Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipse, Peace Corps, Reverse Culture Shock, Cuba, Gay Divorce, Trump Again, Julian Assange

Stephen from Nigeria just sent me this photo from late July of us on "graduation day" at GAO with the director there.

On Monday, Aug. 21, we saw a slight afternoon darkening--whether from clouds or the eclipse or our imagination, hard to tell, probably a little of each. My neighbor came out and we took a selfie with the sun behind, but if there was any encroachment by the moon on the sun here in Washington, DC, it was very slight—just a little nick. Later, we read that even a selfie with the eclipse behind is dangerous to look at because of radiation to your eyes from the screen, but we didn’t notice any effect. Donald Trump said he looked right at it. I recall having been in a bigger partial eclipse, but don’t recall when or where.

Under a directive from the Trump administration, Peace Corps is to cut 20 percent of its workforce, mainly by not filling positions vacated when employees meet the five-year employment limit. When asked about the proposed cuts to the Peace Corps budget, Acting Director Sheila Crowley focused on the positive. Peace Corps maintains tremendous bipartisan support, she said, and while we’re facing a reduction, she is confident that Peace Corps will not only maintain current numbers of volunteers, but make small incremental increases. Crowley acknowledged, “We won’t make 10,000 volunteers by 2018, but we can grow strategically.”

The following article describes reverse culture shock and how to soften it by maintaining connections with your ex-pat country, something I highlighted in my Honduras Peace Corps book. I certainly maintain connections with my ex-pat country by returning yearly to Honduras as a medical brigade volunteer, having Spanish-speaking friends, and working part-time as a Spanish interpreter (and by writing books and also articles for Huffington Post and giving talks about my Latin America and Peace Corps experiences). Two of my kids live in Hawaii and I've thought of moving there when we are in the depths of winter, but then I'd have to give up my interpretation work and annual visits to Honduras, as it would costly and impractical to continue that. 
I have been busy in my role as Amnesty Int’l USA in writing asylum support letters  for both DR and Cuba asylum  applicants, the 

Angola has rejected the offer of Cuba to send 200 medical personnel there, apparently because of the high price requested by the Cuban government, which keeps most of the earnings of the medical staff it sends to overseas missions.

If there is gay marriage, inevitably there will also be gay divorce, as a close friend is finding out, after 8 years f marriage and much longer in the relationship. But this guy is getting his due in a property settlement, very good.

The worst thing Trump could have done regarding Venezuela was to threaten to take military action—how and on what grounds, pray tell? Immediately, he gave Maduro an excuse to jail opponents and alienated Latin American countries opposed to Maduro who would have otherwise been our allies there. He keeps putting his foot in his mouth while others in his administration, like poor Pence traveling around the region, have had to try to do clean-up while not antagonizing Trump himself.  

Although other Confederate symbols, statues, and flags needed to be gone as they are hurtful, on this forum, I once said I did not think it necessary to remove all of Robert E. Lee's statues, as he was an important historic figure, and, from all accounts, a good leader, though on the wrong side of history and also a slave owner. On the other hand, now that Lee’s statues have been shown to be magnets for neo-Nazis, it may be best to get rid of them or else move them to a museum. After Charlottesville, it may be best to take them all out, especially Lee’ statue there that will, inevitably, become a symbol. Of course, Trump, who concocted birtherism, has railed against Muslims, and invited Bannon into his inner circle, has tried hard to avoid denouncing his core supporters. (But he can get back into their graces by pardoning racist former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.) Trump finally, two days later after Charlottesville, condemned neo-Nazis, probably under pressure from his new chief of staff and maybe from Ivanka and Jerod as well—he read a statement written out for him in a deadpanned voice. Then, after getting backlash from white supremacists, he went back to saying “both sides” were at fault and to blaming the “alt-left.” Trump lies so much and makes such extreme pronouncements that if he ever told the truth or said something sincere and normal, we wouldn’t believe it. It’s a bit late for him to reform and if he did, we wouldn’t trust his word anyway. He’s already revealed himself to be a liar through and through. He likes to pick public fights with everybody outside his own family.

Richmond, capital of the Confederacy, has a whole avenue of Confederate statues, so that poses an even bigger problem. A proposal has been floated there to put up statues of opposing historical figures—John Brown, Harriet Tubman, maybe even Abraham Lincoln, on the same plots—to give balance. In Durham, NC, a Confederate statue was toppled to the ground. In Maryland, most Confederate statues were summarily removed. We may also have some in here in DC.

