Saturday, December 23, 2017

Happy Holidays, Son Jon’s Visit, Honduran Elections, Cuban Student, Trump (Alas, Still with Us), Alabama Election, Sexual Harassment (Also Still Pervasive), Catholic Voters. Abortion Wars Compromise?

Happy holidays, let’s try our best to find something to be happy about.

(Having a very hard time posting now because blog is on an alternate gmail account and every time I try to post something, it reverts to the main gmail account where I don't have a blog. Readers, please bear with me. I'm trying)

The new tax “relief” bill is not something to celebrate. It will help some businesses and business people, as well as large estates, Republican donors, and high-end taxpayers, but do little for the rest of us, in fact, increasing the deficit for the benefit of those high-end folks. States like New York and California—and also Washington, DC—where state and local taxes can no longer be deducted will be punished for voting against Trump. The rich get richer, as the saying goes. If the tax system had been just left alone, the economy would have hummed along nicely if not spectacularly with already almost full employment, or possibly the corporate rate alone could have been lowered or tweaked somewhat without tampering with the whole system. If it ain’t broke, why try to fix it? Even if Democrats pick up seats in the mid-terms, it’s hard to undo damage once it’s been done.

In short, the tax bill, in my opinion, is another Trump-supported initiative that is at best a huge gamble, likely to result in a big collective loss, as well as short-term gains for some of the electorate and long-term benefits for the Trump family and the super-rich. But by the time the longer-term negatives fall on voters, many of the original lawmakers who supported it will be out of office or perhaps have gained seniority and will be able to deflect the blame.  (I would love to be wrong.) 

I had a visit from my son Jonathan (with me above), who recently moved from Hawaii to Winchester, Va., from Honolulu. While he was here, he was thrilled to see snow again, but not so much. It melted immediately. That was reportedly the first snow fall in DC in December in 4 years.

Here below is a rather unflattering profile of the challenger in the contested Honduran election, not that the incumbent president seeking reelection is someone to admire either, but he is a known quantity.

Honduras: police refuse to obey government as post-election chaos deepens | World news | The Guardian

OK to criticize Venezuela, but turn a blind eye on Honduras? Not really

BY ANDRÉS OPPENHEIMER, Miami Herald, 12-8-2017

The State Dept. has issued a travel advisory for Honduras, but I hope order will be restored before my Feb. trip. So far, I’m still planning to go.
A few folks in Honduras have given me their opinions, with the consensus being that neither presidential candidate is particularly desirable; it’s been a matter, as is so often the case, of trying to choose the lesser of evils. If you read Spanish, here are a few comments:
1.Nasralla + Mel Zelaya + Juan Orlando Hernandez = Insuficiente para el Presidente que Honduras necesita en los próximos 4 años. Si gana Nasralla = Gobierno INCIERTO por la incompatibilidad ideológica de Nasralla con Zelaya. Gobierno del aceite con vinagre.
Si gana JOH = Gobierno INGOBERNABLE  por inconstitucional y porque la mayoría de los 
hondureños votantes estan en contra.
POSIBLE Solucion: Segunda vuelta  solo para la eleccion Presidencial (que no esta en la Constitucion Hondureña) encabezada por un Tribunal Supremo Electoral INTERNACIONAL
2.La mejor opción es JOHA pues de quedar Nasrala seremos igual a Venezuela.
3. aqui estan ocurriendo muchas cosas en lo politico las autoridades estan siendo prudentes con dar los resultados finales de la eleccion presidencial por obias razones , nosotros no pudimos votar por que martin se enfermo y estuvo hospitalizado todo el domingo. espero que esta situacin en mi pais se calme y podamos seguir trabajando como siempre
4. Hola Bárbara... Ninguno de los dos es lo mejor...pero el menos peor es el actual Presidente JOH, pues Nasralla es un títere del ex presidente Manuel Zelaya y ahorita en las elecciones volvimos a ver los mismos actores y seguidores de Zelaya que meses y años atras habían desaparecido y de ganar Nasralla volverían a posiciones importantes dentro del Gobierno...haciéndonos recordar el Gobierno de Zelaya. El Tribunal Superior de Elecciones acaba de declarar a JOH como presidente electo... Nasralla viajó hoy a Washington a denunciar el fraude ante la OEA y otras organizaciones...   creo que al final nada cambiará y luego de algunas semanas de protestas , todo volverá a la calma, similar a lo que pasó despues de la destitución de Zelaya en el 2009.

(Hernandez’s sister was recently killed in a Honduran helicopter crash.)

