Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Winter, A Memorable Birthday, Basketball, Goodbye Obama, Trump Takes Office, Women’s March, Cuba & Latin America

                             First and only snow this winter in downtown DC--it soon melted.
                  Great-grandson De'Andre with Mom Natasha, below with latest hairstyle

 Left, De'Andre's 8-person sports' cheering section, including yours truly, far left

Above and below, the winning game with De'Andre 41 the highest scorer

Below, daughter Stephanie with old friend Allison and niece Suzanne with De'Andre at dimly lit family gathering dinner

First, a big shout-out to Wanda Johnson, born in Egypt, but living most of her life in rural Vermont with her late husband, with whom she raised 3 children and whom I’ve known since childhood. Miss Wanda just celebrated her 102nd birthday! She lives independently in her own house located right next door to that of her daughter, so she gets lots of companionship and support throughout the day from family members. Every year, I send her a big gift of goodies that can be enjoyed by someone with dentures, as well as by her numerous birthday guests.

Second, the Washington Times, a rightwing on-line publication, says that President Obama has the poorest record ever in the number of legislative achievements he was able to get through: “Obama scores the worst legislative record in history.” From the moment of his inauguration, congressional Republicans vowed to obstruct absolutely everything he proposed, so it’s pretty amazing that he even got as much done as he did. Maybe he should or could have been friendlier (he did try, but was rebuffed) or maybe he should have done more backroom deals? He did do some things without consulting Congress, which would have put up roadblocks if they could. He made mistakes, but, overall, he actually did pretty well. Let’s see how much of it the Republicans manage to dismantle.

Now that the Republican Party has both houses of Congress and the presidency, they are talking national unity and that Democrats should go along to get along for the sake of the nation. For Democrats to come together with Republicans, the latter would have to meet us half-way, not require us to give in 100%. I would like to see Democrats unify among themselves and breech their own ideological differences to give the Republicans the same treatment that they have been dishing out. To add insult to injury to us here in DC, the Republican Congress wants to intervene in many of our laws, including gun laws, and overturn the voters’ will so that they can tell their districts that they imposed certain restrictions on the national capital and Donald Trump won’t veto any such attempts, as Hillary Clinton would have done. So, for starters, how about not meddling in DC’s domestic affairs and voter approved policies, as some are trying to do—pay attention to your own district who voted for you—we didn’t.

Message from a friend: You can fool some people some of the time, but you can fool Trump voters all of the time. ~Abe Lincoln
I replied: Very apt, and if you are Vladimir Putin, you can fool Donald Trump all of the time as well.

Since it happened during my lunchtime, I did turn on the radio while Pence and Trump were being sworn in a few blocks away. It gave me

a sinking feeling. And I heard Trump’s scripted speech, which was not too, too terrible and was what you would have expected from him. It was certainly combative and “America first” was the theme. When was America ever not first? All the photos of him during the inauguration show him always frowning, like he’s not enjoying himself at all. In his prepared remarks, he talked about giving power back to the people, a slap at politicians of both parties. Just what that would look like?—he would probably say it’s whatever Donald Trump does supposedly on behalf of the people. You have to wonder if he believes his own rhetoric and when exactly would he know (or imagine he knows?) that the people are now having power? Probably when something he wants gets through? Rain started while he was still on the podium—very fitting. From aerial photos, it looks like he had about one-seventh of Obama’s first inaugural crowd.

This lady, like me, is a DC resident who remembers MLKing's "Dream" speech of over 50 years ago.

                                         Pink pussy hats were everywhere.

About our women’s march, I imagined Trump saying later something like: "What women's march? Hardly anyone showed up, sad, so sad. Not like my own enormous crowd, the biggest ever in history. Just like my yuge popular vote tally, the biggest ever. And my hands are not so small either." The man needs a therapist to help him figure out why he has so much self-doubt that he has to keep inflating himself. He might have done better by admitting, “Our inaugural crowd wasn’t as big as we had hoped, but we’re going to win over the support of all the American people.” He seems to be “winging it” through life. If his decisions and rhetoric weren’t so harmful to the rest of Americans and the rest of humankind, I would actually feel sorry for the guy. He’s awkward, his tie is too long (sometimes down his crotch), he has a ridiculous-looking comb-over, his fascination with gold trim (now also in the White House) is cheap and superficial, and many women find him repulsive, one reason he grabs women (I won’t say where) against their will. In photos, at least, of him dancing with Melania, he leans forward, smirking, and she seems to be leaning away from him. He reminds me of a guy who,in my younger days, might have persuaded me to dance with him and I could hardly wait for the dance to be over and freed of his grip.