As the alt-right and neo-Nazis have grown bolder under Trump, the opposition to them grows stronger too, leading to inevitable clashes. The country becomes more divided than ever and moderate and conciliatory voices are being drowned out. Bannon may be a casualty of this divide—if so, good riddance to him. He’s already done enough damage. Trump’s speech on Afghanistan, because he stuck to the script, was not too bad and shows the possible result of Bannon’s exit, since, unlike Trump’s promises during the campaign to get out of Afghanistan, now he is committing more troops, perhaps under the influence of all the generals with whom he has surrounded himself, but without specifics. It sounds now like an open-ended commitment. Will his reversal upset his diehard supporters? Probably not most of them, who worship Trump, the man, whatever he says or does.

There are speculations that if the Mueller probe gets too uncomfortable for Trump, he may quit the presidency, as he already seems to be tired of it and not having any fun. He would rather quit—after declaring that his was the most effective and awesome presidency ever—than be “fired,” that is, impeached or censured. Then he can go around the country holding lovefests with his supporters and playing golf along the way. Also appearing on the network, Trump TV, that he has reportedly launched.

A president elected by a minority of voters, and whose support grows smaller every day, is bound to engender resentment, especially when he supports policies that favor his minority. For now, Trump’s handlers seem to have put something of a break on his twitter account and convinced him to only give scripted speeches. That would help dampen down calls for him to undergo a mental health check or to be impeached. Fox News host Tucker Carlson praised Trump for looking at the sun during the eclipse without protective glasses as "perhaps the most impressive thing any president has ever done." Was that tongue-in-cheek?

In a recent issue of the New Yorker, there is a long article about Julian Assange who readily takes credit or blame for Trump’s presidential victory and Hillary’s defeat, along with the crucial massive data dump by Sgt. Manning. Thanks to them both, we are now suffering. So may Assange remain in the prison of his own making and may the UK Ecuadorian Embassy be stuck with him, since it offered him refuge. Assange laments not being with his children (I don’t how many he has or their ages, but he apparently wasn’t living with them anyway). They can always visit him at the embassy, I presume.

Friday, August 11, 2017

First Day at New School, Memoriam for Anna Adams, Benghazi, Anyone? What about Monica? Democrats—Get a Grip!

Already, my great-grandson De'Andre has started 4th grade in his new school in Florida, where he moved with his mother, granddaughter Natasha, in July. His teacher looks like a friendly lady.

Last time, I mentioned the death of my friend Anna Adams, just days before we were planning to celebrate her 80th birthday. She had a “green” burial without a funeral service. Here is something about her from my book Triumph & Hope: Golden Years with the Peace Corps in Honduras (pp189-190):

Another stateside visitor was Anna, whom I hadn’t seen since we were teenagers together in Colombia. After almost 50 years apart, we hardly recognized each other, but with our first embrace, it was like old times again. Valiant Anna, who still remembered Spanish, joined me on a medical brigade to La Ceiba, where a child’s father admired her beautiful blue eyes and begged her to marry him despite being already married, a rather minor detail.                  

On a side trip, Anna and I passed by some spikey pineapple fields en route to a mountaintop resort, Pico Bonito, where wild monkeys and toucans chattered overhead, then visited a Garífuna fishing village called Sambo Creek, and ended up eating at a Ceiba watering hole called Expatriates’ Bar. Next day, at a butterfly farm set among fragrant-blossomed orange trees, a crested lizard darted across our path, black birds with yellow wings flitted up to high-hanging nests, and flocks of wild parakeets chirped noisily overhead. We sampled bitter cocoa fruit and seeds, scarcely resembling processed chocolate.  

Back in El Triunfo, Anna contributed $35 to outfit Marina’s maid Sarita with prescription eyeglasses. When Sarita first donned the glasses, she marveled at the crisp, tiny details of flowers and insects never seen before.

Trump’s incitements to violence against Muslims, his urging of police to “rough up” suspects, do have real world consequences, such as with the attack on mosque in suburban Minneapolis. His threats on health care and uncertainty about the future of the ACA have led to premium hikes and triggered the very problems he direly predicted. Meanwhile, out playing golf on his so-called “working vacation,” he should put his twitter phone away.

Pence is wise to totally distance himself from speculations about a 2020 presidential run of his own, since for him to arouse even the slighest breath of suspicion of disloyalty toward Trump would put him immediately on the blacklist. He is in a very delicate position.

Where have Jared and Ivanka been? They were thought to be a moderating force. It will be interesting to see what sort of reception daughter Tiffany gets from other students when she starts at Georgetown Law School next fall. Being a Trump offspring is definitely a two-edged sword.

Trump likes to pivot to Hillary Clinton’s e-mails whenever asked a hard question about his own policies; now, reportedly Kelleyanne Conway has pivoted way back to Benghazi. Next, it’s going to be Monica Lewinsky.

