Wednesday, December 28, 2016

New Year’s Greetings, Alas, The Donald Won in the Electoral College, International Adoption, Cuban Dissident’s American Lawyer Is Released, Looking Back on Red Star Over China

Amnesty International USA Group 211, 2016 holiday party

Christmas with daughter Melanie (a wonderful cook), granddaughter Natasha, and great-grandson De'Andre

Wishing my readers all the best for the new year, our national challenges notwithstanding.

Many voters wanted change—never mind what sort of change. Well, they got change—a real roller coaster ride. And while Hillary Clinton certainly had experience, her experience, derived from having been on the scene for a pretty long time, was not a good harbinger of change.

The new year brings a degree of dread instead of hope—I agree with Michelle Obama on that. We are stuck with Donald Trump for the duration. His supporters may have hope, but we’ll see how long that lasts. Only 2 Trump electors defected and 5 Clinton electors as well, but not toward The Donald. A sliver of hope that millions of Americans held onto, that the election outcome might be overturned by the Electoral College, simply did not happen.

According to pollsters, Trump enters the presidency with more negative than positive public support, something not seen for other incoming presidents, who usually have started out with a honeymoon period. Of course, no other winning candidate has lagged so much in the popular vote. Also, some of the family businesses are being boycotted. Trump boasts that he will have the biggest inaugural crowd ever, but don’t bet on it, even though he is encouraging his supporters from the mid-west to come in droves. He will probably lie or exaggerate as usual, saying later that it was the absolutely biggest crowd. Our women’s march the day after is not being allowed to occupy the national mall, perhaps to prevent a comparison.

Comics, such as on SNL, are going to have a field day with Donald Trump as president. A shirtless Vladimir Putin was a perfect touch in one of their latest vignettes! We may as well laugh rather than cry. Those comics have a guaranteed gig.

Trump himself doesn’t always look like he’s having a lot of fun, especially when commenting on SNL, though he’s sticking Democrats in the eye with many of his nominations. I’m sure he gets a short-term, childish thrill out of naming the fox to guard the hen house. And he enjoys getting press attention for making shocking statements on Twitter, like that the US and the world need more, not fewer, nuclear weapons. And never mind conflicts of interest. One of his surrogates has wished death on President Obama. Is there nothing out of bounds for Trump and his folks? He needs people around him constantly to help tamp down his emotional volatility and explain what they think he means by his obsessive tweets. Can he still learn new behavior at age 70 and after a lifetime of being petty, vindictive, lying, and completely outrageous? Even his ardent supporters, who now vicariously enjoy his antics, might eventually tire of them and of him, especially when their personal situation stagnates or goes downhill. I would love to be wrong about Trump and find that he actually is able to rise to the occasion. You or I would probably even do better than he as president ourselves, though we lack Trump’s apparent charisma.

Trump is naming really crazy people as advisers and cabinet secretaries. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as Energy Secretary (a job Sarah Palin was said to have coveted) when he couldn't even remember the name of that particular agency when he planned to abolish it? Maybe if he abolishes it, he will be out of a job? Regarding Trump’s choice of personal advisers, there is little to stop him, but we can only hope some Republican lawmakers will question some of his strange cabinet picks and stranger tweets and public statements. He’s avoiding press conferences, preferring tweets because of his short attention span, which also allows him to control the information. Kellyanne Conway is now called "The Trump Whisperer" because she gives him a script or spins whatever he says.

The Donald’s tweets about the need to increase nuclear weapons are not a joking matter. On the subject of nuclear weapons, the brief exchange between Pakistan and Israel on the subject demonstrates both the danger of fake news and the inappropriateness of conducting foreign policy via tweets.

Trump supporters have been arguing in favor of the Electoral College that it allows small states to still have a say and not be swamped by east and west coast elites. That’s true, but is it fair that small-state voters should be able to swamp big states, to impose their will on the majority of American citizens living in more populous states?  I’d rather support majority than minority rule. Now Hillary’s popular vote is almost 2.9 million ahead of Trump’s, so although he denies it’s true, he must be aware at some level that most American voters did not (and do not) support him. How long can he go on denying the truth on this and other matters?

Trump's pick for ambassador to Israel would be a joke if it weren't a real possibility, a guy just as crazy and offensive as he is. Even Netanyahu might pause on this one. I don’t usually comment on Israel-Palestine, as I already have too much on my plate, but this ambassador choice is completely outrageous—like so many others of Trump’s appointee-choices, which a Republican Congress may simply decide to rubberstamp, especially after the US abstention on the UN settlements vote, just to show their Israel credentials:

Democrats are apparently now taking an idea from the Republican playbook—focusing more on state and local issues—“states’ rights” and building up from there, something the Democratic Party has neglected in favor of a national scope.

A friend with another blog has this to say: Donald Trump starts out already as a major liability for all Americans, and sadly, at his age, it is a stretch to imagine that he will mature in office into the president this country deserves. But, it is always good to remain very guardedly optimistic expecting simultaneously the worst.

Why have international adoptions become so agonizing? New York Post-The gist of the article is what I’ve been saying all along, based on my experience as an international adoptive parent myself and an adoption agency board member for many years, namely, that some intended protections, such as the international Hague Convention, actually are obstacles and have increased the cost exponentially without helping kids get families.

Kimberley Motley, the American lawyer for Cuban dissident El Sexto had been arrested and interrogated, but was released and forced to leave Cuba. (Reminds me of my own experience.)

Cuba, after 12 years of relying solely on Venezuelan oil, is back to buying some oil on the international market.

Correction: I’ve been sometimes mistyping the first name of our Cuban annual conference panelist last April—her name is Laritza Diversent and her office is still under siege.

