waiting for a medical appointment. In the lounge area, some of us were watching CNN on TV when all of sudden, a newsbreak showed the first plane crashing into one of the twin towers. Then there was another showing the second plane crashing into the second tower, so then we knew it was not just an accident. Our PC director announced over the intercom that we were to remain in the city and in the walled office compound until further notice. The whole incident caused a major shock and horror all over Honduras, as recounted in my book, Triumph & Hope (pp.147-148).

My interpretation work does offer me some interesting variety, giving me glimpses into other lives in other places. I went back recently to the children's specialty hospital where a Central American first-time mother whose baby was born at 2 lbs. was now getting ready to take him home and was a bit apprehensive about being on her own without all the supports she had been offered while staying at the hospital with him, a baby now at 6 1/2 lbs. with no more feeding tube who was going home on his previous due date. The next day, I was at a school meeting with a mother from Mexico who was holding a squirming 2-year-old on her lap, while a bevy teachers and therapists discussed her 7-year-old child and his supposed academic deficiencies and how they were planning to help him overcome them. The mother admitted she knew nothing about math and certainly didn't know English. I think some of the so-called below average scores of a child from such a family who enters an English-speaking school for the first time are to be expected and, with proper help and coaching, that child can catch up. But, it seems the problems are being over-pathologized to some extent, making parents anxious. This boy may need remedial help, but, I suspect, he is a normal kid. In Mexico, nothing unusual would be noticed about his school performance. 

Cuban Democracy Leader Avila Disappears As most of you know, I met Sirley Avila in April in Miami at Amnesty Int'l USA's annual conference, wrote about her in the Huffington Post, talked with her by phone several times since. Now there was fear that Avila may have been arrested upon her return to Cuba as she was not found at the airport. She had left Miami on Sept. 8. The day before, when I wasn’t home, she’d left a farewell message on my answering machine, saying she was going back to Cuba and thanking me for my support. I had hoped her Congressional testimony would protect her, but maybe it had the opposite effect. She is still disabled and has limited mobility. (For those who need a reminder of weho she is, click on to find my Huffington Post Cuba articles--the one about her is called a "A Revolution with Promises to Keep.")
Later, thankfully, Avila was found at her mother’s home, as her own place had been occupied by unauthorized individuals. She reported that her attacker is still free and threatening “to finish the job.”  

In Cuba, there are probably many secret activists opposing the government afraid to be “out,” but if they could feel solidarity and support, they would reveal their true feelings, just as kids do now who come “out” as gay. I know when I was in Cuba, I was always on guard about what to say and where to go. For many Cubans, such habits are almost second nature.

Most people, whether in Cuba, the US, the UK, or elsewhere, are less interested in voting, rights of free speech and assembly, and in humanity's overall wellbeing than in their own family’s immediate needs for food and shelter. However, they need to realize that freedom of expression and assembly and, yes, voting, do impact on their own access to food and shelter. Just look at Venezuela now. Of course, that message has not penetrated here in the USA either, as too many millions of Americans seem ready to sacrifice their own interests and that of the rest of the world by voting for Donald Trump. Hillary, for all her failings, can still carry out the duties of president adequately, but Trump cannot. Do voting and democracy really result in the best system of government?  

Sorry that Hillary fell ill--she has had a punishing schedule. Already, some Republicans are suggesting that she is seriously ill and will drop out (hope that’s not a real prospect). Many of us would agree with her "deplorables" remarks, a characterization that may have hurt her, though, perhaps, only with people already against her, whom many of us would actually put into that “deplorables” category. 

I suspect that Trump does not want to release his tax returns because he may not have made as much money as he claims, may have paid very little in taxes, and probably has barely given anything to charity. Apparently, he has had the habit of collecting charitable donations from others, then funneling them to charities in his own name without putting in any of his own dimes and dollars. Trump Hotel, here in DC, is now open for business.

Perhaps the impulse to vote for The Donald springs from the idea that jumping into the unknown might actually improve our situation, that we can always start over with something new. If “life sucks,” if our existence is dull, dreary, and exhausting, then a blind leap into the unknown probably wouldn’t be worse and might even be better—or so we might hope. That’s often the impulse behind decisions to move to a new city, marry, have a baby, get divorced, change gender, travel, and foment revolution. Surprises and gambles are exciting and change holds out the promise of improvement. As Trump would say, “What have you got to lose?” Of course, once American voters of any stripe take that leap toward Trump, they will find out soon enough what they have to lose.

