Monday, November 13, 2017

Honduras PC Volunteer Returns, Interpreter Surprise, Amnesty Int’l Venezuela, Visa Lottery, Mass Shootings, Va. Election, Trump Hotels, Free Speech, Ending TPS, Int’l Adoptions, Fire This Time

For a taste of what living in Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer was like, take a look at this You-tube video from a volunteer whose term overlapped with mine (since I extended my term after starting in 2000).  And, of course, I’ve been back 13 times since, including last Feb. Many familiar scenes appear here:

Speaking of Honduras, while I was serving as an interpreter at a recent parent-teacher school meeting, one of the teachers noticed the tiny logo on my t-shirt for International Health Service of Minnesota (, one of the brigades where I’ve volunteered yearly since leaving Peace Corps Honduras—was there most recently in Feb. 2017. Her parents, a nurse and a physician, are also yearly volunteers, but in a different part of Honduras from where I usually go. Small world!

Interpreting is a job full of surprises; we never know quite what to expect. Recently, at a law office, I met as interpreter with an asylum applicant, a male-to-female transgender woman, still using a male first name, probably because identifying documents and gender identity cannot be legally changed in the country of origin and all documents would be in that name. I wish I could say more, including original country, but confidentiality precludes it. 

Recently, at the DC Amnesty International office, I am among about 20 people attending a presentation by Marcos Gomez, the head of Amnesty International Venezuela, one of the largest groups in Latin America. Here is a statement issued by the office prior to his appearance:
Earlier this year, amidst an increase in protests around Venezuela have resulted in more than 43 deaths and hundreds of people injured and imprisoned, Amnesty International launched the report Silenced By Force: Politically-Motivated Arbitrary Detentions in Venezuela. The report provides details on a catalogue of illegal actions taken by Venezuelan authorities to repress freedom of expression, and documents how Venezuelan authorities are using the justice system to illegally increase persecution and punishment of those who think differently. Marcos Gomez heads the 40-year old country section of Amnesty International Venezuela (AIVEN) and manages 50 local staff. The Venezuela Section of Amnesty International is one of the largest throughout the Global South with more than 450,000 supporters and 20 networks in all of Venezuela's major cities. Marcos will also provide updates on the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, and on recently documented findings of how Venezuelan security forces have used illegal raids and attacks on private homes as a way of stamping out dissent, expanding their repressive tactics from the streets to people’s homes.

As for Americans’ Cuba travel: U.S. tourists and companies will no longer be able to do business with a long list of entities that allegedly have ties to Cuban military, intelligence or security services. American tourists will also no longer be able to travel to Cuba on individual people-to-people exchange programs. They must travel now with a sponsoring organization or, if there on educational travel, with an American group or university.

Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbec man charged with killing 8 people in the NYC terrorist attack, had won the visa lottery. I am well acquainted with the visa lottery, as per my Confessions book: Once, in a remarkable streak of luck, three visitors, from Argentina, Japan, and Tunisia respectively, all won that year’s U.S. visa lottery. Our house acquired such a lucky-charm reputation thereafter that visa-lottery hopefuls clamored to live with us, although none subsequently won.

Of course, the visa lottery is not the real problem.

Prepare Yourself for Jihad 3.0

Radical Islamic terrorists will revive their movement. The U.S. needs to focus on defeating the ideology. By Husain Haqqan Wall St. Journal Nov. 2, 2017 Tuesday's terrorist attack in New York City, committed by an immigrant from Uzbekistan, is a reminder that radical political Islam won’t end with the recent defeat of Islamic State in Raqqa. The U.S. must re-evaluate its alliances in the Muslim world based on whether or not partners encourage extremism. Saudi Arabia’s recent avowal to teach moderation in religion, emulating the United Arab Emirates’ campaign against radical Islamism, deserves American support, as does Morocco’s decision to work with the Holocaust Memorial Museum to educate its people about the Holocaust and teach tolerance. On the other hand, Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey’s decision to include jihadi teachings in its school curriculum indicate their support of radicalism. Above all, the U.S. must focus on defeating radical Islamist ideology, not just its periodic manifestation in terrorist attacks.

Even closer to home, how many more mass shootings have to occur before more effective gun control is enacted? Apparently the supposed protective benefit of allowing an armed citizenry is not working in terms of preventing such attacks. An article in the right-wing Townhall Daily is headlined “We Don’t Need Gun Control to Prevent Mass Shootings." OK, then, what do we need? Other developed countries, even less developed ones, don’t have this problem. Mr. Trump says it’s a mental health issue, not “a gun situation.”  If so, what do we do to prevent those with mental health issues from having guns, including Donald Trump himself, who evidently has his own mental health issues?

Despite a bad conduct military discharge and having been found to have assaulted his wife and child, the Texas shooter was able to assemble a firearms collection.