However, as some pundits have warned, a national emergency, like 9/11, which put unpopular GW Bush over the top for a second term, could rescue Trump from the doldrums and have the citizenry rallying around him. Trump is already bungling his way into inciting a possible conflict with Iran and/or North Korea, which not only would be catastrophic in itself, but like GW Bush’s incursion into Iraq, actually win him a legitimate second term. The North Korean leader’s wild nuclear threats should not be met with the same from our side. Two crazies facing off, each with nuclear weapons, that’s very scary. Hillary warned during the campaign about having someone as unpredictable and unstable as Trump with his finger in the nuclear trigger. The stock market reacted negatively. Will I actually live to see the end of the Trump administration, something which is sadly affecting my daily mood and well-being? And there are millions more in the same situation.

Democrats desperately need an understandable platform or message and a dark horse presidential candidate—not Hillary, not Biden, not Elizabeth Warren, I fear, perhaps too far left, but still very likeable and smart and a woman! We women got cheated last time. Maybe she could actually make it?

“A Better Deal” trotted out as the new Democratic Party slogan does not grab listeners the way “Make American Great Again” has done. Democrats need to do better than that. Someone from Maryland has put his hat into the 2020 presidential ring, but the fact that I cannot even remember his name shows how much steam his candidacy has gathered so far. Tim Kane, though he was not stellar in his one national pre-election debate, is certainly a possibility too. As for the message, it should include something about not falling into a dictatorship, which seems to be what Trump is aiming for by making anyone who opposes him into an enemy; trying to gain control of the media; promoting jobs, protections, and benefits for himself and his family; falsifying data; controlling the electoral process; and withholding government subsidies and authorizations from those he does not like.

Jesuits close to Pope Francis are concerned about right-wing Catholic supporters of Donald Trump, according to a recent interview on NPR.  https://www.yahoo.com/news/m/376acfa0-5dda-37de-a678-f0fa9a0344dd/ss_vatican-addresses-catholic.html (Apparently Catholics voted for Hillary by a slim margin.)

Someone freezing their head at death in case it can be thawed out later and grafted onto another (someone else’s) body is a fanciful and silly idea. Let’s assume it would work (very doubtful, at least with today’s knowledge); while it might be quite interesting for them to emerge later into a world that’s moved on from when they first “died,” once again, they will face the prospect of death. As far as we know, nothing is forever except maybe space-time itself. Everything, ourselves included, has a beginning and an end, earth and all the planets, even the sun and the stars. It could be argued that already some people are living too long, losing mental and physical faculties, not doing anything useful or even interesting in life, in a word, becoming bored and boring and needing a lot of help from others just to survive every day. We are creating societies of more people who need care and who are not contributing. That doesn’t seem wise. I will say that even if I end being one of them—hope not. Once I’ve started a steep decline, I’d like to go quickly for the good of all concerned, including myself. (Ask me again when that actually happens.)

Now, on the 72nd anniversary of American atom bombs being dropped on Japanese cities, I recall that even as child, I never accepted that as a right and moral action, something that sullied Truman’s reputation for me for evermore.

Reporters without Borders has asked me to post the following:

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Peace Corps, Bravo McCain, Interpretation Agency Farewell, Cuba, Guns, Trump (still in office, unfortunately), Abortion Issue, A Death Foretold

[Hope this posting is correct now--somehow, the whole thing ended up in title and I had to remove it the first time around.]
I recommend the following article, written by the parent of a Peace Corps volunteer, that appeared in the Raleigh Observer in North Carolina,

Bravo to Sen. John McCain in the twilight of his career for doing the right thing in voting against the Republicans’ so-called health care bill. He has been considered a maverick because of his sometimes quirky statements and actions, but the maverick came through heroically this time. Notice that while Senator Murkowski and her whole state are being mercilessly berated and threatened by Trump, he has made no such threats against McCain or against Arizona—very hard to personally attack a war hero, former Republican presidential candidate, and now probably terminally ill popular elected official. Meanwhile, besides the Trump administration keeping the health care market in a turmoil of uncertainty, the ACA website continues to trash its own product by posting complaints about “Obamacare” and not providing helpful information, in line with the Trump effort to sabotage federal agencies and programs from within—let the fox into the henhouse, then complain that the henhouse is not secure. It’s probably too much of a stretch for Republican lawmakers to actually heed McCain’s call to reach across the aisle to improve the flaws in Obamacare.

