Saturday, August 22, 2015

Confession, New Grandson Again, Good Samaritan’s Death, President Carter, Cosby, Pangolin, Prostitution Issue, Trump, China, Thailand, Ecuador, Kerry in Havana, Gun Deaths, Seeking Abortion Middle Ground

I must confess to not being a very focused person, something readers have certainly noticed. That’s why I’m rarely bored. My interests wander all over the map, so I hope my readers are willing to follow, although they may not always agree. I’m using this blog as a sort of diary, in case anyone wants to review my life later after I depart this mortal coil.


My new grandson, Kingston, is shown here with his father, my son Jonathan, and with his aunt, daughter Stephanie and his two older sisters.

A stone’s throw from my daughter Stephanie’s home near the University of Hawaii, a young man tried to pull back a suicidal friend as both plunged 14 stories from a dorm room, killing the good Samaritan and severely injuring the would-be suicide.
Sorry to hear that my one-time acquaintance, former President Jimmy Carter, has brain cancer, but, at age 90, he seems ready to go, saying he is at ease with whatever happens and has had a wonderful life, which seems quite true. Certainly, he has been productive and remarkably active since leaving the presidency. But Carter, like the rest of us, is not immortal. His mother and siblings, if I am not mistaken, all died fairly early of pancreatic cancer, a scourge that former President Carter himself apparently escaped. He should be proud of all he has accomplished in his long life, especially since his presidency, which was when I first met him with my late ex-husband, who did some work for him on domestic policy with my help (my husband was totally blind). Carter knows he leaves a considerable positive legacy around the world. He has authored a number of books, including a recently published memoir, one of several he has written. I haven’t read it, but I have read some of his other books. Although I often agree with their policy perspective, I’ve found them not particularly gripping or well-written, but celebrities and public figures don’t have to necessarily write an interesting story to attract readers or sell books. What they have to say is important because of who they are. GWBush’s memoir is a case in point. Unlike Bush, Carter appears to have written most of his books himself, though I’m sure he had some editorial help. He seems to have enjoyed writing them, boasting a bit about all the books he has written, all showcasing his own experience and opinions. I appreciate that both his mother and his grandson were Peace Corps volunteers, part of a long familial chain of public service. I noted that Carter himself spoke some Spanish.
The only matters about which I might fault Carter in his largely exemplary life have been his quick imprimatur of Hugo Chavez’s first election, without investigating allegations of serious flaws, which started Venezuela on its downward spiral, and his apparent tacit support for the Castro regime in Cuba. He openly praised a model Cuban AIDS treatment center, apparently without questioning or realizing that such a facility was a show piece, not routine care available for most AIDS patients. He was reported to have also praised Cuban medical care, which certainly can be excellent, but is not generally offered at that quality to most citizens, though the Cuban regime has convinced the world otherwise. Another, more minor, matter is his involvement, along with the participation of Peace Corps staff, in choosing recipients of a biennial award in honor of his mother, Lillian Carter, given to senior volunteers where, in my opinion, more than once, those actually chosen were not nearly as deserving in their post-service contributions as some other candidates, such as those I was supporting. Of course, I may be biased.
Bill Cosby certainly has been busy raping women all his life, using a pretty successful modus operandi. Many women didn’t remember exactly what had happened because they were drugged at the time and/or were too afraid to come forward. His system worked well over the years and, like many habitual offenders, he kept using the same tactics until he finally got called out. Josh Duggar is another hypocrite, a media personality representing himself as a family values guy while secretly acting otherwise.
I fail to understand why the US government would need to inform the parents of a female hostage of ISIS that she was raped multiple times before being executed. At this juncture, that just adds to their grief. So what was the purpose of revealing that? Was it to get the American public more aroused against ISIS? Such additional information seems gratuitous at best. Later, it was interpreted to show her bravery in taking the brunt of sexual violence to protect young captive girls.
Have you ever heard of a pangolin, a small, scaly anteater type mammal found in Africa, but increasingly endangered as people routinely eat them and also use their parts in Chinese medicine? I had never heard of them either, but they need protection now as they are nearing extinction, just as we are becoming aware of their existence.

Not surprisingly, reaction around the world has been largely negative to the advocacy of the total decriminalization of the sex trade—prostitutes, johns, and pimps alike—by Amnesty International (AI) at its worldwide congress. These are simple transactions between consenting adults seems to be the reasoning. If the prostitutes’ actions alone were decriminalized, that might be more justifiable than decriminalizing the whole enterprise: johns, pimps, brothels, middle men—and what about taxing earnings? Is decriminalization the same as legalization? Do authorities now actually police private conduct between consenting adults, even if money and gifts are exchanged? I doubt it. Many men give jewelry or other gifts to girlfriends and mistresses. Of course, in Saudi Arabia, while polygamy is allowed, extramarital sex is not, whether or not anything is exchanged, but practices there are not likely to be influenced by Amnesty International, which has not been able to stop Saudi executions for adultery or homosexuality, for example.