Avid Trump supporter Texas Gov. Greg Abbott commented on Sunday’s killing in Sutherland Spring, Texas, and on the killing of 58 people in Las Vegas in October: :
We have acts of evil taking place, and because they are close in time to us right now, we think this is something heavy right now. But put this in the context of history. Look at what happened with Hitler, the horrific events during that era, and Mussolini. 

Predictably, Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and many other political leaders sent their usual “thoughts and prayers” to Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday after the gunman killed 26 people and injured 20 more at the First Baptist Church. It always is said to be “too soon” to discuss gun control after a mass shooting. But many on Twitter pointed out that the victims were attending church, so likely were already engaged in prayer, and still suffered at the hands of a gunman. Now, they say, it’s time for politicians to offer something more than thoughts and prayers:
FollowFollow @SpeakerRyan
Reports out of Texas are devastating. The people of Sutherland Springs need our prayers right now.

rosanne cash Retweeted Paul Ryan
They were in a church that was full of prayers. They need a government who will enact common sense gun laws. #GunControlNow

Mr. Trump poured gasoline on the fire of the gun debate by reportedly calling for more guns, when all evidence shows that fewer guns deaths occur where there are fewer guns in circulation. As for his international forays, "I do think both the Chinese and the Russians think they can play him," former National Intelligence Director James Clapper said of Trump.

Of course, Trump apparently considers himself to be especially gifted and possessing a very high IQ (he seems obsessed with IQ scores and proving that he is smart). Actually, he is rumored to have been mediocre in college (and maybe a legacy student?) and has what many have called a 3rd-grade vocabulary and obviously poor grammar and spelling. He also is ignorant of basic facts, as when he urged Japanese car makers to make cars in the US, as if they weren’t already doing that! Is Trump’s base really as clueless as he is and do his folks see ignorance as a virtue? Shouldn’t our leaders be a little savvier than the average voter?

GWBush seemed not too swift mentally as president, but he could be folksy and self-deprecating. Bill Clinton was savvy, but a philanderer. Obama as president was a straight arrow and very bright, but maybe a bit too cerebral? What redeeming virtues fitting him for the presidency does a mentally and emotionally challenged guy like Donald Trump have? Rather, let him return to playing golf and promoting his various properties. Maybe he can entertain himself by giving (paid) speeches to his adoring fans?

Well, at least Ralph Northam won, whew! not that he's so fantastic, but certainly much better than the alternative. Former RNC Chair Michael Steele is right in commenting on Trump's blaming of Ed Gillespie for not fully embracing him--Steele asked Trump if he had won Virginia? 

Is the following true or “fake news”?

Former Mexican ambassador Arturo Sarukhan, who served as Mexico’s ambassador to the United States from 2007 to 2013, says State Department is telling world leaders to stay at Trump hotels.

The Trump-friendly daily on-line “news” source, Townhall Daily, displays headlines like: “Mueller Strikes Out: Democrat Nuts and Never Trumpers Hardest Hit,” “The Left Is Just Full of Miserable People,” “Hillary Is Having A Terrible Day,” “Mueller Must Resign,” and “Sex: The Progressives’ Problem.” Not sure how I came to receive it, but it’s an interesting look into the alternative world of Trump supporters, the hard-core base. Might most of this be considered honest-to-goodness “fake news”?

Trump routinely labels unfavorable press reports and falling poll numbers “fake news,” and when votes don’t go his way, that’s because illegal aliens voted. And, of course, his predecessor Barack Obama was born in Kenya, hence an illegal alien president who also had smaller inaugural crowd. The economy is in ruins, Obamacare is imploding, and coal is coming back!! And, oh, by the way, Trump is the smartest president ever and the very “best” since Abraham Lincoln. Does that remind you of a tin-horn dictator along the lines of Robert Mugabe? The Alabama Senate race has Trump in a quandary—it's a very high-stakes race.

A democratic government, with free speech and elections, allows different voices to be expressed, making it good for sorting out beliefs and actions, but also subjecting  vulnerable and uniformed citizens to manipulation. What has protected Trump so far—giving credit now where credit is due—is that the economy has continued to hum along, just as under Obama, not quite with the wild success that Trump had predicted, but still doing OK and the stock market has kept on going up. Will it last?

Here’s another huge pending disruption, affecting Hondurans, among others, also Haitians under my jurisdiction as Amnesty International Caribbean Coordinator: Trump administration to drop protections for Central Americans and Haitians: report | TheHill Nicaraguans are already being notified that their TPS will expire.

Very appropirate of Hawaiians to be greeting Trump with “Welcome to Kenya” signs.

As if international adoptions needed any more complications, Trump administration putting new hurdles on international adoptions, The Columbus Dispatch, Mon, Nov 6

I have an internationally adopted son, Jon, now past 40, and for many years I was a board member of a local international adoption agency that has closed its doors because of the difficulty of maneuvering in the current climate.