I picked up an old paperback of Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China at a library book sale. Certainly his praise of Mao and the Chinese Communist Party in their early days helped foment a positive image of both around the world. It put me in mind of Herbert Matthews’s extravagant praise of Fidel Castro in the New York Times, which has had lasting effects to this day.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Electoral College Vote, Cuba, Dakota Access, Update on Friend Anna, Child Sex Abuse

My older son Andrew, who died Dec. 19, 1994--we still miss you!

El Sexto, Cuban graffiti artist, with a fellow former prisoner of conscience, both at a Human Rights Day (Dec. 10) 2015 letter writing event at Amnesty Int'l DC office; this year, we were writing letters on El Sexto's behalf as he is back in prison--and so is his American lawyer.
I wasn’t planning to post again on this blog until after the Electoral College vote Dec. 19, but do think it germane to pass along a message from a friend who has researched why the Founders first established the Electoral College--it was to stop candidates like Donald Trump!

Here’s what he has to say: The electors from the College of Electors have already started to consider to not vote to officially elect Donald Trump, on the basis of what is now a plethora of evidence that Trump fits exactly the criterion of character bereft of “ability” and “virtue,” which were the words used by Alexander Hamilton in his “Mode of Electing The President” published on Friday, March 14, 1788.

Donald Trump does not fulfill the prerequisites outlined for the Electoral College via the Federalist No. 68 article to qualify him as shown infra:

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the Constitution, by those who are able to estimate the share which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says: “For forms of government let fools contest That which is best administered is best,’’ yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration. 

Some investigators are looking for a Donald Trump connection to the Russian hacking. Apparently, electors do want a briefing on the hacking before they vote; some Democrats are asking for a delay in the Electoral College vote until after that briefing:

To actually nullify the election or name Hillary Clinton president, some Republican electors would have to jump ship. They've been holding off so far out of party loyalty and an aversion to Hillary. If a few started doing so, maybe others would follow suit. McCain, Romney, even Paul Ryan, are not crazy about Trump, but don't dare say anything about his lack of qualifications for fear of incurring the wrath of Trump supporters, who are also Republican voters, and of losing total control of the government, which their party would have (sort of) if Trump remains. But can they control Trump? It looks unlikely. It would be better to get this over with now, messy as that would be, than to go to impeachment. There are even calls to run the election over again in light of the Russian hacking. Trump would not win on a second vote. (In fact he did not "win" anyway in terms of the popular vote, though polls indicate that most Republican voters believe he actually did win the popular vote.) 

Although the majority of Americans who did not vote for Trump might wish for a miraculous reversal of the presidential election outcome, that appears unlikely, and we, along with the whole wide world, will be stuck with Trump, for better or for worse, probably for 4 more years. He may temper his behavior and the Republican Party may have a modifying influence, though, so far, judging by many of Trump’s erratic and inappropriate appointments, little modification appears to be occurring. Except maybe for consulting daughter Ivanka on some women’s issues, Trump does not seem to have sought advice. He refuses daily intelligence briefings and is used to making decisions alone, based on gut feeling. In some cases, because he is nominally a Republican, Republicans may decide to go along with some of his proposals, whereas they would have blocked the very same if proposed by Obama or Hillary—for example, infrastructure spending and increasing the national debt. We will have to cope with Trump’s election like the terrible accident it was--and, like most accidents, due to a strange, unusual, and unanticipated convergence of forces, like an earthquake or a terrorist attack, and we'll have to simply do our best to confront, cope with. and try to remedy it.

Trump’s surrogates and spokespersons keep trying to put the best spin on his unorthodox and outrageous utterances, justifying them or saying, as Conway does, that his supporters know very well that he doesn’t mean what he says. Maybe he is just trying to entertain us and get news coverage by saying provocative things? He is not trying to win over those who failed to vote for him, but is keeping us all engaged with his showmanship, and doing pretty well at that. He seems able to say and do anything to get attention—saying now that he really actually loves conflicts of interest and wants daughter Ivanka in his administration. She and her husband are apparently planning to move to DC. In fact, she seems more level-headed than he, so she might be helpful. Otherwise, we are going to have perpetual insecurity and instability, not good for government planning, markets, or international relations. Democrats have been aroused now to be in a perpetual fighting mode. 

Republicans are uncertain whether to support or oppose Trump on specific issues. He is sure to go on public attack-mode against whoever opposes him. And he’s planning for 8 long years in office, based on what he’s said so far (if he doesn't get too bored). Woe is me! Woe are we! Will I live long enough to see the end of his administration? I don’t wish any ill will to Donald Trump and is family—may they flourish. I know it would be a big disappointment to him, his children, and their ardent followers if he did not actually become president, but for the greater good of the country and for humanity, it would be best. Melania would appreciate it also. 

Why doesn’t Trump bring many of his overseas businesses back to the US to provide jobs here?

A friend hopes there is a chance that President Trump will surprise us all and rise to the occasion, growing in competence with the demands of the job. Even at age 70 and despite the bad habits of a lifetime, is personal change on his part still possible? For the sake of us all, for humanity's sake, let’s hope so. But it would require a yuge effort and character reversal on his part. It’s more likely that we are in for a long rocky road. Trump already seems impaitent with the minutiae of the presidency (those pesky daily intelligence briefings), but perhaps Pence, Conway, and his children will keep him on task or take the burden mostly off his shoulders. GW Bush didn’t like to read, went to bed early, took long naps, and would decide to go out for a bike ride on a whim. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney was still on duty, stealthily plotting what to do next. (Now GW seems much happier in retirement, painting images of his dog or of himself in the bathtub and proudly displaying his adolescent-style art at occasional shows. Once in a while, he accepts a high-paying appearance.) We are all waiting to see what Barack Obama will do post-presidency. 