The following article provides a good summary on Cuba. I have long contended that lack of food production is major problem there—as per my article:

 Change Is Coming to Cuba

More than 37,000 Cubans face deportation orders. As volunteer Caribbean coordinator for Amnesty Int’l USA, I’ve helped a handful with pro-bono lawyers obtain asylum, but most will be sent back.
Some arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border only a few hours after the sudden change in immigration policy on Jan. 12. Others have been in the United States since much earlier. The majority face possible deportation. According to official figures, the number of Cubans with final orders of deportation has increased this year. Through Dec. 9, there were 37,218 facing final deportation orders. Meanwhile, the number of Cuban migrants currently in detention centers now exceeds 1,600. “As of December 9, 2017, there were 1,686 Cuban nationals in ICE detention,” Brendan Raedy, spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, stated in an email.
What does the news of election postponement in Cuba means? That Diaz-Canel is out?  
Raul Castro to remain in office until April, elections postponed By Katherine Lam | Fox News (Dec. 21. 2017)
Cuban leader Raul Castro will remain in power until at least April 19, 2018 after the government postponed the historic presidential elections, citing impacts from Hurricane Irma, the official Communist Party newspaper announced Thursday. Castro, 86, had initially said he would retire at the end of his two terms on Feb. 24, Miami Herald reported. The election for the new National Assembly was also scheduled to be held then.
The official Communist Party newspaper Granma published the announcement and said the damage caused by Hurricane Irma, which struck the island in September, forced the delay of Cuba's political cycle.  Some analysts predicted Castro would extend his time in power because of recent events, including its economy in recession and the diplomatic crisis involving health attacks on U.S. diplomats in the city’s capital Havana, according to the Miami Herald. It’s still unclear who would succeed Castro, who took power in 2008 and replaced late leader and brother Fidel Castro. Cuban first vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel has been seen as a potential candidate.
The upcoming election is the first since Fidel Castro, who died in November 2016, reintroduced a limited election in 1976, the Miami Herald reported. 
The Associated Press contributed to this report. 
We in Amnesty Int’l have a new series of illustrated vignettes of stories of ordinary Cuba migrants now stopped at the US-Mexico border and available to be interviewed by staff who otherwise cannot go to Cuba.
 “Your mind is in prison” Cuba’s web of control over free expression and its chilling effect on everyday life
[Individual stories can be found by scrolling down past the mid-point of the report.]
English and Spanish versions are available on the following lightbox on ADAM:

The first comic of our series Cubans Lives/Unas vidas cubanas is now available in ADAM under the tag “Cuba: your mind is in prison”. Created by Mexican artist Joan X. Vázquez, this first “Cuban Live” depicts the story of Graciela, a champion weightlifter, who was excluded from her sport because of criticism she expressed during a TV interview that was never aired.

The second comic of our ‘Cuban Lives’ series, depicting life in today’s Cuba: the story of Nadia. Although she was never involved in politics, Nadia was friends with people considered dissidents. For that, she was increasingly harassed by authorities and ended in prison for “dangerousness”.

See comic nº 3 of our series ‘Cuban Lives’, depicting life in today’s Cuba: the story of Carlos, trained in the military, he became a spy and infiltrated different job categories to report on workers. Many of his friends are in prison due to information he passed to state security.

Comic nº 4 of our series ‘Cuban Lives’, depicting life in today’s Cuba: the story of Elias, after he complained of lack of support for carrying out his job as a nurse in a hospital, he started to be harassed by his employers and was forced to leave his job. Despite moving to another city he was denied new nurse job because he was seen as "untruth-worthy".

Comic nº 5 of our series ‘Cuban Lives’, depicting life in today’s Cuba: the story of Maritza, professor of medicine at the University she had no interest in politics, but soon was pressured to do propaganda with her students and to join the state’s mass organizations. Due to this pressure, and despite this being her dream job, she resigned after a year.

The sixth (and last) comic in our series, Cubans Lives / Unas vidas cubanas will be available between 14 and 15 December on ADAM under the tag “Cuba: your mind is in prison” and on the 
lightbox. Created by Mexican artist Joan X. Vázquez, and inspired from real stories, this sixth “Cuban Live” depicts the story of Julio, a secondary school English teacher, he started to be harassed when his sister’s activism was discovered. He was accused of promoting enemy propaganda after asking his pupils to check the international English-speaking press for their school work. His salary was cut in half, he was demoted and finally offered a job as gardener at the school

I recently served as interpreter for Felix Llerena, a 21-year-old Cuban student expelled from the university for his religious and other opinions, at a meeting with an overflow audience of students from George Washington University here in DC. Llerena, a supporter of the Varela Project, was arrested in front of his mother and accused of having terrorist links, also of “pre-delinquency.” A copy of the US constitution and a book by Jose Marti were confiscated in his home and he said that the security forces encouraged neighbors to attack him with machetes if he tried talking to others about his beliefs. He was prevented from attending a Latin America youth network meeting in Mexico by being removed from the aircraft. He was arrested again in July and 4 European Union diplomats traveled to his hometown to see him there. After that, charges against him were dropped and he was allowed to leave. He plans to return to Cuba in January and encourages young people to stay in Cuba, not leave as so many try to do.