In another blow to adoptions (don't Republicans favor adoption over abortion?, Paul Ryan Defends Elimination of the Adoption Tax Credit 

Finally, we all support free speech, but are not allowed to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater when there is no actual fire. But what if our country really is on fire? Isn’t it time to start shouting “fire!” now about the Trump administration? 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Son’s Progress, Pedestrians with Phones, Cuban Migrants Seek Refuge in Chile, Turkey Releases Amnesty Activists, Honduran Elections, George Bush Senior and Other Harassers, Putin’s Revenge, Trump Targets Hillary in Mueller Probe, Tax “Reform”

                     Daughter Melanie offers son Jonathan a bite off her plate at restaurant meal.

 Halloween is a favorite holiday.

A new law taking effect in Honolulu, where my younger daughter lives, has now made it illegal to text or be looking down at a phone while crossing the street. Pedestrians in Hawaii's state capital who cross a street or highway while using a mobile electronic device can be slammed with a fine of up to $35 for their first offense, according to the new law.
Here’s a brave soul, apparently not intimidated by alleged sonic attacks: 
The Cuban government has alleged that the whole attack story is made-up, but, if so, why have some Canadian diplomats in Havana and tourists claimed the same harm?

According to a report in the Chilean newspaper La Estrella de Iquique, 74 Cuban migrants arrived at the Chilean border seeking refuge and more were reported en route. If Cuban migrants have been blocked going north, now some are veering south instead.

Seven Amnesty International activists arrested in Turkey after a July workshop (that started with yoga) have been freed pending trial for terrorism, while one still remains in custody.

On November 26, 2017, Honduras will elect a new president.  Amnesty International and ten allied organizations urge presidential candidates to include in their government plans, ten measures to respect the human rights of the Honduran people and protect all those who raise their voices when these rights are violated.

Report: Coordinated plot to murder Honduran activist Caceres

There have been ample on-line defenses of George HW Bush after he reportedly touched women’s backsides in photo-ops while joking about “David Cop-a-Feel” as Barbara Bush stood stoically nearby. His defenders say he is to be excused by being old and demented and that he is a great man and was a great president. If he is truly mentally compromised, his caregivers, including Barbara, should make sure to stand between him and other women, as all have now been amply forewarned.  That GHW has indulged in such behavior in his old age would indicate (but does not prove) that he might well have done so earlier in life and the habit just carried over. For many men, it’s a culturally acquired habit, learned behavior, though I would not totally discount the influence of testosterone either. Even male animals seem more aggressive, sexually and competitively against other males, than do females. Still, the fact that many or even most men do not harass women sexually or otherwise proves it’s not something beyond their control.

According to one of my more thoughtful blog readers :  all i have to say is that the issue is not about  attractiveness or male testosterone but more about power.  should a woman have to pay 'extra' to get ahead?  is that equality?  are u saying that if she does not  like it, she can go back to wherever she came from, without consequence to the aggressor?   and that the next woman not hit on, can get the opportunity?
   i do not see this as about attractiveness.  Donald Trump is a pretty attractive guy, notwithstanding his personality.  and Harvey W. with all that $ and connections n starpower is too.  but they have used their power to extract sexual favors.  and that is not correct.  if we are putting guys in jail for rape, then these guys......

She’s quite right-- sex should not be the price of success in film or any other field, though it often is. An aspiring actress or any other female employee should not have to pay her dues that way nor be blacklisted because she refuses to consent. Women do need to speak up, despite fear of retaliation. Maybe Harvey and Donald are (or once were) attractive guys in terms of their prominence and power, though it's hard, at least for me, to see that now—it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Trump won supporters by being anti-establishment, vowing to “drain the swamp.” Now Steve Bannon is turning the tables, using the same rhetoric against Republican incumbents.

Trump is reacting to the first Mueller actions with an attack on Hillary Clinton, par for the course. He must be itching to tell Mueller: “You’re fired!” (Golly, despite his superior intelligence and deal-making skills, he’s finding this darn presidential thing surprisingly harder than being a reality TV star or even a mega businessman!)

A 2- segment Frontline program, Putin’s Revenge, apparently attributes Vladimir Putin’s interventions aimed at elevating Donald Trump and harming Hillary Clinton’s presidential election prospects to her efforts as secretary of state to assist pro-democracy forces in Russia and undermine Putin. Putin aimed to deliberately harm Clinton and the US in retaliation, but apparently never expected Trump to actually win. Of course, that win was due not only to Putin’s efforts, but also to the quirk of the Electoral College system, which has unfortunately given us the president we have today.

Barack Obama tried to educate the electorate by word and example, but Trump uses both avenues to dumb down voters and reinforce and justify their prejudices.