The guy has a distorted sense of reality. It does seem that his bizarre pronouncements and contradictory actions would have a destabilizing effect on the country and the world--and maybe on the Republican Party? Why would the press--so many independent entities all over the country--be conspiring against him? I live near the capitol and my daughter Stephanie (here from Hawaii for that purpose) and I were at the women's march where police were turning people away because too many were funneling into the so-called march route. How could we actually march when there was such a crush? We mostly just stood still. I admit that I couldn't see or hear the speakers, I just cheered when others did. I met people from all over the US and even a woman from Japan. Many women were wearing pink "pussy hats" with pointy ears. I saw a sign saying "Pussy grabs back." Both Amnesty International and returned Peace Corps volunteers had a presence at the march.

Unofficial estimates were that we had 500,000 and that Trump had only 250,000 at his inauguration the day before, one of the smallest inaugural crowds in recent times, but maybe bigger than George Washington's? The rightwing Washington Times speculates that Trump may even win the Nobel Peace Prize.

I started out with a breakfast at my neighbor’s house, with her visitors who came from out-of-town. I ended up at the Amnesty office near my house, where we drank cider and ate raw broccoli and other healthy snacks. My daughter Stephanie ended up with her own friends. We did feel empowered by being part of what seems to be larger, even worldwide solidarity, making all Trump’s lies about how popular he is just seem absurd. If Hillary had taken office, we would have been complacent, expecting her to take care of things. Now, with Trump, we realize that we need to keep active and engaged because he cannot be trusted.

Trump reportedly had only 2 inaugural balls--even Jimmy Carter had 4 or 5--I was at one of the latter, not a pleasant experience being crushed among so many people waiting to see the president and first lady make a brief appearance from a raised podium. Fewer people crushed together to see Trump, but what his supporters lack in numbers, they make up for in enthusiasm for their guy. If and when he fails to deliver, they will be especially disappointed as their expectations were so high. 

Republicans have come up with an alternative to AARP for older folks called AMAC.

AMAC represents the Real America and stands for traditional values, fiscal responsibility and true financial security for those who have earned it.
Together we can make a difference. Tell the AARP,
"No More!"

If I were one of Trump’s advisers (or his therapist), I would advise him not to react on Twitter or otherwise to every little criticism or implied slight, even though that gives him more publicity—because it’s negative publicity. Maybe his base loves his angry and defensive tweets, but his base may well be shrinking. Donald Trump—you need to get a grip—stop acting like a spoiled child, like such a big, fat crybaby! Be more presidential! His children and staff keep having to explain away his behavior. Who’s in charge now anyway? I suspect there are some nasty skeletons in his closet that he’s well aware might come out, including some from Russia, hence his defensiveness. He might do better to make fun of his detractors, sort of like Obama did when Trump accused him of being born in Kenya. Of course, when the Russian tapes do come out, he will again cry “fake news!”

Spanish publisher Sapristi (Roca Editorial) has released President Trump: God Forgive America by Pablo Rios, the author of two previous graphic novels. Spanish Agency SalmaiaLit controls all rights, and French rights have been sold to Steinkis Groupe. The satiric graphic novel imagines what is going on in Trump’s head as he is about to enter the White House and deal with pressing world issues. Trump has ignited a new round of worldwide anti-American sentiment, something that Obama did much to counteract.

Trump’s cabinet and staff picks are a mixed bag. Some are terrible, but some may even have a moderating influence on him if he listens to them. He lies so much that it’s hard to know when he’s telling the truth. Does he believe his own lies? It would great if Trump himself would decide to resign, feeling he is not being treated fairly by the press. Pence, the arch-conservative, could take over then, but, at least with him, others would know where they stand. Governing by “gotcha” and temper-tantrum tweets, sometimes with misspellings and poor grammar, is no way to lead a country or the world. I’m sure Republicans wedded to the idea of “small government” gritted their teeth when Trump promised to replace Obamacare with a revised health insurance system covering “everybody” and with lower premiums. Ryan has also said people want lower health care costs. Good luck on that!


