Saturday, January 7, 2017

Broken Heart Syndrome, Russian Hacking, Inaugural Parade, Obama’s Legacy, Israeli Settlements, South Sudan, Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, Pending TV Appearance

Scenes from today, January 7, 2017, before and after the first snowfall of the season, hardly enough to make a snowman! The flowers struggling before the snow came are now done for and tomorrow when the sun comes out, the snow, such as it is, will be gone.

Actress Debbie Reynolds, who died suddenly of a stroke a day after her daughter Carrie Fisher had reportedly died of heart failure, probably succumbed to a broken heart. At least, that was my immediate assessment as a mother who has lost a child—also a grownup child; but it’s still your child. In research about that for my two memoirs, I discovered that in the acute phase of grief, physical changes in the heart can occur—so-called “broken-heart syndrome” or stress-induced cardiomyopathy. A stroke is not the same as a heart attack, but both are spasms of the circulatory system that keeps us alive from one second to another, even more essential than breathing. Such a sudden death after a losing a loved one also often occurs when a long-time spouse dies, especially if the first death is sudden and unexpected.  (After I came to my “broken-heart” conclusion about those back-to-back celebrity deaths, the pundits began weighing in to agree.)

In a 2016 study published in the Annals of Epidemiology, researchers found that parents had an increased risk of dying up to three years after their child's death, compared with parents who had not lost children. Deaths among bereaved parents because of coronary artery problems were especially high.

President Obama took steps against Russian election hacking, but only after the fact, too late to reverse our woeful election outcome.

There has been a clamor for Obama to pardon Edward Snowden, which I sincerely hope won’t happen. Putin is a master manipulator who seems to have won over Donald Trump, a political novice. He may have seen Trump’s inexperience and incompetence as his chance to help recover Russian glory and seek vengeance for western “meddling” in his sphere, Eastern Europe and Ukraine. Trump’s presidency looks not only woeful on domestic policy but also on foreign policy. The Republican Party, now holding all the cards, will either rise to the occasion or fall via its own collective incompetence.

However, I do agree with Trump that not retaliating immediately, as the US had expected, was a smart move by Putin, especially with a more friendly and possibly easily manipulated president—who may owe his victory to Putin—now coming into office. We must view the Trump presidency as an unfortunate freak national accident, a calamity that we must fight to overcome and to recover from.

The Peace Corps was turned down in its application to march in Trump’s inaugural parade—his loss. This parade is going to be one of the shortest on record, with no DC-area bands asking to participate for the first time in recent memory.

Apart from choosing simply inappropriate or adverse cabinet and agency heads and advisers, Trump seems to want to reward loyalists such a Mitch McConnell’s wife, Kellyanne Conway’s husband, and his own son-in-law with government positions, never mind conflicts of interest and he seems unconcerned about his own business interest conflicts, nor do the Republican Party and Republican voters seem to care either. He charged a stiff price for attendance at a New Year’s Eve party at his Florida estate. He wanted to rake in the money while he still could. Trump’s incessant tweeting habit, appropriate for someone with a short attention span, is not the best way to run a presidency either, but he says he plans to keep it up. Tweeting is his bully pulpit, used to tweak defense contractors and corporation heads alike, who, so far, have seemed to respond. I’m sure tweeting makes Trump feel powerful, like a kid with a toy gun going “bang-bang.” After a while, tweeting may lose its luster in terms of its effects.

Before the election, the New Yorker ran a cover showing 2 alternative scenarios: Hillary Clinton taking the oath of office with Bill standing by, then Donald Trump, with a smirking Vladimir Putin as witness. The latter is what really happened. Then the very week of the election, just before the actual voting day, a clever cover showed a man on the subway reading an open newspaper whose headline said, “Oh God, Please No.” Whichever result later happened, that image and that headline would fit the bill—either confirmation of previous anxiety or great relief.

The Republicans and Trump say they plan to keep their promise to repeal Obamacare on “Day One,” but, it turns out, their plan is to announce its repeal and replacement, but probably to delay the actual change while they work things out. Kellyanne Conway, perhaps channeling Trump, has said that no one who is satisfied with their current health insurance will lose it. If so, that’s reassuring. Replacement could take years. Meanwhile, Obamacare is still in place. Republicans may thus fulfill their campaign promise without really doing so, at least not yet. They are finding replacement is not so easy and outright repeal is impossible. The horse has already left the barn. The ACA has already moved health care from primarily fee-for-service (the more service, the better for a practitioner’s payments) to outcomes’ based care. A report in the NYTimes on health care focus groups indicates that most people’s complaints against Obamacare are that their costs are too high—they want the same coverage or better at a lower cost. Can Trump and the Republicans deliver on that?

I keep hoping (imaginary wish fulfillment?) that Trump may not be quite as crazy as he seems and is playing with us by seeming totally uninformed and outrageous, getting publicity, and arousing his base. Then when he does something relatively normal, like advise Republican Congressmen to back off their plan to gut ethics oversight, we are pleasantly surprised. Also, we human beings tend to adjust to adverse circumstances. After accidents, job losses, romantic breakups, or even deaths of loved ones, while we still acknowledge and feel the effects, they do soften over time. So that may happen with President Trump, as we come to regard him as the “new normal.”