Granted, there are always nuances and exceptional circumstances with any conduct. With prostitution, where should the line be drawn? Indeed, given that sex mores have been relaxing rapidly worldwide, perhaps decriminalization of the world’s oldest profession is the direction that consensus is now headed with Amnesty only leading the way. Acceptance of premarital sex, open marriage, bisexuality, and gay sex—even of sex change—has been growing, aided by the development of treatment for sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS, hormone treatment, contraception, and the internet. However, the experience of New Zealand and the Netherlands in decriminalizing prostitution has not been positive. Rather, prostitution has doubled afterward, as has venereal disease, and most prostitutes even there have been anxious to leave the life. Prostitutes generally enter the sex trade as minors, surely something Amnesty would not endorse.
Here’s a comment on the new AI sex worker decriminalization policy from a member website: The lack of inclusion of survivor groups and slanting toward the "sex worker" groups is particularly disturbing. I feel like asking questions, like I believe that "[i]ndividuals can exercise agency in deciding to sell sex" is beside the point. Maybe so, but what percentage of the people who sell themselves, or are sold, feel that way, and what about the rest who want to escape?
According to the article below in the Huffington Post from Equality Now, a "2003 study found that 89% of women in prostitution would choose to exit if they felt empowered to do so - and if other options were made available to them." So is AI policy only for those 11%, maybe who consider it a free choice? (I also recommend reading the study on PTSD rates for prostitutes in 9 countries it links to, and all the other horrible conditions they face, including high incidence of head injuries. Anybody here want to make that career choice, or advise their daughter, or son, to? It does include some men and transgender individuals in their research, facing just as bad conditions, it seems like the buyers are all men).
There seems to be quite a bit of pushback on the decision from Amnesty members around the world now, although they (we) elected delegates to the international meeting where the controversial decision was made, but mostly without our awareness that this topic would be voted on. Certainly, as an active member since 1981, I was taken by surprise. National Amnesty organizations may now decide whether to actually work in favor of this policy and some are refusing, notably France, for starters. Women seem far more opposed than men. Since most prostitutes are women, we women may imagine ourselves in their place, with the idea of having sex for money clashing with our view of sex as an expression of special affection and regard.
Amnesty International’s endorsement of the decriminalization of prostitution and all its various players has at least raised the public profile of the organization, though probably not increased donations. Now a DC city councilmember, inspired by Amnesty, says he’s planning to introduce a prostitution decriminalization bill. Editorially, the Washington Post came out against the idea.
And since I’m being an old fuddy duddy anyway, and taking advantage of my soapbox here, as an aside, I fail to see (admittedly from my female vantage point) why celebrities have to aggressively display their breasts, often with outfits providing just the barest covering over the nipple. Ladies, we know you have breasts! No need to flaunt them.
The Donald seems to be having a lot of fun, saying anything outrageous that comes into his shaggy head, enjoying evoking shock among his listeners, eagerly playing the role of con man, huckster, and snake oil salesman. Like any such showman, he still manages to attract and convince the gullible, only too eager to believe his magical and impossible message. Sounds like he may want to become a dictator, even trashing the Constitution. How can the Constitution be considered unconstitutional? No matter. He also still disputed Obama’s birth certificate when it was authenticated and displayed. Much of Trump’s appeal derives from his ability to thumb his nose at the Republican Party and the political establishment, as well as at laws and history. But does he actually believe his own pronouncements, often delivered with his trademark squinting frown? Or is he merely putting on a performance? A high wall could be built along much of the Mexican border, but what about tunnels? And who are “them” versus “us’? Unfortunately for Trump supporters, it’s too late; many of those he characterizes as “them” are already “us”. Pundits keep waiting for him to implode by going too far, but the more outlandish his pronouncements, the more his popularity soars. Where will it end? Maybe with a dream ticket: Donald Trump/Dr. Ben Carson (who is polling second)? The mood of Trump supporters is pure anti-establishment, sweep the field clean—kick all the bums out! The best thing for the Democrats and for the USA would be for Trump to embark on a loud 3rd party candidacy to draw all those negative vibes toward himself.  
In China, a massive port disaster like the one being brought under control and still under investigation in Tianjin will cause some heads to roll—maybe even literally through execution.  Although news in China is government-controlled and may single out certain unfortunate individuals for blame, it’s still possible that the Chinese people may come to question the entire system and the self-appointed leadership that allowed something like this to happen.
In Bangkok, a lovely, lively city that I once visited, has been subjected to an apparent terrorist bomb attack. What is the aim—to demonstrate power, cause destruction, or wreak revenge? To disrupt tourism? So sad.
In South Sudan, another place I’ve been, hard-headed president Salva Kiir has refused to sign a peace agreement painstakingly worked out by the African Union and supported by the US and that his vice president and rival has already signed. Kiir says he needs at least 15 days to review it; meanwhile, the civil war is this fragile and long-suffering new nation continues unabated. Such havoc that one person can wreak through force of sheer personality, stubbornness, guile, and power hunger! How do such people, usually men, maneuver themselves into positions of power, which they then turn around and use against those who put them there? (Trump supporters, beware!)
In Ecuador, a massive gathering of indigenous people arrived in the capital of Quito after a 800-km. long national march, protesting, among other matters, constitutional changes that would allow President Rafael Correa successive indefinite terms in office.