Just making promises (“health care for everybody”) or saying things like “Jobs, jobs, jobs” and “America First” is not a plan or a program.


Perhaps as a goodwill gesture to Trump, Russia is considering lifting its ban on adoptions of Russian kids by American families. The ban was imposed in response to criticism of Russian human rights policies and arrests.


A NYTimes article credits or blames Julian Assange for trying to disrupt the political system and actually succeeding. Yes, he certainly has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. May he continue to live and die in the Ecuadoran Embassy, a prison of his own making. Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, another leaker, was granted a last-minute commutation by President Obama. Based on what Manning did and the damage done to our country, such a commutation may seem unjustified, as Manning, as far as I know, started the whole chain of leaks that also involved Snowden and Assange. Obama may have felt pressured by Manning’s many advocates, including among LGBT folks, as well as two suicide attempts and sex reassignment treatment, awkward to carry out in prison, especially for an inmate in a men’s prison, where Manning was an outlier and probably subject to attack by fellow prisoners. 

On Martin Luther King’s birthday, I recalled hearing his original “I have a dream speech” with my late former husband. I also attended Obama’s commemoration 50 years later.

As for King’s associate Congressman John Lewis, now being attacked by Trump, I credit him with breaking with the Congressional Black Caucus and their knee-jerk fidelity to Fidel by receiving former Cuban Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Jose Luis Garcia Perez (“Antunez”) in his office in January, 2015. And, although I am not his constituent, he sent me a signed thank-you letter when I sent him a copy of my Confessions book.

 Rep. John Lewis with Antunez and his wife in Jan. 2015, with their interpreter

El Salvador went 24 hours without single murder, a welcome respite. Honduras (and Chicago) should follow suit. El Salvador has something over 6 million people, one-third of them under age 15, which does not bode well for crime reduction in the long run. In area, it is a little smaller than Massachusetts, my home state. By comparison, Honduras, the largest country geographically in Central America, has about 8 million+ people, again, one-third under 15, and is more than 5 times bigger—about the size of Louisiana. In both countries, as in those elsewhere in the world, including our own, more boys than girls are born, but their percentage of the population steadily diminishes as the population ages.

I would recommend an article about Salvadoran deportees in the New Yorker (Jan. 21), “Called Away,” estimating that half of call centers employees in that country are deportees because they speak fluent American English. Some also teach English. 

Mexican authorities have arrested a member of the Honduran military wanted in connection with the murder of Honduran environmental activist Berta (or Bertha) Caceres: https://www.yahoo.com/news/m/c404baa7-4d6b-3a36-9d55-54e739b23534/ss_mexico-arrests-man-linked-to.html

Well, finally, after Rangel’s retirement, Adriano Espaillat, cousin of my Espaillat DR friends, profiled in my Confessions book, has made it to Congress.

Jamaica is another of my Caribbean Amnesty Int’l countries and here’s article about some of our concerns that appeared in International Business Times http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/jamaicas-killer-cops-how-families-police-victims-face-intimidation-violence-1601928.

Nat Hentoff, iconoclastic journalist, has died in NYC at age 91. Though he wrote for the Village Voice and was considered a liberal, even a radical, he easily saw through the subterfuge and hypocrisy of the Cuban leadership and was openly critical of western apologists for the regime. He frequently railed against Fidel Castro and Cuba’s human rights abuses, including book burning and book censorship. I cite him in my Confessions book.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Office of the Special Rapporteur Expresses Concern over the detention in Cuba of artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto” 

El Sexto has now been released but is prohibited from leaving Cuba.

