Sunday, January 6, 2019

Senior Citizen, Shortest Day, Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuban Doctors Stay in Brazil, Venezuela, Bhutan, Child Deaths at the Border, the Wall/Shutdown, Kilauea

Now when I ride the metro, people often offer me their seat, so I must have become a proverbial “little old lady,” a bit disconcerting, but I’m still glad to have a seat on a crowded train, one of the few perks of being a senior citizen. I spent the holidays with some of my family during the holidays, minus daughter Stephanie and her husband, living in Hawaii, who went on vacation to Vietnam.  

Talk about a senior citizen, a champion in that regard is Wanda Johnson, born in Egypt in 1915 and now celebrating her 104th birthday in Vermont, where I first met her when I was a child.  I always send a basket of chewable goodies for her birthday to share with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She is very fortunate at her age to have not lost any one of them.

We in the northern hemisphere have now passed the shortest day of the year, so thankfully daylight will lengthen from now on until June 21.

The death toll due to anti-government protests in Nicaragua was nearing 500 at last count, including children, though there have been few recent reports. OAS observers have been expelled from Nicaragua, but, otherwise, Nicaragua is not so much in the news these days. I still have many contacts there, asking for my help, but have not been able to go when I am in Honduras, as I have enough logistical problems already. And my Nicaraguan friends live near Managua, far from the border and have no vehicles available to pick me up. (I will be very close to the border in El Triunfo, Honduras.)

I did what I could for Nicaragua in the 1980's in Nicaraguan refugee camps in Honduras and in the 1990 election as an observer when the opposition to Daniel Ortega united as UNO around Violeta. Nicaraguans did not learn that lesson and let Ortega get his foot in the door once again

More than 800 Cuban doctors and medical workers sent to Brazil have remained in that country after the Brazilian president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro (now in office), signaled his refusal to pay the Cuban government for their services, causing them to be called home by the Cuban government. Some will now take their chances by remaining to work in Brazil and getting paid directly.  

Meanwhile Brazil and other South American nations are being flooded with Venezuelans (and also with Cubans able to get out but no longer welcome in the US), countries not well able to absorb an influx of refugees, yet proving more hospitable than our own country. In Brazil, Venezuelan refugees also experience language barriers. Portuguese and Spanish, especially in written form, have many similarities, but are not the same when spoken, as I have found working as an interpreter and being mistakenly assigned to Portuguese-speaking client (we’ve muddled through). I have also helped Venezuelans seeking asylum here in the DC area. The tragedy of Venezuela is completely unnecessary and could be reversed with a change leadership, an object lesson for us here in the US where matters are also going downhill because of the president’s bad judgment and repeated errors.  “We arrive sick and hungry”: Venezuelans in Brazil, The Guardian

Here’s a rare article about Bhutan shared with past and current Bhutan visitors.

So many gun deaths occur daily in this country, mostly accidents, suicides, and domestic disputes. Criminal attacks or even mass shootings actually are the least of the casualties in terms of total numbers. A teen in an Atlanta suburb apparently accidentally killed his friend, then turned the gun on himself—a gun, no doubt, belonging to his parents, but too easily accessible. The parents may have thought that gun protected their family, but the opposite happened. A man fired into an Oklahoma Taco Bell because of getting the wrong sauce. A gun is lethal because of impulse and accident, only too common human attributes.

Five thousand US troops at the Mexico border to confront a ragtag group of Central American families, but 2,000 in Syria is too many? Two migrant children have died in immigration custody so far. Were they just depleted after their long trek and vulnerable to illnesses passed around in a closed setting?  Children do not belong in detention.

While the “adults” in the White House, albeit anonymously, had reassured the American public that they were controlling the worst impulses and temper tantrums of an erratic and childish president, now it seems that most of those adults are no longer around. So Trump listens to foreign leaders and talk show hosts instead. He seems blissfully unaware of his own intellectual deficiencies. He speaks without any program or practical specifics, calling people nasty names or targeting “fake news” without specifying just what those labels mean.