More here about how former Peace Corps volunteers in the DR are working against the Haitian descendants law,  
Also, the ethnic fight has spilled over to the US among Haitian and Dominican immigrants who, you might think would all be sympathetic with Haitian descendants in the US.         
I well remember radio spots financed by USAID when I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras, urging parents not to leave their children behind by going to the US. Now U.S. Customs and Border Protection has launched a more extensive advertising campaign to dissuade Central Americans from trying to enter the United States illegally and to avoid last year’s influx. The message of the campaign, appearing on television, radio stations, social media, and posters in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, is simple: “It is very, very dangerous and you are not going to be allowed to claim that you are eligible to remain in the United States.”
I do agree with this judge, however, for those who’ve already made it here,
I seem unable to avoid commenting on Cuba, a nation close to my heart with issues that aren’t going to go away any time soon, though headlines may fade. Apparently President Obama began his second term with the idea of rapprochement with Cuba, though the path was secretive, arduous, and uncertain. The Cuban government certainly increased its leverage in such a deal by seizing Alan Gross as a hostage. Here below is the link to a detailed account, originally appearing in the NYTimes, about how matters unfolded. Now, finally, the Cuban side has agreed to allow US Embassy personnel to travel outside of Havana, but only after giving prior notice (allowing the Cubans to arrest or detain in their homes any suspected opposition figures who might want to speak with them). The Cuban regime is holding on tight to protect its control and its perks, trying to reap all the benefits of a bilateral relationship without giving up anything on its side. The Cubans loudly accuse the US of racial profiling, though that is not an official policy of the federal government, quite to the contrary, while beating up and arresting peaceful women marchers is a consistent daily practice of the Cuban government.
Although the NYTimes has relentlessly supported the Obama/Raul Castro accords, the Washington Post has been equally critical, highlighting the snub of Cuban dissidents at the embassy opening, though Kerry did agree to meet with them later at the home of the chief of mission. He gave a speech about democracy that was actually broadcast on Cuban State TV and he strolled through Old Havana, both events of significance. No top Cuban officials apparently attended the embassy opening and some dissidents refused to attend his alternate gathering. Since the article below appeared, President Obama has gone even further, announcing further unilateral relaxation of US travel rules to Cuba. Apparently, he has decided to keep giving the Cuban leadership whatever it wants without trying to exact any concessions for citizens’ rights. Does he think the latter will come automatically from increased tourism and money flowing into the coffers of the political elite? Or has he given up on Cuban civilians’ rights ?
Senator Patrick Leahy, hardly one of my favorite politicians, persists in spreading misinformation about Cuba, either through ignorance or deliberate manipulation. He keeps accusing today’s critics of Obama’s Cuba policy of being Batista supporters: [P]ositive change in Cuba will take time. But it will come not as a result of stubborn nostalgia by a vociferous few for the Batista years.” Few Cubans in 1958-59 were Batista supporters and few if any opponents of the Castros today were even alive when Batista was in power. Absolutely no one is talking about Batista today except Leahy. Most Castro opponents during his early years, inside and outside his government, had first opposed Batista before pledging their allegiance to Fidel, only to withdraw it in disillusionment when they saw him becoming an even more ruthless dictator than his predecessor. The nostalgia Leahy talks about, to the extent it actually exists, is for a time before Batista seized power (he had once been elected). Leahy himself is promoting a stubborn nostalgia based on a romantic view of the 56-year Castro dictatorship.
Here below is a fairly complete, balanced analysis of the pros and cons for outsiders of investing in Cuba, showing it to be less than the golden opportunity many American business enterprises had anticipated. If correct, this view, outlined by the Business Council of Latin America and Carlos Alberto Montaner in a meeting on Cuba held in San Juan, PR, Aug. 14, 2015, means that Cuba is probably not going to follow the Chinese and Vietnamese economic model of allowing citizens to establish and direct private companies or to set up partnerships with foreign firms—rather, except for small family home businesses, all enterprises will remain under the control of the Cuban government and military, including those involving foreign investors.
According to the above analysis, ordinary Cubans are not likely to get even the citizen investment and business opportunities now available in China and Vietnam. There, such opportunities were opened only through decisions made at the very top of the government leadership, not due to citizen pressure or outside investor demand. The Cuban leadership and military are likely to retain full control of outside investors and the economic efforts of Cuban citizens, at least until the Castro brothers pass on. After that, with any luck, the leadership may embark slowly on a modified Chinese model. Otherwise, it doesn't look like a lot of outside investment in Cuba is likely to occur, especially after the initial wave of excitement and euphoria about restored diplomatic relations dies down. Investors will see that few opportunities are really open to them, as opposed to the regime, to make a profit and most profit will come from tourists, not from in-country production. It's hard to believe that the Cuban economic system can limp along as it has, especially with the price of oil still low. Even China is not doing so well these days, despite government intervention in the market. Hope China doesn't drag the world economy down with it.
Gun deaths, which had been diminishing despite highly publicized mass murders, are now on the uptick. According to the Center for Disease Control, 33,636 people died due to gun-related causes in 2013, the year with the most recent data. The national average is 10.6 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. But that number varies widely from state to state. The Kaiser Family Foundation assembled a table of statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on 2013 mortality rates from firearms in each state. Kaiser combined together various firearm-related causes of death, including assault by firearm, police shootings, suicide by firearm, and accidental discharges.