Another friend tells me the following—is this true or is it fake news? It’s hard to tell sometimes and assassination accusation claims do seem exaggerated. He says: Obama just declassified docs. which show that "Operation Condor" of the Kissinger / Nixon years targeted Amnesty International officials and officials of other human rights associations for assassination by CIA agents.

Here are 2 of my new public blog postings the wake of Fidel’s death:

Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, fell on a Saturday this year, so at the Amnesty International (AI) USA office in DC, we celebrated on the following Monday, writing letters to authorities about prisoners of conscience, that is, people imprisoned only for non-violent expression or association. Last year, El Sexto, the Cuban graffiti piglet-painting artist had joined us in the office for that letter-writing event. This year, he is back in prison, as I’ve stated before on this blog. Now, we were there writing letters on his behalf.


In Castro's Cuba, a kind of Macondo in real time, anything can happen. For example, the jeep carrying Fidel Castro's ashes can even break down as it enters Santiago de Cuba, with the shrine's solemn keepers having to get out of the vehicle and push. (From Diario de Cuba)

Here is Americas Quarterly, sometime after my Confessions book came out, corroborating my contention there that Afro-Cubans are especially disadvantaged because of receiving fewer remittances and not often being chosen by the government to work in tourism. That was one of the initial arguments, which my “nunny bunny” critic forcefully disputed, that first led me to write that book. It is not so surprising that Afro-Cubans would be at the bottom of the heap, but a number of Fidel’s American partisans have argued against the very notion, still caught up in the Castro rhetoric and mystique.

Talked by phone with Sirley Avila, the Cuban woman maimed by a machete attack. She is in a shelter in Homestead, FL, with more than 400 other people, sharing a room with bunk beds (she has a bottom bunk) with 24 other women, all there for various reasons (I wasn't clear if all are refugees, migrants, asylum seekers, or what--maybe some are awaiting deportation?). They eat in a central dining hall, have few activities, and she is waiting for assistance to move into her own place. The Directorate is still in touch and staff from there sometimes take her out, but they are no longer in charge and are leaving her to go through the government system. She says she is glad to have left Cuba when she did, as after Fidel's death, matters have gotten worse there for dissidents. 

This is about Venezuela, not one of my Amnesty International Caribbean countries, but one that used to have the highest per capita income in Latin America, now apparently with families unable to feed their children.

The Dakota pipeline access protest seems to have been vindicated by an oil spill only 150 miles away:

I believe I’ve previously mentioned my friend Anna, whom I knew as a teenager in Colombia and who visited me in Honduras, as per my Peace Corps book. I won’t give out her last name or where she lives, only say that 2 years ago, she was gravely injured by a vehicle belonging to her assisted living compound, which ran over her. After a near-death experience, multiple surgeries, including the amputation of a leg below the knee, and 2 years in the hospital, at age 79, she is finally out, with a wheelchair and an artificial leg, residing now in another assisted living facility. Congratulations, Anna! But her lawsuit keeps getting delayed because—no doubt—the original facility, where the injury occurred, hopes that she dies first so they won't have to pay. That side keeps putting up roadblocks. Meanwhile, she still has a humongous bill from the hospital she just left, but is waiting for her settlement, if it ever comes through. I will keep you posted.

Finally, the Catholic Church is not the only one that has covered up child sexual abuse, though it does seem to finally be coming clean and making reparations to victims. Not so the Jehovah’s Witnesses, where a cover-up of ongoing and extensive abuse has been underway for decades and where church officials have only turned over court-ordered documents with names redacted. That’s according to a recent NPR program devoted to the subject. In the Trump era, we need NPR more than ever! 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

An Anniversary, International Adoption, Trump, Cuba, South Sudan

Grandfatherly Fidel tells Cubans there is nothing impossible to achieve starting with today (photo from my Confessions book).

Dec. 19 is my daughter Melanie’s birthday and also the day that my son Andrew died.

International adoption is getting more complicated and expensive. (Reminder, my son Jon was adopted from Colombia and my late Cuban foster son arrived from Cuba via the Mariel boatlift.) Yet there is a point of diminishing returns in adding more layers of cost and protections that actually impede such adoptions and prevent children from finding homes. There is no way for any human endeavor to provide a 100% guarantee of success. Granted, that there have been unscrupulous practices in the past that have harmed some kids and families, but most have now been taken care of, almost to the point of overkill. Speaking as both an adoptive and a birth parent, I do think there are additional factors and complications involved in becoming a parent by international adoption, but current practices are more than sufficient to address them. Adding unnecessary and costly hurdles serves only to discourage would-be adoptive parents. Adoption, like any other human endeavor or relationship, involves a degree of chance or risk that cannot be entirely eliminated. The adoption process should try to prepare parents to cope with possible problems, but cannot make them all magically disappear. An adopted child, like any human being, is not a cookie cutter image, but flesh and blood responsive to the emotional environment of his or her new home. Parent-child relationships develop over time and cannot be guaranteed in advance. We all know that, but some adoption policy makers seem clueless and overly concerned about rules.

Recently, I got together with the daughter of a good friend who died recently. The daughter works at a school in my neighborhood that my kids once attended. Her mother, Hope Marindin, was a single adoption pioneer, about whom I once wrote in the Washington Post. In her late 40’s, she adopted two boys and the daughter with whom I recently met. The daughter, originally from Vietnam, has visited there twice, including going to her old orphanage. Now she and her husband want to adopt a child from Asia.

