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. 

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