From Yahoo News, 9-17-2016: While campaigning in South Florida, which has a large Cuban-American population, Trump also said that if he's elected president, he will reverse Obama's efforts to normalize relations with Cuba — unless the country abides by certain "demands." Among those, he said, would be religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of all political prisoners.
Trump says he'll "stand with the Cuban people in their fight against communist oppression."
The comment marks yet another reversal for the GOP candidate, who previously said he supported the idea of normalized relations, but wished the U.S. had negotiated a better deal.

After Venezuelan oil subsidies to Cuba have been reduced, Raul Castro is appealing to Putin to help make up the shortfall.  Algiers has stepped in, volunteering to help Cuba with oil.
Cuba’s internet phone service is reportedly blocking text messages containing the words “democracy,” “hunger strike,” and “human rights.”

Not surprisingly, the Cuban military is kicking so-called “self-employed” licensees out of heavily visited Old Havana to take over the profits generated there by the flood of American tourists. (Still, at the UN, a Cuban government spokesman complained of massive losses from the US embargo—losses from imagined profits if the embargo were completely eliminated. Despite the surge in US tourism and oil from Algiers, the Cuban economy is still reeling from the reduction in Venezuelan oil. It is not a productive and self-sustaining economy and is surviving now mainly thanks to American tourism and remittances, but the government likes to bite the hand that feeds it and tell its people and the world—still—that the big bad USA is at fault for everything that goes wrong. )

Raul Castro is moving to assure continuity by means of a family dynasty in control of military power.  First, he named his son head of the army, then he named his son-in-law head of the Cuban military arm which now controls 80% of the Cuban economy, and his latest move was to name his eldest grandson head of the Cuban equivalent of the Secret Service in charge of all bodyguard duties.  

Switching geography, a friend has told me about an apparently successful volunteer program working with youth in Progreso, Honduras called OYE (the name means “Listen” in Spanish). Volunteers can participate for a week or more.  After the Peace Corps and other established organizations have left Honduras, it’s good to see new ones springing up.

Venezuelans banging pots and pans from front doors and balconies as a form of protest for not having enough to eat is an action to register similar complaints in Cuba, where food scarcity goes back more than 60 years to when Fidel Castro first came to power and tried to collectivize agriculture despite its failure elsewhere around the world.                                           

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Late Son's Birthday, Hawaii Visit, Mother Teresa, Hillary & Trump, Weiner, Cuba, Assorted News

 Son Andrew days before his death
Below Hawaii photos

Wild roosters kept me up all night, trying to sleep at Jon's apartment in a far rural side of Oahu.

Dragon dance punctuated Miss Chinatown pageant at Windward Mall.


                                                 Below, my talk at U. Of Hawaii

                                                         U. of Hawaii campus

                                   With year-old grandson Kingston and his mother, below

Above, daughter Stephanie's pet tortoise, Moses

                                         Stephanie and husband Paul at dinner

                                       Above, Stephanie's orchids and mangoes on back yard tree

                                           Typical Hawaiian wild flowers and tree

Tomorrow would be my late son Andrew’s 49th birthday.  It’s been more than 20 years since we lost him, but, of course, we still miss him. Of course, to me, he will always be 27, the age he died. 

While I was in Honolulu visiting family, as per photos above, I also gave a talk about Peace Corps and my other overseas service to inspire other older folks at the U. of Hawaii’s Life Long Learning Institute to undertake similar endeavors. The title of my talk was “New Paths, New Passages” with quite a few people attending on short notice, but none seemed particularly eager to follow in my footsteps. My daughter Stephanie created a slide show on a thumb drive, using photos I took from my blog, particularly those about my medical brigade participation last January.

Stephanie and her husband put solar panels on their house and now their monthly electric bill is a flat $18 per month for lights, TV, radio, fans, water heater, and stove (no need for A/C or heat).

Hawaiian place names are heavy on vowels, light on consonants. 'Olelo Hawai'i (the Hawaiian language) belongs to a family of languages from central and eastern Polynesia, which includes Hawaiian, Tahitian, Tumotuan, Rarotongan and Maori. The Hawaiian language consists of just 12 letters found in the English alphabet and the 'okina, (a symbol that looks like a backwards apostrophe). The alphabet consists of the vowels a, e, i, o and u, and the consonants h, k, l, m, n, p and w. Classes in the Hawaiian language are popular now, especially for native children.

When we were at Windward Mall near Jon’s home in Kaneohe, he met another couple he knew with 7 kids ages 4 and under. How did they do that? The oldest was a girl, age 4, next came apparently identical triplet girls age 3, followed by 3 boys, the youngest just a few months old. The parents seemed very proud of their healthy looking kids. It was quite production moving the family from place to place. The 4 girls rode together in a grocery cart.