As President Obama leaves office and takes up residence for a time in our fair city of Washington, DC, we wonder what tasks he and his wife will undertake. We have not heard much about their future plans, only that Michelle has no desire to run for office (she did her best for 8 years, but seems to definitely be glad that it’s over.) I don’t see them retiring, as GW and Laura Bush have done. Barack Obama did quite well as president overall, given the almost visceral opposition of the Republican Party to anything he proposed. Where I fault him most is in regard to Syria, where his reluctance to commit more airpower or troops by a war-weary USA was understandable. But it does seem that the bloodshed there and Russia’s support of Assad, a proven butcher of his own people, could and should have been prevented. I would count Syria as the greatest foreign affairs failure of the Obama administration.

Democrats’ greatest domestic failure was not enough focus on local and state races where Republicans have cleaned up and have re-set district boundaries. So Democrats will need to focus locally and, in Congress, to grill Trump’s picks for office with sufficient rigor that the press picks it up to inform voters. The electorate needs to keep informed and the media is crucial for that. Donald Trump can rail all he wants against the “crooked media,” but it’s more essential than ever to arouse and educate an uninformed electorate. We are now seeing how easily voters can be influenced by fake news and false statements—lies really—by Donald Trump, all the more reason to support genuine news sources. Of course, my pet peeve as a citizen of Washington, DC, is that we don’t have any congressional voting representation. Nor are Republicans likely to let us have it—ditto for Puerto Rico’s bid to become a state, another potential Democratic stronghold.

As for Hillary Clinton, while she put up a good fight against enormous and rather freakish odds and while the majority who voted for her, many women and girls—and men, too—are angry and disappointed that she won’t take office, her presidential ambitions do seem to be finished. She will have to find a new role; it’s hard to imagine just what, but she should not retire completely. Polls show her to be the woman most admired by Americans, so she needs to find a political platform before her influence fades. After aspiring to the presidency, she would not want to go back to a lower elective office, but that might still be her best bet if she wants to remain in public service. Or perhaps she can team up with Michelle Obama in an outreach to girls. I think that she and Bill are wise to plan to attend Trump’s inauguration, hard as that may be. She should not be a sore loser, even though her loss seems unfair.

Or Hillary may decide to simply retire from politics to become a grandmother, write a best-selling memoir that reveals Trump’s true colors, and give speeches here and abroad on behalf of the Clinton Foundation and other causes. Even outside politics, she would have plenty to occupy her time and energy. She also lives in a very picturesque little town and is beloved by her neighbors, who often ran into her and Bill out walking their dog during the sad days after the election. A neighboring house was bought for her daughter’s family. Maybe Chelsea will one day run for office?

Now, even after North Carolina’s disastrous experience with a “bathroom bill,” some in Texas want to try it there. Apparently, unknown to me, transgender people have existed—with or without surgery or hormones—and have been using public bathrooms all these years. Do we women really fearfully scrutinize anyone who looks taller than usual or otherwise not typically feminine using a public restroom? I haven’t heard of cases of a man in drag using a women’s restroom in order to sexually assault women, though when and if such cases occur, the guy should be arrested. Are people supposed to show their birth certificates when entering a restroom? This whole issue is a tempest in a teapot.

Little has been said about Dylann Roof’s family, who don’t seem to be rushing publicly to his defense. However, there is a brief mention of his troubled family past in Wikipedia and he is said to have written his mother a letter of apology.

Here’s a provocative and seemingly accurate article about inequality in Honduras:

Say it isn’t so: “In Zimbabwe, a First Lady Exerts Her Power(NY Times, Jan. 7, 2017) Grace Mugabe, the wife of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, is one of the main actors maneuvering to succeed him. [After Zimbabweans having waited patiently for Mugabe to die, the prospect of his wife taking over later is unnerving, especially as she looks rather young in photos.]

Regarding the US abstention in the Security Council and John Kerry’s frank diatribe against Israeli settlements, it seems obvious that settlements do endanger the “two-state solution” since they encroach on land destined for a Palestinian homeland. We’re talking here about a fight over dividing up a very small piece of territory—Israel-Palestine—a fight that has gone nowhere now for decades due to failings on both sides. Appeals to the Bible and supposed divine promises made thousands of years ago to Jews do not hold much sway with today’s Muslims, whether Palestinians or citizens of Muslim majority nations surrounding present-day Israel. Also, for the US to have continued to support Israel, right or wrong, on the settlements issue would have increased the image of the US as an international bully. Breaking that reputation was one of the same reasons that Obama made the outreach to Cuba. The US had also signed a very generous 10-year aid package to Israel beforehand. Of course, Trump seems to have a different view of Israeli settlements—we shall see—and Israel’s claims and actions are certainly supported by American evangelicals, so the UN abstention and Kerry’s speech may have created a backlash, at least temporarily, among lawmakers of both parties. Certainly Netanyahu seems to feel, as does Putin, that he has an ally in Trump. It will be interesting to see how much Trump changes the Republican Party and vice versa.

South Sudan and the senseless ethnic war taking place there seriously concern me because of my mission in 2006, before independence 5 years later. All the efforts to establish a new nation have been wiped away. Apparently President Salva Kiir, the man in the black hat, has the upper hand, so will he and his forces stop now?

Venezuela has now instituted a food rationing system similar to the one Cuba has had ever since 1962, providing limited items monthly via a ration book called a libreta de abastecimiento [provisions booklet], while Venezuela calls its version carnet de la patria [homeland carnet].