Some highlights: • States with the highest rate include Alaska (19.8) and Louisiana (19.3). Alaska doesn't require residents to have a permit for carrying concealed weapons, while Louisiana does, but has fairly permissive gun laws otherwise.
• States with the lowest rate include Massachusetts (3.1) and Hawaii (2.6). Both states have some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. Read more:
“Right to choose,” “right to life,” "Politically motivated witch hunt,”" Billion-dollar industry that dissects babies,” are some of the heated charges exchanged after recent revelations that Planned Parenthood has been harvesting and passing along fetal body parts. Abortion arguments have not died down appreciably in the more than four decades since Roe vs. Wade. Dare I wade into the argument and try to find a middle ground?
The US Supreme Court in 1973 held that for abortions during the first trimester, the decision must be left to the judgment of the pregnant woman’s doctor. For second trimester pregnancies, states may promote their interests in the mother’s health by regulating abortion procedures. As for third trimester pregnancies, states may support the potentiality of human life by regulating or even prohibiting abortion, except when necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. Planned Parenthood undertook the performance of legal abortions soon after the court’s decision. Now that organization finds itself at the center of a typically polarized political controversy, with several public officials cutting ties with Planned Parenthood while some supporters have increased their donations. The controversy is not likely to go away.
Might Planned Parenthood now agree to a compromise in the current controversy? Or having won this round of funding battles, will it hold fast to present policies? Is a middle ground on such a contentious issue even possible? Or will this fight continue? Though it would be unpopular with both Planned Parenthood supporters and detractors, it may be time to consider a more nuanced abortion policy. No doubt the organization does much useful work in providing contraception, STD testing, and cancer screening, but abortion is its most controversial service. Part of the outcry over Planned Parenthood and the casual acknowledgement of the transfer of fetal body parts stems from the public being alerted to the fact that aborted fetuses actually have body parts—hearts, kidneys, livers, lungs-- that can be transplanted into other fetuses or babies—in one reported case, a heart was still beating when removed. Surely a woman’s “right to choose” does not extend that far. It’s been comforting to think of abortions as getting rid of unwanted “tissue” that may eventually form into a viable baby, as a strictly medical procedure between a woman and her doctor, obscuring the fact that it’s not the same as removing a tumor or an inflamed appendix. The revelation that an aborted fetus may already have human body parts is disconcerting.
Roe vs. Wade allowed abortion up to viability, but viability has kept moving earlier as tiny babies born even before 24 weeks sometimes survive. Reproductive innovations—in vitro fertilization, egg and sperm donation, surrogacy, embryo freezing—all have propelled reproduction into new territory since Roe vs. Wade and have increased our understanding of fetal development.  We now know that an embryo may divide several days after fertilization, so that the initial embryo (which can be kept frozen in suspended animation for years) might be considered more in terms of its potential humanity, but only later becomes one or more distinct individuals. Women do undergo abortions all over the world and many others experience miscarriages, the latter often considered a tragedy, but less so than a stillbirth. Perhaps a majority of sexually active women have experienced either a miscarriage or an abortion. At one time, “quickening,” that is, when fetal movements could be felt, was when a fetus was considered human. When does a fetus begin to feel pain? When does self-awareness and consciousness develop, or is that only after a baby’s birth and emergence into the light of day? These are not abstract questions, but are probably discernible by contemporary science and medicine, more answerable now than when Roe vs. Wade was first decided.
As a lifelong Democrat and human rights advocate, an adoptive parent who has also given birth, and a board member of an international adoption agency,  as well as a Spanish interpreter who has worked in a NICU, I find myself in sympathy with stopping all abortions at 20 weeks, provided there is no other overriding consideration. Surveys have shown that most Americans, while they do support first-trimester abortions by a small majority, would cut abortion off at that point (which probably would not yield many useful body parts). Abortion-rights advocates, including many allied with Planned Parenthood, decry any such proposals an attack on women’s reproductive rights, but as understanding of pregnancy and fetal development increases, along with successful medical interventions for preterm infants, that no longer seems like such an unreasonable standard. Planned Parenthood would perhaps experience less hostility toward provision of early abortions if it expressed a willingness to stop later ones, rather than reacting so defensively.
To depict abortion as just an ordinary medical procedure is unrealistic. The issue remains as divisive as ever—or has become even more so—since the days of Roe vs. Wade. Those questioning a woman’s right to an abortion at any stage are often accused of being hypocrites in favor of capital punishment, but I, for one, oppose capital punishment and there are many others who share my position. Additionally, the overpopulation argument no longer holds in developed countries, where the average age keeps rising and deaths may exceed births. In the U.S., our population distribution has remained steady thanks only to the fecundity of Hispanic women (Donald Trump: take note).
