Friday, October 28, 2016

PC Response in My Dreams, South Sudan Tragedy, Nicaraguan Elections, Honduras, Cuba, Trump & Hillary Again (Still!!)

Tried above to get images of Clinton and Trump, but may have only gotten Trump or else a jumble of letters and numbers. We shall soon see. I don't seem to have the knack to copy stock images. Anyway, we've all seen them already.
Dreams may be a form of wish-fulfillment. Certainly, I have dreamed of being reunited both with my late son Andrew and foster son Alex, also with my late ex-husband and parents, all long dead. Lately, I’ve been having dreams about being in Peace Corps Response, a short-term service usually for former volunteers. I recently attended an award ceremony for Bob Arias, a man my own age, who was a Response volunteer in Panama, Colombia, and Paraguay and now has his sights set on Vietnam. In my dreams, I always go to Latin America, such as last night when I did service in Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, and Guatemala successively and lived in very rural outlying areas, similar to those where I’ve volunteered with Peace Corps and with medical brigades. Of course, in real life, Peace Corps is no longer in Honduras. Will I ever actually do it again? It’s very hard for me to disentangle from my current life and I’m not getting any younger. However, I do keep in mind the volunteer who served in Morocco at age 86.
My son Jon, as I’ve mentioned before, was accidentally shot in the foot at age 11 by another boy playing with loaded gun kept in parents’ bedroom. Fortunately, no bones were hit and he seemed to have healed well, even passing an army physical and basic training without a problem. But now when he is over 40, he is having pain with that foot in the area of the injury, but wore a caste for a while and is getting physical therapy, which is proving helpful. Having lost both my older son and my Cuban foster son (though from causes unrelated to guns), I am very grateful that Jonathan was spared. I once had a friend whose 2 sisters were murdered and who considered herself invulnerable, because, she reasoned, God would not take her mother’s last surviving child. I have no such confidence, considering my remaining kids as vulnerable as anyone else. I note in TIME (Oct. 14, 2016) a chart on gun violence, which is thankfully going down, but whose caption says that more people die from guns than from car accidents. So far in 2016, according to TIME, there have 1,622 accidental shootings, with 515 of the victims children.
At a recent dinner party, I met a man who works with a church group in South Sudan and what he told me is even more discouraging that what we see in the news. He thinks both the president and vice president are at fault for keeping the civil war there going, two men out to feather their own nest and more interested in furthering their rivalry than in protecting citizens, some of whom are now actually starving. How did a brand new nation with nearly 100% citizen support and unbridled hopes fall into this man-made crisis (made primarily by just these 2 men) and what is the way out?
South Sudan’s second largest city, Malakal, a commercial and oil hub, has reportedly been reduced to rubble and its inhabitants have fled. I feel so helpless, after having spent time in that hopeful fledgling country, now watching this spectacle from afar.
Zika’s devastation of the unborn has been uneven, with the greatest concentration of severe microcephaly in northeastern Brazil.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega came back into office with one-third of the vote (the winner being the candidate with the largest number of votes, not a majority) after decades and has since has packed the supreme court and changed the constitution to allow himself consecutive terms, ad infinitum, so it seems. For the upcoming election Nov. 6, he has now agreed to allow outside election observers. Of course, this puts me in mind of being election observer myself in Nicaragua in 1990, when he went down to an unexpected defeat. Since then, he has been trying to get back into office and, through persistence and good organization, finally barely made it again and has since pressed on to succeed himself. However, he is not the fiery Sandinista of old, though still allied with Cuba and Venezuela, the latter giving him ever shrinking quantities of low-cost oil. To his credit, he still allows Peace Corps volunteers to serve there.
Honduras is receiving one or two planeloads a day of Honduran deportees, not surprising to me, as every time I am at the Tegucigalpa airport, I see a US deportation flight discharging dispirited passengers:
Feb. 10-24, 2017, medical brigade volunteers—nurses, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, short-wave radio operators, interpreters needed for

For the first time, the US (and Israel) abstained this year on the UN resolution calling for an end to the US embargo against Cuba.

 Tania Bruguera, a Cuban performance artist who may have dual nationality (?) has announced her candidacy for the Cuban presidency when Raul Castro steps down in 2018. She can always say she’s a revolutionary, a socialist, or whatever is required—she’s probably as much a socialist as any other candidate might be. Tania Bruguera se postula para la presidencia de Cuba

“Aprovechemos las elecciones del 2018 para cambiar la cultura del miedo”
Domingo, octubre 16, 2016 | CubaNet
MEXICO CITY – The Inter American Press Association, or IAPA, called on the Cuban government Monday to end its strict controls over Internet access and digital platforms.
As it wrapped up its 72nd General Assembly in Mexico City, the IAPA urged Havana to "no longer make Cuba one of the most repressive countries in the world when it comes to the Internet and online media, and that it cease to resist the wave of change in communications and technology."
The Cuban government and its agencies have "stepped up their criticism and threats ... in response to the growth of journalism that is independent of the government, especially in new online platforms," the regional press group said.
This has resulted in "arbitrary arrests, citations by police, threatening interrogations and seizures of work equipment," the IAPA said.
New technologies are giving a voice to dissenting opinions, but large obstacles still remain in the use of the Internet, the regional press group said.
"A large number of journalists, most of them independent, were arrested during the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Cuba" earlier this year, the IAPA said.

US specialists on Zika, Chikingunya, and Dengue were dispatched to Cuba;
Rotary International is also returning to Cuba to help out rural communities for the first time since 1959. Can the Peace Corps be far behind?

Some Cuban authorities have railed against friendlier US policies toward Cuba as a sort of “wolf in sheep’s clothing” or Trojan horse designed to undermine “the Revolution.”