Haiti certifies presidential victory of first-time candidate
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – An electoral tribunal in Haiti has certified the presidential election victory of first-time candidate Jovenel Moise. [Apparently, there were many candidates and a small percentage of the electorate actually voted, so it’s unclear how much support he actually has.]

Regarding Cuba, my special interest as expressed in my Confessions book and my Amnesty International volunteer efforts over the years, Trump may have won Florida in part because of his promise to roll back Obama’s diplomatic accords. However, my advice to Trump now (if he would take it) would be to keep the diplomatic opening and to continue to encourage non-political educational, sports, artistic, and cultural exchanges. But, do not further relax the embargo unless there are concessions on the Cuban side, of which, so far, there have been few to none. Instead, allow US business investment in Cuba, provided such businesses are free to hire, fire, and pay their own workers directly. Of course, such workers would be paid more than the miserable salaries paid by the Cuban government, which could only get its cut through personal taxation, which in all fairness should not exceed the current maximum of 50%. Otherwise, the government would have the same problem it has now of workers not willing to put in much effort, because the leadership takes most of the fruits of their labor. Already, licensed home businesses are taxed up to 50%, but even at that high rate, working for real wages would boost both workers’ rights and wellbeing and still enrich the leadership at 50%, though not perhaps at the 90+% it now enjoys. There is a precedent in that Cuba permitted Indian workers to build a French hotel and to be paid more monthly than a Cuban worker would earn in a whole year. Call the new system “enhanced socialism” or whatever the leadership likes. Already it calls home businesses “work outside the government sector,” not private enterprise.

Cuba should also permit and encourage more production by individual farmers or truly locally organized autonomous cooperatives, with most of the benefit—and, yes, the profits—going to farmers themselves. It is totally unnecessary for a land-rich country like Cuba to have to import most of its food. Get the Peace Corps in there to help Cuban farmers recover their agricultural skills, as I first proposed in the Huffington Post,

This implies that the Cuban leadership would have to allow a relaxation, but it must do something to permit and incentivize workers to produce something of value besides rum and cigars. The leadership (dictatorship) will not remain in power unless it loosens up a bit, even if that seems risky from its own viewpoint. Venezuelan oil donations have been reduced and the Cuban economy, already on life support, is contracting even further. Now that Fidel is gone and Raul is retiring in 2018, the Cuban Communist Party needs to face reality and slightly relax its controls if it wants to survive. Still call the new system “socialism,” just as China and Vietnam do, and maintain one-party political control as they do, but allow ordinary people at least some economic freedom even though they may not be free to vote, speak, write, assemble, or access information. Most people, even in the U.S., care more about economic than civil or political rights. It’s admittedly a half-measure, but better than nothing, which is what Cubans have now, neither political freedom nor economic wellbeing. Some would say that proposing such a mixed system is defeatist, others simply realistic.

Some have argued that the reluctance of the Cuban regime to allow reforms is based on fear due to the proximity and size of the US and the “Revolution’s” historic mistrust of and opposition to the “Empire.” The large US-based diaspora, a crucial economic player through massive remittances, also influences US policy and may, through example and visits, encourage political discontent and dissent among its Cuban-based family members. That’s a risk the leadership will have to take because it faces the risk of even more widespread discontent and dissent if it continues on the current path.

Cuban authorities conducted a big military parade in Havana with marchers shouting threats against President Obama:

Here’s a Cuban exile’s view of Cuba’s recent big military show: The military parade instead of a message to Trump was one for the internal opposition. It said "If you mess with us well obliterate you!" Certainly the Cuban military, whatever its capacities, would be no match for the US if we really wanted to take over Cuba. The Bay of Pigs was botched and not a good example of American military prowess—rather, it was a ragtag bunch of exiles improperly armed and without air backup whose defeat was not a real test of Cuban military might. The Cuban military, given the size of the country and its resources, is really quite capable. It did well in African wars. But it could not withstand a serious attack by the US today, especially if drones and air power were involved.

The military marchers shouted rather scary threats against President Obama, referring to mortars and bullets being sent to him. The soldiers could not have recited that chant without the express permission or orders from the top brass. That Obama’s name was mentioned but not that of Putin’s pal Trump may indicate the Cuban regime is seeking Russian aid once again.

There is a danger to the regime after Fidel's death and Raul's retirement, although Raul will keep hands-on behind the scenes. Still, he is not immortal either and the Cuban economy is shrinking even as American visitors and exile remittances flood the island. Those seem to be the mainstays of the economy now. If Trump imposes conditions on their continuance, the regime may have to yield, while protesting all the way. 

One good sign for the Cuban economy, the first Cuban exports to the US, a special type of charcoal from a local hardwood tree called “marabu.”

A Cuban exile friend wishes that the polemics around whether Fidel was a good or bad guy would fade—he hopes that the very memory of Fidel will fade—so that Cuba can then get down to business. But I feel that it will take some time for the polemics around Castro to die down. The Cuban government would like his (good) reputation to keep them afloat, while some exiles would like his (bad) reputation to be used against the current leadership. Time will tell whether he becomes a bad guy, like Stalin, or an apparently officially revered guy, like Mao. 

The Peace Corps Association is planning a trip to Cuba again this year. It’s good to keep the idea of Peace Corps going in Cuba. Remember that I hope to live to see the day when volunteers are welcome in Cuba, as in China and Vietnam, so Cuba, get used to it! If I’m still around and not too old when that happens, I’d like to be among those pioneering volunteers. (The oldest PC volunteer I know of was 86.)