Elaine Chao, Trump’s new Transportation Secretary pick, is Mitch McConnell’s wife and also a former Peace Corps Director. Trump is beholden to McConnell for his support. Trump’s announced future appointments are all over the block, most seeming quite inappropriate for or even antithetical to the mission of the agency involved. Whether or not Donald Trump dons the Republican mantle, might some Republican lawmakers balk at some of these nominations?

Why doesn’t Trump bring many of his overseas businesses back to the US to provide jobs here?

The more Donald Trump keeps on traveling around the country arousing his supporters and also naming staff, thus keeping himself in the news, the harder it will be to overturn this election without a civil war, which may be part of his strategy. Trump obviously enjoys speaking extemporaneously at rallies and being cheered on by crowds much more than actually engaging in the nitty gritty of governing. He doesn’t appreciate being mocked and is also facing widespread civil disobedience by cities, churches, and universities regarding his intended wholesale deportations. The fact that he lost the popular vote by such a wide margin (now 2.7 million and counting) has made his mandate seem illegitimate, which may be one reason for him abandoning his promise to “lock up” Hillary Clinton. Lock her up for what? Hillary has been cleared and reportedly got the highest vote count ever for a presidential candidate.

 Nor have Trump’s appointments or statements since the election given those opposed to him any more confidence in his leadership. He says he doesn’t need daily intel briefings because he’s “smart.” His appointments are top-heavy with generals and regulators opposed to the regulations they are supposed to support. They may face sabotage in the ranks. He may not even enjoy a post-election honeymoon. And while a Republican House and Senate may give him the benefit of the doubt initially, they must also be aware that a large proportion of the public has not been won over and may even oust them at the mid-term elections. Despite extensive gerrymandering, not all Republicans are in safe districts. The electorate is fickle and impatient and some Trump voters have taken all his wild promises literally. Like spurned lovers, will they seek their revenge? Some high-profile conservative supporters, like Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter, have already jumped ship. 

Apparently, unlike other presidents, Trump won‘t divest himself of his overseas holdings nor is he giving up his role in “The Celebrity Apprentice.” And he will probably stay involved with his US businesses despite saying his kids will manage them, while also holdings meetings at his conveniently located DC Trump Hotel. “Conflict of interest” is not part of his vocabulary—he seems bent on using the presidency to increase his fortune. How much money does one person and one family need to amass? Trump flaunts the usual rules and expects to get away with it and certainly, so far, his Republican supporters and advisers seem poised to give him that leeway. For someone who attacked Hillary Clinton for her association with the Clinton Foundation, an actual benevolent foundation supporting many useful projects around the world, Trump certainly holds himself to a different standard.

It would be great if a majority of members of the Electoral College would not
actually vote for Trump. Some have resigned rather than vote for him, though it would have been better if they had stayed on and simply not given him their vote. Five million have already signed an on-line petition in favor of Hillary Clinton and against Trump. If that number swells before Dec. 19, when the Electoral College vote, will it have any effect? Probably not, because the signatures will not have been checked against voter rolls. (There was no internet, obviously, when the Electoral College was formed.) And these eager signers may not have actually voted for Hillary on Nov. 8. People who were lukewarm for her may have decided instead to vote for a 3rd party or not at all, confident that she would win anyway, but not wanting to feel responsible. Some of them are sorry now; Trump’s margin of victory in battleground states was so small.

According to Michael Moore, who had predicted Trump’s victory, it's not impossible that the Electoral College will deny Trump the presidency. If that should actually happen, we will have a major tweet storm and all hell breaking loose. The several retired generals whom Trump has nominated will be on the warpath.

Unfortunately, at this point, it’s probably wishful thinking that Trump could actually be dislodged. We may have to endure him, just as we endure other life challenges and reversals such as illnesses, accidents, job losses, relationship problems, and natural disasters. He can do a lot of damage in 4 years, but, so far, there seems to be no way to avoid a looming accident or catastrophe. We can always hope that he won’t be as bad as we had feared.

Jill Stein has certainly elevated the profile of the Green Party and her own standing with her recount efforts. The fact that so much money poured so quickly into her effort is a tribute to her, as well as to Clinton. Of course, Trump's folks are fighting tooth and nail to stop the vote recount, even though, if Trump believes there actually were irregularities and that "illegals" voted, he should welcome the recount. Probably, the biggest take-away from the effort will be that vote counting is an inexact science, that each time it’s done, a different outcome emerges.

Now a NY lawyer is trying to show that the Trump camp informed or urged Comey to investigate Weiner's e-mails for a Clinton connection:

I would hope that at least some Republican Congress members who have supported Trump will take a drubbing in the mid-term elections. Little he has said or done so far gives much hope for moderation or even focus when he actually assumes office. At least, the Trump phenomenon has been interesting, gobbling up lots of ink and bandwidth. If Hillary had won, it would have just been business as usual and rather dull. Sensationalism has been Trump’s wild card all along. As it stands, I suppose that like with any catastrophic event, we will adapt somewhat over time to his election.

Opinions about Cuba and the Castro regime continue to be strongly polarized. It's very easy, even for a visitor there who is Spanish-speaking, to view Cuba through a partisan lens. Certainly if you were inspired by Fidel Castro's rhetoric and early vision (as many of us were, including me), you would be able to find Cubans still supporting him, though some of those won’t be sincere and will only be expressing what they think you want to hear. The degree of subterfuge and secrecy among Cubans, especially when relating to foreigners, or even among themselves, is sometimes hard to discern. Many are on guard until they find out just where you stand. There are sincere partisans of Fidel and some tears now being shed are real, but others are fake and some people cry when they see others doing so, as there is also crowd contagion. And many of those along the parade route of Fidel’s ashes were either expected or forced to be there. It's hard to tell the difference between the willing and unwilling in a dictatorship.