A recent Spanish interpretation client at a specialty children’s hospital was a young woman from Central America with her first baby, born as a 2 lb. premie after an emergency C-section when he had stopped moving in the womb. Now, at 6 lbs., he was almost ready to go home, taking in feedings by bottle, breast, and a nasal feeding tube. His reflexes, vision, and hearing had tested normal so far. Meeting with a group of specialists evaluating her baby, the mother thanked them and said that in her country, her child would never have survived. She never left his side, even sleeping in the hospital ever since his birth. Some of that fierce level of early maternal devotion, which I have experienced myself. is probably hormonal.
The EpiPen price hike is a calculated exploitation of the health insurance system, passing on the cost to (and reaping associated profits from) taxpayers and insurance subscribers, while offering discounts to the relatively few without coverage. I’ve long noted how American manufactured drugs are cheaper in Honduras than in the US, so I often pay less there than even with my co-payment here. And, usually, no doctor’s prescription is needed.

Now that Mother Teresa has been declared a saint, I recall greeting her at a jungle religious shrine in Nicaragua in 1990, a greeting she did not return. My Nicaraguan friend had driven me there, expecting to find it empty, as it was very hidden and remote. But instead, we were surprised to see Mother Teresa there, praying with a male escort near her side. They appeared equally surprised. I waved at her, but she did not even nod her head in reply, rather, looking a bit bothered or flustered. She and her companion hastily went to their vehicle and drove away.

Good news from Honduras, for a change, namely that a US-financed program may be having some positive effect:

So, what’s happened to Trump and his wall? Will that go the way of his plan to deport 11 million “illegals”? Trump and his diehard supporters may not care what “pundits” and the Republican establishment say about him. He is apparently not looking forward to debating Clinton and is already explaining his likely loss: "And I'm telling you, November 8, we'd better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged," the New York billionaire told Fox News.

The danger is that his diehard supporters, when (if??) he loses will create disorder and not accept the results. And Trump will probably egg them on. After his loss, he may go back to reality TV and his business empire, including the renovation of a beautiful 1899 DC building on Pennsylvania Ave., once a post office, now being converted into a hotel. It’s supposed to open in September, but apparently has been delayed. Such a shame that he owns the place now. Of course, he may be better at running hotels than at politics. We’ll have to see if his businesses will be boycotted due to his controversial presidential bid. If so, he may declare bankruptcy once again and give up that building.

50 GOP national security officials say Trump would be 'most reckless president in American history’
After Trump insisted that Obama and Clinton created ISIS, he also hinted that he wouldn’t actually mind losing the election, because he already has a wonderful life. He may be getting tired of the whole campaign and he clearly is not looking forward to any debates with Clinton. He does well only with pre-scripted comments read off a teleprompter. Off-the-cuff or Tweeting, he’s a disaster! So that should be a cue to the Republican Party to focus down ballot and forget about trying to control Trump, because he isn’t going to let it happen, at least not for long. Can you imagine him as president with daughter Ivanka at his side trying to keep him on-message? If he actually should win the presidency, he might listen to advisers even less than he does now. After all, he would say, “I am the president!” Our country and the world would have a wild ride for the next 4 years, but it would certainly be interesting. Hillary is old news, as she’s been around and striving for so long, except for a few years mostly out of the public eye after her stint as secretary of state. Trump, on the other hand, surprises us every single day, delighting some, repelling others. In any case, win or lose, Trump is one for the history books.

I heard Hillary's economic speech in Michigan, which was solid, but not spectacular or particularly inspiring. I am personally not so opposed to TPP, but since the electorate is so strongly against it (thanks to both Sanders and Trump), then she has to say she is too. It would be good if Obama could pass it before his term is up. Nothing whatsoever has been said about Cuba, which I think most Americans, to the extent they even care, consider a done deal. Certainly, Democratic lawmakers visiting Cuba have taken pains to meet only with the leadership and avoid any public comment on the daily beatings and arrests of peaceful activists.

Obama had a problem joining the mostly white old boys’ club of Congress because of his race and being a relative national political newcomer, a Democrat, and more cerebral than most members of Congress. Hillary will have a problem because she is female and also a Democrat, though she is more of a known quantity than Obama was when he first ran for president. She may not be readily accepted either, facing the same sort of stonewalling by Republicans that Obama has faced, not to mention the vitriol that has been leashed against her to undermine her campaign. Obama has actually accomplished quite a lot in the face if all that steely opposition. Let’s hope that Trump not only loses, but takes down some Republicans with him. (Of course, if Trump should win somehow, he won’t be readily accepted by Congress members of either party either.)