See a nice message below from a hospital nurse, where I no longer work as a Spanish interpreter because they switched to a much cheaper service making it not worth my time to work for the amount the new interpretation agency is offering. The new pay scale allows a native Spanish-speaker working their way up from child care and house cleaning to interpreting, particularly a non-citizen, to take my place and be satisfied with a lower payment, so more power to those taking over my position (though these new interpreters are not tested for their ability, especially in English and for knowledge of medical terms). I still am interpreting elsewhere, but after 13 years at that hospital, I do miss working there.

It was such a pleasure working with you. You were so good to us and most importantly our patients. You will be missed. I know that you will provide excellent services for those who need you. You should also be paid more because you are worth so much. Please let us know how you are doing.

The young man who came through Mexico alone as an unaccompanied minor, for whom I interpreted at an asylum interview, was not approved, so now must go before an immigration judge. His lawyer said these days, fewer asylum requests than before are being granted.

Here’s one of the main arguments I made in my Confessions book about Latin American leaders’ support of Fidel Castro, stated cogently by commentator Jose Azel in the Miami Herald:
Given the abject failure of Cuba’s socioeconomic model, the sycophancy of Latin American leaders towards the Cuban leadership is perhaps best explained as a petulant form of anti-Americanism. It is not that the Cuban revolution has accomplished much for the Cuban people; it has not. It is that the Castros have successfully confronted the goliath of the North. That seems to be what Latin American leaders’ value from the disastrous Cuban experiment.

The Cuban military, which already controls most of the economy, is moving further. The experiment with licensed self-employment seems on the wane. The Cuban military has already dispossessed the license holders in the lucrative central Havana tourist area and now new self-employment licenses are not being issued.  

As Amnesty Int’l USA’s volunteer Caribbean coordinator, I have had 2 cases of Cuban asylum applicants being held in Immigration detention since the end of wet-foot/dry-foot. The case I am testifying for right now was sent to the USSR to study, then later became disaffected. His brother, also a dissident, died under mysterious circumstances. This man also once helped Oswaldo Paya, a prominent Cuba dissident (whom I once met) who also was killed under suspicious circumstances. Raul Castro has been doubling down against so-called self-employed licensees, no longer granting licenses and driving them out of central Havana so the Cuban military can take over that lucrative tourist market. Meanwhile, Venezuela, Cuba’s oil benefactor, continues to implode under directions from Havana, periling Cuba’s oil subsidies. The Cuban leadership in Venezuela is cutting off its nose to spite its face.

State Dept, is considering removing “democracy promotion” from its mission statement:
Having a gun in hand seems to make it more likely that anyone—including a police officer—will use that gun. It sounds as though the woman in Minneapolis killed by a police officer might have startled him when she approach the police car and apparently hit the side. Although tasers can occasionally be lethal, that’s much less likely, but they can still disable someone temporarily, so police should use a taser first and a gun only as a last resort. While perhaps personal civilian gun possession has been declared a “right” (though not so considered until fairly recently), isn’t protection from being killed or injured by a gun also a right? What about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Trump needs to learn about probabilities, if, at age 71, he is capable of learning anything at all, since he thinks already knows everything and considers himself “very smart.” Any outcome is a matter of probabilities--never 100% certain. Yes, sometimes an undocumented person has killed an American citizen, but does that mean all undocumented or even a significant number are potential killers? The likelihood of a US-born person killing someone is statistically much greater. Likewise, while occasionally a male college student is falsely accused of rape and should be exonerated, many more college rapes occur that are never reported or where no action is taken. While an infinitesimal number of people may have voted illegally (and may have even voted for Trump!), many more potential voters have been turned away or discouraged from voting.

Stephen Colbert went to Moscow to the hotel room where Donald Trump is rumored to have engaged in “pee-pee” or a “golden shower” with Russian prostitutes, something filmed that could be used by Putin to blackmail Trump, although Trump supporters are so diehard that they would probably dismiss it as “fake news.” When I first heard about this alleged event, I thought it meant the prostitutes let Trump urinate on them, but now, it seems, it was the other way around, them peeing on him as lay on the bed or maybe he had another role while watching them pee on the bed (let’s hope they changed the mattress later). 

A more likely blackmail threat to Trump from Russia beyond just sex hijinks would be revelations about business contacts and involvements.

A former Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, Greg Andres is now part of Mueller’s investigation team.

Certainly, things have been interesting—even entertaining—with Trump in the presidency, though with some dire consequences for the country and the world (and for the Republican Party). If Trump actually told the truth about anything, would we even believe him?