In any case, I would hope that Cuba will gradually open up now to more tolerance of differing views and, especially, move toward a greater economic opening along the lines of China and Vietnam, unfortunately, still one-party states with political prisoners, executions, and censorship. However, both nations allow Peace Corps volunteers and most people there are doing better due to greater economic opportunity, with most being satisfied with that, like most Cubans would be. In fact, most Americans and citizens of western democracies are also more concerned with economic opportunity than with civil rights. Raul Castro has expressed admiration for the Chinese/Vietnamese model, so now that Fidel is gone and the influence of his partisans is diminished, Raul may well move in that direction. 

Apparently, machete victim Sirley Avila, about whom I have written previously, was in DC recently, but I didn’t know about it:

I'm sorry that painted pig artist Danilo Maldonado is back in prison; at Amnesty Int'l, we've issued an Urgent Action for him. He was planning to repeat his painted pig caper ("Fidel" and "Raul") again this Christmas, but the authorities are preventing that now. With Fidel dead, they should just ignore him and his "performance art;" instead, by making a big deal, they are arousing support for him and against the Cuban government from around the world, though perhaps not within Cuba, where such information is blocked. 

Dissident artist jailed in Cuba beaten and fed sedative-laced food, family says | Fox News

Carlos Eire, a Cuban American history professor at Yale, has written a bitter diatribe against Fidel Castro, of which here is only the last paragraph: Fittingly, his arrogant deceitfulness extended past his death. In Havana, tens of thousands of Cubans were forced to trudge to the Plaza of the Revolution, to bow before his ashes. Attendance was mandatory—as it was whenever Fidel needed to be surrounded by a throng of slaves—but the ritual was grotesquely hollow. After they had waited in line for hours, all that those Cubans got to see was a small framed photo of the ex–Maximum Leader and a kitschy display of some of his medals, guarded by four young soldiers. The ashes were not there. They were at the Ministry of the Armed Forces headquarters, accessible only to the top brass of the Castro military junta. For a final time, Fidel had hoodwinked his slaves, and the aging oligarchs gathered around his relics probably laughed.

Yes, how would Americans feel if now they had to look forward to more than 50 years of Donald Trump as president? That’s how many Cubans feel after more than 50 years of Fidel.

Cuban exiles speculate that Fidel forbade any monuments in his honor not out of humility (which he never expressed), but because of fear that they might be defaced in the future, as happened to Communist Party monuments elsewhere.

While South Sudan is far afield from our orbit, it is of special interest to me ever since my mission there in 2006, before independence. Now the tribal warfare between the president and his former vice president seems to have escalated to almost to a Rwanda-type situation. South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, is a nation with so many needs and whose people have such a long history of suffering that it is cruel that its leaders cannot settle their differences and seem determined to drag the people into a brutal civil war.

Police shootings, including of a Nevada boy wielding a knife, make me wonder whether when the attacker doesn’t have a gun, if the police could use a stun gun instead? Of course, there is usually little time for reaction and maybe police don’t always have stun guns handy, but it seems that a gunshot should be a last resort. I realize that occasionally someone dies when being hit by a stun gun, but very rarely.

At my age (78), I no longer expect to become stronger, smarter, or more successful in the future, rather, simply to delay inevitable decline, a realization that has come on gradually. By the way, I still do plan to go to Honduras again next Feb. When I stop going there, you will know that I have given up an important part of my life. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Fidel Castro’s Long-Awaited Demise, More on Trump, Cuban Machete Victim

My appearance at DC book fair, Martin Luther King public library

Fidel Castro liked to give the USA the finger.

Miami celebrates Fidel Castro's death.

On Fidel Castro’s death

This time, reports of Fidel Castro’s death are real. And, as I’d predicted in Confessions of a Secret Latina, outsiders are praising his accomplishments more than many Cubans are. Hours after his death, media commentators were extolling his purported achievements in health and education and praising him for making sure everyone had enough to eat. Fidel’s propaganda lives on! As I argue in my book, provision of social benefits doesn’t require the jettisoning of democracy and civil rights—the two are not antithetical. Furthermore, Cuba’s actual provision of superior educational and health benefits has been overblown, a myth that persists to this day, thanks to successful government propaganda. I would agree that Cubans, on the whole, are better educated than citizens of some other Latin American nations, but there are gaps, especially in rural areas and in eastern Cuba. The health system is two-tiered, abysmal for ordinary people, great for the elite and foreign medical tourists paying in hard currency. And while outsiders rightly extol the skills of Cuban doctors, they wrongly believe that foreign medical missions express Cuban generosity, when, in fact, excessive medical personnel are trained precisely to be sent abroad to earn money for the regime, with only a small fraction of payment actually going to doctors themselves. I’ve often worked with Cuban medical practitioners in Honduras, some of whom have remained there. As for food, tourists and the elite do dine in luxury, but the ration food allotment for other people runs out mid-month. Food rationing has been in place since 1962 and, despite much fertile land, most food must be imported, including sugar from neighboring Dominican Republic. Cubans are often hungry and seem always obsessed with food. They are not allowed to fish, as in other Caribbean countries, for fear boats might make a beeline for the US. Afro-Cubans suffer the greatest deprivations. When Cuba was under the Soviet umbrella, medical care was better, but even when Venezuelan oil replaced Soviet largess, care for ordinary Cubans did not improve. Independence from the US did not bring economic independence, but was replaced by dependence on the USSR and Venezuela. Why did I have to bring Armando Hernandez to this country via Mexico, as per my Confessions book? Because he couldn’t get his necessary lifesaving medicines in Cuba. Cuba produces little besides the rum and cigars President Obama has allowed Americans to bring back. Rum and cigars and even tourism and remittances are not sufficient to sustain a nation.