Trump has now become a national emergency! What about Ivanka and Jared, what about Kellyanne, can they have any moderating influence? Trump cannot fire his own daughter, but her positive influence seems to have been minimal so far. We are at a point where the president has run out of trustworthy advisers and the whole nation and the world are being subjected to his whims. The stock market is gyrating. World leaders are alarmed. The man is not a strategist, never was any sort of “deal-maker,” just a very flawed guy of below-average intelligence, puffed up now with the power of his office and running amok. If he were a fictional character, he would not be believable. Even when he had his TV “reality” show, the most he could do was to say was “You’re fired!” Hannity seems to have the most influence over Trump, first by urging the current shutdown, and now by urging him to prolong the shutdown over the wall at least until the end of the month.

Senator Chuck Schumer is right, Trump promised that Mexico would pay for his border wall, so what’s the problem? It’s not just the money, but adding substantially more walls and fences are a bad idea. We already have enough where they are needed. Maybe give Trump a really short wall that he pose in front of for a photo-op? Will spineless Republicans at last stand up against him?  Weren’t their mid-term losses in the House enough to convince them? With a few notable exceptions, such as Mitt Romney, the only Republicans apparently willing to speak out are those who have decided to quit. 

It’s somewhat encouraging to see Pence and Kushner leading the negotiations on the shutdown. Though we might not agree with them, they conduct themselves in a fairly normal fashion.

Also encouraging is that Chief Justice John Roberts has taken on the role of sometimes serving as the court’s “swing” vote and may Ruth Bader Ginsberg soon recover, though she is running on borrowed time.

This is not good news--Trump will double down on his border wall to keep them out instead of trying to implement programs to keep them at home. Mexicans are going to get tired of helping them. It's not as though Mexico can absorb large numbers. Too bad the Peace Corps left Honduras. Internal Honduran politics is involved here as well, since the migrant caravans there are reportedly being organized by folks associated with former president and now legislator Manuel Zelaya, once an ally of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. (Hondurans, like Americans, are politically divided.)
How did Trump get Mexico to agree to let US asylum seekers wait for their decisions on that side of the border? It’s a cumbersome and unprecedented system, but if it holds, Trump deserves some credit for pulling off that unlikely feat.

Is it only my wishful thinking, but is Trump losing some knee-jerk  support even among Republican voters and office holders? Republicans have already gotten much of what they wanted: massive tax cuts for corporations, judges including for the Supreme Court, deregulation, and ending environmental protections. Still remaining are abolishing Obamacare, which now seems a lost cause for Republicans, and the immigration problem, but maybe Trump is being recognized even there now as an obstacle even among Republicans? I’d like to see Democrats mount another female presidential candidate, not Hillary, who, however, who should be given a prominent role in the new administration, maybe as HHS Secretary? Will I live to see the day when the Democrats win back the presidency, despite the Republican advantage in the Electoral College? In hindsight, Hillary’s folks obviously did not pay enough attention to that.

Glad that Eleanor Holmes Norton has again introduced the DC statehood bill. Most Americans don’t realize that we don’t have Congressional representation. At least two states, Wyoming and Vermont, each with two senators and a representative, have fewer people than DC. Meanwhile a record number of Americans, especially young people, have moved out of the US since Trump’s presidency. 

An alert reader has kindly corrected my previous spelling of the name of the well-known volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, Kilauea. Spell-check didn’t catch that. If lava is no longer flowing regularly along its well-worn path into the ocean, then perhaps the island’s biggest tourist attraction is no more. It was quite spectacular, especially at night. Now, I understand that there have been some smaller lava flows, but I’m not sure how close the public can get since they apparently occur sporadically and unpredictably.
            [If this last font comes out too small again, I cannot correct it.]

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Daughter’s Birthday, Kiluea, Quiescent, Bhutan in the News, Remembering CASS, Venezuela, Syria, Weekly Standard, How Many Immigrants? The Wall, Catholic Church, My Books on Amazon This Holiday

Our family has just observed my older daughter Melanie’s birthday, celebrated on the anniversary of my late son Andrew’s passing. The holidays are always bittersweet for us.

Kiluea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island now finally seems quiescent after exploding for months and destroying many homes. For years, I and countless others have marveled at the regular lava flow plunging down in a cloud of steam into the ocean below, the flow glowing brightly at night and giving off tremendous heat. It was a spectacular sight and experience like no other. But now, it seems, the volcano is resting without any more flowing lava, just harboring a molten lava lake still glowing in the crater below, seen from the rim. But visitors must be careful about not falling in; I don’t know how close they are now allowed to go.

