Monday, November 21, 2016

Election Blues, Cuba, Honduras, Colombia, South Sudan

Neighbors put up this sign at entrance to Clinton home. 

At Chappaqua public library talk, Nov. 9, 2016

New York city

My talk at Barnard College

I take back what I said about wishing the presidential election and campaign were over. Now the nightmare has become real. Those who refused to vote for the “lesser of evils”—that is Hillary Clinton--either by abstaining or voting for a 3rd party candidate, now have the greater of evils. To make matters worse, Trump’s popularity has reportedly increased since his Electoral College victory nor is he giving any quarter to the majority of voters who did not support him. On the contrary, he seems bent on appointing the most retrograde of advisers, Bannon and Sessions, guys even beyond the fringe, perhaps as vengeance toward those who voted against him. Mitt Romney would be the exception if he becomes part of the Trump administration—we would feel relief if a cooler head were on board. I never thought I would say that about Romney, but it’s all relative. And it would good to see some Republicans in Congress and the Senate opposing Trump if they don’t like his direction or his takeover of their party. However, at this early stage, his popularity has reportedly grown—not to 50% yet, but an uptick. Let’s see how long that lasts.

The New Yorker issue published just before the election, which arrived in our mailboxes afterward, had a clever cover applicable to whichever outcome would actually occur, namely an image of a guy reading an open newspaper on the subway showing these headlines: “Oh, Sweet Jesus, Please God, No; Anything But That; Come On.” In that same issue (cover dated Nov. 14 but issued the week before) is a long, detailed “Letter from Venezuela, A Failing State,” by William Finnegan about how that once-prosperous nation has spiraled down, not only because of lower oil prices, but because of a failed ideology and coercive political tactics. (By helping a Venezuelan asylum applicant, I’ve got an inside look on how one family was impacted.)   

Needless to say, being in Chappaqua the day after the election was a real downer--only 8 people attended my talk there. Townspeople had erected a sign next to the Clinton driveway saying "Hillary we love you." Little girls there were carrying around small hammers to “break the glass ceiling.” At Barnard College, two days later, less than half the people who had signed up for my talk actually attended. Lots of demonstrations raged in NYC, especially around Trump Tower. Buildings bearing Trump’s name on them are taking it off and daughter Ivanka’s clothing line is apparently tanking. If Trump entered the presidential race to increase his fortunes, that’s not happening, at least not yet. Of course, if he succeeds in lowering tax rates, especially on the top brackets, his wealth might increase. That he would be willing to sacrifice the nation’s wellbeing, including that of his fervent low-income supporters, to further increase the wealth of his family, well beyond what they could possibly ever spend or need, is a sign not only of avarice, but of emotional illness. His Trump Foundation has turned out to be phony, just like everything else.

In Manhattan, an 11-year-old girl vacated her bedroom for me. Her big pillow said A WOMAN'S PLACE IS IN THE WHITE HOUSE. Many young girls like her were disappointed. We've got to think of some effective counter-strategy. So, Democrats didn’t pay sufficient attention to the white working class? Well, there are a lot of other folks out there, like me and all my neighbors, who now feel ignored; we are people and voters too, so watch out! I thought GW Bush was our worst president in my lifetime, but I would say that Trump trumps him and he hasn’t even gotten started. I hope to live to see the end of his presidency.

Trump is not only a blatant and shameless liar, but pretty obviously has sexually assaulted numerous women, perhaps short of rape, in any case, without their consent. I hope they will pursue their cases, but it’s going to be a battle. Bill Clinton is a womanizer, but his liaisons apparently have been consensual, though, in the Lewinsky case, because of her youth and subordinate position, there may have been implied coercion.

While name-calling and stereotyping should be avoided, in Trump’s case, they are no exaggeration. Trump is a cheat, trickster, braggart, someone who promotes fake news and takes advantage of others—totally dishonest. Who can trust his word? He flaunts his wealth in a garish way, with gold furniture and appliances. He seems to be unable to focus. He loves disparaging people and name calling. The whole birther thing was ridiculous and even more ridiculous was his statement that Hillary Clinton started the birther rumor and he ended it! I felt somewhat sorry for him for being such a dysfunctional human being until he became president.