In my dreams (why not?--dreams are free), Planned Parenthood and pro-lifers would join forces in a pilot project, financed perhaps by a generous intrepid donor, offering women with problem pregnancies a truly full range of choices and services, not only morning-after pills, contraception, pregnancy verification, sterilization, and first-trimester abortion, but also ultrasound, prenatal care, and temporary support, even delivery options from water births to C-sections, as well as later foster care and adoption services if desired. Pregnant women would not be pressured to make any particular choice and early abortion would not be discouraged, but other realistic alternatives would be offered. Adoption and alternative fertility options have become big business, with women who agree to become surrogates or to give up their babies for adoption currently being amply supported by the future parents. Such support, along with Medicaid and Obamacare, could perhaps help finance the type of center envisioned. Then, an unexpectedly pregnant woman would have a real choice.
If I had the time, energy, and means—or could convince a willing deep-pockets donor--I’d like to try to put together something like that myself, though it would probably be attacked by both sides and therefore face difficulties in staff recruitment.
Such a proposal puts me in neither the conservative nor liberal camp, which is fine with me. My liberal credentials are already under attack because I don’t support the dictatorial Castro regime. Where my opinions fall along the liberal-conservative spectrum depends on the particular issue. I don’t object to assisted suicide, provided that the person is mentally competent and has really thought it through for a time, and that no relief of their suffering (subjectively experienced) is in sight. Gay marriage (or open marriage or even a marriage of more than 2 consenting adults) is OK if other people want to do it—though not for me. However, I don’t agree with gay rights advocates that the prohibition of gay men’s blood donations is discriminatory. Because of the very high rate of HIV among gay men, allowing that seems like an unnecessary risk, especially as the need for blood transfusions is diminishing and blood donation is not a human right. I do realize that allowing assisted suicide or gay marriage creates a social atmosphere that may support or encourage more of those behaviors, whereas if they were prohibited, some people might find another way. There are societies that allow sexual contact between adults and children, even child marriage, or that tacitly support the rape and abuse of women, honor killings, genital mutilation, and plural marriage, behaviors that are prohibited in the U.S. We shouldn’t pretend that our current mores are universal or are the Ten Commandments handed down from on high. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Grave Robbing, Navigating Metro’s Silver Line, Cosby’s Art Collection, President Trump?, Mexico, Guatemala, Hasidic Jews, Iran Deal, A-Bomb Anniversary, South Sudan, No. Korea, DR, Haiti, Cuba, Cecil, Decriminalizing Prostitution

This fluffy little toy llama, from Carlos, a recent house guest from Peru, now sits on my living room mantel.

For reasons too complicated to explain here, I transferred some wooded acreage with a log cabin, pond, and river frontage in rural Virginia to my daughter Stephanie living in Hawaii, who is now selling it. When my 4 kids were young, I used to take them and our black lab Claire up there on weekends, once even with Claire’s 8 purebred puppies (her first and last litter), who, at a few weeks of age, followed her in a straight line as she swam out in the pond, like so many ducklings swimming behind their mother. The pups were born knowing how to swim! But now, with no car and little time, I rarely go there anymore. A complication of the sale has been that my son Andrew, who died in 1994, is buried there—or rather, his urn of ashes brought back from his Fort Lauderdale home, was buried there, resting under a granite headstone bearing a quote from Walt Whitman about someone's ashes under foot: “I stop some where waiting for you.” I do feel he is waiting somewhere for me. (His birthday is coming up next month.)
So, with the sale pending, I went up there with my daughter Melanie and granddaughter Natasha to unearth the urn and take the gravestone. They also wanted a set of bunk beds for my 7-year-old great-grandson De’Andre. Although the stone was very heavy, we brought it back, but after digging a 4-foot square, 2-foot deep hole around the stone’s location, we couldn’t find the metal urn. Apparently, underground items can migrate over the years—or maybe we didn’t go deep enough. We decided to leave the urn there, in a place that Andrew loved. So, we came back with only the gravestone. I’ve contacted the historic Congressional Cemetery near my home and plots are still available there, so I could buy one for my son and myself. Also, it’s not required to have any actual remains buried beneath a headstone.
I must apologize to readers for the length of this and some previous postings, promising more brevity in the future. Sometimes just thinking through these matters and putting all that down on paper helps me clarify my own position, so hope it helps readers as well. Or maybe I have my fingers in too many pies and should prioritize my thoughts and actions.
Recently, walking in my Capitol Hill neighborhood, overheard a conversation between a frantic mom catching up with her pre-teen daughter who had crossed a street on a skateboard without permission, not exactly scolding her but saying, “Please don’t do that; it’s definitely not cool.”
My former visitor from Kenya, from the same ancestral village as President Obama’s Kenyan family, has reported that, “We had a good time with Obama,” without giving details. He had been anxious to get home in time to meet the president.
I went out to the end of the metro system’s new silver line, Wiehle–Reston, for the first time to meet my granddaughter Natasha. Everything at that station looks fresh and new, no gum stains on the platform yet. Going straight out to the left through a very long tunnel, I found a staircase down to the street, but no Natasha. Going out on the long right-hand tunnel yielded office buildings, but nothing else. I finally located her down an out-of-the-way escalator back on the left side with tiny lettering above a glass enclosure, saying “Kiss & Ride, Buses.” A sign pointing to the escalator would have been helpful. On my way back to DC, I saw a group of guys selling barbeque and sides from an ambulatory grill outside the top of the escalator and bought a dinner in a Styrofoam container to take home. When I got home, I was surprised and somewhat annoyed to get an e-mail message, presumably because my credit card is linked to my e-mail address, asking what I thought of the food and service. I did not answer, not wanting to encourage such connections. We already know there is no privacy in the digital age! My sister and several friends my own age refuse to have internet in part because of that.