If it ain’t broke, why try to fix it? What’s the point of tax reform, except to give Republican donors, along with Trump and his cronies, a further tax break and to punish blue-state citizens and their office holders by not allowing exemptions for state and local taxes? Of course, Trump wants a “victory”   and about which he can point to as a “win” about which he can tweet his heart out. But changing the tax code to reflect his wishes means a higher deficit, unlikely trickle-down to the bulk of citizens (never happened before), and possible harm to the economy which is doing just fine right now with Janet Yellen at the helm and under the current tax code. His base is likely to lose out.

“Tax reform” always has winners and losers. The main thrust of the Republican tax reform seems to be to accelerate tax collections now rather than later through 401K changes to reduce the immediate deficit impact of reductions in tax rates.

Not much information is available about the young migrant in immigration detention who was finally allowed to have an abortion. I wonder what country she is from and whether she might have been raped?  Not a few youthful first pregnancies in Latin American countries are attributed, rightly or wrongly, to rape. And it’s very unlikely that a legal abortion would have been available in her home country. Did she perhaps cross the border with abortion in mind?  Most young pregnant undocumented women would have welcomed becoming mothers here, believing that would give them a foothold in this country. However, that’s not necessarily the case. More likely, both refugee mother and small child would return back together to her country after she is deported. My friend who teaches preschool and kindergarten kids in public schools in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, tells me that a large proportion of her students were born in the US.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Son’s Progress, International Adoption, Sexual Harassment, Donald Trump (unfortunately, still with us), Puerto Rico

My son Jonathan, badly injured in a beating and robbery with an iron bar in Honolulu’s Chinatown, is recovering physically and emotionally from the trauma, but still has not recovered sight in his right eye. He likes to wear colored eye patches. It will take some time for the blood to clear sufficiently for an ophthalmologist to see whether he will need a retinal repair to restore maximum sight in that eye. But his spirits are good and he is glad to be far from the scene of the crime.

As someone who has adopted internationally, namely my son Jon born in Colombia, I’m someone who had gone against the grain by adopting a boy, while girls have always been more available, especially in China, though now that country is shifting away from the almost exclusive permission to adopt girls. (At the time that Jon came into our family, I already had a boy and two girls.) International adoption has been shrinking due to many factors: international politics, tighter rules, greater and more expensive bureaucracy, the trend toward smaller and less child-oriented families, and the proliferation of new fertility technologies such as the use of gestational mothers, egg and sperm donation, and fertility drugs. I know several people who have adopted girls from China, including single women, but apparently single adoption by women (almost never allowed for single men) is usually no longer allowed there.

This below is regarding a drug raid in Honduras in 2012
D.E.A. Says Hondurans Opened Fire During a Drug Raid. A Video Suggests Otherwise. - The New York Times®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Not to be nonchalant about sexual harassment and abuse in light of the Harvey Weinstein accusations (and those also against Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Clarence Thomas, Mel Gibson, and Roman Polanski, among many many other prominent men). However, being the subject of sexual harassment to a lesser or greater degree is practically a universal female experience. It’s not something particularly rare or surprising, so, to me, is not all that shocking when it is revealed; it’s what you would expect under the circumstances. Whether because of testosterone, a bullying mindset, macho culture, male financial and political dominance, or a combination thereof, harassment happens to almost all women routinely, if even to a lesser extent to most of us than among the rich and famous, and also because some women aspiring to enter those upper ranks are complicit in their own denigration. (Anita Hill would back me up on the universality of sexual harassment of women.) Many of these men, Trump and Weinstein included, are unattractive to women, even repulsive, so they try to bully their way into being accepted, at least sexually.

Being married and having young children, I found to be temporarily somewhat protective. Getting older also has helped, though not so much in Honduras. Most women pretty much expect it, take it for granted, and try to avoid it. I am certainly not condoning sexual harassment, but not so surprised or shocked when it comes to light. Of course, we women should continue to fight all types of harassment, reveal it, and avoid it whenever possible. I suppose there are a few instances of prominent women bullying men sexually or otherwise, but they are rare and outside the norm, while men harassing and bullying women is probably an almost universal phenomenon. Perhaps in Scandinavia, the pattern has been broken or at least attenuated?

Probably the American president has less control over national and international affairs than we would like to imagine, but the idea of his (or potentially her) control is somewhat comforting. Right now, the world feels rudderless, like no one is in charge. Or maybe that a big old cry baby is in charge. You know who I mean.

Instead of accomplishing anything constructive and moderately helpful, Trump is enjoying the power and license to be totally destructive, setting out to demolish Obama’s “legacy” any way he can, sort of like an overgrown wayward child delighting in crashing and stomping on whatever lies in his path or captures his flighty attention. It’s a way for him to demonstrate his power and feel self-important. He deliberately picks fights, however small, with everybody, maybe to get attention? He then leaves it to others to pick up the pieces; he often simply sends a tweet to the Republican Congress just to “fix it” without offering any ideas about how to fix it himself, whether Obamacare, NAFTA, NATO, Iran, or DACA, or even what a fix might look like, just saying that the current  policy is terrible, a disaster, so fix it. Then he doesn’t have to think of a solution himself or shoulder much blame should it go wrong. Trump seems unable to learn either from his mistakes, experience, or advice, even the advice of the generals with whom he has surrounded himself, while touting them as being above reproach or human frailties. General Kelly has disproved this with his awkward defense of Trump. 