Trump’s presidency has many people, myself included, uncertain about what tactic to adopt next—whether to focus on issues and ignore Trump’s outsized personality or what? I don’t think demonstrations against his policies and boycotts of Trump properties alone will do it. And civil war is not the way to go. Civil disobedience is. The non-cooperation of sanctuary cities in immigration raids is a good first step, even if federal funds should be withheld in retaliation. An internet and buying blackout is proposed for inauguration day and a women’s march, which I plan to join, on the next day. My daughter Stephanie is joining us then from Hawaii. I hope Trump doesn’t find a way to block our plans. And we have to make gains in Congress and the Senate 2 years hence (speaking here as an already disenfranchised DC citizen myself). We must keep our energy from flagging and push the momentum in the other direction.

Trump just settled a lawsuit against his totally fake, exploitative Trump University for $25 million. He had duped those who signed up for courses, just as he has duped most of those who voted for him. He may enjoy a respite at first because the Republican Congress will not constantly block him, as they did Obama. Infrastructure spending, which Hillary also championed, may move forward more quickly with Republican support, but with tax cuts (Hillary proposed increases on the top brackets, including on social security earnings) will bring on inflation, a ballooning deficit, and a possible recession. Of course, he proposes tax cuts at the top levels and the end of the estate tax, the deficit be damned. He will try to blame a recession on Obama.

Reportedly, Trump’s hotels and daughter Ivanka’s clothing line are losing money and the slack is not being made up by Trump’s Rust Belt supporters who cannot afford such luxuries. That may make an impact. Brexit was a warning signal. Far-right parties in Europe will now feel encouraged. Michael Moore, unfortunately, nailed it before the election and David Remnick of the New Yorker afterward.
To add insult to injury, last I heard, Hillary Clinton was leading Trump by over 1.5 million in the popular vote—that must be a record for a losing candidate. If the system was rigged, it was rigged in Donald Trump’s favor. Since Trump’s margins were usually so slim in the states he won, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that he owes his victory to Snowden, Assange, Putin, Weiner, and Comey. At least Trump’s e-mail won’t be hacked, because he doesn’t do e-mail. Maybe Trumpcare will replace Obamacare? If the coverage is similar, who cares? Something must be done to reign in healthcare costs, as well as provide more coverage to more people, though Trump may not go in that direction. He is more likely to cut benefits and beneficiaries. I do feel that healthcare providers’ salaries, including those for doctors and nurses, need to be held in check. Their contributions are vital, but are far above what is earned by health professionals in other developed countries and each profession keeps on pushing its own compensation up. I speak as someone who worked for 16 years for a healthcare provider organization and witnessed those constant salary efforts.

On Nov. 14, President Obama gave a very good press conference. He is amazingly cogent and convincing, unlike Trump, who prefers tweets, soundbites, insults, and over-generalizations.  Trump needs to become more presidential—stop tweeting and being so thin-skinned.

Here’s another commentary if you are in the mood.

What all this will mean for human rights, Amnesty International, and the Caribbean region (my volunteer responsibility for Amnesty) is anyone’s guess. Such issues have not been prominent in the presidential campaign and Trump is so impulsive, his course there is unpredictable (speaking here as private citizen, not an Amnesty representative). Campaigning in Florida, he did promise to roll back the Obama/Raul Castro accords and I know some Cuban Americans who voted for him solely on that issue, which upsets me. In my book talks in the NYC area, I had planned to suggest some next steps that Hillary might take on Cuba. Now Trump, with Congressional support may well try to backtrack. Raul Castro wisely called Trump to congratulate him and immediately ordered military maneuvers. Trump is a big fan of Putin, a close Castro ally.

It’s a sad day for our country. Let's work to get rid of the Electoral College and keep fighting against Trumpism. We can only hope against hope that his bark turns out to be worse than his bite. He is notorious for changing his positions on everything (remember Barack Obama's birth certificate?), which may cause some pushback within the Republican Party and end up educating some gullible voters. There will be no wall with Mexico--except maybe a short, symbolic one—and Hillary won't be locked up, 11 million people won't be deported, and coal and steel won't be coming back. Will any of that matter to Trump supporters?