Here are items from my Confessions book, though I was wrong, Fidel’s body is being cremated, not embalmed. [He wasn’t looking so good when he died.] My position, as expressed in that book, is that support of human rights in Cuba, or anywhere else, should be a non-partisan, non-political issue and that a particular government's avowed political ideology should not matter, only the facts on the ground. (That applies here in the US as well.) Book excerpts follow:

Some truly do admire Fidel, especially those remembering the heady days right after the revolution. A former political prisoner wearily admitted, “Some older folks think Fidel actually is a saint.” They will shed genuine tears when he dies, just as some mourned other dictators from Stalin to Pinochet to Kim Jong Il. (Dozens of mourning Russians were reportedly trampled to death trying to reach Stalin’s body when it first lay in state.) Fidel’s embalmed corpse, like those of Lenin and Mao before him, may one day become an object of veneration like a precious religious relic. And when the Castro regime has ended, even some dissidents may miss the good old days when ration lines stretched around the block and folks used sign language to avoid being recorded or overheard, a type of nostalgia aptly depicted in “Goodbye Lenin,” a film about Eastern Germany. The warm solidarity fondly recalled by those who suffered together from government repression too often fractures after that repression disappears. 

And, if anything [after Fidel's death], expressions of loss and praise of his accomplishments will be greater outside than within Cuba itself. 

A former political prisoner living in this area, who served 22 years of an original 20-year sentence and was released with Jesse Jackson in 1984, said of Fidel “Too bad he died of old age in his bed. He should have died from a gunshot to the head or, better yet, a slow, tortured death like the one he inflicted on so many others.”

It’s amazing how just one person like Fidel Castro could have held control over so many people for generations. Let’s hope his death will break that hold.

Here are current Amnesty International Cuba items:

Six facts about censorship in Cuba (Feature, 11 March 2016)

Obama-Castro encounter: More than a handshake needed to thaw the Cold War’s human rights freeze (Comment, 21 March 2016)

[Note: Cubalex’s director Lartiza Diversent, below, was a member of my Cuba panel at AI USA’s annual conference last April in Miami.]
Remember last year’s Cuban Amnesty prisoner of conscience, El Sexto, who painted two piglets with the names Raul and Fidel? Well, he’s back in prison.

Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado (‘El Sexto’) – named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 2015 – was re-arrested on 26 November, shortly after the announcement of Fidel Castro’s death.
Name: Danilo Maldonado Machado, also known as ‘El Sexto’
Gender m/f: m

I would also remind folks of my dream of Peace Corps in Cuba, especially to revive agriculture there, so Cubans can feed themselves as they did before the revolution and as other countries in the region do:

Marcell Felipe [not sure who he is, but he sent this e-mail] As we received news of Castro's death, we remember the victims of his regime. Over 73,000 dead, hundreds of thousands imprisoned, and 2 million exiled. In a country of 11 million, Castro's death toll would be, by US standards, the equivalent of 2,000,000 victims. 
I had a chance to speak with Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet in Havana.  He asked us to remember the victims and to remember that the totalitarian system implanted by Fidel Castro remains as his legacy, using neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother. Dr. Biscet stressed the importance of continuing to demand a change and that we must all intensify our efforts to promote democracy. He was hopeful that with such commitment, freedom and democracy are within reach.

Barack Obama: “We offer condolences to Fidel Castro’s family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people…History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him…During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends – bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity…In the days ahead, they [Cubans] will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”

Justin Trudeau: “It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President….While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante’….It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba. On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”

Trudeau soon faced backlash regarding his very conciliatory statement.
Like many leaders around the world, he misreads the Cuban people's "affection" for Fidel Castro and of Castro's "love" for them. Within the Communist Party whose membership is shrinking (600,000 members out of 11 million citizens) and among some older people, yes, there will be sadness and tears, but not for most people. 

The Economist, Nov. 26, has a long article that seems pretty complete and balanced—my only issue is that it states that Raul has made the internet accessible to Cubans, yes, slightly more than before, but hardly accessible to most Cubans.

Sirley Avila, the farmer in rural Cuba whose arm was severed and her legs crippled in a machete attack, is back in Miami after being threatened and harassed. Her friend told me: 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.

Here’s my original article on her.

Moving to Canada?
Many of us in the US, facing the prospect of a Trump presidency, find ourselves envying Canada, with its young, personable, and progressive prime minister, though he was wrong on Cuba, in my opinion. How many Americans will really move to Canada now, as they have threatened to do? Or will they stay here to fight another day? The polls were right in terms of the popular vote, but did not do a state-by-state prediction taking the Electoral College into account. And now, it turns out, even the Electoral College is even unfair among states—giving small states a larger number of electors per capita than larger ones.

My friends and acquaintances who didn’t vote or voted for a 3rd party are now distressed over Trump’s rise, as if they had no part in it. They couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton and now she isn’t president-elect. Isn’t that the outcome they wanted?  Even left-leaning Noam Chomsky says those who voted for a third-party candidate in the election made “a bad mistake.” In an interview with Aljazeera, when asked about Trump’s position on climate change, Chomsky called it a “radical setback.”

“Trump’s position is more fossil fuels, eliminate regulations, even coal, refuse the payments, promised payments to countries trying to move to sustainable energy. To claim that this is the same as Clinton’s programs is just madness in my view,” he said.

Admittedly, many of us who voted for Hillary were not out there actively getting out the vote for her or contributing to her campaign. I count myself among them. Some of my neighbors had Hillary yard signs, but I did not. Many of us believed that she didn’t need our advocacy as she was obviously the more qualified candidate and ahead in the polls. Well, as of now, she is ahead by over 2.3 million in the popular vote, surely a record for a losing candidate, but all those votes are not in the right places.