Trump himself could go a long toward improving his own image if he would simply apologize for gross remarks, for instance, say “Sorry” to the bereaved widow whom he offended.
Trump’s main modus operandi seems to be pitting “us” against “them,” among the latter, African Americans, Hispanics, foreigners, Muslims, strangers, gays, non-English speakers, and Puerto Ricans who are not really Americans--and also women. 

That primitive instinct to stick to the familiar social in-group, evident also in animals, is something many humans have been able to move beyond, especially those of us who have lived and worked in other countries or, more particularly, have joined the Peace Corps. I get do get regular e-mails from Townhall Daily, a very conservative pro-Trump outlet, just to see what the other side thinks and why. It’s still asking for Hillary to be jailed. I also read the Washington Examiner, another conservative outlet which, however, is starting to express some misgivings about Trump.

If, indeed, Melania has a body double (as has been speculated) wearing cap and big sunglasses and not speaking aloud, more power to her for avoiding travels with her oafish husband, whom she must regret marrying. Her life may have been tolerable when she and her son spent their days alone together in their NYC penthouse, but spending more time with Donald is not something she seems to enjoy. He’s the kind of overbearing, tone-deaf, overweight middle-aged man who touts his wealth and importance, someone whom most women would gladly avoid. You have to feel sort of sorry for such an unappealing guy who probably has no real friends or loved ones. Now, it’s too late for him to learn new social skills or to discard the habit of lying whenever it suits him. He (as well as his staff) thinks being a military general automatically gives someone unquestioned authority. General Kelly tried to coach Trump on what to say to a grieving widow, but, even so, Trump botched it and Kelly botched it later trying to pick up the pieces. Just repeatedly saying “I’m very, very smart” is not convincing. Apparently, even in college, Trump was a challenged student.

But if the guy is unappealing as a man and disastrous playing at being president, the specter of a President Mike Pence is hardly a more welcome prospect. Pence is even more right-wing than Trump, already has alliances in Congress, and has thought through his positions and policies, perhaps making him an even nastier and more effective foe than Trump. So, we all need to be careful what we wish for. The ideal scenario would be for the Trump presidency to blow up right around the mid-term elections, giving the Democrats a majority to confront and counteract either Trump or Pence. If ever we emerge from the Trump catastrophe and want to look back, I should return to these blog pages from 2017 and, I hope, not much longer than that.

At the same time, the proliferation of intrusive e-mails touting Trump’s outrages and soliciting funds to counter him is getting rather annoying. And they are preaching only to the converted. And how do we know where that money actually goes? I would go broke responding to them all and responding to any would probably disperse my e-mail address to even more political outlets.

Trump and his minions seem not to realize that Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are US territories and therefore our responsibility. That allows Trump to act as though any post-hurricane help offered there is some sort of charity. At the same time, apart from hurricanes, PR has a fairly moderate climate with houses that don’t need heat and could get by, if properly prepared, without electrical power, as do millions of people all over the world. Cooking over a wood fire is not impossible, as I know from my Peace Corps days and from my annual visits to Honduras. Folks without electricity can and do use candles, kerosene lamps, flashlights, diesel generators, and even car batteries for light. Maybe some such items could be rushed to our Caribbean brothers and sisters to use (with due caution) while the electrical grid is being reconstructed. Of course, ideally, electrical wires would be placed underground, as we have them here in Washington, DC, expensive initially, but promoting protection in the long run. 

A couple of postings back, I mentioned but forgot to post the sign put at Hillary’s driveway on the day after the election by her neighbors. Better late than never, here it is:

Friday, October 13, 2017

High Time for Trump to Be Gone, Gone, GONE! Jamaica Police Violence, Death of a Cuban Patriot, Great-grandson’s 10th B’day, Son’s Brutal Attack, Correction

Outgoing Senator Bob Corker has opened wide the obvious question of Donald Trump’s fitness to continue in the presidency. Despite his “babysitters,” Trump is on such a rampage of wanton destruction—including the Iran deal, NATO, NAFTA, DACA, North Korea, Obamacare, and Puerto Rico hurricane aid (what about the Virgin Islands?)---that maybe even Republican lawmakers are starting to have second thoughts, since the good of the country, their own political survival, and that of their party in 2018 is at stake. Never mind details, because they are covered amply in the news, but it seems high time to get rid of President Trump as the nation and the world cannot allow him to continue in office. It may be messy to get him out and his base may become outraged, though even they may also be losing patience, since none of his promises have been fulfilled. We feared the worse for his presidency, but hoped he would learn on the job and that his advisers and daughter Ivanka and her husband might be mitigating forces, but it’s not getting any better, just gets worse and worse.