And the US has yielded on yet another issue, no longer requiring US enterprises to work only with the Cuban private sector, instead allowing cooperation with the government near-monopoly. Following a visit by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker in October of 2015, Cuban authorities announced that all exports to Cuba would follow “established channels” and that no changes were planned for the state monopoly on imports.
A “wait and see” strategy appears to have generated some progress. Cleber LLC, for example, announced during a recent Miami conference on doing business with the island that it had obtained a U.S. license to sell agricultural and construction equipment to state enterprises. That suggested that the U.S. government has accepted that doing business directly with the state sector in Cuba is inevitable.
Read more here:

My long-ago housemate and former Cuban librarian rafter Jose Varela was interviewed on Fox News, saying how much he appreciated being able to vote after coming from a country where that is not possible. He appears in my Confessions book and also in this Huffington Post article:

Are we still having fun with this election? Hardly. Trump’s antics are no longer the stuff of parody. Seems that election fatigue is greater than ever before and we will all be very glad when it’s over (assuming Hillary wins). A professor who has called all past elections correctly is still predicting a Trump victory. Hillary’s lead now seems to be shrinking. What if we should actually wake up to a Trump presidency on Nov. 9? So scary!

“Just thinking to myself right now, we should just cancel the election and give it to Trump," the real-estate mogul said while campaigning in Toledo, Ohio. Can you imagine enduring 4 years of surprise, off-the-cuff remarks like that from a president? At least Duterte had a conversation with God and promised to stop swearing.

In the US, pre-election polls are bouncing all over the place, depending, it seems, on who is conducting them. A recent Investor’s Business Daily poll found the top two candidates deadlocked at 41 percent, followed by Libertarian Gary Johnson at 8 percent and Green Party nominee Jill Stein at 4 percent. That’s about the only poll these days in Donald’s favor. (He says he’s actually winning.) Or maybe the bouncing polls are being reported just to keep the news cycle going? Although Donald Trump seems on a downward spiral, if he should actually win, will he then claim the election was rigged? While he did better in the third and last debate, exercising more apparent self-control, especially at first, he still refused to pledge to accept election results if he loses. In fact, the next day, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen…I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win.” Is that a self-deprecating joke—Trump seems incapable of self-reflection—or is he serious?  Mike Pence has been saying all along that the election count will be fair and also that the Russians are behind the WikiLeaks hacks, contradicting Trump. Is he trying to be a voice of reason to counteract Trump and make himself and the Republican Party seem more credible? Obviously those two do not have a well-coordinated campaign. Pence  is wisely keeping his distance. Can he even deliver Indiana for Trump? According to one senior Trump official: "We have three major voter suppression operations under way."

Getting off the bus after a recent interpretation assignment, I ran into a labor dispute on view outside Trump's new hotel here, on my way to the metro at Federal Triangle--it was a small demonstration with a big sign and police nearby. There was also someone talking for a TV camera. I've heard that contrary to what Trump might have hoped for by entering the presidential race, his properties may actually be losing money. Right after the day I passed by, he formally opened his new hotel. It’s occupying the beautiful Old Post Office Building, but, so rumor has it, he has had to lower room rates to get customers. 

Julian Assange suffered a major setback in his vindictive e-mail dump against Hillary when the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he has taken refuge now for several years, curbed his internet access. That the embassy would do that is instructive, just another indication that Latin America is turning away from knee-jerk anti-Americanism. Is this a legacy of Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Cuba? Or is Ecuador hedging its bets after developments in Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina? Assange, who sought asylum in the embassy to prevent being extradited and tried by the US and possibly imprisoned, finds himself imprisoned now in the UK’s Ecuadorian Embassy without his customary internet access, though the embassy has vowed to continue to offer him asylum. His stay there must, at least, have become uncomfortable on both sides.

Trump’s diehard supporters are vicariously and gleefully enjoying the Donald’s license to behave like a big spoiled brat, breaking his teleprompter, tweeting at 3 am, calling Hillary silly names, demanding that she undergo a drug test, and threatening to inspire havoc if he loses the election. Even Melania in an interview compared her husband to her 10-year-old son. Trump (and to a lesser extent, also Sanders, Johnson, and Stein) has played into many people’s conspiracy-theory fears—that unproven and unprovable statements are more credible than those of the “establishment.” But, it’s hard to prove something merely by saying it’s true or attributing it, as Trump likes to do, only to what “people are saying.” What people are saying apparently is whatever Trump has alleged and do these supposed people have anything to back up whatever is supposedly being said? “People are saying that climate change is a government hoax, but the establishment doesn’t want you to know that.” “People are saying that illegal aliens are pouring across the border.” Who exactly are these people saying these things? And are they true? Established data sources are denigrated as conspiracies, and cover-up and truth don’t matter, only what Stephen Colbert has called “truthiness,” something that’s sounds right to many people, or is what they would like to be true. Since a substantial portion of the population believes the world was created in 7 days, what do you expect? The internet makes it easy to spread any sort of statement without verification or filter.

Is vote “rigging” actually possible? Certainly, isolated examples of fraud are imaginable, perhaps a twin using his deceased brother’s ID? It’s also true that having a paper backup is essential for a recount, as electronic voting makes an accurate recount nearly impossible and might also enable more substantial fraud since an electronic system might be “hacked,” though voting machines are not inter-connected, so it would have to be done one-by-one. While more time-consuming, a recount with paper ballots offers a more reliable system. When I was an election observer in Chile (1998), Nicaragua (1990), Haiti (1990), and the Dominican Republic (1996), all voting was with paper ballots. Again, in Honduras, while in Peace Corps, I informally observed the voting process, again using paper ballots. Typically, these paper ballots not only have the candidates’ names, but also a face-shot of each next to the flag or symbol of their party. This helps voters with possible literacy problems. During the 2000, contested presidential race in Honduras, I had requested a mail-in ballot, but never received it.