Here is a frank and seemingly realistic article by a recent American visitor to Cuba:

A friend has sent me a card saying "You Can Do It!" to help me move forward on the daunting task of planning and actually carrying out my Honduras trip. I know I will go, but often at this stage, I start thinking that I really don't have to go and maybe it's time to stop. Once I am actually there, it looks do-able again. I will keep that card to inspire me if and when I go back in 2018.

I’ve been invited to appear on a Spanish-language Miami TV station to talk about Cuba on my return from my annual February trip to Honduras and, if I decide to do it, I will say pretty much what I’ve said here, though some Cuban-born viewers may disagree, those who prefer to completely roll back the US-Cuba accords.

Finally, Trump’s assumption of the presidency is a sober reminder that we never know what will happen next and, while we try to maintain hope and keep up our spirits, that we can fail as well as succeed. Truth, honesty, justice, and other positive virtues do not always win out and sometimes matters actually get worse instead of better, so we may have to brace ourselves for that, even as we try to reverse the current political course. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

New Year’s Greetings, Alas, The Donald Won in the Electoral College, International Adoption, Cuban Dissident’s American Lawyer Is Released, Looking Back on Red Star Over China

Amnesty International USA Group 211, 2016 holiday party

Christmas with daughter Melanie (a wonderful cook), granddaughter Natasha, and great-grandson De'Andre

Wishing my readers all the best for the new year, our national challenges notwithstanding.

Many voters wanted change—never mind what sort of change. Well, they got change—a real roller coaster ride. And while Hillary Clinton certainly had experience, her experience, derived from having been on the scene for a pretty long time, was not a good harbinger of change.

The new year brings a degree of dread instead of hope—I agree with Michelle Obama on that. We are stuck with Donald Trump for the duration. His supporters may have hope, but we’ll see how long that lasts. Only 2 Trump electors defected and 5 Clinton electors as well, but not toward The Donald. A sliver of hope that millions of Americans held onto, that the election outcome might be overturned by the Electoral College, simply did not happen.

According to pollsters, Trump enters the presidency with more negative than positive public support, something not seen for other incoming presidents, who usually have started out with a honeymoon period. Of course, no other winning candidate has lagged so much in the popular vote. Also, some of the family businesses are being boycotted. Trump boasts that he will have the biggest inaugural crowd ever, but don’t bet on it, even though he is encouraging his supporters from the mid-west to come in droves. He will probably lie or exaggerate as usual, saying later that it was the absolutely biggest crowd. Our women’s march the day after is not being allowed to occupy the national mall, perhaps to prevent a comparison.

Comics, such as on SNL, are going to have a field day with Donald Trump as president. A shirtless Vladimir Putin was a perfect touch in one of their latest vignettes! We may as well laugh rather than cry. Those comics have a guaranteed gig.

Trump himself doesn’t always look like he’s having a lot of fun, especially when commenting on SNL, though he’s sticking Democrats in the eye with many of his nominations. I’m sure he gets a short-term, childish thrill out of naming the fox to guard the hen house. And he enjoys getting press attention for making shocking statements on Twitter, like that the US and the world need more, not fewer, nuclear weapons. And never mind conflicts of interest. One of his surrogates has wished death on President Obama. Is there nothing out of bounds for Trump and his folks? He needs people around him constantly to help tamp down his emotional volatility and explain what they think he means by his obsessive tweets. Can he still learn new behavior at age 70 and after a lifetime of being petty, vindictive, lying, and completely outrageous? Even his ardent supporters, who now vicariously enjoy his antics, might eventually tire of them and of him, especially when their personal situation stagnates or goes downhill. I would love to be wrong about Trump and find that he actually is able to rise to the occasion. You or I would probably even do better than he as president ourselves, though we lack Trump’s apparent charisma.

Trump is naming really crazy people as advisers and cabinet secretaries. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as Energy Secretary (a job Sarah Palin was said to have coveted) when he couldn't even remember the name of that particular agency when he planned to abolish it? Maybe if he abolishes it, he will be out of a job? Regarding Trump’s choice of personal advisers, there is little to stop him, but we can only hope some Republican lawmakers will question some of his strange cabinet picks and stranger tweets and public statements. He’s avoiding press conferences, preferring tweets because of his short attention span, which also allows him to control the information. Kellyanne Conway is now called "The Trump Whisperer" because she gives him a script or spins whatever he says.

The Donald’s tweets about the need to increase nuclear weapons are not a joking matter. On the subject of nuclear weapons, the brief exchange between Pakistan and Israel on the subject demonstrates both the danger of fake news and the inappropriateness of conducting foreign policy via tweets.

Trump supporters have been arguing in favor of the Electoral College that it allows small states to still have a say and not be swamped by east and west coast elites. That’s true, but is it fair that small-state voters should be able to swamp big states, to impose their will on the majority of American citizens living in more populous states?  I’d rather support majority than minority rule. Now Hillary’s popular vote is almost 2.9 million ahead of Trump’s, so although he denies it’s true, he must be aware at some level that most American voters did not (and do not) support him. How long can he go on denying the truth on this and other matters?

Trump's pick for ambassador to Israel would be a joke if it weren't a real possibility, a guy just as crazy and offensive as he is. Even Netanyahu might pause on this one. I don’t usually comment on Israel-Palestine, as I already have too much on my plate, but this ambassador choice is completely outrageous—like so many others of Trump’s appointee-choices, which a Republican Congress may simply decide to rubberstamp, especially after the US abstention on the UN settlements vote, just to show their Israel credentials:

Democrats are apparently now taking an idea from the Republican playbook—focusing more on state and local issues—“states’ rights” and building up from there, something the Democratic Party has neglected in favor of a national scope.