DC Amnesty Int’l members met at a local establishment for a Write-A-Thon, when we blitz certain governments with letters on behalf of selected prisoners or victims. Among the letters we wrote related to my volunteer work as Caribbean Coordinator for AI USA was one to the Jamaican government asking for justice for Shackelia Jackson whose brother was killed by police. 

  Write-A-Thon photos.

                                                        Write-A-Thon photos above

Above, Jamaica panelists on police killings, including Shackelia Jackson, center. 

Getting Mugabe to retire, though cheered by many Zim citizens, is not going to result in any improvement or change, according to fellow Amnesty members in the know. The guy who replaced Mugabe and his wife is reportedly just another anti-democratic self-promoting guy who was once part of their inner circle and decided to seize power when it looked like the wife was planning to do the same. He is like Mugabe, just 20 years younger. 

Turnabout is fair play—Trump’s NYC motorcade was greeted by “Lock him up!”

Trump, who describes himself as “very intelligent,” has been advised to use spell-check, but he just misspelled one of his favorite whipping boys “Meadia” on a tweet. He also seems to have deliberately tried to put salt in the wounds of Sandy Hook bereaved parents by inviting the NRA veep to the White House on the anniversary of their murder. As for the tax bill, which he has been celebrating, as with anything, there are winners and losers, but it’s not so clear who they all are. Certainly corporations and high bracket taxpayers will benefit, also red states over blue states.

As bizarre, ridiculous, insensitive, and down-right mean as Donald Trump’s actions and polices have been, an article in The Atlantic argues that no matter what, he is unlikely to be impeached because Republican core voters have faithfully stuck by him through thick and thin, so their Republican reps will continue to do the same. Even if Democrats should gain some seats in 2018, enough Republicans will remain to block any impeachment effort, which takes a 2/3rds majority: 

So, we are probably stuck for the duration. Maybe Trump will quit after one term or be defeated if he runs again (fingers crossed) despite big Republican money, gerrymandering, and voter suppression. He doesn’t seem to be particularly enjoying his presidency (or the contempt with which he is held by most Americans and people all over the world. Melania certainly is not enjoying it.) I keep looking for his administration to do something fairly desirable, even neutral, but I’m still looking for a silver lining just for my own emotional relief. Maybe Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s replacement is OK, not someone to fume about, but there was no actual need to replace her.

Not surprisingly, Trump is reportedly pressuring bone-tired 83-year-old Sen. Orrin Hatch to seek re-election so that Mitt Romney won’t run in his place. Romney would like to wrest the Republican Party from the throes of Donald Trump and he just might be able to do that. Trump is like a bull in a china shop, destroying everything in his wake, including the Republican Party and the Supreme Court. It’s not only that Trump still has supporters as stingy, ignorant, mendacious, and nasty as he is but that he reinforces their own harmful and antisocial tendencies by giving them license to continue. It’s a vicious circle or a malign feedback loop, like an adult (is Trump really an adult?) prodding children to be bullies, liars, destructive, and greedy—promoting survivor of the fittest or most devious, winner take all and screw the rest. Is that the Republican philosophy?

“By telling so many lies, and so many that are mean-spirited, Trump is violating some of the most fundamental norms of human social interaction and human decency. Many of the rest of us, in turn, have abandoned a norm of our own — we no longer give Trump the benefit of the doubt that we usually give so readily.” Bella De Paulo, Washington Post, Dec. 8, 2017 (She’s a former professor who once did a study of lying and liars.)

Nazareth has reportedly cancelled Christmas celebrations because of Trump’s decision to name Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a provocative and unnecessary act in my opinion, just emphasizing the already strong US bias in favor of the Israeli government. Do we want to prevent attacks by Muslims in the US or Europe? Is this really the best way to do that? Or what about an action on the other side, like pressing Israel to stop settlements encroaching on Palestinian lands? This was a matter of appealing to the evangelical base and letting the chips fall where they may in terms of worldwide impact.

Speaking of Christmas, the official Trump Christmas portrait shows the presidential couple standing stiffly in a doorway without son Barron, rumored to be away at boarding school. The Pence holiday card, in contrast, shows that couple appearing in a more natural and friendly pose next to a home Christmas tree. Trump and his advisers simply do whatever he/they want and don’t have an instinct about how their efforts and communications will be received. Trump especially expresses himself however and whenever it strikes his fancy without anticipating or caring about the impact on others, though General Kelly has had some success in disciplining him.