Donald has opened himself up to scrutiny and has been revealed to be a complete fraud and a phony at every turn, not just now, but throughout his career: the millionaire who loses money and doesn’t pay taxes or meet contract obligations, who lends (sells) his name to products he doesn’t actually make, whose charitable donations are actually made by others, who runs an unauthorized charity that commissions full-length portraits of himself, and whose for-profit so-called university doesn’t give out valid degrees. He calls Hillary “crooked” to deflect that label from himself. About a dozen women so far have come out with charges of unwanted sexual advances against Trump. His supporters have countered with a Facebook post and a hashtag calling for the repeal of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote.

Many of us women identify with Hillary, seeing her bearing the brunt of Donald’s insults and name-calling as he seemed to stalk her from behind at debates. And while I am not a big fan of abortion, being an adoptive as well as a birth parent, I doubt that many viable babies are being “ripped” from the womb. I suspect that late-term abortions close to the due date are quite rare and performed only under excruciating circumstances. There have been a few well-publicized exceptions by unscrupulous medical practitioners who, in the name of abortion, have actually killed babies born alive, but those people have been sanctioned. So that’s not a legitimate or common problem.

Can this election cycle get any crazier? We thought Huey Long was flamboyant, but he had nothing on Donald Trump. Fiction could not have made up a character like Trump. It will be a relief when it’s all over and we can then settle down to a more normal national political life. Let's hope Trump never runs for office again. I understand his family is trying to set him up with another reality TV show, which is more his style and will give him a platform on which to bloviate. Unfortunately, such a show, with a built-in audience of his supporters, will keep Trumpism going, maybe even give him a chance to rail again against “crooked Hillary” and continue to promote “the wall,” as he evidently enjoys being famous. His businesses have apparently suffered due to the revelations in the campaign. The Republican Party will certainly not take him back, but they won’t be able to control his public outbursts. We may not get rid of him completely after the election, though I’m just as glad that I don’t have TV. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pending Book Events. Philly Visit, Facebook Invader, Colombia Peace on Hold, Central American Refugees, Abortion, Trump vs. Hillary, Sexual Aggression, Jihad, Haiti, Cuba

If you've missed hearing about my latest book, Confessions of a Secret Latina: How I Fell Out of Love with Castro & In Love with the Cuban People, you'll have 3 chances to get to know more, first at MLKing Library in Washington, DC, Sat. Nov. 5, 10 am -5 pm, along with other local authors, then at 7 pm on Wed. Nov. 9 in Hillary's hometown, at Chappaqua Public Library, 195 Greeley Ave., and finally at 6:30 pm on Fri. Nov. 11 at Barnard College/Columbia U.

On Oct. 8, I attended an Amnesty International regional conference in Philadelphia, which also gave me a chance to see my sister and her family, as per some of these photos. My nephew, Emil Baumann, is an artist whose outdoor mural was commissioned by the city and stands bright as ever after 3 years. My sister Betty is recovering from Bell’s Palsy, hence her crooked smile. A Halloween-themed exhibit is appearing in the family’s local gallery space. 

Another Barbara Joe, much younger and cuter, has invaded my Facebook account and has also popped up on my gmail. I don’t know how to get rid of her. Maybe she is being annoyed by me in turn? Meanwhile, I keep getting notices both on Yahoo and gmail that someone is trying to get into my accounts, but is being blocked.  Maybe it’s this same young woman? Recently, while staying with my sister and her husband during a regional Amnesty International conference in Philly, I noted that they don’t have to worry about accounts being invaded, identities being stolen, and security being compromised, as they are simply not connected to the internet. They are blissfully unaware of such threats, living in an earlier age of phone, snail-mail, and personal interaction.

Colombia’s President Juan Manual Santos was named this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, despite the failure of the Colombian peace accords, principally for his efforts, not the results, and to spur him on to keep on trying. 
Because of my close connection to Honduras and interpretation work with kids and parents from Central America, I’m glad to see AI speaking out on this issue and getting press recognition:

Here’s more:
Now, the first round of Haiti’s long-delayed presidential election has reportedly been set for Nov. 20,

While an article in The Hill states that Americans overwhelmingly support abortion rights, that all depends to an extent on how the question is framed. According to the Federalist, described by Wikipedia as an English language forum “that rejects the assumptions of the media establishment,” 80% of Americans actually support limiting abortion to the first trimester. That’s a position that I would support, except perhaps in exceptional cases of a threat to the mother’s life or a fetus that would not be viable. I do believe that the abortion wars in this country would be largely over if that were the official stated policy.

Either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is going to be elected US president, no one else; that's the simple and stark truth. That’s the choice, as it looks like Trump won’t give up. It’s either elect the lesser of evils or end up with the greater of those evils. No one is perfect. But there are degrees of imperfection. Someone who has been in public life as long as long as Hillary will have some baggage and may say things in private that she would not want revealed in public. But, thanks to WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and Vladimir Putin, we now know what has been said behind closed doors by DNC staff. Assange and Putin would like to damage the US and, if Trump is victorious, that's exactly what will happen. Some of the leaked e-mails show Hillary and Democratic operatives to be strategic and thoughtful at times, as well as manipulative. As I've said before, I met Hillary Clinton as First Lady in small face-to-face meetings on gun control and health care when I was reporting for an occupational therapy magazine, OT Week. She seemed bright and approachable then and, for me, the impression has remained largely positive.

Trump may have first entered the presidential race to further his business interests, but now it looks like that effect may be negative.

Avaaz, a worldwide internet based organization seeming to focus on environmental issues has an appeal out to overseas Americans to vote against Trump—here is the Spanish version that I received, showing anti-Trump signs aimed at ex-pats living around the world: 

Trump: Clinton win would mean ‘almost total destruction’ of U.S.In fact, a Trump win would lead to widespread destruction, though perhaps Republicans and Democrats would then team up together to thwart his most egregious efforts.