Here is my 7th and latest Huffington Post Cuba article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-e-joe/end-of-an-era_3_b_13695000.html

Now, just what Cuban rafters had feared has happened; it had to happen abruptly as otherwise, there would have been a stampede at the Mexican border:

At least one Cuban exile friend thinks it was good idea to close the border to Cubans. I have mixed feelings. It was lifeline of hope for many Cubans, but also very dangerous and quite expensive if they came by land. Some trekked for days through Panamanian jungles and some died there. Ending the policy is just what anxious Cuban rafters and other migrants had long feared and some Republicans (i.e. Rubio) supported ending it because migrants are not screened and it also aligns with Trump’s anti-immigrant policy. There is a school of thought that if things get bad enough in Cuba without that safety valve, maybe change can occur there. I do feel sorry for those now en route, either by boat or land, especially those already gathered at the Texas border, some of them already on the bridge to the US, but turned back. It was so very hard for them to get that far, such a big risk to life and limb. It seems that there should be a way to allow entry to those who were already in line waiting. Some may end up staying in Mexico, as more have been doing anyway.

Those Cubans with visas arriving in the US by air are having a hard time.

Another friend, a former Peace Corps volunteer who now lives in Panama, told me: Some Cubans came by my village in the Darién, peninsula of Panamá next to Colombia. No roads, just trails in the jungle. I made friends with the group, about 20 or so. And my native Indians offered the Cubans water, some food, and basic medical attention. I offered them coffee, my shower, and an extended hand. They were making the journey to find freedom...nothing else. We gave the children some toys and clothes...they too were walking to freedom. I was so proud of my Indian friends, the Emberá. Somewhere, a Cuban making a journey for freedom has a Peace Corps t- shirt on...Sarge  [Sargent Shriver] would be proud.

“Five Cubans seek asylum in Texas, probably the first of many”
There will be a further backlog in immigration detention facilities. If they have struggled to get as far as Mexico, Cubans might decide to stay there or to take a further gamble with asylum, though if they lose on asylum, they would be sent back to Cuba and, having left everything behind, most would prefer almost any other country than that.

Meanwhile, many Cuban prison inmates forced out by Fidel Castro during the Mariel boatlift (among them, my late then-16-year-old gay Cuban foster son Alex) will now be returned to Cuba, which had refused to take them back previously.

"I think we have to come up with a solution for the DACA kids. And that's something we in Congress and the Trump transition team are working on," Ryan added. "What's a good humane solution?"
http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/house-speaker-paul-ryan-says-trumps-mass-deportation-plan-not-happening 1601014?utm_source=yahoo&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=rss&utm_content=/rss/yahoous&yptr=yahoo

My daughter Stephanie arrived from Honolulu to participate with me in the Saturday anti-Trump women’s march on Feb. 21. Some right-to-life women who otherwise oppose Trump have decided not to participate, as the march apparently includes “right-to-choose” in its platform. I did not even know there was a formal platform; I thought we were just protesting Trump and his presidency. As an adoptive parent, I don’t consider abortion rights my issue, but whatever his position on that issue, I am against Trump and will join the march all the way.

Fiona Apple released an aptly named song, “Tiny Hands,” (“We don’t want your tiny hands anywhere near our underpants”) to be sung at the women’s march.

Trump’s supporters, many of whom opposed Obama on every turn as an “illegitimate” president not born in the US, bristle when that same label is applied to him. Republicans both in Congress and volunteers in state campaigns are now touting “unity” and “coming together” to make the Trump presidency successful on behalf of our country. Should we support his policies and actions that we totally oppose? That question answers itself. Obama is leaving the presidency with 60% approval rating compared to Trump’s abysmal 40% as he enters.

Leaving soon again for Honduras—will keep you posted. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Broken Heart Syndrome, Russian Hacking, Inaugural Parade, Obama’s Legacy, Israeli Settlements, South Sudan, Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, Pending TV Appearance

Scenes from today, January 7, 2017, before and after the first snowfall of the season, hardly enough to make a snowman! The flowers struggling before the snow came are now done for and tomorrow when the sun comes out, the snow, such as it is, will be gone.

Actress Debbie Reynolds, who died suddenly of a stroke a day after her daughter Carrie Fisher had reportedly died of heart failure, probably succumbed to a broken heart. At least, that was my immediate assessment as a mother who has lost a child—also a grownup child; but it’s still your child. In research about that for my two memoirs, I discovered that in the acute phase of grief, physical changes in the heart can occur—so-called “broken-heart syndrome” or stress-induced cardiomyopathy. A stroke is not the same as a heart attack, but both are spasms of the circulatory system that keeps us alive from one second to another, even more essential than breathing. Such a sudden death after a losing a loved one also often occurs when a long-time spouse dies, especially if the first death is sudden and unexpected.  (After I came to my “broken-heart” conclusion about those back-to-back celebrity deaths, the pundits began weighing in to agree.)