A friend with another blog has this to say: Donald Trump starts out already as a major liability for all Americans, and sadly, at his age, it is a stretch to imagine that he will mature in office into the president this country deserves. But, it is always good to remain very guardedly optimistic expecting simultaneously the worst.

Why have international adoptions become so agonizing? New York Post-The gist of the article is what I’ve been saying all along, based on my experience as an international adoptive parent myself and an adoption agency board member for many years, namely, that some intended protections, such as the international Hague Convention, actually are obstacles and have increased the cost exponentially without helping kids get families.

Kimberley Motley, the American lawyer for Cuban dissident El Sexto had been arrested and interrogated, but was released and forced to leave Cuba. (Reminds me of my own experience.)

Cuba, after 12 years of relying solely on Venezuelan oil, is back to buying some oil on the international market.

Correction: I’ve been sometimes mistyping the first name of our Cuban annual conference panelist last April—her name is Laritza Diversent and her office is still under siege.

I picked up an old paperback of Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China at a library book sale. Certainly his praise of Mao and the Chinese Communist Party in their early days helped foment a positive image of both around the world. It put me in mind of Herbert Matthews’s extravagant praise of Fidel Castro in the New York Times, which has had lasting effects to this day.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Electoral College Vote, Cuba, Dakota Access, Update on Friend Anna, Child Sex Abuse

My older son Andrew, who died Dec. 19, 1994--we still miss you!

El Sexto, Cuban graffiti artist, with a fellow former prisoner of conscience, both at a Human Rights Day (Dec. 10) 2015 letter writing event at Amnesty Int'l DC office; this year, we were writing letters on El Sexto's behalf as he is back in prison--and so is his American lawyer.
I wasn’t planning to post again on this blog until after the Electoral College vote Dec. 19, but do think it germane to pass along a message from a friend who has researched why the Founders first established the Electoral College--it was to stop candidates like Donald Trump!

Here’s what he has to say: The electors from the College of Electors have already started to consider to not vote to officially elect Donald Trump, on the basis of what is now a plethora of evidence that Trump fits exactly the criterion of character bereft of “ability” and “virtue,” which were the words used by Alexander Hamilton in his “Mode of Electing The President” published on Friday, March 14, 1788.

Donald Trump does not fulfill the prerequisites outlined for the Electoral College via the Federalist No. 68 article to qualify him as shown infra:

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the Constitution, by those who are able to estimate the share which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says: “For forms of government let fools contest That which is best administered is best,’’ yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration. 

Some investigators are looking for a Donald Trump connection to the Russian hacking. Apparently, electors do want a briefing on the hacking before they vote; some Democrats are asking for a delay in the Electoral College vote until after that briefing:

To actually nullify the election or name Hillary Clinton president, some Republican electors would have to jump ship. They've been holding off so far out of party loyalty and an aversion to Hillary. If a few started doing so, maybe others would follow suit. McCain, Romney, even Paul Ryan, are not crazy about Trump, but don't dare say anything about his lack of qualifications for fear of incurring the wrath of Trump supporters, who are also Republican voters, and of losing total control of the government, which their party would have (sort of) if Trump remains. But can they control Trump? It looks unlikely. It would be better to get this over with now, messy as that would be, than to go to impeachment. There are even calls to run the election over again in light of the Russian hacking. Trump would not win on a second vote. (In fact he did not "win" anyway in terms of the popular vote, though polls indicate that most Republican voters believe he actually did win the popular vote.) 

Although the majority of Americans who did not vote for Trump might wish for a miraculous reversal of the presidential election outcome, that appears unlikely, and we, along with the whole wide world, will be stuck with Trump, for better or for worse, probably for 4 more years. He may temper his behavior and the Republican Party may have a modifying influence, though, so far, judging by many of Trump’s erratic and inappropriate appointments, little modification appears to be occurring. Except maybe for consulting daughter Ivanka on some women’s issues, Trump does not seem to have sought advice. He refuses daily intelligence briefings and is used to making decisions alone, based on gut feeling. In some cases, because he is nominally a Republican, Republicans may decide to go along with some of his proposals, whereas they would have blocked the very same if proposed by Obama or Hillary—for example, infrastructure spending and increasing the national debt. We will have to cope with Trump’s election like the terrible accident it was--and, like most accidents, due to a strange, unusual, and unanticipated convergence of forces, like an earthquake or a terrorist attack, and we'll have to simply do our best to confront, cope with. and try to remedy it.

Trump’s surrogates and spokespersons keep trying to put the best spin on his unorthodox and outrageous utterances, justifying them or saying, as Conway does, that his supporters know very well that he doesn’t mean what he says. Maybe he is just trying to entertain us and get news coverage by saying provocative things? He is not trying to win over those who failed to vote for him, but is keeping us all engaged with his showmanship, and doing pretty well at that. He seems able to say and do anything to get attention—saying now that he really actually loves conflicts of interest and wants daughter Ivanka in his administration. She and her husband are apparently planning to move to DC. In fact, she seems more level-headed than he, so she might be helpful. Otherwise, we are going to have perpetual insecurity and instability, not good for government planning, markets, or international relations. Democrats have been aroused now to be in a perpetual fighting mode. 