Macroeconomic Advisers, a St. Louis forecasting firm, recently analyzed the impact of a Donald Trump versus a Hillary Clinton win in November on the overall stock market. There was a stark difference. A Clinton win, the firm says, would produce a 4% rally in the stock market. But a Trump victory would send stocks sliding by a steep 7%.
The market capitalization of the S&P 500 is about $18.6 trillion, so a 7% drop would slash about $1.3 trillion off the value of companies in the index. If you include the 4% gain investors might otherwise book from a Clinton win, the total cost of a Trump win would be more than $2 trillion.
With the revelation of Trump’s 2005 braggart tape about how he gets his way sexually with women, now a number of women are coming forward. As in the case of other long-delayed revelations, such as those against Bill Cosby, his defenders ask: why have these women waited so long? Well, the truth is most women, when they are of a certain (young) age and are not overweight or unattractive, are subject to more-or-less constant low-level sexual harassment by men. It’s probably due to the influence of male testosterone combined with cultural norms. When I was a young woman—and in Honduras, even as an old woman—I experienced much “hitting” on me, nor was I unusual in that. It was better when I was married and had kids, probably because men are more likely to respect another man’s “possession,” as well as to respect women who are mothers, though that’s not totally true. Also, I worked largely in social work, child welfare, and rehabilitation after I married, where most of my colleagues were women. But, with men, except for gay men, you simply are constantly on guard and you develop defensive techniques.  You try to deflect advances and make them into jokes or bantering so they don’t develop any further and no one’s feelings get hurt.

In some cases, it’s really just flirting and the initial stage of courtship, an exploration of whether there is mutual attraction, especially if both parties are single. As women, we often work with men every day. So it isn’t worth making an issue out of every little overture. Even when women have actually been subjected to unwanted overt sexual touching or even outright rape, they are often in denial or just want to leave the whole matter behind. When the man is their boss or a well-known public figure, someone powerful, they expect retaliation, lawsuits, and fear they just won’t be believed. They may feel alone with their secret. It’s easier to simply avoid the guy. However, if the man in question publicly denies his behavior, as Trump has done, and other women have come forward, then a woman who has been subjected to unwanted advances feels less lonely and more emboldened to go public. Especially when the man in question wants to become president, a woman may feel she has a moral duty to do so. So I don’t consider having kept it a secret for years to be disqualifying for such a revelation. Sexual aggression is often hard for victims/survivors to reveal even years later, as we have seen in countless cases of sexual abuse by clergy, coaches, and family members. There is a conspiracy of silence. So, yes, I do believe Trump’s accusers and salute them for coming forward. His blustering defense is not credible. Why would a guy like Trump brag about doing something he never actually did? This whole matter has overshadowed the Wiki-Leaks revelations.

Trump’s focus on Bill Clinton’s sexual dalliances has backfired and Hillary herself is forced to keep quiet about the whole issue. Bill, while he probably did take advantage of Monica because of her youth, mostly seems to have seduced willing women, not forcing his attentions on them. He is also a more intelligent and personable guy than Trump, who may have used force because he is so unattractive to most women (my bias showing?).  While Trump and his supporters seem to be calling for riots and unrest if he loses the “rigged” election, Pence, a voice of moderation, is saying that he and Donald will “absolutely accept” the electoral outcome. However, there is a real risk of serious disruption and civil disobedience if Trump keeps up his accusations now and after the election.

After three serious memory lapses in a row, maybe Gary Johnson has incipient dementia? Certainly, he has not been helping his presidential bid and Jill Stein seems to falling even further behind as well. They just cannot capture public attention when the big Trump-Hillary Clinton drama is unfolding on-stage.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio is to face criminal charges .Prosecutors say they will charge Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio with criminal contempt of court over his immigration patrols.

Those now being attracted to jihad are apparently less religiously devout than the 9/11 bombers and other earlier incarnations. These days, they are more likely to be run-of-the-mill outlaws looking for opportunities to do something dangerous and exciting that makes them feel powerful and beyond the law and offers a license to engage violence—giving them an adrenaline rush and providing instant camaraderie. Often what attracts these guys is what builds up ordinary criminal gangs. An interesting twist has been the action in Germany of fellow Syrian immigrants tying up a would-be jihadist and calling the authorities. While having citizens take matters in their own hands is not recommended in many cases, it can sometimes be justified, as in this case where the suspect was not physically harmed, except for being tied up. (Later, unfortunately, he took his own life.) Citizen vigilantes should not become violent bullies like George Zimmerman, the trigger-happy neighborhood-watch guy who killed Trayvon Martin because he looked suspicious to him and who has gone on to further impulsive and violent acts. Nor do we want a system like the one in Cuba where citizens are praised for snitching to the government on others, in that case for words of simple disagreement, not for any plans whatsoever for violent action. A very legitimate case can be made for non-violent free speech. However, where someone seems to be going beyond words, actually contemplating a violent act, his or her associates, whether fellow Muslims, gang members, family members, or concerned neighbors, seem fully justified in “snitching,” or even trying to physically deter that individual.

Hurricane Michael has devastated Les Cayes, a Haitian city where I was an election observer in 1990, a really charming place back then. Poor Haiti, it keeps having bad luck, whether from bad governance, an earthquake, a cholera epidemic, or now a hurricane—it just never stops and the country never seems able to recover.  No wonder so many Haitians put their faith in spells and magic—what else do they have to try to take control of their lives? Now their long-delayed presidentialo election is set for Nov. 20.

From Freedom House:
Cuba: Political Repression Grows 

In response to a growing number of arbitrary detentions in Cuba and greater intimidation of civil society, Freedom House issued the following statement: 
“We are alarmed by the significant increase of arbitrary detentions, secret police raids, and intimidation targeting a wide cross-section of civil society,” said Carlos Ponce, director for Latin America programs. “The international community should demand protection of the Cuban human rights defenders and prodemocracy movements.”

The Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional (CCDHRN) reports that there have been more than 7,800 politically motivated arrests in 2016, in many cases with the use of violence. A new report by Instituto Cubano por la Libertad de Expresión y Prensa (ICLEP) documented freedom of expression and press violations. 

Cuba is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2016, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2016, and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2015.

French multi-nationals are building a hotel in Cuba, Manzana de Gomez. While the average Cuban earns $30 a month, Reuters has reported that the Indian workers are being paid more than $1,500. And they are said to work faster than Cubans; do you blame Cubans for slowing down when they are paid so little?  It’s a form of protest that cannot be proven. Surely, Cubans, if word gets out, must resent the fact that foreign workers are being paid a monthly wage more than their usual annual salary.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Goodbye to a Friend, Colombia, Cuba, Guns, VP Debate, Trump & Clinton, Obama’s Legacy in Cuba and Beyond

Am now mourning the death of a good friend and a pioneer in intercountry and single-parent adoption, Hope Marindin, herself the single mother of three adopted kids. I served on at least two adoption agency boards with her, traveled with her to adoption conferences, including one held in Ottawa, and wrote about her and her family for the Washington Post. When her daughter received a pioneering hand treatment with Botox, I wrote about that for my occupational therapy magazine, OT Week. On her 80th birthday, her friends and family all participated in a big party for her at her assisted living facility. I don’t think it’s a secret that her memory started fading soon after that. Her decline and death represent a real loss.

[When this posting appeared, some lettering was red, not black, and when I tried to correct it, more red appeared, so this is my 3rd last try--red lettering, if it should appear, has no significance and I never put it there.]

It was a big disappointment, frankly, and a shock that the Colombian people narrowly voted “no” on the peace agreement with the FARC rebels, four years in the making and arrived at after 52 years of civil war. The president of the Puerto Rican Senate even proposed that Raul Castro be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation efforts. What’s next for Colombia and the FARC is now uncertain. Voters, such as the British with Brexit or now Colombians rejecting the peace deal with the FARC or even Congressional representatives overriding Obama’s veto of the bill allowing Americans to sue the Saudi government on behalf of 9/11 victims, may all be expressing public support for policies that actually turn out to be net-harmful. While we may favor voting and listening to the “voice of the people,” the electorate sometimes contradicts and confounds polls and seems to work against voters’ own self-interest. That’s why I don’t discount the possibility of a Trump victory in November, however disastrous that might turn out to be. As for rejection of the FARC deal, Colombians may have been influenced by the turmoil in neighboring Venezuela and the apparent sympathy between FARC rebels and Cuba and Venezuela. I guess Raul Castro won’t get his Nobel Peace Prize just yet.  

 A US summer youth program for kids from many countries, in which some Cuban young people recently participated, has created quite a backlash with the Cuban government and provoked officials there to promote public protests against it. The Cuban regime routinely assembles crowds to attack people and policies it opposes. Some participants eagerly join such protests, while others are coerced. Thus, protests have now been featured in editorials and TV clips criticizing the US program, thereby giving it even more publicity, causing, as independent blogger Yoani Sanchez has reported, parents to approach her, asking how to enroll their own child in the program.

 Apparently, the US and Cuban governments and the Smithsonian could not come to agreement on a plan to feature Cuba in the 2017 Folklife Festival. While reasons for the failure of negotiations are not available, it appears that there were problems on both sides. While I do not mince words about the Cuban government’s decades-long record of human rights abuses, I’ve always been a supporter of cultural exchanges, which seem to be able to bring citizens of both countries together in a politically neutral way.

How can people be so careless, so stupid, with firearms? A family lays down a loaded gun near an 18-month-old, who picks it up and fatally shoots himself in the head. If you feel you must have a gun, please don’t leave loaded guns where children can reach them; that’s just common sense. Also, recently, a young man shot and killed a man whose music he considered too loud, apparently avoiding being charged, as he said he felt threatened and had defended himself with Florida’s “stand your ground” law. And Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, another Florida stand-your-ground advocate who managed to escape punishment, has gone on to get into one episode of trouble after another, indicating that he is an angry, impulsive guy who never should have had a firearm in the first place.

With all the recent shootings, some fatal, of suspects by police, it does seem that simply having a gun at hand makes it more likely to be used to hurt or kill someone, even in the hands of police. Some police have acted impulsively or in response to an erroneously perceived threat, but a stun gun or taser could have achieved the same result without inflicting so much harm, much of it due to police mistakes. It’s becoming harder to say that “guns don’t kill people, people do.” Yes, people do shoot guns, but if they didn’t have them, they wouldn’t kill as often. Police in Britain and other countries are unarmed and killings by police are rare. 

The vice presidential debate was more traditional that the presidential one so far. Mike Pence, who once was a radio host, sounded mostly normal and calm, even when Tim Caine was trying to shout him down. I would call their face-off close to a draw. Pence often referred to “the war on coal,” as if that dirty, fossil fuel could ever really make a comeback. At least some laid-off coal miners may vote for his ticket. Pence tried to humanize Trump by calling him a businessman, not a politician, “not polished,” an understatement. But hard-core Trump supporters may be dismayed if he calms down too much.

Adding insult to injury, Trump has not only doubled down on Bill Clinton’s infidelities (while avoiding mention of his own), but now has hinted that Hillary has been unfaithful to Bill. Female infidelity has always been considered more scandalous than male, but Trump’s speculation is only that, an unproven charge —a whole-cloth invention on his part, though he surely must be searching diligently for any conceivable signs of Hillary’s straying. Maybe he will show a photo of her hugging running mate Tim Kaine? If she were actually unfaithful after Bill’s infidelities, would most voters blame her? It’s rather doubtful that she would ever engage in an affair because of her laser-like focus on advancing her political career, well aware of how such a revelation could hurt her. That unfounded accusation is just another dead-end for Trump.