At least Doug Jones won in Alabama, whew! despite Trump’s strong endorsement of Roy Moore, something he disavowed immediately afterward. He appropriately tweeted congratulations to Jones instead of fuming, so his handlers must have been able to calm him.

Because of the “Trump effect,” many organizations, including my own Amnesty International, have seen a surge in donations.  However, probably our moral authority in sending appeals to other governments, as we were doing at this recent “Write-a-Thon,” has been diminished with Trump leading our country, though we still go through the motions. Apparently mainstream media have also been boosted financially. The Trump administration may complain that “the media” is against them, but if they would actually do something that most citizens would approve of, they would find that being reported and being received more favorably.

At the same time, I confess to sometimes getting an inkling of why some white working-class Republicans might consider liberals “effete” and “holier-than-thou.” On some issues and at some more liberal gatherings, I do get a touch of that same feeling when people express something that “everyone knows” or if they oversimplify an issue when not everyone present actually knows or agrees. Sometimes I raise objections, sometimes I don’t.  I may have doubts on a specific point as very few ideas or policies don’t have any downsides or nuances. But it’s hard to go against the group consensus or even mention caveats without being shut down. And my experiences and family are completely atypical when compared with most white middle-class folks my age. Mine is really a multiracial, multi-ethnic family dealing with multiple other challenges, something most other people I meet simply don’t have, so when they speak authoritatively on certain issues, they don’t have my firsthand experience.

Like virtually all women, I’ve certainly experienced sexual harassment in my day and been demeaned and dismissed by men in the workplace, but I’ve also been employed mostly in professions dominated by women--social work and rehabilitation—and women bosses as a rule don’t sexually harass other women. (In the current “me/too” movement, a few alleged victims of women have emerged.)  I was also married for 24 years to a man who was blind and whom I helped tirelessly behind the scenes for decades, mostly on nights and weekends, while working only part-time myself as an editor and researcher for private clients, while also raising four kids. Other men with whom I came in contact who knew my husband (a very strategic, influential, and politically oriented thinker), so, whether out of respect or fear, dared not encroach on his “territory.” Thus, for quite a long time, I was somewhat protected. By the time my husband divorced me, I was already past the prime age for sexual harassment, though I still experience it in Honduras. The sexual harassment/groping/rape accusations are losing some of their punch because of being so widespread, but I really think that’s an expression of the pervasive culture, not a sign that many accusations are bogus.

Sorry to see Al Franken (and John Conyers) gone under pressure from fellow Democrats, in contrast to Republicans, who have supported both Roy Moore and Donald Trump. Garrison Keillor at NPR and Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker are also tough losses. Lizza wrote several articles critical of Trump, so maybe the Trump folks encouraged women to come forward against him. Democrats and liberals seem to be trying to lead by example in dismissing errant members from their fold in contrast to Republicans who continue to support gropers and harassers right up to the Oval Office itself. However, since Democrats’ transgressions seem less serious, perhaps those being ejected are sacrificial lambs?

It was exciting to see TIME acknowledging harassed women on its cover. They represent us all. Anita Hill, after being vilified, can finally feel vindicated. It took time and a convergence of women willing to speak out to bring this issue to the fore. Probably some men now being “outed” feel unfairly targeted, that the rules of the game suddenly changed, as their behavior at the time was accepted as “normal,” a perk of being male and of being in charge. For every woman harassed or assaulted, there is a man out there somewhere. Since sexual harassment has been so commonplace, there are many men who still have not been singled out (yet) and may be worried.

I’m a “cradle Catholic” and continue to identify with the religion, though less so than in my younger years. (I didn’t attend Catholic schools, my father was Presbyterian, but I was married in the church.) A scholar of my acquaintance connected with Catholic University recently conducted a study comparing Catholic Trump and Hillary voters on a large number of issues. There were some differences overall, but the divide was certainly not as great as I would have expected. (Perhaps this is because religion is compartmentalized and has increasingly less influence on everyday life?)  voters

The following on-line commentary seems to be a sensible olive branch extended by a self-identified anti-abortion advocate to the other side in the abortion wars and something that perhaps most Americans could agree on, though obviously it won’t satisfy those with strongly-held opinions on either side: 