Some 9,000 Central American kids from last summer’s surge are reported living in the DC area, most still in legal limbo, but at least with their parents for the time being. I met some parents when working as an interpreter at DC schools last fall. My work in schools over the last 10 years  became  temporarily suspended in January when the new mayor, Muriel Bowser (for whom I voted), took office and put in place a number of requirements for anyone working in DC schools in any capacity, including a clear TB test. That involves an easy skin test for most people, but, for me, requires a chest x-ray, since my test is always positive, something I was resisting getting. Well, I finally had it and, of course, don’t have TB, so I’m hoping to return to DC schools in the fall.
When the Smithsonian made arrangements with Bill Cosby and his wife to display their private art collection, Cosby’s sex scandal had not broken, but when it did, a sign went up at the exhibit saying this was an art display and not a commentary on his guilt or innocence.  The exhibit has remained, but has become controversial.
Is President Donald Trump even a possibility? The idea sounds absurd, but really scary. The American electorate is fickle and ignorant, but not quite to that extent in the aggregate. Surely most people would come to their senses? In fact, maybe they are already tiring of Trump’s antics.
In the wake of the Republican presidential candidates’ debates, I would wager that if the Republicans would agree to stop deportations of undocumented persons without offering them a path to citizenship (thereby preventing them from becoming future voters), most would be OK with that. Citizenship is obtainable only through a long, expensive, and arduous process, and many legal residents never attempt it. It would probably be enough for the undocumented that their US-born children could carry on and for members of their family not to fear being abruptly and arbitrarily deported.
On this 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I remember being horrified even as child that such bombs had been dropped on a civilian population, not once, but twice, which forever tarnished my opinion of President Truman’s legacy. According to General Eisenhower: “The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” Then why were the bombs dropped? Apparently, according to the consensus of historians, to impress the Soviets with the power of nuclear weapons.
In South Sudan, Amnesty International requests the support in highlighting the urgency of international action in bringing an end to the protracted conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile that has led to a human rights and humanitarian crisis (in the very area I visited in 2006).
Sukarno’s daughter, heading up a foundation bearing her father’s name, with a straight face, has awarded the foundation’s peace and justice prize to North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. Mahatma Gandhi and Aung San Suu Kyi are previous recipients. Maybe Kim will try to live up to their example?
I’m curious as to how and why Hasidic Jews have settled in NYC rather than Israel, an environment not always hospitable to them, as some are finding out when their apartment buildings have moved to electronic keys for front-door entry, something forbidden for them to use on the Sabbath.  
I don’t have enough inside information and understanding about the Iran deal to comment in detail, though I tend to think, on balance, that it’s better than the status quo. Is it the best possible deal imaginable? Probably that’s not obtainable. No doubt, there are elements of the Iranian leadership that would annihilate Israel if they could, but would squelching this deal make that less likely? I don’t really know. It’s a truism—and also true—that every agreement or decision has pros and cons, risks and benefits, and, of course, different stakeholders. No decision outcome carries a 100% guarantee—whether on a personal level, such as in marrying a given partner, having children, or buying a home—or on a larger community, statewide, national, or international level.
In a Peace Corps magazine, an article recently appeared about a same-sex female couple who served together in Ecuador, though without revealing their relationship to local people, although the Peace Corps brass did know. That must have been a Peace Corps first.
 Ex-Peace Corps volunteers unite for U.S. action on Dominican immigration policies
By Mariano Castillo, CNN, Aug. 10, 2015
While the Dominican government seems to have backtracked somewhat on its threat to expel all those of Haitian descent by a certain deadline, many people remain without the papers needed for school or work.  
Haiti’s President Michel Martelly was speaking at a rally July 29 when a woman accused his government of incompetence and complained that it failed to bring electricity to her community. Video broadcast by Haitian media show the president telling her in Haitian Creole to "go get a man and go in the bushes" to have sex. Many in the crowd at the nighttime rally erupted in cheers and laughs at his remarks. A presidential spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Loss of the three officials as the result of Martelly’s remarks is unlikely to affect the outgoing president's ability to govern or the remainder of his term.
Has the international community failed Haiti?
By Owen Bennett-Jones BBC News
7 August 2015
Carlos, a member of our local Amnesty International Group 211 from Mexico, gave us a somewhat gloomy assessment of the rule of law, corruption, and the hold of the drug trade there, a trade fed mostly by demand from our side of the border, no surprise. About half of the country is controlled by cartels, he said, raising the murder rate and inculcating a sense of insecurity and fear among the populace. Journalists and human rights advocates are particularly targeted and at-risk.
The retrial of former Guatemalan strongman General Rios Montt was delayed again. At July’s hearing, the Tribunal decided that a new diagnosis of his health was needed (the prosecutors alleged that the diagnosis presented by the defense was not accurate).  Therefore, the Tribunal stated that Rios Montt should be send to a state mental institution and get a new diagnosis. An appeal was filed by the defense and, up to now, he remains at his house.