Last year, Amnesty International released a report, Waiting in Vain: Unlawful Police Killings and Relatives’ Long Struggle for Justice. The report details the catalogue of illegal tactics used by police across Jamaica to ensure that relatives of victims of unlawful killings by the police do not pursue justice, truth, and reparation for their loved ones. According to the report, law enforcement officials in Jamaica have allegedly killed more than 3,000 people since 2000; mostly young men living in marginalized communities. Despite overwhelming evidence of police involvement in the cases, to Amnesty International’s knowledge, only a handful of officers have been convicted of murder since then.
In Washington, DC, in a Congressional meeting room, we in the volunteer Caribbean coordinating group of Amnesty International USA recently held an information session with members of two families directly impacted by this violence in Jamaica, Simone Grant and Shackelia Jackson who were making a speaking tour to raise awareness in the US. Both lost their brothers at the hands of the Jamaican police. My volunteer Jamaica assistant, Sarah Hamilton, accompanied them on their tour. 

Dr. Darsi Ferret, last name sometimes spelled Ferrer, an Afro-Cuban dissident doctor in his 40’s, once imprisoned for ostensibly possessing two bags of unauthorized cement, was found dead in south Florida, cause of death unknown. His photo appears on p. 344 of my Confessions book.
               Dr. Darsi Ferret (L) with another former Cuban prisoner

Turning to more personal matters, my great-grandson De’Andre was here from Clearwater, FL, in early Oct. with his mother for a few days to celebrate his 10th birthday among us. 

Then my son Jon came east unexpectedly from Hawaii for R&R after a violent robbery and hospitalization in normally peaceful Honolulu (case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time) whereby he suffered numerous injuries, particularly to his right eye, where full restoration of vision will take time and is uncertain. Meanwhile, he wears either an eye patch or sunglasses to spare onlookers the sight of his eye. His return to Hawaii is unlikely in the near term. 

Above, Jon in the hospital with sister Stephanie

Jon in DC area with sister Melanie

Jon on the phone at our house

Correction to my last post from a reader:
u referenced "Christine Jorgensen" as transgendered (medical doctor) tennis player.  i believe u meant Renee Richards. Jorgensen was well known in 1950's tabloids.  RR played tennis. 


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Turkey Imprisons Amnesty Director, Cambodian Leader Asks Peace Corps Withdrawal, Hurricanes, Las Vegas Massacre, DACA, More on Trump & Family, Medicare for All, Probabilities

[Please excuse formatting anomalies, have been having trouble.]

Earlier this summer, Turkish authorities detained the director of Amnesty 
International Turkey, Idil Eser, and nine other human rights defenders. 
All ten are still being held and are accused of “committing a crime in the name 
of a terrorist organization without being a member.”

Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen, has asked for Peace Corps 
volunteers to be withdrawn, accusing them and US officials of siding with 
his political opponent. Peace Corps bends over backwards not to be involved 
in politics in any way in countries where volunteers serve. 

In other Peace Corps news, a former volunteer is astronaut Joe Acaba 
(Dominican Republic,1994-96), who launched to the International Space Station
for a five-month mission on September 12, 2017, his third trip to the ISS.

Meanwhile, former Peace Corps Director Elaine Chao (under President HW 
Bush) is being accused of financial corruption, along with other members of the 
Trump cabinet. It has been speculated that Trump originally named Chao 
Secretary of Transportation to curry favor to Mitch McConnell, hoping that 
McConnell might protect him from his own corruption scandals.

After Irma, I’m especially worried about the many Caribbean islands and communities in  
my Amnesty International purview. CaibariĆ©n, a small coastal Cuban town that I remember well after visiting there in 1997, was virtually wiped out. As recounted in my Confessions book, I stayed up all night talking with two dissidents there scheduled to appear in court the next morning.

The DR seems to have gotten it worse than Haiti, which really had no room to fall further. I’ve spent interesting times on several Caribbean islands or island nations, Puerto Rico, US and British Virgin Islands, DR, Haiti, Cuba, and Jamaica. My granddaughter, great-grandson, brother, nephew, and
great (grand?) nephew living in South Florida all survived with no lasting damage. Many friends there are all right, too, including Sirley Avila, a Cuban dissident maimed in a government-inspired
incident, though she is worried about her mother and son in Cuba. Trump and his followers may blame hurricanes on gay marriage or simple coincidence, but there has been an unending stream: Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria.

On her trip to Florida, it looked like Melania was wearing flats after criticism of her high heels during prior two Harvey trips. From her rather stoic expression, it looks like she’s definitely getting tired of these appearances, but Trump drags her along anyway. I do think a librarian’s rejection of her donation of some Dr. Seuss books as being “retro” was over-the-top—after all, he is still a beloved children’s author. Probably the librarian was motivated by the more generalized rejection of the Trump presidency.