Can Trump legally pardon all his family members and associates and even pardon himself? The latter seems like a stretch. Could Nixon have pardoned himself? Or Bill Clinton have done so, for that matter? Of course, Trump doesn’t care how that would look if he did try to do it. He is impervious to outside opinions of his own actions, which, in his eyes, are always successful anyway. And he doesn’t seem capable of planning ahead or doing strategic thinking. For example, he has simply told Republican lawmakers to fix the health care problem, but he had no plans or ideas about how to do that, nor does he seems to care what (Republican) governors want or about Congressional Republicans’ reelection prospects. Probably in his businesses, he simply told his underlings to go “fix” things and if they did not, they were fired. That may be what will happen to Sessions, despite support for him from Gingrich and others (Gingrich is also promoting his new book about Trump).

A foul-mouthed, uncensored Anthony Scaramucchi combined with an unfettered tweeter like Trump, now there was a nasty combination. General John Kelly seems to have taken charge now by getting rid of Scaramucchi. So maybe “Mooch’s” wife can withdraw her divorce filing.

Whew! Trump has announced that he is going on vacation—after all, he’s “worked” so hard! That may give us a respite, thank goodness. I wish the rest of his folks would take a long vacation. Life is already hard enough—why let a deliberately vengeful minority make it worse for everybody else? I have never seen a gang so mean, nasty, and vindictive, so gratuitously cruel and just plain liars. Like reality TV, which was Trump’s training for the presidency, not everything said is even remotely true and real.

One happening under Trump for which he may deserve some credit, is that not only did the stock market not fall, as some pundits had predicted, but in anticipation of possible tax breaks, it actually has risen.

A local high school soccer star told Immigration about his college sports scholarship and, within days, he and his brother were deported to El Salvador.  https://www.yahoo.com/news/m/f24dbf41-ea46-33fe-9af4-61113f1bd04d/ss_brothers-deported-to-el.html
Some of us--myself included--might like to imagine a future scenario whereby these egregious deportations (happening in every state) might be reversed under some special amnesty, though I agree that’s just wishful thinking and really farfetched.  While some folks might cheer “getting really tough” on refugees and immigrants, many more of us are appalled and hurt. What about majority rule? We might even stipulate that as a condition of their return, these folks would have to spend a certain amount of time in a region that is losing population, including some of the strongholds of “deplorables.” That way, the latter might find they have some common ground with immigrants.  

What’s the point of most of the Trump administrations actions? How do they benefit the rest of us? I could not feel very sorry for Jeff Sessions when Trump was running him down because Sessions has been so relentlessly racist, so devoid of human sentiment, playing to the worst instincts of Trump’s shrinking base. He’s a funny-looking little man with no power of communication or self-confidence who nonetheless managed to be elected to the Senate and now has glommed onto Trump, hanging on for dear life. Must the rest of the American people remain hostages of what Hillary Clinton rightly called the “deplorables”?

This is cute spoof of Trump immigration policies, featuring the statue of liberty, a French woman who doesn’t speak English spreading pro-immigration propaganda.

Most Americans remain hopeful about the future, despite Trump’s assumption of the presidency. Many of us are looking forward to the day when he will be gone from office, the sooner, the better. A huge cheer will go up in the US and around the world when that happens. Until then, his faithful supporters may still be expecting his promises to be fulfilled.

As both an adoptive and a birth parent, and a life-long Democrat, I agree that the Democratic Party should have a “big tent” on the abortion issue. Although I participated in the January women’s march in Washington, DC, I am not a “right-to-choose” militant. Contraception, morning-after pills, frozen embryos—no arguments there, but certainly after the first trimester, there would have to be a very strong reason (in terms of mother’s or fetal health) to undertake an abortion, a position that the majority of Americans support. If the Democratic Party wants to win (or win back) Hispanic and Catholic voters, they have to become less self-righteous and rigid on the abortion issue.

Anna Adams, whom I have known since were both age 14 and living in Colombia, has just died. We, her friends, knew she was seriously ill, but we were planning to celebrate her 80th birthday in Providence, RI, where she lived, later this month. So sorry she didn’t make it as she had made elaborate plans which we, her friends, were trying hard to fulfill. I, at least, hoped the pending birthday party might give her the will to survive that long. She visited me in Honduras when I was in the Peace Corps there and twice she and I went with other friends to spend time in Provincetown at the far end of Cape Cod. Despite COPD that required her to use a respirator, Anna remained upbeat and hopeful and mentally sharp. She miraculously survived being run over by a vehicle belonging to her assisted living facility, spent two years in the hospital recovering including the amputation of a leg, finally won a settlement against the assisted living facility, and now has died of cancer. Unfortunately, the other side stalled in going to trial, probably hoping she would die first, but she outsmarted them on that score. Yet, their stalling meant she didn’t really have much time to benefit from her settlement. She was a valiant and loyal friend.