Sunday, September 18, 2016

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

Fall flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 3, 2016

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

 Son Andrew days before his death
Below Hawaii photos

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

Dragon dance punctuated Miss Chinatown pageant at Windward Mall.


                                                 Below, my talk at U. Of Hawaii

                                                         U. of Hawaii campus

                                   With year-old grandson Kingston and his mother, below

Above, daughter Stephanie's pet tortoise, Moses

                                         Stephanie and husband Paul at dinner

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

                                           Typical Hawaiian wild flowers and tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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