Trump seemed to be enjoying basking in unusual public support with his apparent agreement with Democrats on DACA and a few other matters. But some on his base have complained vociferously, so he’s starting to backtrack. Bannon has vowed revenge if he deviates from the alt-right line.

Trump is also vowing to veto single-payer healthcare should it ever cross his desk, something unlikely, but he needs to offer some red-meat outreach to his base. Tweeting a mock video of himself knocking down Hillary with a golf ball is childish, but again more red meat for his base. He could instead, because of the blind faith of many in the base, actually try to educate them. He’s in a bind, cannot please everybody and the electorate is strongly polarized. He’s slowly learning how tricky politics can be.

As Trump once observed about healthcare, politics is really complicated! Imagine! He may find that working with Democrats on DACA and other matters actually makes him a deal-maker and that the majority who didn’t vote for him may become less adamant on impeachment, so that would be personally protective for him. His approval ratings went up when it looked like he would support DACA and if there is anything that is important to Trump, it’s public approval. But now, that weasel Jeff Sessions is being vindictive by arresting undocumented people without criminal records in sanctuary cities. I wish that Trump had actually fired him, as it’s hard to imagine a worse AG.   

Now, under Trump, we’re seeing civil disobedience, actually sort of a civil war in reverse, with northern states separating from the south and from the authority of the presidency. He is not only fomenting war with North Korea, but within our own borders. General Kelly, where is your control?

Meanwhile, son-in-law and official adviser Jared Kushner and First Daughter Ivanka as well as others in the Trump administration have been found to be using private e-mail for sensitive government communications! Where are the cries of “Lock ‘em up!”?

Various anti-Trump organizations are having a field day, soliciting funds supposedly to impeach Trump or otherwise oppose him, meanwhile taking their own cut.  But Trump's continuous outrages have left us kind of numb--they fail to shock us anymore. 

While Bernie Sanders’ universal health care proposal is a good start to get lawmakers and the public thinking about that possibility, but right now, it’s an idea, a talking point, but something merely aspirational. Republicans may decide that Obamacare is not so bad after all compared to single-payer, which probably the majority of the electorate would actually support. Single-payer would greatly simplify the system and eliminate expensive layers of bureaucracy, layers destined to fight tooth and nail to keep their jobs. There would also be less choice for patients, longer waits, less personal contact with practitioners, and fewer procedures performed, but at much lower cost to the government and to consumers. I belong to the Kaiser health system, much cheaper than other health insurance and which may be a model, with salaried doctors who have no incentives to push for unneeded care—if anything, they may pause before providing any care. Universal care would certainly cost less per patient than our present system, but practitioners would also earn less. As I have often commented here, doctors, nurses, and therapists in other developed countries earn good salaries, but not the very high incomes promoted under our own present system, much of it fueled by campaign contributions and vigorous lobbying. However, I disagree with Bernie that all services should be covered 100%. Kaiser, even Medicare and Medicaid, do have copays. Those copays should stay to prevent hypochondriac or lonely folks from overusing the system, also just to give patients some agency and responsibility and to share costs. Providing more health care to more Americans would increase population due to people living longer and more babies surviving (as is already happening around the world) and also increase age-related illnesses including dementia for the same reason.

Heaven help us, now we are learning about trans people who regret their choice and want to go back to their original gender. If it was hard to transition, it’s even harder to reverse it! Maybe folks now have too many choices. If you are feeling that your psyche and physical gender don’t match, it might be best to cross-dress for a few years. Even taking hormones is tricky, because some changes might be permanent, i.e. breasts, facial hair or the removal thereof, voice changes. Even the famous pioneering transitioner and tennis champ Christine Jorgensen, according to an autobiography, went from male to female and back to male, then back to female again. Whew, that would put some serious strain on the health system if it were widespread. It would be interesting to see how many “regrets” there are. Reportedly, a UK researcher seeking fund to explore this question was denied. Was that report real or fake news? The world is becoming very confusing in the Trump era!

The New Yorker Radio Hour recently aired a wide raging interview with Hillary Clinton, where she acquitted herself quite admirably in my opinion. Of course, I have always supported her, disagreeing only on her siding with Planned Parenthood in apparently wanting to exclude pro-life Democratic candidates from party support. (I do not oppose the 20-week abortion ban which seems sensible to me—any serious birth defects or harm to the mother would be discernable by then; in the rare case of life-threatening harm to the woman arising later, exceptions could be made.) Clinton is right that a perfect storm of events allowed Trump to gain the presidency, among them were Assange’s WikiLeaks disclosures timed and selected to do maximum damage to her campaign, perhaps guided by Russian operatives. Not for nothing did Trump declare, “I love WikiLeaks!” The problem is, she asserts, that the Russians are still calling the shots and manipulating Trump and his mostly inexperienced staff. I do believe the fact that she is a woman worked against her, as men and even some women don’t like uppity women. God forbid that a female candidate should have any hint of marital infidelity, something many male lawmakers have overcome, including Bill Clinton and Trump himself. Just calling her “Crooked Hillary” and urging that she be lynched is not proof of any wrongdoing. Some right-wingers have accused her of taking advantage of being married to a former president. Yes, she did use that as a stepping stone, just as people in any field take advantage of being the spouse, sibling, or parent of someone who has made it to the top. Trump built upon his father’s business success, after all. More than Trump, Hillary did serve her time politically, as a senator and secretary of state. 