Republicans are uncertain whether to support or oppose Trump on specific issues. He is sure to go on public attack-mode against whoever opposes him. And he’s planning for 8 long years in office, based on what he’s said so far (if he doesn't get too bored). Woe is me! Woe are we! Will I live long enough to see the end of his administration? I don’t wish any ill will to Donald Trump and is family—may they flourish. I know it would be a big disappointment to him, his children, and their ardent followers if he did not actually become president, but for the greater good of the country and for humanity, it would be best. Melania would appreciate it also. 

Why doesn’t Trump bring many of his overseas businesses back to the US to provide jobs here?

A friend hopes there is a chance that President Trump will surprise us all and rise to the occasion, growing in competence with the demands of the job. Even at age 70 and despite the bad habits of a lifetime, is personal change on his part still possible? For the sake of us all, for humanity's sake, let’s hope so. But it would require a yuge effort and character reversal on his part. It’s more likely that we are in for a long rocky road. Trump already seems impaitent with the minutiae of the presidency (those pesky daily intelligence briefings), but perhaps Pence, Conway, and his children will keep him on task or take the burden mostly off his shoulders. GW Bush didn’t like to read, went to bed early, took long naps, and would decide to go out for a bike ride on a whim. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney was still on duty, stealthily plotting what to do next. (Now GW seems much happier in retirement, painting images of his dog or of himself in the bathtub and proudly displaying his adolescent-style art at occasional shows. Once in a while, he accepts a high-paying appearance.) We are all waiting to see what Barack Obama will do post-presidency. 

Another friend tells me the following—is this true or is it fake news? It’s hard to tell sometimes and assassination accusation claims do seem exaggerated. He says: Obama just declassified docs. which show that "Operation Condor" of the Kissinger / Nixon years targeted Amnesty International officials and officials of other human rights associations for assassination by CIA agents.

Here are 2 of my new public blog postings the wake of Fidel’s death:

Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, fell on a Saturday this year, so at the Amnesty International (AI) USA office in DC, we celebrated on the following Monday, writing letters to authorities about prisoners of conscience, that is, people imprisoned only for non-violent expression or association. Last year, El Sexto, the Cuban graffiti piglet-painting artist had joined us in the office for that letter-writing event. This year, he is back in prison, as I’ve stated before on this blog. Now, we were there writing letters on his behalf.


In Castro's Cuba, a kind of Macondo in real time, anything can happen. For example, the jeep carrying Fidel Castro's ashes can even break down as it enters Santiago de Cuba, with the shrine's solemn keepers having to get out of the vehicle and push. (From Diario de Cuba)

Here is Americas Quarterly, sometime after my Confessions book came out, corroborating my contention there that Afro-Cubans are especially disadvantaged because of receiving fewer remittances and not often being chosen by the government to work in tourism. That was one of the initial arguments, which my “nunny bunny” critic forcefully disputed, that first led me to write that book. It is not so surprising that Afro-Cubans would be at the bottom of the heap, but a number of Fidel’s American partisans have argued against the very notion, still caught up in the Castro rhetoric and mystique.

Talked by phone with Sirley Avila, the Cuban woman maimed by a machete attack. She is in a shelter in Homestead, FL, with more than 400 other people, sharing a room with bunk beds (she has a bottom bunk) with 24 other women, all there for various reasons (I wasn't clear if all are refugees, migrants, asylum seekers, or what--maybe some are awaiting deportation?). They eat in a central dining hall, have few activities, and she is waiting for assistance to move into her own place. The Directorate is still in touch and staff from there sometimes take her out, but they are no longer in charge and are leaving her to go through the government system. She says she is glad to have left Cuba when she did, as after Fidel's death, matters have gotten worse there for dissidents. 

This is about Venezuela, not one of my Amnesty International Caribbean countries, but one that used to have the highest per capita income in Latin America, now apparently with families unable to feed their children.

The Dakota pipeline access protest seems to have been vindicated by an oil spill only 150 miles away:

I believe I’ve previously mentioned my friend Anna, whom I knew as a teenager in Colombia and who visited me in Honduras, as per my Peace Corps book. I won’t give out her last name or where she lives, only say that 2 years ago, she was gravely injured by a vehicle belonging to her assisted living compound, which ran over her. After a near-death experience, multiple surgeries, including the amputation of a leg below the knee, and 2 years in the hospital, at age 79, she is finally out, with a wheelchair and an artificial leg, residing now in another assisted living facility. Congratulations, Anna! But her lawsuit keeps getting delayed because—no doubt—the original facility, where the injury occurred, hopes that she dies first so they won't have to pay. That side keeps putting up roadblocks. Meanwhile, she still has a humongous bill from the hospital she just left, but is waiting for her settlement, if it ever comes through. I will keep you posted.

Finally, the Catholic Church is not the only one that has covered up child sexual abuse, though it does seem to finally be coming clean and making reparations to victims. Not so the Jehovah’s Witnesses, where a cover-up of ongoing and extensive abuse has been underway for decades and where church officials have only turned over court-ordered documents with names redacted. That’s according to a recent NPR program devoted to the subject. In the Trump era, we need NPR more than ever! 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

An Anniversary, International Adoption, Trump, Cuba, South Sudan

Grandfatherly Fidel tells Cubans there is nothing impossible to achieve starting with today (photo from my Confessions book).