Feminists would be wise, and more powerful, if they would be willing to take the lead on compromise and invite women like me to join their ranks to advocate for common goals without abortion clouding the discussion. Liberals are always going to lose voters on the right and in the middle by pushing so aggressively for abortion on demand all the way into the third trimester. And conservatives are always going to lose voters on the left and in the middle by refusing to consider legal abortion in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. But what if we agreed to first trimester abortion and morning after pills as a compromise? It doesn't square with my views completely, but would dramatically cut the number of abortions in this country and save many lives. It certainly doesn't square with the views of many liberals, but perhaps they could find it in their hearts to accept that if someone made a mistake, or is the victim of a crime, three months is sufficient time to find your way out of a resulting pregnancy. And we could certainly all agree that if a woman's life is at risk, the decision on carrying a pregnancy to term should stay between her and her doctor. If we could agree on this, then we could all move on. If abortion is no longer the only rallying cry for women, we can gather women of all stripes to fight for workplace fairness, equal pay, family leave and a host of issues that will change the lives of women every single day.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Thanksgiving, World AIDS Day, Zero-Sum Economics, Zimbabwe, Political Asylum, Honduran Elections, Cuba Project, Sexual Harassment, Keystone, Republican Tax & Other “Reforms,” Giant Avocado Plant

 Lighting was dim, but the woman standing next to her dad is Julie, my late son Andrew's first serious girlfriend.

 Julie with her look-alike daughter, now attending Wilson High, Julie's own and my kids' alma mater.
                                            Grandson gives Grandpa a hug. 

Apologies for odd spacing and fonts in previous posting, aspects not always under my control (may happen again this time).

This Thanksgiving, what did we have to be thankful for?  For many of us, perhaps for merely being alive and retaining fairly normal cognition. The outrages of the Trump administration, while still outrageous, have become more normative, so not so surprising, making the daily barrage of shocks less acute. With any loss, whether of a loved one, job, health, or function, human beings do tend to adjust to a “new normal,” still experiencing negativity, but not the immediate impact. So we do need to be thankful for the human ability to adapt, not to adapt to the point where we passively accept Donald Trump and his weird political antics and allies as “normal,” but adapt sufficiently to be able live somewhat graciously and productively despite his continued assaults on humankind’s collective wellbeing. We must still stop reacting passively and act to do something about him. So far, what to do to effectively counteract him and his allies is uncertain.

Dec. 1 was World AIDS Day, a date when as a Peace Corps volunteer, I organized marches and educational skits in Honduras as part of our efforts to educate the public about a scourge assaulting both genders and even newborn babies during my service tenure (2000-2003).

Have had more political asylum interpretations lately for pro bono legal cases. These interviews are somewhat emotionally stressful, especially as we are not allowed to talk about them later—nor do I usually get any feedback on whether asylum is actually granted, except in cases where I serve as an expert witness for a case referred to Amnesty International--then lawyers will often let me know later what the judge’s decision has been. But since one of my past professions was as a social worker, I’ve seen quite a lot in my day, not to mention experiences in the Peace Corps and annually as a medical brigade volunteer. When death is the outcome of any situation, I cannot help reliving my own losses, especially of my son and foster son. But I would not say I have yet reached “burn-out.” Writing my books has been somewhat protective, allowing me to express what I’ve experienced on paper and sharing it with others.

Meanwhile, on-line groups requesting money to counter Trump are metastasizing at an alarming rate. Are all legit and how would we know? However, I have signed petitions and re-posted them on Facebook. It’s hard for ordinary citizens (including me) to accept that we have an ignoramus dunderhead in charge, with authority over us all, someone obviously uninformed and mentally deficient and unstable. Let him indulge in tweeting, playing golf, getting his face on magazine covers, and giving speeches to cheering supporters, but get him out of government! Let’s give him a sweet way out, as was done with Mugabe (see comments on that below).

Here’s a provocative article from the neo-conservative Manhattan Institute by Emory University economics professor Paul Rubin arguing against the zero-sum view of economics, which both Trump and socialists apparently adhere to, but from different angles.

Trump thinks (if he thinks at all), in zero-sum terms, that curbing immigration and international trade helps our economy, while the opposite is actually the case. Self-identified socialists (and Marxists) believe that if the rich get richer, it means the poor get poorer, not necessarily borne out either in the real world. Neither unbridled capitalism nor total government control is desirable, but rather something in between. If we all tried, like Donald Trump, to evade all taxes, we would have no roads, public schools, police, or other necessary services.

While I found presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to be an engaging speaker expressing a very genuine persona, I did regard his economic views as over-simplified and unrealistic, so I favored Hillary. And while single-payer health care is, in my opinion, a desirable goal, as is Bernie’s “Medicare for all” calling for expanding the mixed system that we seniors now use, it will take several steps to get there and cannot be implemented in one fell swoop. “Socialism,” Sanders’ mantra, also has been the rallying cry of disastrous dictatorial regimes, such as Cuba and Venezuela (and also the USSR, China, Vietnam, and North Korea).

The Trump administration’s announcement of the end of TPS (temporary protective status) for Nicaraguans and Haitians is more unwelcome news. So far, nothing has been said about ending TPS for Hondurans and Salvadorans, but can that be far behind?  It would be great if lawmakers representing south Florida and other areas where TPS recipients abound would come together to promote an extension for all those groups. Maybe after the 2018 elections, that will actually be possible.