In a 2016 study published in the Annals of Epidemiology, researchers found that parents had an increased risk of dying up to three years after their child's death, compared with parents who had not lost children. Deaths among bereaved parents because of coronary artery problems were especially high.

President Obama took steps against Russian election hacking, but only after the fact, too late to reverse our woeful election outcome. https://www.yahoo.com/tech/stop-doing-read-newly-declassified-report-russia-election-222404568.html

There has been a clamor for Obama to pardon Edward Snowden, which I sincerely hope won’t happen. Putin is a master manipulator who seems to have won over Donald Trump, a political novice. He may have seen Trump’s inexperience and incompetence as his chance to help recover Russian glory and seek vengeance for western “meddling” in his sphere, Eastern Europe and Ukraine. Trump’s presidency looks not only woeful on domestic policy but also on foreign policy. The Republican Party, now holding all the cards, will either rise to the occasion or fall via its own collective incompetence.

However, I do agree with Trump that not retaliating immediately, as the US had expected, was a smart move by Putin, especially with a more friendly and possibly easily manipulated president—who may owe his victory to Putin—now coming into office. We must view the Trump presidency as an unfortunate freak national accident, a calamity that we must fight to overcome and to recover from.

The Peace Corps was turned down in its application to march in Trump’s inaugural parade—his loss. This parade is going to be one of the shortest on record, with no DC-area bands asking to participate for the first time in recent memory.

Apart from choosing simply inappropriate or adverse cabinet and agency heads and advisers, Trump seems to want to reward loyalists such a Mitch McConnell’s wife, Kellyanne Conway’s husband, and his own son-in-law with government positions, never mind conflicts of interest and he seems unconcerned about his own business interest conflicts, nor do the Republican Party and Republican voters seem to care either. He charged a stiff price for attendance at a New Year’s Eve party at his Florida estate. He wanted to rake in the money while he still could. Trump’s incessant tweeting habit, appropriate for someone with a short attention span, is not the best way to run a presidency either, but he says he plans to keep it up. Tweeting is his bully pulpit, used to tweak defense contractors and corporation heads alike, who, so far, have seemed to respond. I’m sure tweeting makes Trump feel powerful, like a kid with a toy gun going “bang-bang.” After a while, tweeting may lose its luster in terms of its effects.

Before the election, the New Yorker ran a cover showing 2 alternative scenarios: Hillary Clinton taking the oath of office with Bill standing by, then Donald Trump, with a smirking Vladimir Putin as witness. The latter is what really happened. Then the very week of the election, just before the actual voting day, a clever cover showed a man on the subway reading an open newspaper whose headline said, “Oh God, Please No.” Whichever result later happened, that image and that headline would fit the bill—either confirmation of previous anxiety or great relief.

The Republicans and Trump say they plan to keep their promise to repeal Obamacare on “Day One,” but, it turns out, their plan is to announce its repeal and replacement, but probably to delay the actual change while they work things out. Kellyanne Conway, perhaps channeling Trump, has said that no one who is satisfied with their current health insurance will lose it. If so, that’s reassuring. Replacement could take years. Meanwhile, Obamacare is still in place. Republicans may thus fulfill their campaign promise without really doing so, at least not yet. They are finding replacement is not so easy and outright repeal is impossible. The horse has already left the barn. The ACA has already moved health care from primarily fee-for-service (the more service, the better for a practitioner’s payments) to outcomes’ based care. A report in the NYTimes on health care focus groups indicates that most people’s complaints against Obamacare are that their costs are too high—they want the same coverage or better at a lower cost. Can Trump and the Republicans deliver on that?