If I’ve been depressed, I can only imagine what Hillary is feeling about the election. She should at least write a memoir that includes her participation in the whole campaign and get some things partially off her chest.

In any case, hope to see all my female friends (and some male ones too) at our women’s rally the day after the inauguration—let’s make it much, much bigger than the inaugural crowd, not that our event will change the election outcome. It’s just a way for some of us to express our opinion and burn off some negative energy. I remember being at MLKing’s iconic “I Have a Dream” gathering and speech and that memory has been important to me. So, I will attend the women’s march, which my daughter Stephanie will us join from Hawaii. She already has her plane ticket, ahead of the rush. The women's march will be disparaged by Trump and his supporters and certainly won't influence or win them over.

Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein has been collecting money for a recount before the Electoral College deadline, but, of course, a recount may not result in a changed outcome.

It’s best that Stein has initiated this effort, rather than Hillary herself, though the Hillary folks have recently joined in. Probably nothing will come of it, but the margins for Trump are so slim, it just might make a difference. It’s a long-shot that is worth a try with all that is at stake. But Clinton would have to win in all three battleground recount states, a real long shot. Still, to get rid of Trump once and for all, it would be worth the effort. He has done so little to instill confidence in his presidency. Actually, if Stein had not been on the ballot herself, Clinton might have actually won those states from the start, based on Stein’s own totals of votes cast for her there. While people may be donating to Stein in hopes of securing a Clinton win, Stein’s motivations may be more to enhance her own and her party’s brand. Or maybe she just wants to try to save the American people and the world from a Trump presidency. In the unlikely event that irregularities are found that change the outcome, Stein would be hailed as a hero. I have not yet wrapped my mind around the idea of a President Trump and am glad to be able to maintain a flicker of hope right now, which is probably why Stein has raised so much money so fast. Trump’s tweets and staff picks so far have not enhanced confidence in his ability to be president. The man is too thin-skinned and insecure.

If Trump had lost in the Electoral College but been ahead by more than 2 million votes, you’d better believe he would have demanded a recount, but not paid for it, of course, as he avoids paying for anything; after installing a golf course in Scotland, he even tried to bill poor Scottish homeowners for an unsightly wall cutting off their ocean view. The man is a cheat and a penny-pincher who seems to have no compassion whatsoever for others. Now he’s started a tweet-storm against the vote recount, claiming he really won the popular vote:

If Trump really wants to assure an accurate vote count and a check on voter fraud, he should welcome and support Stein’s efforts. If Trump were a statesman, which he obviously is not, he would simply ignore the recount effort, as it's very unlikely to jeopardize his presidency (unfortunately). Trump is too thin-skinned to be happy as president or even to function adequately.

Allegations are also growing that in addition to possible (though unlikely) vote miscounts, widespread voter intimidation and suppression occurred in slim-margin battleground states. With all these concerns, might Trump not be actually certified as the winner in the end? That would be a major upset after all the hand-wringing about the neglected grievances of white, non-college educated voters and Trump’s attempts to move forward on his administration and even to raise funds for the 2020 election. But, is there now even time to prove voter suppression or to declare a miscount in order to thwart his current bid? It would further rip the country apart and set Donald Trump on a furious rampage. He and his followers would shout “rigged” to the rooftops, even if rigging was actually what they themselves had been engaged in. But it would give him a forum on which to appear at rallies and charge admission.

In another long shot, an on-line petition is asking the Electoral College to certify Clinton, not Trump:

The stock market has rallied at the prospect of lower taxes and more infrastructure spending, but may tumble again when deficit fears kick in. The market doesn’t like uncertainty and that is what Trump epitomizes. However, infrastructure projects and an a revision of Obamacare may be easier with a Republican Congress that is less obstructionist.

Trump has already said he won't prosecute Hillary, to the dismay of many of his followers. Melania has wisely decided to stay at Trump Tower and avoid all this hassle. Now there is the question of the secret service protecting her and Trump on his weekends at Trump Tower and of renting space from Trump for millions of dollars to protect his own family in NYC. Is that a conflict of interest? Will the Republican majority protect the American people and Trump from conflict-of-interest situations?

Trump went back on the campaign trail, you might say, with his “Victory Tour,” as he prefers spouting off to crowds to staying in office-mode. He has made much of preventing part of a possible Indiana job move to Mexico, but at a cost to the state’s public finances through generous tax breaks. Should the president of the United States be picking winners and loser on the corporate landscape? And what about the lost tax revenues? Also, if jobs go to Mexico, might that not mean fewer Mexicans wanting to come to the US, an outcome Trump and his supporters seek? It doesn’t seem that a president should micromanage a local economy.

As for Rosie O’Donnell’s speculation that young son Barron Trump is autistic based on his mannerisms, maybe that’s why his mother wants to protect him and keep him at Trump Tower? Trump should ignore this issue, as a First Family needs to get used to scrutiny and doesn’t have to respond to all allegations. However, Melania has now threatened to sue. She should just ignore the speculation, but, like Donald, she is super-sensitive. Remember Trump’s own relentless attacks on Barack Obama regarding his birth certificate? Obama ignored them until the relentless crescendo by Trump himself became too great and he finally released his birth certificate.

The New Yorker for Nov. 28, with an illustration of Barack Obama on the cover, includes along, thoughtful article by editor David Remnick on Obama’s reaction to the election outcome and the threat of dismantling his legacy and hard-fought programs.

It's been interesting to say the least and the future is as unpredictable as Trump himself, who may not even know what he plans to do next—he seems to lack concrete plans, rather to act and speak (or tweet) on impulse, something his followers loved during his candidacy, but which may be harder to take in an actual president. We can only hope that more moderate Republicans might oppose some of Trump’s more egregious ultra-rightwing staff picks and proposals.