I have friends on both sides in the Honduran elections, but even those who voted for Hernandez, out of loyalty to their National Party, are uneasy about his efforts to win a second consecutive term, something never permitted before. Honduras still hasn't declared a winner in its presidential vote — and tensions are rising Los Angeles Times, Nov. 30, 2017

I thought Hernandez had it sewed up and apparently so did he, though at least not yet. And like us here in the US, politics there are completely polarized, but more likely to be expressed in violence.
Honduran Vote Count Enters Fifth Day With Protests Escalating (excerpt) The Organization of American States (OAS) appeared to have salvaged the credibility of the election on Wednesday by eliciting signed statements from both candidates vowing to respect the final result once disputed votes had been checked. But a few hours later Nasralla rejected the OAS accord, saying his opponents were trying to rob him. He urged supporters to take to the streets in protest.
Fraught times: elections in Honduras, The Econmist, Nov. 30, 2017 Today the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) is expected to deliver final results for the November 26th presidential vote. A delayed tally released on Monday shocked Hondurans by showing opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla five points ahead. That was followed by a tense day and a half with no official updates. This morning, a partial count showed President Juan Orlando Hernández leading with a thin margin: just 22,677 votes, with 89% counted. Mr Nasralla cried fraud, and rejected an agreement to respect the result. EU election monitors have criticised the TSE’s initial silence; in past elections it released results more quickly. Many believe the body favours the incumbent. Last night police fired tear gas at rock-throwing protesters outside a building storing ballots. The TSE said its system crashed and suspended counting again. Whoever loses is expected to take to the streets with his supporters. Frictions are mounting, and swirling rumours about fraud have become shouts.

I’ve been following the case of a murdered Honduran, Berta Caceres, who has become more famous in death than she was in life. Though she has been hailed as an "indigenous leader," she was not indigenous herself, though she was a leader against the local dam project, which has been halted. Opinion on her is divided in La Esperanza where she lived and where I go every year. Worldwide, her profile has been elevated and her namesake daughter has taken up the mantle and has traveled to the US and Europe. Some in La Esperanza feel the daughter is exploiting her mother’s memory. No matter what, her mother didn't deserve to be murdered and sadly cannot be brought back.

Finally, after decades, Robert Mugabe’s reign has been ended in Zimbabwe, though little is known about the intentions of those who have taken control. From all accounts, the “coup” was directed by a rival faction of his own palace guard, so maybe little relief is in store for ordinary citizens. When Mugabe was asked to resign, apparently he initially resisted, threatening to go on a hunger strike. The struggle seems to have been between his decades’ younger wife, angling to succeed him, and his former top official and heir apparent, Emmerson Mnangagwa, recently dismissed at the behest of Mugabe’s wife Grace, according to informed speculation.  Most Zim citizens are celebrating Mugabe’s removal from power after 37 years, but his designated successor is not exactly a spring chicken either, as he is reported to be in his 70’s. People might not have wanted to see Mugabe starve himself to death, so are glad he is going peacefully and without resistance at last. He has been given a golden parachute and many honors to ease the transition. At age 93, isn’t it high time he retired?

Equatorial Guinea has been on my radar, as Africa’s only Spanish-speaking country, ever since I translated some human-rights-related documents for Amnesty International and realized that nation’s deplorable human rights record.  Here is an Amnesty International Urgent Action about a detained cartoonist. Ramón Esono Ebalé, an Equatorial Guinean cartoonist and activist, has spent over 50 days in prison without being formally charged. His continued detention is related to his artistic work which has been critical of the government. The Cartoonists Rights Network International has awarded him the 2017 Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning.
Here is an excerpt from my Confessions book:  The United States also engages with tiny oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s only Spanish-speaking country, whose horrendous human rights record I only discovered when translating some documents for Amnesty International. The government of septuagenarian Teodoro Obiang, a dictator in power for more than 30 years, has been described by Washington-based Freedom House as “a highly corrupt regime with one of the worst human rights records in Africa.” Mr. Obiang received military training under Franco and opponents accuse him of using North Korea as a role model. The country’s massive oil wealth has not trickled down to the impoverished population. American engagement there, centered on the exploitation of oil and including an exchange of ambassadors, has done nothing to provide ordinary citizens with either economic and social, or civic and political, rights. [p. 16]

Oil, Instagram and the Plunder of Equatorial Guinea

From The Economist Espresso for November 24, 2017:
Cuban elections
Cubans vote in municipal elections, the first in a series of political exercises that will culminate in February 2018, when for the first time in 59 years the island will be ruled by someone other than a Castro. Authorities have tightly policed the nomination process, even though the elected delegates won’t have any real political power—their main responsibilities will include voicing citizens’ complaints about potholes, water shortages and tardy chicken deliveries. Over 200 opposition candidates have sought a seat, but none has made it onto the ballot. Some have been convicted of petty crimes, others tricked out of attending the nomination meetings in which local community members decide, by show of hands, who their candidates will be. Disappointed by the lack of competitiveness and transparency, many Cubans are expected to abstain from voting, dismissing their suffrage as theatre.