Almost 700 political arrests were made in Cuba in July. Since the accords were signed, such arrests have increased, but are no longer considered news.
U.S., Cuba Hold First Formal Talks on Human Rights
by Wochit  
The United States and Cuba met on Tuesday [August 4, 2015] to discuss how they intend to treat future dialogue on the thorny issue of human rights as the countries move toward restoring diplomatic ties. The U.S. delegation was led by Tom Malinowski, the State Department's assistant secretary for human rights and democracy. Pedro Luis Pedroso, deputy director of multilateral affairs and law at the ministry of foreign affairs, led the Cuban side. A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "This preliminary meeting reflects our continued focus on human rights and democratic principles in Cuba."
It would be great but unlikely if some peaceful dissidents were invited to the formal opening of the US embassy in Havana by Sec. Kerry on August 14, rumored to be Fidel’s birthday. Already, independent journalists who have applied to cover the event have not been approved. If an opposition figure should actually be present, it would be a big surprise, sure to infuriate the Cuban leadership, though it would be awkward for them to pull out of the deal now. Probably the US won’t attempt that at this delicate juncture. The prospects for free association and expression do not look good in Cuba, but they didn’t look good either before the US-Cuba accords. Now, at least, “the Empire” (the regime’s label for the US) should no longer be blamed for Cuban dissidence. I think the main reason the US sought diplomatic relations with Cuba, apart from freeing hostage Alan Gross, was because our policy was condemned around the world, especially in Latin America, and Obama wanted to attend the Summit of the Americas last April, which he did. The accords took much of the wind out of the sails of Maduro and others who ranted continually against the US. With Cuba and the US having diplomatic relations, one of their main talking points was lost. I’ll bet some invitees at the recent opening of the Cuban Embassy were not in particular favor with Washington.  If most Cuban citizens actually support “the Revolution,” what is there to fear from a few dissidents?
One way for the new embassy to partially redeem itself would be to invite independent journalists to some sort of alternative event or forum, perhaps featuring a frank discussion on the embassy's relationship with them now after the accords and getting their suggestions on how to navigate the relationship going forward. I'm wondering how such matters are handled in China and Viet Nam--are opposition figures ever invited to the embassy or are human rights concerns just mentioned in private diplomatic conversations (which may have little or no effect)? The Pope's visit will probably result in some political prisoners being released, but not much else. It's hard to see how Cuban dissidents will be supported now--European sources may be the best hope.
As the Cuban ration book shrinks, some areas are only dispensing oil, rice, and sugar. A person might not starve with that, but it’s hardly a nutritious and balanced diet.  The idea is to get US-based relatives to send more money to spend for food from government dollar stores.  Those without relatives abroad are out of luck.
Perhaps if USAID and the US government pull back assistance and moral support to Cuban civil society, Cuban activists will redouble their independent efforts? Cubans are inventive and spend their lives skirting strictures. For example, because of punishing tariffs for internet usage, Cubans have found ways to share a single connection wirelessly with cell phones. Of course, stealing from state industries is still universal, but since such industries are shrinking, opportunities now are fewer.
The Cuban regime has begun courting gay tourists from the US and elsewhere, funneling them into government-approved  facilities and tours, all no doubt, bearing the imprimatur of First Daughter Mariela Castro.
As a lifelong Democrat, I am concerned that presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has declared herself in favor of lifting the remaining embargo against Cuba, apparently unconditionally, a position popular with most voters who don’t realize or do not believe that the Castro government is a repressive regime. Lifting it under certain conditions would be OK, but already enough of Cuban citizens’ freedoms have been sacrificed on the altar of rapprochement, so it should be fully lifted only in exchange for additional freedoms for ordinary Cubans, not just benefits for the political elite or members of the Communist Party or even of American tourists. Other nations’ leaders have been castigated for far less than what the Cuban leadership is doing, including some in Africa by President Obama during his recent visit there, calling out African presidents who have served multiple terms. What about 56 years in Cuba? I understand that Obama wanted diplomatic relations with Cuba because US policy, rightly or wrongly, was universally condemned, especially by Latin American leaders. Secondarily, an apparently suicidal Alan Gross was freed in the deal, but many other American hostages around the world have not been so lucky.
Most people everywhere not close to the situation have bought into the very successful narrative disseminated by the Cuban leadership (and the NYTimes) that US policy is to blame for brave little Cuba’s economic woes, notwithstanding that Cuba trades with nations around the world and hosts tourists from everywhere, with the US sending the most visitors there from any country if family visits are also counted. And families bring goods and cash to their relatives in Cuba, often paying exorbitant duties on the gift items. Remittances from the US are a major source of hard currency, most of it going to the Cuban military and political elite through sales at marked-up prices at government dollar stores. To have the embargo lifted unconditionally without requiring any concessions from Cuba in terms of its own people’s human rights and economic freedoms is to give up what little leverage the US still has and merely entrenches the current leadership and may visit harm on ordinary Cubans, especially Afro-Cubans, who are the bottom of the heap. Cuba is an oppressive  police state that not only impedes its citizens’ economic wellbeing, funneling all income from abroad through its military and the Castro family, with very little trickle-down, but that prevents free association and communication among the majority of its citizens—never mind actual voting. Free internet was even turned down by the leadership.