I keep hoping (imaginary wish fulfillment?) that Trump may not be quite as crazy as he seems and is playing with us by seeming totally uninformed and outrageous, getting publicity, and arousing his base. Then when he does something relatively normal, like advise Republican Congressmen to back off their plan to gut ethics oversight, we are pleasantly surprised. Also, we human beings tend to adjust to adverse circumstances. After accidents, job losses, romantic breakups, or even deaths of loved ones, while we still acknowledge and feel the effects, they do soften over time. So that may happen with President Trump, as we come to regard him as the “new normal.”

As President Obama leaves office and takes up residence for a time in our fair city of Washington, DC, we wonder what tasks he and his wife will undertake. We have not heard much about their future plans, only that Michelle has no desire to run for office (she did her best for 8 years, but seems to definitely be glad that it’s over.) I don’t see them retiring, as GW and Laura Bush have done. Barack Obama did quite well as president overall, given the almost visceral opposition of the Republican Party to anything he proposed. Where I fault him most is in regard to Syria, where his reluctance to commit more airpower or troops by a war-weary USA was understandable. But it does seem that the bloodshed there and Russia’s support of Assad, a proven butcher of his own people, could and should have been prevented. I would count Syria as the greatest foreign affairs failure of the Obama administration.

Democrats’ greatest domestic failure was not enough focus on local and state races where Republicans have cleaned up and have re-set district boundaries. So Democrats will need to focus locally and, in Congress, to grill Trump’s picks for office with sufficient rigor that the press picks it up to inform voters. The electorate needs to keep informed and the media is crucial for that. Donald Trump can rail all he wants against the “crooked media,” but it’s more essential than ever to arouse and educate an uninformed electorate. We are now seeing how easily voters can be influenced by fake news and false statements—lies really—by Donald Trump, all the more reason to support genuine news sources. Of course, my pet peeve as a citizen of Washington, DC, is that we don’t have any congressional voting representation. Nor are Republicans likely to let us have it—ditto for Puerto Rico’s bid to become a state, another potential Democratic stronghold.

As for Hillary Clinton, while she put up a good fight against enormous and rather freakish odds and while the majority who voted for her, many women and girls—and men, too—are angry and disappointed that she won’t take office, her presidential ambitions do seem to be finished. She will have to find a new role; it’s hard to imagine just what, but she should not retire completely. Polls show her to be the woman most admired by Americans, so she needs to find a political platform before her influence fades. After aspiring to the presidency, she would not want to go back to a lower elective office, but that might still be her best bet if she wants to remain in public service. Or perhaps she can team up with Michelle Obama in an outreach to girls. I think that she and Bill are wise to plan to attend Trump’s inauguration, hard as that may be. She should not be a sore loser, even though her loss seems unfair.

Or Hillary may decide to simply retire from politics to become a grandmother, write a best-selling memoir that reveals Trump’s true colors, and give speeches here and abroad on behalf of the Clinton Foundation and other causes. Even outside politics, she would have plenty to occupy her time and energy. She also lives in a very picturesque little town and is beloved by her neighbors, who often ran into her and Bill out walking their dog during the sad days after the election. A neighboring house was bought for her daughter’s family. Maybe Chelsea will one day run for office?

Now, even after North Carolina’s disastrous experience with a “bathroom bill,” some in Texas want to try it there. Apparently, unknown to me, transgender people have existed—with or without surgery or hormones—and have been using public bathrooms all these years. Do we women really fearfully scrutinize anyone who looks taller than usual or otherwise not typically feminine using a public restroom? I haven’t heard of cases of a man in drag using a women’s restroom in order to sexually assault women, though when and if such cases occur, the guy should be arrested. Are people supposed to show their birth certificates when entering a restroom? This whole issue is a tempest in a teapot.

Little has been said about Dylann Roof’s family, who don’t seem to be rushing publicly to his defense. However, there is a brief mention of his troubled family past in Wikipedia and he is said to have written his mother a letter of apology.

Here’s a provocative and seemingly accurate article about inequality in Honduras: http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/trend-lines/20856/why-honduras-remains-latin-america-s-most-unequal-country

Say it isn’t so: “In Zimbabwe, a First Lady Exerts Her Power(NY Times, Jan. 7, 2017) Grace Mugabe, the wife of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, is one of the main actors maneuvering to succeed him. [After Zimbabweans having waited patiently for Mugabe to die, the prospect of his wife taking over later is unnerving, especially as she looks rather young in photos.]