Although voting in compulsory in Cuba, apparently this round of municipal elections apparently saw the largest number of non-voters, also blank or spoiled ballots, some, marked plebiscito, though no one knows how many.

We have launched a new Cuba campaign at Amnesty international, “Your mind is in prison” Cuba’s web of control over free expression and its chilling effect on everyday life (Report, 16 November 2017):

See also Cuba’s Internet paradox: How controlled and censored Internet risks Cuba’s achievements in education (Feature, 29 August 2017)

The lion population in Kenya is crashing as humans and lions compete for space. In spring of 2017, armed herders invaded protected lands in Kenya seeking grazing for livestock. Alan Toth, fellow former Peace Corps volunteer of my acquaintance (South Africa 2010-12), recently traveled to Kenya to document the struggles of conservationists and researchers as they work against this human-lion conflict. http://peacecorpsworl in-kenya-film-by-alan-toth-sou th-africa/

This NYTimes opinion piece makes the case that TV interviewers, like disgraced Matt Lauer, grilled Hillary Clinton in a hostile way, deliberately making her seem untrustworthy and unlikeable because of their ingrained opposition to a female president, while going easy on Donald Trump. As I’ve mentioned before, I found Hillary quite personable and forthright in smaller group discussions on gun control and healthcare back when she was First Lady.

According to the Daily Kos, (Nov. 13, 2017) Trump’s now-departed professor at Wharton once said: “Donald Trump was the dumbest goddam student I ever had!" Korea’s Kim has also reportedly called Trump “stupid” and an “old lunatic.” Is he far from wrong? (For starters, Trump should start spell-checking his tweets.) Trump is certainly tone-deaf in terms of empathy; at an award ceremony for Native American WW II heroes, he referred to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.
Donald Trump, bite your tongue and wear mittens to control your twitter fingers!

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore is a caricature of a southern good-old boy worthy of a white-trash sit-com, complete with his glorification of Confederate generals, biblical literalism, anti-gay stance, and signature cowboy hat. Sexual aggression against teenage girls completes the picture. Saturday Night Live aptly let the Sessions character tell Moore that he is “too Alabama.” Ted Cruz has even dis-endorsed Moore. Rush Limbaugh points out that Moore was a Democrat when his alleged offenses against teenage girls took place, so what would you expect? Probably Trump had been supporting Moore in part to deflect attention from similar sexcapades of his own. Trump already has 16 accusers, but will they ever gain any traction?

Republican Party grass-roots donors are now being offered a chance to have breakfast with Trump. I wonder how many eager beavers will be donating to actually get that chance? Maybe about as many as attended his Christmas tree lighting ceremony (or his inauguration).

Bill Clinton engaged in his own sexual dalliances that led to his impeachment, but not to his removal from office, with most of his affairs seemly consensual—or were they? Monica, although much younger (age 22), apparently made the first overtures. Of course, during the campaign, Trump often brought up Bill’s infidelities against Hillary perhaps to divert attention from his own?

Barack Obama appears to have been squeaky clean in terms of treatment of the opposite sex, but, of course, much support for Trump was motivated by a backlash against Obama and everything he represented, maybe even marital fidelity, since many Trump voters are white men who support male privilege. Those folks and some of “their” women bristled at the very idea of a minority president and against his many real achievements, won despite implacable resistance from a Republican Congress, now trying (very clumsily) to dismantle his legacy.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) spoke with news outlets revealing that at least two currently serving (unnamed) US congressmen are known sexual harassers and gropers. Reportedly, taxpayers have paid out $15 million to victims of congressional harassers over the last decade or so.

Not to make light of Al Franken’s own groping scandals, but unlike Republicans now being accused, he has not denied them (there was photographic evidence of at least one allegation) and he has apologized, even asking for a Senate review. And while his reputation has certainly been tarnished and his Senate seat is in jeopardy, his actions seem less egregious than the accusations against Republicans, including both Donald Trump and former President HW Bush, yet right-wing media has had a field day over Franken. But Franken and other Democrats, including Conyers, do need to be called out, just as with Republicans -- sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.  I’m sorry to see former Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor also “outed.”  