Late-night comics have been having field day with the Donald, but are finding it hard to make him look even more ridiculous than he actually is. He might have entered the presidential race thinking that, at the very least, it would boost his business, but it may end up having the opposite effect. If he should actually enter the Oval Office, he’d have to take a whopping pay cut. Yet some (partisan?) observers are still predicting a Trump win in November, speculating that many voters are planning secretly to vote for Trump, fearful of ridicule for expressing their true intentions. Also, Julian Assange had announced that he would make a shocking revelation about Clinton from the balcony of London’s Ecuadoran Embassy that would devastate her campaign, but then he cancelled that and said he would reveal damaging files slowly all the way up to the election. If ever the Ecuadoran government should change hands, no doubt the embassy would be glad to get rid of their uninvited guest.

If Donald Trump gets so rattled during a debate with Hillary Clinton, how would he do in negotiations with foreign leaders, especially those trying to manipulate him? Already Putin seems to have lured Trump into his camp by flattering him and making him feel important. When Trump’s polls sink and he is criticized, he never blames himself, but, rather, targets unproven shadowy conspiracies all mysteriously arrayed against him. If he is really such a clever, competent, straightforward, and likeable guy, why are so many secret conspiracies being organized to thwart him and why is he unable to counteract them? A man so defenseless in protecting his own reputation can hardly protect our country. Clinton supporters can only hope he keeps on rattling off or tweeting whatever comes into his shallow mind.

As Barack Obama’s presidential tenure comes to an end, I would say he’s done fairly well, good enough, especially given the strong opposition against him, much of it frankly attributable to racism. Obama has never been one of the “good old boys” who seem to still dominate Congress and the Senate. He didn’t ever show a knack for befriending lawmakers of either party, perhaps partly because of his race, partly because of his short tenure in the Senate, and partly, perhaps, because of a sort of cerebral or intellectual temperament that made him shun such efforts. He seemed to think that arguments could made by logic and on the merits. He also must be faulted for not taking a more aggressive and less Soviet-friendly stance on Syria, although I don’t know all of what has been involved and realize that he was trying to prevent bloodshed. But that hasn’t been the result. His gamble, if that was what it was, did not pay off and Putin has double-crossed him and the Syrian people.

In Cuba, while I understand the need to go slow and avoid making the Cuban leadership even more defensive, the US seems now to have totally abandoned democracy advocates there—or, at least, that’s what many of them are experiencing. Obama’s regime-conciliatory tactics may still prove useful in the long run, especially after the Castro brothers’ demise, but, meanwhile, the Cuban people continue to suffer both materially and in terms of liberty—nor is their health care, at least for ordinary people, all it’s cracked up to be. Not only are rights of assembly and expression being severely thwarted, but the Cuban regime is holding tight on controlling the economy, keeping its population hungry and dependent, unlike its mentors in China and Vietnam, two countries that have both welcomed the Peace Corps, as well as the expansion of commerce and entrepreneurship. But maybe it just will take time in Cuba? The raised hopes and continued patience of the Cuban people are being sorely tested and government repression seems on the rise, as least right now. The Cuban dictatorship may feel the need to be especially defensive because of its small size, proximity to the US, and the existence of such a large diaspora—and is now confronting the implosion of its patron, Venezuela. Raul Castro and company are keeping a tight rein, trying to squeeze maximum economic benefit from the US-Cuba accords while making minimum concessions. Still I think Obama’s outreach to the Cuban leadership was a good first step.

Like anything that might be considered progress, there are downsides and unintended consequences, including unpredictability as represented by chaos theory. We like to think that the trajectory of history tends ever toward improvement, always upward and onward, however defined. But there is also backsliding, two steps forward, one backward, that is, if we are lucky, and luck or fortune can always be reversed. Who could have anticipated the rise of Donald Trump? Or, after gay rights blossomed, that AIDS would decimate gay ranks? Other unwelcome surprises have included 9/11, SARS, Ebola, Zika, Boko Haram, and ISIS. Child mortality has been reduced worldwide, people are living longer, but that also has meant a population explosion, more pollution, and a growing cohort of older folks living with mental and physical conditions that are disabling but not fatal. It’s also tempting to link economic prosperity and development to greater freedom, but the tie is not automatic. Costa Rica is a nation of mostly modest earners who enjoy a good deal of personal liberty, while Saudis are wealthy and restricted.

As children and young people, we may expect that everything will become easier for us only when we grow up, finish college, find a job, get married, or buy our own home. Of course, any such respite never lasts for very long. Through experience, we come to recognize “good enough” as a realizable goal in our own personal life and, I believe, the same holds true of collective life. Much of what Bernie Sanders has been advocating is aspirational, a visionary goal to work toward, but, I feel, not totally practical and actually do-able (see his past embrace of Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega). Of course, his supporters would say that such a defeatist attitude and an acceptance of “good enough” are precisely what doom more robust improvement efforts. The vision of Gary Johnson, with no taxes, scant government, and complete personal freedom, I consider utopian as well. Indeed, some of his followers are trying to carve out an actual physical space in New Hampshire to realize their utopian vision, repeating experiments that have begun with much enthusiasm and unbridled hope throughout history, but never lasted very long. Even the Israeli kibbutzim faded despite strong government support. 

In every nation, group, and family, I believe, there must be a balance between individual and common good and between realistic and visionary expectations. Fidel Castro carried matters too far, forcing Cubans to work for an idealized common good as he defined it, using secret police and harsh prison terms to impose his will. Castro advocated a utopian society on a national level, one that was independent, self-sufficient, and with economic and social equality, providing quality universal education and health care for all. Even basic food production and distribution would be equalized. His “new man” would sacrifice himself willingly for the common good. But in the case of Cuba, as elsewhere, the ideal has proved the enemy of the good. And those who have dared to point out the flaws in the Cuban system have suffered—and still suffer—severe punishment.