I know Amnesty International’s policy is to oppose all embargoes, but what other leverage exists? Or does the US just give up on human rights in Cuba, as Americans seem to have done regarding some other regimes, and simply aim for economic development, which would still be an improvement for many Cubans who have never known political freedoms anyway? However, as China’s rulers are finding out, it’s hard to mix a more capitalist and competitive economy with a closed, controlled political system. And China’s citizens are becoming more restless now, generations on under their political strictures, especially those who have traveled or studied abroad and have seen how other governments function.
The Cuban Catholic Church is the only institution in Cuba that operates semi-autonomously from the government. What about a meeting of US officials with the papal nuncio? It does seem that Pope Francis will have a chance to speak on behalf of greater freedom of association and expression--also to have some political prisoners released. His Cuba schedule:
Sunday, Sept. 20
— Celebrates Mass in Revolution Square in Havana.
— Visits with state leaders, religious men and women, youth.
Monday, Sept. 21
— Celebrates Mass in Holguin.
Tuesday, Sept. 22
— Celebrates Mass in the minor Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, Santiago.
— Meets families in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Asuncion, Santiago.
I don’t really understand the need for personal firearms (here in DC, a little boy just killed a little girl with a gun he found), but do recognize that some feel the need to carry guns to protect themselves from other people or possibly from animals that may attack them in the wild. However, the appeal of trophy hunting and fishing is a complete mystery to me. Why kill magnificent creatures—some endangered--that have survived every natural challenge just to be able to stuff them, insert glass eyes, and put them on display? What are the bragging rights there? It’s an unfair fight. Is shooting  animals or, in the case of giant fish, hooking and hauling them in, thus ending their natural life, something to celebrate? If a rare multicolored lobster or giant octopus is caught by accident, it’s enough just to take some photos, throw it back, and put the episode  on You-Tube. That’s fame enough. If people kill animals or fish to eat, that’s one thing, but killing a lion king is not for eating. Luring a protected lion out of his habitat and killing him is considered sport? Even worse is killing a half-tame lion in a private reserve, like shooting fish in a barrel. I’m glad that Minnesota dentist lion hunter had to shut down his business because of protests and if he makes the lion’s skin into a rug or hangs its head up on a wall, he’d better display it in a secret locale.
Perhaps the death of Cecil the Lion will lead to a prohibition on big game hunting, especially of rare or endangered species. I’m well aware that such hunting expeditions do afford an income to some local people, but perhaps more might be employed in non-lethal safaris (in which I have participated) and in wildlife protection. Now, we hear that the killing of Cecil has been compounded by the reported killing of his brother or best pal, thought to be guarding the lioness and cubs he left behind, although there has been dispute about the veracity of details about that second killing. Apparently, another male lion in the vicinity was killed by another American after Cecil, but may not have been associated with him. Added to lion killing is the senseless the slaughter of elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns, butchered in the mistaken belief of mostly Asian males that ingestion of powdered tinctures enhance virility—they should try Viagra instead, much more effective!
Amnesty International, where I have been a volunteer activist since 1981, has really opened up a hornets’ nest by tackling the issue of prostitution and deciding it should be decriminalized as a transaction between consenting adults. Maybe if you are with Eliot Spitzer, that’s the case, but surely that’s the exception. There may be a few others. A professional single woman at an association where I once worked enjoyed making extra money and sharing fun evenings and sexual adventures with well-heeled men by moonlighting as a high-end escort after hours. That was before the internet was in widespread use, so I don’t know how she met her “johns.” What percentage of prostitutes fall into that elite category and is it worth promoting the idea of consensual prostitution to protect them from arrest or reprobation? Do such women even need protection? The line between consensual and coerced sex—even implied coercion because of unequal economic circumstances— is really not so clear.
Amnesty’s pending consideration of the issue was discussed in TIME (Aug. 17, 2015) and the policy was approved at an international meeting
While there may be exceptions, I do think the sex trade worldwide is very exploitative of women and rarely a free and equal contract among consenting adults.  However, the new Amnesty policy does not identify prostitution as a human right, but affirms that sex workers have rights. (Yes, that should include the right not be engaged in such work.)
Making Life Harder for Pimps, Nicolas Kristof
[Excerpts] The Nordic model to combat trafficking and exploitation, pioneered in Sweden, has been gaining ground, too. It provides for the arrest of johns while offering help rebuilding the lives of women who were selling sex. Nothing works all that well in curbing sex trafficking, but this model has succeeded better than other approaches.
Yet in some quarters, there’s still a myopia about the degree to which this is a human rights issue. Amnesty International will consider a proposal in the coming days that would call for full decriminalization of the sex trade, including for johns, on the theory that this would benefit sex workers. Nice theory, but a failed one. It has been tried repeatedly and it invariably benefited johns while exacerbating abuse of women and girls: A parallel underground market emerges for underage girls. Let’s hope Amnesty comes to its senses and, as Swanee Hunt of Harvard put it, avoids “endorsing one of the most exploitative human rights abuses of our time.”