Regarding the US abstention in the Security Council and John Kerry’s frank diatribe against Israeli settlements, it seems obvious that settlements do endanger the “two-state solution” since they encroach on land destined for a Palestinian homeland. We’re talking here about a fight over dividing up a very small piece of territory—Israel-Palestine—a fight that has gone nowhere now for decades due to failings on both sides. Appeals to the Bible and supposed divine promises made thousands of years ago to Jews do not hold much sway with today’s Muslims, whether Palestinians or citizens of Muslim majority nations surrounding present-day Israel. Also, for the US to have continued to support Israel, right or wrong, on the settlements issue would have increased the image of the US as an international bully. Breaking that reputation was one of the same reasons that Obama made the outreach to Cuba. The US had also signed a very generous 10-year aid package to Israel beforehand. Of course, Trump seems to have a different view of Israeli settlements—we shall see—and Israel’s claims and actions are certainly supported by American evangelicals, so the UN abstention and Kerry’s speech may have created a backlash, at least temporarily, among lawmakers of both parties. Certainly Netanyahu seems to feel, as does Putin, that he has an ally in Trump. It will be interesting to see how much Trump changes the Republican Party and vice versa.

South Sudan and the senseless ethnic war taking place there seriously concern me because of my mission in 2006, before independence 5 years later. All the efforts to establish a new nation have been wiped away. Apparently President Salva Kiir, the man in the black hat, has the upper hand, so will he and his forces stop now?

Venezuela has now instituted a food rationing system similar to the one Cuba has had ever since 1962, providing limited items monthly via a ration book called a libreta de abastecimiento [provisions booklet], while Venezuela calls its version carnet de la patria [homeland carnet].

Haiti certifies presidential victory of first-time candidate
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – An electoral tribunal in Haiti has certified the presidential election victory of first-time candidate Jovenel Moise. [Apparently, there were many candidates and a small percentage of the electorate actually voted, so it’s unclear how much support he actually has.]

Regarding Cuba, my special interest as expressed in my Confessions book and my Amnesty International volunteer efforts over the years, Trump may have won Florida in part because of his promise to roll back Obama’s diplomatic accords. However, my advice to Trump now (if he would take it) would be to keep the diplomatic opening and to continue to encourage non-political educational, sports, artistic, and cultural exchanges. But, do not further relax the embargo unless there are concessions on the Cuban side, of which, so far, there have been few to none. Instead, allow US business investment in Cuba, provided such businesses are free to hire, fire, and pay their own workers directly. Of course, such workers would be paid more than the miserable salaries paid by the Cuban government, which could only get its cut through personal taxation, which in all fairness should not exceed the current maximum of 50%. Otherwise, the government would have the same problem it has now of workers not willing to put in much effort, because the leadership takes most of the fruits of their labor. Already, licensed home businesses are taxed up to 50%, but even at that high rate, working for real wages would boost both workers’ rights and wellbeing and still enrich the leadership at 50%, though not perhaps at the 90+% it now enjoys. There is a precedent in that Cuba permitted Indian workers to build a French hotel and to be paid more monthly than a Cuban worker would earn in a whole year. Call the new system “enhanced socialism” or whatever the leadership likes. Already it calls home businesses “work outside the government sector,” not private enterprise.

Cuba should also permit and encourage more production by individual farmers or truly locally organized autonomous cooperatives, with most of the benefit—and, yes, the profits—going to farmers themselves. It is totally unnecessary for a land-rich country like Cuba to have to import most of its food. Get the Peace Corps in there to help Cuban farmers recover their agricultural skills, as I first proposed in the Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-e-joe/peace-corps-in-cuba-you-h_b_6581182.html

This implies that the Cuban leadership would have to allow a relaxation, but it must do something to permit and incentivize workers to produce something of value besides rum and cigars. The leadership (dictatorship) will not remain in power unless it loosens up a bit, even if that seems risky from its own viewpoint. Venezuelan oil donations have been reduced and the Cuban economy, already on life support, is contracting even further. Now that Fidel is gone and Raul is retiring in 2018, the Cuban Communist Party needs to face reality and slightly relax its controls if it wants to survive. Still call the new system “socialism,” just as China and Vietnam do, and maintain one-party political control as they do, but allow ordinary people at least some economic freedom even though they may not be free to vote, speak, write, assemble, or access information. Most people, even in the U.S., care more about economic than civil or political rights. It’s admittedly a half-measure, but better than nothing, which is what Cubans have now, neither political freedom nor economic wellbeing. Some would say that proposing such a mixed system is defeatist, others simply realistic.