Whatever happens, I hope to outlive the Trump administration, though it would be best if it could just be nipped in the bud right here and now. I don’t know that Trump would really mind such an outcome, as he is obviously unprepared for assuming the presidency. He wants to continue to be involved in managing his vast business empire and in making even more money. An unprecedented overturning of his election victory would allow him to keep on hosting rallies around the country, something he has shown he enjoys more than being in an executive position, and he could even charge admission to his rallies, thus further increasing his fortunes. Trump might actually have preferred to lose. Just a thought.

If nothing else, this whole ongoing presidential election saga has kept the public engaged in a way that politics-as-usual has not. And Republicans might approve measures similar to those that Obama proposed but which they had thwarted simply on partisan grounds. And some Republicans might even act as a break on Trump. After all, they must realize that a majority of Americans do not support him and Republicans must also resent his take-over of their party. Maybe our focus of attack should be on Trump’s most egregious proposed candidates, like Sessions and Bannon, though the latter may not be subject to Congressional approval. Trump sounds pretty phony when sending out a filmed message about “healing” on Thanksgiving. That must have been his advisers’ doing. He seems most genuine (and is most popular) when being fiery, outrageous, and unscripted. That might be a way to run a campaign, but not the presidency.

From Yahoo News: Donald Trump's approach to military service is well established — the president-elect avoided the draft five times, once for bad feet — but it turns out his grandfather shared his reluctance to head to the front line for his country. Friedrich Trump, Donald's grandfather on his father Fred's side, was kicked out of Germany in 1905 for failing to complete mandatory service, according to a royal decree unearthed by a historian and submitted to German newspaper Bild. He was permanently banished for emigrating to the U.S. in 1885 without giving the authorities notice of his departure, thus blocking his repatriation and establishing the Trump family in America for good. According to historian Roland Paul: Friedrich Trump was born in 1869 in the German city of Kallstadt and joined his sister. Katharina, in the US in 1885.

Although in my recent book talks, I was preparing to suggest ways that a President Hillary Clinton might move forward with the Cuba accords to promote democracy, I do think the US approach since the accords were signed has been due for a course correction. The Democratic Party’s Cuba approach has seemed unduly deferential to the Cuban leadership, beginning with Senator Leahy’s successful transfer of sperm donations to the wife of imprisoned (later released) Gerardo Hernandez, mastermind of the Cuban Five, accused of betraying the Brothers-to-the-Rescue location to the Cuban air force, which shot down their aircraft, killing all 4 crew members. Since the accords were signed and the remaining three Cuban Five prisoners were released, Democratic lawmakers (Republicans cannot get visas) have made a trek to Cuba, having photo-ops with regime officials and avoiding democracy activists. Meetings of embassy staff, if any, with activists have taken place off embassy grounds. The chief of mission met with some recently at his home. More travel options and allowance for the purchase of more Cuban rum and cigars (what else do they produce?) have been opened up on the US side, though Obama’s timing of the announcement of those purchases was ill-timed just before the election, at least for the Florida vote. Yet even after these overtures and the flood of US visitors, the Cuban government continues to shout “genocide” and to yield nothing visible. Most hurtful, in my opinion, to the spirits of dissidents has been denial of the use of embassy computers for secure communications, something available to them when the building was just an interests section. Now, they must go to other embassies for internet use, mainly Czech and Swedish, I’m told. Nor are US visas so easy to obtain now for dissidents. Meanwhile, Cuban government arrests, raids, and beatings of peaceful opponents have reached record levels. And self-employment has been rolled back by the regime. Obama’s tactic aimed at softening the regime’s resistance seems to have made the leadership more suspicious and defensive. What Trump might do on Cuba is anyone’s guess. He has vowed to reverse course regarding the Castro regime, perhaps what put him over the top in Florida, but, as with his other policies, specifics are lacking and he may not know himself, not having had to confront such issues previously.
My position—and that of my Confessions book—has been that support of human rights in Cuba or elsewhere is not a Republican or Democratic issue, but of concern to all sides.

Now, in my interpretation assignments, I'm seeing undocumented parents of children in DC public schools or whose children are receiving early intervention services worried about what happens next.

Why is immigration good for our nation? For starters, it keeps our population from shrinking, especially among workers and younger people, as has happened unfortunately in Western Europe and Japan. Angela Merkel in Germany recognizes this. Immigration also keeps our country vital intellectually and socially, introducing new ideas, different modes of dress, varied food options, and philosophical and religious enrichment. While some folks prefer to live in gated communities along with people of their same age, ethnicity, and beliefs, many others, like myself, prefer a more varied social landscape. We find sameness boring. I admit I’ve been an outlier in my choice of partners, friends, and housemates; I enjoy exchanging and merging divergent views and customs from around the world. So I’d like to support or even increase US immigration. Are people like me more common than narrow-minded Trump supporters? Of course, some bad or careless folks will always be found among immigrants, just as among any group, but probably fewer, percentagewise, than among the general population.

We all know that Donald Trump is not going to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. Whether he will deport more than Barack Obama, already “deporter-in-chief,” is unlikely.  There is only so much manpower and resources that can be devoted to that job and it would harm our country more than help if were actually possible. But Trump has engendered fear and the nomination of Sessions is bad news. Some Republicans (such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich) have urged allowing the undocumented to remain legally but not become citizens (and thus not become Democratic voters). Most such immigrants would be satisfied with that compromise, as mainly they don’t want to live in constant fear of deportation. However, Dreamers, who have known no other country and consider this their own, should have a path to citizenship.