It’s very frustrating to be living in DC right now, so close to Donald Trump and company, and to have no voting delegates in Congress. I wish/hope the Republican tax bill somehow fails or can be reversed next year after a Democratic majority arises, overcoming gerrymandering and big money. It would be best to just leave well enough alone in the tax system. We’re doing OK now. As for all the women coming out of the woodwork against men in power, most of us of a certain age just thought that was just the way the way things worked. It’s not so shocking to us, though Garrison Keillor and Sen. Al Franken really hurt (I once waved to Franken, sitting by the window in a Capitol Hill restaurant).  

Sexual harassment and even sexual aggression by men in power have been part of the culture for too long, so it’s good to finally be revealing it and trying thwart it everywhere. I’m sure many men in power are now quaking in their boots, hoping they’re not outed next. A big part of the problem is that those in power and authority are predominately men and, for many women, career advancement requires succumbing to sexual aggression and keeping quiet about it. Conversely, rejecting sexual overtures can mean not only failure to advance, but actual job loss, one more reason for having a woman president and more women in key positions. On the other hand, where women are in positions above men, they may try to exploit them sexually, especially in cases of female teachers of vulnerable adolescent boys. So, it’s partly a power dynamic.

As I’ve said before on this forum, probably the majority of women—myself included—have had similar harassment experiences, not necessarily outright kissing, groping, or actual rape, but catcalls, innuendos, inappropriate hugs, and even unwanted touching, often masquerading as accidental. There has been a pervasive culture of harassment of women by men in power and authority almost forever, at least in western countries, where men usually have women employees in subordinate positions. Where men and women are strictly segregated, as in Saudi Arabia, there may be less opportunity for sexual harassment or rape, but women as a whole class are subjugated.

I usually handled harassment by withdrawing or trying to turn it into a joke or teasing in an ambiguous situation, and many such minor situations are ambiguous in terms of proving intent. Anyway, who are you going to tell if you are a woman being subjected to sexual harassment? Who will believe you? You might well lose your job or face a lawsuit if you complain. And why are women only coming forward now? Many did complain at the time, but they were dismissed or even chided. Now with the example of others coming forward, they may feel more supported and believed. Like many young women of my time, I tried to avoid further complications by not reporting an incident of harassment (or was it really?) in the workplace, preferring to subtly indicate to the guy that his behavior was unacceptable, but also offering an easy way out for us both by half-joking (“Don’t let it happen again!”). Harassment of women is so pervasive, so much a part of our culture, that we can’t be reacting to every individual incident. Also, it’s sometimes hard to draw the line between a flirtation that lets a woman know that a man is interested, thus inviting her to respond, and outright harassment. Anyway, back in the day, such matters were routinely swept under the rug and simply never mentioned in polite society.

This discussion has reminded me of an incident described in my Confessions book (p. 84). In 1953, at age 15, I was subjected to groping under the table in a Havana hotel restaurant by a middle-aged man who snuck his hand under my skirt after he sat down to join me. So, me too!

As environmentalists had feared, the Keystone pipeline has spilled 210,000 gallons of oil.

What more is there to say about the Republicans’ tax “reform” bill with a partial Obamacare repeal tacked on? Those folks and their haphazard and mostly harmful proposals are beyond belief. The aim seems to be to get something, anything signed into law so they can point to a victory, never mind the actual consequences. Are enough American voters still stupid enough to keep on supporting them, despite their admitted advantages of incumbency, big money, and gerrymandering? We’ll see in the mid-term elections. Many voters are woefully ignorant and don’t really understand their own interests, but are so many of them really so stupid? Maybe so, as many have continued supporting a manifestly stupid leader.

The current political outrages are both big and small—among the somewhat smaller was the Trump administration’s decision to allow trophies of the body parts of endangered hunted animals to be brought back to the US, apparently as a favor to Trump’s big-game hunting sons. But then the fierce backlash caused Mr. Trump to push the pause button on that decision. On so many fronts under Trump, political bipartisanship and reasonable discourse have been thwarted. I’m an older lady who has lived through and seen quite a lot in my long life, but nothing like this before. And it’s ruining the US reputation and influence all over the world, giving China and Russia openings to take the lead. By interfering in our elections, Russia and Assange have certainly gotten their revenge—and I’ll include Edward Snowden there too, although Amnesty International has supported him under the guise of free speech, much to my dismay.

Here’s a photo of the offshoot from an ordinary avocado seed that I planted, which not only has shot up like Jack’s beanstalk engulfing my entire enclosed first-floor back porch with a giant tree, but which now has brought forth this offspring growing bigger by the day. All my despite pruning of the “mother” tree, root-bound in a modest-sized pot, has not thwarted its growth. I’ve tried giving it away, but no one has room.

The on-line right-wing Townhall Daily has announced “The Democratic Party Is Dead.”  Don’t be so sure, folks!