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. 

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