Does Ann Coulter really think that Trump’s incoherent immigration speech was actually “better then Churchill”? If so, those folks are living in a parallel universe.

Predictions already abound about how Republicans Are Already Planning How to Ruin a Hillary Clinton Presidency (politics is low-gauge warfare)

Huma Abedin, now traveling with Hillary Clinton on her high-stakes presidential campaign, was finally obligated to disassociate herself from her unfortunately named husband, Anthony Weiner, who, apparently, had stayed home caring for their son. Weiner should have known by now that his private inline “flashing” urges would not be kept secret, especially during a presidential campaign, but maybe boredom, envy of his wife’s prominence, and the thrill of a high-stakes risk kept him going, as it often does for skydivers and race car drivers. Doing something like that is almost creepier than engaging an actual affair.  The last straw for his wife may have been sending a raunchy photo of himself with his young son appearing in the background. No doubt, Weiner has sought psychiatric “help” for his urges, but such help doesn’t always work, especially if the affected person really doesn’t want it.

Some good news from Cuba: Cuba reports remarkable success in containing Zika virus

My position on Cuba now is that US diplomatic relations may have been a good first step and that travel and cultural exchanges can build mutual trust outside of politics, but this does not mean that US officials, particularly Democratic officials and US Embassy staff, must only engage with the leadership and avoid everyone else. They need to take a more balanced approach and to communicate with and support ordinary citizens, including those expressing different political views in a peaceful manner. That’s what our country stands for, not deciding, in the name of diplomacy, to exclusively support an un-elected leadership (un-elected for 57 years!) and turn a blind eye to the actions of that leadership, which routinely encourages physical attacks and arrests of Cubans engaged in peaceful expression and assembly, those seeking freer internet communication, or those who are simply trying to make ends meet. There is something disquieting, almost obscene, about lawmakers, high-end models, American media figures, sports stars, and other “beautiful people” descending on Cuba to meet and be photographed with Raul Castro, while the Castro government is routinely beating up and jailing the Ladies in White and others engaged in peaceful expression. It’s as though our government condones those attacks. And the Castro government’s defense that what happens inside the country is protected by Cuba’s “sovereignty” is like asking someone to be cordial with a neighbor who is beating up his wife and kids. Dr. Martin Luther King said that "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” We should not keep silent.

Article 53 of the Cuban Constitution states that: “Freedom of expression and the press will be recognized in accord with the goals of a socialist society … the press, radio, television, movies and other means of mass communication will be property of the state and cannot be, in any case, privately held to assure their exclusive use in the interest of society.” 

Changing subjects, earlier on this forum, I’ve discussed the DR’s anti-Haitian descendants’ policy, on which that government is hanging tight, despite international condemnation.

Port-au-Prince (AFP) 8-29-2016- Former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide made a rare public appearance to support his party's presidential candidate. (I was an election observer when Aristide himself was elected in 1990.)
"All of Haiti's children must give a hand to help heal our country," said Aristide, who returned to Haiti in 2011 after being ousted in a coup seven years earlier.
Speaking in Creole with his signature use of metaphor, the former shantytown priest said he and candidate Maryse Narcisse were "bringing the strength of our dignity." Nearly 6.2 million voters are eligible to cast their ballots on October 9 in the first round of the presidential election as well as a legislative vote. The presidential election's second round is scheduled for January 8.

Pastors for Peace, which has been sending material aid to Cuba for many years, may lose US tax-exempt status

Posted: 23 Aug 2016 05:45 AM PDT
Tweet from the daughter of Cuban democracy leader, Guillermo Fariñas, who is on the 32nd day of his hunger strike:

I don't understand. Where is the humanity of Pope Francis when in Cuba Guillermo Fariñas is slowly dying for the sake of human rights?  

No comprendo donde esta la humanidad d @Pontifex_es cuan2 en #Cuba @cocofarinas esta murien2 lentamente x hacer valer sus #DerechosHumanos
— Alicia Fariñas (@HaisaAlicia) August 23, 2016

I’ve read a couple of massive books recently, Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack (2004), about GWBush’s decision to pre-emptively attack Iraq. Even though no WMDs were found, Bush told Woodward that he was convinced he had made the right decision, that history would be his judge, but admitting that “by then, we’ll all be dead.”

The other book is Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon, about parents raising kids very different from themselves: deaf, gay, transgender, dwarf, autistic, or even criminal or genius offsrping. It’s sometimes hard to remember, when a notorious criminal is captured, that he or she has—or has had—parents and a family. 

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.