Children and their future had the most at stake in this election, as Donald Trump can do lasting damage by reinforcing and giving legitimacy to the worst instincts and attitudes of certain segments of the population (Hillary's unfortunately labeled "deplorables"). Already the Ku Klux Klan has been marching in celebration

As I had predicted, Trump is not keen on moving into the White House and Melania certainly is not. He is also resisting giving up involvement in his financial empire. I suspect he entered the presidential race only to further his name recognition and family fortunes.

50 GOP national security officials said before the election that Trump would be 'most reckless president in American history’

Let's hope that Trump turns out to be merely mediocre or bumbling, rather than malignant. He's getting off to a disorderly start, so it seems. The guy has opinions but no experience and is easily bored. It’s hard to imagine that he would want to run for a second term. Indications are that he enjoys campaigning and the adulation of crowds (or of being a reality TV star) more than the nuts and bolts of governing or actually running anything. I'm feeling pretty discouraged. I did vote for Hillary. I had been in meetings with her on gun control and health care reform back when she was First Lady when I was writing for OT Week, a publication of my employer. She had impressed me then as being more personable and cogent that she seemed later on the campaign trail.

Cubalex’s director, human rights attorney Lartiza Diversent, was a member of my Amnesty Int’l Conference Cuba panel last April in Miami. Her appearance on our panel may have put her at additional risk. Below is part of an Urgent Action on her case—the full action is available on the Amnesty website.  
UA: 261/16 Index: AMR 25/5156/2016 Cuba Date: 18 November 2016 URGENT ACTION HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYERS UNDER THREAT Members of Cubalex, a Havana-based organization of human rights lawyers, have been subjected to months of harassment and intimidation by the Cuban authorities for their work. Progressively since September, Cuban authorities have intimidated members of Cubalex (Legal Information Center), a non-government organization, not recognized by the Cuban authorities, which provides free legal and human rights advice in Havana, the capital. On 23 September, according to its Director, Laritza Diversent, authorities searched Cubalex’s centre of operation without warrant, confiscated a number of laptops and documents, and forced at least one woman to undress.

 Honduran Migrants: We left because we had to.

I’ve known many of these Hondurans, Migrants maimed by ‘The Beast’ visit Miami to recount their ordeal
Some good news about Honduras for a change, namely that US-funded programs there seem to have had a beneficial effect on the crime and murder rate.


BOGOTA. [Former] President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia and Marcell Felipe, President of Inspire América Foundation, meet in Bogota to discuss specific plans to be implemented to promote democracy in the Americas. The former President sent a message of support to the Cuban Opposition. Asked if the Cuban regime had any moral authority to mediate the Colombian peace talks with the FARC when the Castros were part of the conflict itself, the President was clear: it does not.

South Sudan

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Halloween, A Birthday, Reminder on My Upcoming Talks, Cuban Dissident Returns to US, Election Prospects

Folks, obviously, I don't know how to move these photos around easily, so thanks for bearing with me. 

Well, we had a little respite during a neighbor child’s birthday and Halloween, thank goodness.

Reminder that I will be at MLKing Library in DC along with other local authors on Sat. Nov. 5, 10 am- 5 pm and at Chappaqua Public Library Wed. Nov. 9 and at Barnard College/Columbia U. on Fri. Nov. 11. 

Meanwhile, I just received the message below:

From John Suarez
To Barbara Joe
Today Nov. 2 at 7:19 PM
(Re Cuban Democracy advocate Sirley Avila.
who was crippled and lost her hand because of a machete attack by an attacker who was apparently not sanctioned and is still threatening her.)

Good news. Getting Sirley assistance will now be easier. Bad news: She had to flee Cuba. Situation had become intolerable. Home was occupied. Mother's home where she was staying had a microphone and camera placed across the street along with constant harassment by state security agents. Finally the man who attacked her was on the street and bragging how he was going to finish the job.

She arrived Saturday night and we are doing all we can to get her settled in.