Later, an article appeared in the NYorker (September 25, 2017) by editor David Remnick about a wide-ranging interview held with Hillary Clinton about her new book, including about the day after the election, when she was in a state of shock (she was not the only one). Quite touching is the cover that was planned for the magazine if she had won.

I was in Chappaqua that day after, as mentioned before, scheduled to give a talk on my Confessions book at the public library, where everyone was downhearted and few were interested in Cuba policy. Again, here is the sign that neighbors put on the entrance to her driveway. Everyone there was devastated, including me. And it hasn’t gotten better. [Chappaqua photo an sign.]

With Trump making a fool of himself and a mockery of our country at the UN in his appearance before that body, poor Hillary must be cringing more than ever over his antics and her loss. Trump says the Iran deal is “an embarrassment.”  He and his UN speech are the embarrassment (as Kelly’s expression during its delivery indicated).

And while Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands were reeling under the devastating effects of climate change, at least part of it manmade, Trump was obsessed with slamming kneeling by players and others at football games, simply increasing support for practice. Because of concerns about climate change, I switched my electricity exclusively to wind and solar whether or not it costs more.

Anthony Weiner fully deserves to shed tears bout his conviction and prison sentence, which is scant punishment for the great harm his antics have inflicted on this country, leading to the catastrophic presidency of Donald Trump.  

On another issue, under Trump, the National Institutes of Health is trying to quietly end a program that funds research into gun violence and how to prevent it. (Maybe the more deaths and injuries there are from guns, the more guns will be sold to folks trying to protect themselves from guns? Is that the NRA’s tactic, more gun profits? It’s a vicious circle.) There is also a bill in Congress to approve gun silencers.  

So, another mass shooting has occurred but if guns are so protective, where are the successful armed defenders in these cases? It’s not been happening. Self-defense under the Second Amendment doesn’t encompass a personal arsenal of assault weapons. If people want to have assault weapons for the thrill of shooting them at gun ranges, why not have them kept under lock and key to be used only there? Even if people survive a mass shooting, they suffer greatly, may be permanently disabled, lose jobs and income, and use scarce medical resources. After a horrorific shooting, “gun-rights” advocates invariably say that “this is not the time to talk about gun control.” It is precisely the right time to talk about it and to act on it, just as after three devastating hurricanes back-to-back is the right time to talk about climate change. Why not? Because partisans want to avoid the obvious? Thoughts and prayers are not enough! A moment of silence and flags at half-staff are not enough! So do we just have to accept that these terrible events can strike any of us at any time—is the “right to bear arms” of sufficient social benefit that we all just have to bear the risk of being shot, unlike the citizens of other developed countries where guns are restricted? And are hurricanes the price we have to pay for the freedom of some people to use fossil fuels? I have switched my own electricity to all non-fossil fuels. A potential mass shooter has the “right to bear arms,” which can be a license to kill as the La Vegas case demonstrates, but Americans have no right to medical care and living wage?

Whether the issue is gun violence or climate change or a crime committed by an undocumented person or a rape or anything else, probabilities do matter. Nothing gives us 100% certainty except death. While Trump might hold up a victim of a crime committed by an undocumented or a Muslim immigrant as evidence that such people are dangerous, in fact, immigrants have much lower crime rates than the rest of the population. Of course, if you or your loved one is injured by an immigrant, you don’t care about odds. Likewise, Betsy Devos may find one or two young men falsely accused of rape, but she ignores the many more women rape victims who never come forward or get justice. It’s fine to point cases that deviate from the norm, but they do not negate the norm.

Having a gun may be protective in a given case, but many more people are injured or killed by gun violence, accidental or not. The mere possession of a firearm greatly increases the chance of harm coming to its owner and to close associates. A self-driving car will sooner or later be involved in an accident, but will have fewer accidents than cars driven by fallible humans. A surgeon with an enviable record, if he or she performs enough surgeries, may have a failure eventually. A few planes or helicopters will crash—the effort to make that happen less often has succeeded, but not each and every accident will be eliminated. That’s why we feel relieved when we have arrived safely; it’s not a given. Of course, efforts need to continue to reduce the odds of accidents and very long odds can always come to pass. Lottery winnings and Trump’s ascendence to the presidency are examples.