Some have argued that the reluctance of the Cuban regime to allow reforms is based on fear due to the proximity and size of the US and the “Revolution’s” historic mistrust of and opposition to the “Empire.” The large US-based diaspora, a crucial economic player through massive remittances, also influences US policy and may, through example and visits, encourage political discontent and dissent among its Cuban-based family members. That’s a risk the leadership will have to take because it faces the risk of even more widespread discontent and dissent if it continues on the current path.

Cuban authorities conducted a big military parade in Havana with marchers shouting threats against President Obama:

Here’s a Cuban exile’s view of Cuba’s recent big military show: The military parade instead of a message to Trump was one for the internal opposition. It said "If you mess with us well obliterate you!" Certainly the Cuban military, whatever its capacities, would be no match for the US if we really wanted to take over Cuba. The Bay of Pigs was botched and not a good example of American military prowess—rather, it was a ragtag bunch of exiles improperly armed and without air backup whose defeat was not a real test of Cuban military might. The Cuban military, given the size of the country and its resources, is really quite capable. It did well in African wars. But it could not withstand a serious attack by the US today, especially if drones and air power were involved.

The military marchers shouted rather scary threats against President Obama, referring to mortars and bullets being sent to him. The soldiers could not have recited that chant without the express permission or orders from the top brass. That Obama’s name was mentioned but not that of Putin’s pal Trump may indicate the Cuban regime is seeking Russian aid once again.

There is a danger to the regime after Fidel's death and Raul's retirement, although Raul will keep hands-on behind the scenes. Still, he is not immortal either and the Cuban economy is shrinking even as American visitors and exile remittances flood the island. Those seem to be the mainstays of the economy now. If Trump imposes conditions on their continuance, the regime may have to yield, while protesting all the way. 

One good sign for the Cuban economy, the first Cuban exports to the US, a special type of charcoal from a local hardwood tree called “marabu.”

A Cuban exile friend wishes that the polemics around whether Fidel was a good or bad guy would fade—he hopes that the very memory of Fidel will fade—so that Cuba can then get down to business. But I feel that it will take some time for the polemics around Castro to die down. The Cuban government would like his (good) reputation to keep them afloat, while some exiles would like his (bad) reputation to be used against the current leadership. Time will tell whether he becomes a bad guy, like Stalin, or an apparently officially revered guy, like Mao. 

The Peace Corps Association is planning a trip to Cuba again this year. It’s good to keep the idea of Peace Corps going in Cuba. Remember that I hope to live to see the day when volunteers are welcome in Cuba, as in China and Vietnam, so Cuba, get used to it! If I’m still around and not too old when that happens, I’d like to be among those pioneering volunteers. (The oldest PC volunteer I know of was 86.)

Here is a frank and seemingly realistic article by a recent American visitor to Cuba: http://www.businessinsider.com/cuba-fidel-castro-death-changes-2016-12

A friend has sent me a card saying "You Can Do It!" to help me move forward on the daunting task of planning and actually carrying out my Honduras trip. I know I will go, but often at this stage, I start thinking that I really don't have to go and maybe it's time to stop. Once I am actually there, it looks do-able again. I will keep that card to inspire me if and when I go back in 2018.

I’ve been invited to appear on a Spanish-language Miami TV station to talk about Cuba on my return from my annual February trip to Honduras and, if I decide to do it, I will say pretty much what I’ve said here, though some Cuban-born viewers may disagree, those who prefer to completely roll back the US-Cuba accords.

Finally, Trump’s assumption of the presidency is a sober reminder that we never know what will happen next and, while we try to maintain hope and keep up our spirits, that we can fail as well as succeed. Truth, honesty, justice, and other positive virtues do not always win out and sometimes matters actually get worse instead of better, so we may have to brace ourselves for that, even as we try to reverse the current political course.