In our own country, I feel that President Obama has done a “good enough” job and that Hillary Clinton will do the same. However, Trump simply doesn’t have that capacity. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black, he is reported to have said about Clinton, "Now, she's got a bad temperament. She could be crazy. She could actually be crazy.”

As for Cuba, I’d like to think that Cuba will eventually emerge from dictatorship, but I’m well aware of how Russia has experienced backsliding and how China and Vietnam, decades after their economic openings, are still one-party states with executions, political prisoners, censorship, curbs on assembly and expression, no free elections, and suppression of religious and ethnic minorities. 

Even on the micro-level of our individual financial survival, occupation, marriage and family life, and health in our own country, the supposed beacon of the world, there is little respite from daily struggle and challenge. Even as ordinary individuals, we experience scant opportunity to rest on our laurels, possessing little time to relax and only sporadic moments of celebration. What I’m saying is self-evident, yet we tend to see—or want to see—our efforts as leading toward future improvements, both personally and collectively, and are often disappointed when our hopes and dreams fall short. Yet, as we observed when I worked at the occupational therapy association, everyone aspires to engage in meaningful activity—subjectively defined—and whenever we reach one goal, we set another. That process continues until death.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Cashless Societies, Mexico, South Sudan, Cuba, Clinton & Trump

Bob Arias, Peace Corps volunteer par excellence, received the Peace Corps's J F Kennedy Award on September 23 in Washington, DC. Bob, who began his PC career as a young volunteer in Colombia, later became country director in Argentina and Uruguay, then in his retirement, volunteered for 4 Peace Corps Response assignments, 2 in Panama and one each in Colombia and and Paraguay. Bob is almost my age and still lives in Panama, where I visited him 7 years ago en route to my annual humanitarian visit to Honduras. And Bob may not be through yet, as he is now considering a PC Response assignment in Vietnam, which has just opened up to the Peace Corps. Way to go, Bob!

Modern-day cashless societies will not be exchanging animal skins and beads; rather electronic signals. Sweden and South Korea are moving aggressively toward a cashless society, as, indeed, the whole world is doing. Relying on electronic and banking systems reduces fraud and tax evasion, but leaves financial systems open to hacking.

A report by WOLA, the Washington Office on Latin America, calls out Mexico for overly harsh treatment of Central American migrants trying to cross its southern border:
What the above article does not mention that the US has offered financial assistance to Mexico to deter the migrants. 

A report was issued showing that Venezuelans are suffering more mental health problems under the current government and have been consulting psychiatrists and other counselors. I was reminded of the Venezuelan asylum applicant I assisted at Catholic Charities whose psychiatrist reported that she was suffering from PTSD because police attacks on her for disloyalty to the regime.

Also, in Venezuela, Maduro loyalists have been put in charge of food distribution, a means of control also used by the Castro regime, which has had government-controlled food rationing, pricing, and distribution for decades. When I was visiting Cuba in the 1990’s, getting enough to eat was a constant concern—I would almost call it an obsession— of most Cubans every single day.

More on what Machar’s absence means to the fragile South Sudan civil war peace process (my readers know I was in South Sudan in 2006 and was tempted to stay there to help them build their new country):
Apparently Machar and forces loyal to him are planning armed resistance:

Pres. Obama has formally announced his choice of ambassador to Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who has been acting ambassador until now.  I did participate with him in a State Dept. meeting before he went to Cuba. He seemed to know much already about Cuba, having served in the Interests Section in Havana previously. Republicans are promising to block his appointment.

Yoani Sanchez, independent blogger, "Scholarships for Cuban Youth to Study in the US Enrage Cuban Government"

Frank interview with Yoani Sanchez in El Diario de Hoy, El Salvador—she is able to be pretty forthcoming outside of Cuba. Of course, there may be a reckoning when she goes back. She’s had her share of beatings and arrests.

Mexico, Brazil, and Uruguay denounce US Cuba embargo at the UN

Jon Lee Anderson, who has often written about Cuba, makes the case for cautious optimism regarding the future of Cuba after the US-Cuba accords in a recent New Yorker piece:

While he has not made his vote public himself, apparently someone else (Robert Kennedy’s daughter) has reported to the press that George HW Bush plans to vote for Hillary Clinton. Hope that her unauthorized revelation won’t cause him to change his mind, as he apparently had wanted his decision to remain private.

In a Facebook post, Robert Reich also makes the case for voting for Hillary.

Of course, I would agree, since, like it or not, the choice now is between Clinton and Trump as neither Sanders nor Johnson nor Stein is going to be elected president. Trump has more personality, if you will, and more charisma than Clinton and he is definitely the “change” candidate even though it’s unclear what sort of change might be in store. Some voters may be in a gambling mood, willing to throw caution to the winds. If he doesn’t keep flying off the handle and sticks to the script, he might yet pull off a win. He seems to be doing a little better under his new campaign manager, but sometimes breaks free of her control. He has great confidence in his own judgment, but doesn’t realize his own ignorance. He has a lot of apparent self-confidence, unaware of how other people see him. That he would attack a former beauty contestant for being “fat” is rather hypocritical since Trump himself is overweight.

If Trump should win the election, then he will probably want to "commute" to DC from his NYC penthouse. Melania is not likely to care to move to Washington and leave her current quiet, private life in NYC. Hillary will try to provoke Trump in the debates, but his handlers, including daughter Ivanka, whom he seems to listen to, must have warned him advance and maybe will even give him a tranquilizer before the next debate. But will he listen to handlers throughout a 4-year presidency? The idea of a Trump presidency is pretty scary. A lot is at stake. If Trump wins, cartoonists will have a field day. If he loses, as I certainly hope and pray happens, he’s unlikely to be a continuing force in Republican politics. He will blame the party and the crooked “rigged” electoral system for his loss. The party will want to jettison him ASAP. We will have a bitterly divided country, whoever wins. It was already divided, hence our election choices, but will be even more so after the election. Whew!