Cordially, John

Here is my earlier article about her:

I will be so glad when this election is over, though it’s not over until it’s over and our country and the world will certainly be in big trouble if Trump actually wins. Already, the stock market has fallen since the new FBI probe into e-mails was announced. The stock market doesn’t like uncertainty and Trump presidency would bring big-time uncertainly for years. I didn’t say “Clinton’s e-mails” because we don’t know yet what these e-mails are. And unfortunately, Trump is now even with Clinton or slightly ahead. The fates seem to piling up against Hillary, but if she should lose, God forbid, I would hope that Republicans and Democrats might team up together to halt some of Trump's most egregious efforts, as the guy is totally impulsive, self-serving, and ignorant. People think Hillary is dishonest, but what about Trump? Our local Spanish-language papers here in DC, obviously, have endorsed Clinton.
Despite discovery of the new e-mails (isn’t the electorate getting tired of hearing about Hillary’s e-mails?), we still have to vote for Hillary because the alternative is unthinkable. There was even hope that Hillary might have a down-ballot influence that would help her govern. Even if there is no smoking gun in the new e-mails, which is likely, the damage to Clinton and the Democrats has been done. The new e-mails may exonerate her completely, but there isn’t time to examine and report on them all before next Tues. It’s ironic that the e-mails in question are connected to Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of her assistant, Huma Abedin, a guy who continued his sex-texting of young girls and women, a connection not so savory for Clinton, though she can scarcely be blamed for Weiner's strange compulsion. Why are these e-mails only being examined now? A complete review that might totally exonerate Clinton is probably impossible to complete within the short time before the election. FBI Director James Comey sent Congress (a congress hostile to Clinton) a letter on the new e-mails despite DOJ’s warning that it would breach policy. Did he do it to deliberately sabotage the election of Clinton or what? He worked for GW Bush before. The timing is suspect. In the worst case, the new investigation might cause voters to throw up their hands and simply not vote. Comey would continue to serve in a Clinton administration because he has a 10-year term, though Abedin may be out of a job even if Hillary wins. While Hillary has been standing by her assistant throughout, this may be the final blow for Huma Abedin. And, we may have Weiner to thank for Hillary’s future election loss and for Republican congressional victories, as well as for the loss of his own family and marriage.
We can survive a Hillary Clinton (one-term?) presidency, but Trump is a complete dark hole. I don't think even he knows what he would do if he won--he's so used to "winging it." Political and economic chaos is likely if he becomes president. However, then Republican and Democratic lawmakers might actually come together to thwart or control his most egregious plans. A pundit, who has called all recent presidential elections correctly, continues to insist that Trump will win. If so, too many of our fellow Americans are easily manipulated. Of course, Brits voted for Brexit even though it was probably not in their best interests and the Oregon Wildlife occupiers were acquitted despite overwhelming evidence, so a Trump victory is certainly possible, especially with these new e-mail questions. There may be nothing in the e-mails, except salacious information about Weiner, but the damage is done. Can we still dodge the bullet?
And, in another anomaly, Cuba, along with other abusive regimes, such as China. Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, was elected to the UN Human Rights Council. Talk about a conflict of interest with violators judging their own human rights’ records. Already, the Cuban regime tells its own citizens that all their problems are not due to the top leadership’s mismanagement and greed, but to the US embargo, which barely exists any more, with food and most medicines and medical equipment exempt. And who says Cuba cannot still trade with other nations? Does it have a right to insist on trade with the US? Cuban billboards denounce the embargo as a “blockade” that is the world’s worst genocide. Do Cubans actually believe that they are suffering genocide?  Cuba is an example of a people who fell in love with a charismatic, unpredictable, and ruthless leader who ruined their country for generations.  Let’s hope that Trump won’t do similar damage if he is victorious, though we should recover more quickly than Cuba has. Maybe he could even be impeached when voters realize their mistake? Even a Clinton presidency will be mostly concerned with damage control focused on Trump supporters and congressional Republicans.
In Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega’s running mate is his wife, Rosario Murillo. Why not? Once back in office, he has maneuvered and manipulated his way to remain. I was there as an election observer when he was defeated in 1990 when opposition parties united behind Violeta Chamorro with UNO. It was the fragmentation of the opposition and everyone wanting to be top dog that allowed Ortega to get back into office with only 1/3 of the vote (the winner being the biggest voter-getter, not with the majority). Since then, with high court maneuvers, press manipulation, and other questionable actions, he has managed to stay in office, so with a compliant vice president, his own wife, he can expect to remain for his lifetime.