Dec. 19 is my daughter Melanie’s birthday and also the day that my son Andrew died.

International adoption is getting more complicated and expensive. (Reminder, my son Jon was adopted from Colombia and my late Cuban foster son arrived from Cuba via the Mariel boatlift.) Yet there is a point of diminishing returns in adding more layers of cost and protections that actually impede such adoptions and prevent children from finding homes. There is no way for any human endeavor to provide a 100% guarantee of success. Granted, that there have been unscrupulous practices in the past that have harmed some kids and families, but most have now been taken care of, almost to the point of overkill. Speaking as both an adoptive and a birth parent, I do think there are additional factors and complications involved in becoming a parent by international adoption, but current practices are more than sufficient to address them. Adding unnecessary and costly hurdles serves only to discourage would-be adoptive parents. Adoption, like any other human endeavor or relationship, involves a degree of chance or risk that cannot be entirely eliminated. The adoption process should try to prepare parents to cope with possible problems, but cannot make them all magically disappear. An adopted child, like any human being, is not a cookie cutter image, but flesh and blood responsive to the emotional environment of his or her new home. Parent-child relationships develop over time and cannot be guaranteed in advance. We all know that, but some adoption policy makers seem clueless and overly concerned about rules.

Recently, I got together with the daughter of a good friend who died recently. The daughter works at a school in my neighborhood that my kids once attended. Her mother, Hope Marindin, was a single adoption pioneer, about whom I once wrote in the Washington Post. In her late 40’s, she adopted two boys and the daughter with whom I recently met. The daughter, originally from Vietnam, has visited there twice, including going to her old orphanage. Now she and her husband want to adopt a child from Asia.

Elaine Chao, Trump’s new Transportation Secretary pick, is Mitch McConnell’s wife and also a former Peace Corps Director. Trump is beholden to McConnell for his support. Trump’s announced future appointments are all over the block, most seeming quite inappropriate for or even antithetical to the mission of the agency involved. Whether or not Donald Trump dons the Republican mantle, might some Republican lawmakers balk at some of these nominations?

Why doesn’t Trump bring many of his overseas businesses back to the US to provide jobs here?

The more Donald Trump keeps on traveling around the country arousing his supporters and also naming staff, thus keeping himself in the news, the harder it will be to overturn this election without a civil war, which may be part of his strategy. Trump obviously enjoys speaking extemporaneously at rallies and being cheered on by crowds much more than actually engaging in the nitty gritty of governing. He doesn’t appreciate being mocked and is also facing widespread civil disobedience by cities, churches, and universities regarding his intended wholesale deportations. The fact that he lost the popular vote by such a wide margin (now 2.7 million and counting) has made his mandate seem illegitimate, which may be one reason for him abandoning his promise to “lock up” Hillary Clinton. Lock her up for what? Hillary has been cleared and reportedly got the highest vote count ever for a presidential candidate.

 Nor have Trump’s appointments or statements since the election given those opposed to him any more confidence in his leadership. He says he doesn’t need daily intel briefings because he’s “smart.” His appointments are top-heavy with generals and regulators opposed to the regulations they are supposed to support. They may face sabotage in the ranks. He may not even enjoy a post-election honeymoon. And while a Republican House and Senate may give him the benefit of the doubt initially, they must also be aware that a large proportion of the public has not been won over and may even oust them at the mid-term elections. Despite extensive gerrymandering, not all Republicans are in safe districts. The electorate is fickle and impatient and some Trump voters have taken all his wild promises literally. Like spurned lovers, will they seek their revenge? Some high-profile conservative supporters, like Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter, have already jumped ship. 

Apparently, unlike other presidents, Trump won‘t divest himself of his overseas holdings nor is he giving up his role in “The Celebrity Apprentice.” And he will probably stay involved with his US businesses despite saying his kids will manage them, while also holdings meetings at his conveniently located DC Trump Hotel. “Conflict of interest” is not part of his vocabulary—he seems bent on using the presidency to increase his fortune. How much money does one person and one family need to amass? Trump flaunts the usual rules and expects to get away with it and certainly, so far, his Republican supporters and advisers seem poised to give him that leeway. For someone who attacked Hillary Clinton for her association with the Clinton Foundation, an actual benevolent foundation supporting many useful projects around the world, Trump certainly holds himself to a different standard.

It would be great if a majority of members of the Electoral College would not
actually vote for Trump. Some have resigned rather than vote for him, though it would have been better if they had stayed on and simply not given him their vote. Five million have already signed an on-line petition in favor of Hillary Clinton and against Trump. If that number swells before Dec. 19, when the Electoral College vote, will it have any effect? Probably not, because the signatures will not have been checked against voter rolls. (There was no internet, obviously, when the Electoral College was formed.) And these eager signers may not have actually voted for Hillary on Nov. 8. People who were lukewarm for her may have decided instead to vote for a 3rd party or not at all, confident that she would win anyway, but not wanting to feel responsible. Some of them are sorry now; Trump’s margin of victory in battleground states was so small.

According to Michael Moore, who had predicted Trump’s victory, it's not impossible that the Electoral College will deny Trump the presidency. If that should actually happen, we will have a major tweet storm and all hell breaking loose. The several retired generals whom Trump has nominated will be on the warpath.