In their first debate, the expectations for Clinton were higher than for Trump and also the public knew less about him, The Apprentice notwithstanding. To me, Trump sounded adolescent, immature, and disorganized. He seemed uncomfortable, perhaps because of his famously short attention span (he prefers tweets) and the debate went on for a full hour and a half. Giuliani has now advised Trump not to participate in any more debates, probably a wise suggestion. Clearly, being one-on-one talking in public without a teleprompter is not his forte. And he doesn’t know when to shut up, as he kept on talking after the debate, digging an even deeper hole criticizing a woman’s weight, when he is not any lightweight himself. He also gratuitously lashed out at the Pope. You almost have to feel sorry for Trump and his supporters, as he and they are so clueless about how he appears to the rest of us—and to the whole wide world. Or maybe they don’t care, so sure they are “right,” them and Donald Trump against the world. He has gotten away so long with bluster, bravado, and trickery that he's using the same tactics in the presidential race with less success. Mainstream Republicans must be tearing their hair, worried about Trump’s effect down-ticket. It will take a while for the Republican Party to recover from Donald Trump—let’s hope the party becomes more open to bipartisan compromise as a result.

During the debate, Clinton sounded relaxed and sure of herself, but not too arrogant—she hit a good balance. But, of course, I may be biased. If I could choose anyone in the world to be our next president, I might not choose her, but I do think she can do a workmanlike job. She certainly has aspired to and prepared for the office for long enough.

At a Campaign Rally in Fort Pierce, Florida, Hillary Clinton announced her plan to create a National Service Reserve and also outlined plans to increase participation in AmeriCorps and Peace Corps.
Peace Corps! @HIllaryClinton speaks to the value of Peace Corps.

As for the Trump Foundation’s expenditures, here’s a commentary:
A few things that the head of a reputable foundation would not do:
·         He wouldn't use foundation money to buy a six-foot-tall portrait of himself to hang in the lobby of one of his resorts.
·         He wouldn't write checks to a committee backing the Florida attorney general who was considering whether or not to investigate his sham "university."
·         And he damn sure wouldn't spend more than a quarter of a million dollars of the foundation's money to settle lawsuits against his businesses.

“President Trump: What would he do?” is a detailed article by frequent contributor Evan Osnos in the New Yorker (Sept. 26, 2016). Among the predictions of scholarly observers is that a Trump victory would (could?) result in a protracted recession within 18 months. If, indeed, Trump should be elected and a recession occurs as the result of his presidential decisions, he would, no doubt, blame others for the failure. Maybe he would be impeached like Richard Nixon? His victory may be unthinkable to many of us, but is not impossible. All it takes is a single vote by many people. (A pundit with a good track record is actually predicting a Trump victory.) Remember, many of us never thought he would get this far. It could happen because of some voters’ aversion to Hillary that propels them to vote for a 3rd party or not vote at all. So then we will be able blame them, even though they will say later “I didn’t vote for Trump.” On late-night talk shows, it’s been speculated that, if elected, Trump will resign, having proved to the world that he could win. Then Pence would become president.

I remember being shocked when GWBush won his second term (I was in Honduras the first time he ran, marked by the hanging chads in Florida). Kerry seemed so much more in tune with what was actually going on in the world after Bush’s disastrous incursion into Iraq. And even Kerry’s daughters were much more articulate than the vapid Bush daughters. Dick Chaney was such a nefarious character working behind the scenes, seeming to manipulate the hapless Bush, who liked to ride his bike and go to bed early. But Bush won anyway, not by an overwhelming margin, yet he still won apparently legitimately that time. So with the antipathy and apathy toward Hillary, could Trump win? Many people seem to feel it doesn’t matter, that our country is in trouble either way, so they are just not voting.

Although the movie “Snowden” apparently makes a pitch for the man’s heroism and even Amnesty Int’l activists are pressing for a presidential pardon, I’m not campaigning for that. I don’t regard Edward Snowden as a hero and consider that his “leaks” have done more harm than good.

While racial and ethnic profiling may do an injustice to many individuals, profiling is not totally arbitrary. And that goes for gender and age profiling as well—most crime, especially violent crime, is perpetrated by men, mostly young men. Is that due to profiling or just a matter of statistical verification? The reasons may be both cultural and hormonal. It’s also true that African American crime rates are disproportionately high, even though most members of that ethnicity are law abiding and police may be unfairly targeting some blacks as suspects. Actions and perceptions both reinforce each other. (Remember, I’m speaking as someone with African American family members.) A 90-year-old white Christian woman would seldom be the suspect in a crime—maybe shoplifting?—though she might conceivably be guilty of murder. (A 78-year-old Caucasian nun actually made headlines recently for petty shoplifting.) 
Likewise, we are not surprised that the attacks in NY, NJ, and Minnesota are all attributable to Muslims. That’s a fact, not a matter of arbitrary racial profiling. Certainly, Trump and his followers will be pointing that out as a reason to bar future Muslim immigrants and refugees. 

More mass shootings in public places, showing that gun-rights often take precedence over the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I also observed that while the Minnesota attacks were carried out by a young man wielding a knife, hence no one was fatally injured as would have been likely if he had had a gun, none-the-less, a bystander carrying a firearm actually stopped his killing spree by killing him. So having an armed person in the right place at the right time can be protective. It’s unfortunate that so many gun owners are not super-careful with their weapons, either handling them carelessly or allowing children and others to have to access them. Apparently, a shrinking number of gun enthusiasts own an ever-growing personal arsenal; an estimated 3% of the population owns half of all guns. Some may have inherited some of them or simply be collectors who keep them locked up. The largest number of gun deaths is attributable to suicide.