Unfortunately, at this point, it’s probably wishful thinking that Trump could actually be dislodged. We may have to endure him, just as we endure other life challenges and reversals such as illnesses, accidents, job losses, relationship problems, and natural disasters. He can do a lot of damage in 4 years, but, so far, there seems to be no way to avoid a looming accident or catastrophe. We can always hope that he won’t be as bad as we had feared.

Jill Stein has certainly elevated the profile of the Green Party and her own standing with her recount efforts. The fact that so much money poured so quickly into her effort is a tribute to her, as well as to Clinton. Of course, Trump's folks are fighting tooth and nail to stop the vote recount, even though, if Trump believes there actually were irregularities and that "illegals" voted, he should welcome the recount. Probably, the biggest take-away from the effort will be that vote counting is an inexact science, that each time it’s done, a different outcome emerges.

Now a NY lawyer is trying to show that the Trump camp informed or urged Comey to investigate Weiner's e-mails for a Clinton connection:

I would hope that at least some Republican Congress members who have supported Trump will take a drubbing in the mid-term elections. Little he has said or done so far gives much hope for moderation or even focus when he actually assumes office. At least, the Trump phenomenon has been interesting, gobbling up lots of ink and bandwidth. If Hillary had won, it would have just been business as usual and rather dull. Sensationalism has been Trump’s wild card all along. As it stands, I suppose that like with any catastrophic event, we will adapt somewhat over time to his election.

Opinions about Cuba and the Castro regime continue to be strongly polarized. It's very easy, even for a visitor there who is Spanish-speaking, to view Cuba through a partisan lens. Certainly if you were inspired by Fidel Castro's rhetoric and early vision (as many of us were, including me), you would be able to find Cubans still supporting him, though some of those won’t be sincere and will only be expressing what they think you want to hear. The degree of subterfuge and secrecy among Cubans, especially when relating to foreigners, or even among themselves, is sometimes hard to discern. Many are on guard until they find out just where you stand. There are sincere partisans of Fidel and some tears now being shed are real, but others are fake and some people cry when they see others doing so, as there is also crowd contagion. And many of those along the parade route of Fidel’s ashes were either expected or forced to be there. It's hard to tell the difference between the willing and unwilling in a dictatorship.

In any case, I would hope that Cuba will gradually open up now to more tolerance of differing views and, especially, move toward a greater economic opening along the lines of China and Vietnam, unfortunately, still one-party states with political prisoners, executions, and censorship. However, both nations allow Peace Corps volunteers and most people there are doing better due to greater economic opportunity, with most being satisfied with that, like most Cubans would be. In fact, most Americans and citizens of western democracies are also more concerned with economic opportunity than with civil rights. Raul Castro has expressed admiration for the Chinese/Vietnamese model, so now that Fidel is gone and the influence of his partisans is diminished, Raul may well move in that direction. 

Apparently, machete victim Sirley Avila, about whom I have written previously, was in DC recently, but I didn’t know about it:

I'm sorry that painted pig artist Danilo Maldonado is back in prison; at Amnesty Int'l, we've issued an Urgent Action for him. He was planning to repeat his painted pig caper ("Fidel" and "Raul") again this Christmas, but the authorities are preventing that now. With Fidel dead, they should just ignore him and his "performance art;" instead, by making a big deal, they are arousing support for him and against the Cuban government from around the world, though perhaps not within Cuba, where such information is blocked. 

Dissident artist jailed in Cuba beaten and fed sedative-laced food, family says | Fox News

Carlos Eire, a Cuban American history professor at Yale, has written a bitter diatribe against Fidel Castro, of which here is only the last paragraph: Fittingly, his arrogant deceitfulness extended past his death. In Havana, tens of thousands of Cubans were forced to trudge to the Plaza of the Revolution, to bow before his ashes. Attendance was mandatory—as it was whenever Fidel needed to be surrounded by a throng of slaves—but the ritual was grotesquely hollow. After they had waited in line for hours, all that those Cubans got to see was a small framed photo of the ex–Maximum Leader and a kitschy display of some of his medals, guarded by four young soldiers. The ashes were not there. They were at the Ministry of the Armed Forces headquarters, accessible only to the top brass of the Castro military junta. For a final time, Fidel had hoodwinked his slaves, and the aging oligarchs gathered around his relics probably laughed.

Yes, how would Americans feel if now they had to look forward to more than 50 years of Donald Trump as president? That’s how many Cubans feel after more than 50 years of Fidel.

Cuban exiles speculate that Fidel forbade any monuments in his honor not out of humility (which he never expressed), but because of fear that they might be defaced in the future, as happened to Communist Party monuments elsewhere.

While South Sudan is far afield from our orbit, it is of special interest to me ever since my mission there in 2006, before independence. Now the tribal warfare between the president and his former vice president seems to have escalated to almost to a Rwanda-type situation. South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, is a nation with so many needs and whose people have such a long history of suffering that it is cruel that its leaders cannot settle their differences and seem determined to drag the people into a brutal civil war.

Police shootings, including of a Nevada boy wielding a knife, make me wonder whether when the attacker doesn’t have a gun, if the police could use a stun gun instead? Of course, there is usually little time for reaction and maybe police don’t always have stun guns handy, but it seems that a gunshot should be a last resort. I realize that occasionally someone dies when being hit by a stun gun, but very rarely.

At my age (78), I no longer expect to become stronger, smarter, or more successful in the future, rather, simply to delay inevitable decline, a realization that has come on gradually. By the way, I still do plan to go to Honduras again next Feb. When I stop going there, you will know that I have given up an important part of my life.