Bhutan is a small country with a total population of about 800,000, slightly more than Washington, DC. Somehow, I’ve gotten on Bhutan’s radar and have come to know a number of Bhutanese here in DC. But international news involving Bhutan is exceedingly rare and most Americans have never heard of that country. I am alert to any news of Bhutan, such as this:

Also, here is an article on Bhutan travel, but apart from just getting there, the daily fees mandated by the king are costly (only visitors from India are exempt, I’ve been told). Also, the weather, at least in the capital city Thimphu, is always rainy and cool or even downright cold every time I check. That probably allows tress there to grow tall, with lumber seeming to be the main industry besides tourism.

A notice from local government reached me out of the past from my tenure as board president for a local agency called Children’s Adoption Support Services (CASS). It was reminding me to renew our tax-exempt status. How much water has flowed under the bridge since we started that agency! My long-time friend Hope, a single parent pioneer who adopted three children, including one from Vietnam, was the spark behind our effort. (I once wrote about her and her children for the Washington Post.) Alas, our agency is long gone, friend Hope is no longer with us, and adoption has undergone many changes since. So, I won’t be renewing our status, but just now receiving that letter reminded me of both our victories and challenges in getting our agency underway.

On Saturday, Dec. 15, daughter Melanie and I were driving back to DC from Va. when several bridges crossing the Potomac were all blocked. Police could not tell us why. Then, the next morning, we read in the Washington Post that “Trump makes unannounced visit to Arlington National Cemetery.”

According to news reports, gun-related deaths in the US now surpass vehicle deaths.

Very sad what has happened to Venezuela, not so long ago probably the most prosperous country in Latin America thanks to its vast oil wealth. Venezuela started going downhill when Hugo Chavez assumed the presidency and began dispensing oil largess to allies, including Cuba. Under Nicolas Maduro, the nation has continued its precipitous decline. I’ve helped Venezuelan asylum seekers here, folks who once enjoyed a normal middle-class life and since were blindsided by Maduro’s incompetence, corruption, and power grab. Venezuelans (and Cubans who can get out) are fleeing to other South American countries. Those Venezuelans lucky enough to have US visas (sometimes 10-year visas issued before the worst of the crisis) are now coming here. There is an object lesson for us here in the US about not letting a populous power-hungry president destroy our democracy and our economic wellbeing.

Should the US now pull out completely out of Syria? The time doesn’t seem right. But since Trump’s surprise announcement did not mention a date, maybe there is some wiggle room there?

The Weekly Standard’s unfortunate demise strikes fear into the hearts of Republicans who dare to counter Trump. However, the tide will turn rather suddenly, I predict, and will become an anti-Trump tidal wave, even among Republicans. They will fall all over themselves to try to distance themselves, “I really never supported him.” Fortunately, Trump is not actually such an adept “dealmaker,” just a braggart, so has done less real damage than he might have intended. Most Americans will feel enormous relief when he is out of office, but some of us will also grieve for our losses. Pundits and historians will endlessly examine all that went wrong. 

158 million would-be migrants want to move to the US, the world’s top pick, including among Hondurans.
It’s not surprising that folks want to come here, Trump's policies notwithstanding. Films and TV have made the USA a desirable “dream” destination. People elsewhere with the actual means to do so (money and visas) seem less inclined to come here now with Trump in office, but poor people still imagine a land of milk and honey. Upper-class and even middle-class people abroad often appreciate being able to hire servants to care for their kids, do their housework, and guard their homes, something they could not afford in the US, so are not as inclined to move here. Of course, if everyone who wanted to come actually could, it would create an unacceptable avalanche. Still, the US could absorb and actually needs more than are coming here right now, especially among working age adults able to fill jobs and reduce our population's overall decline and aging. At the very least, those undocumented folks already here and working productively, as well as the Dreamers, should be legalized. There would be no loss in doing so. Even Trump's properties employ "illegals."   

As for how to keep so many new “illegals” from coming into the US, one way would be to increase legal immigrant visas, including with the visa lottery, won by some folks who once lived at my place, also to welcome many more refugees. We need to keep the US working-age population from declining, as has been happening in Japan and some European countries. We are not producing enough babies!

A wall is not a good optic anyway—Trump cites the example of Israel’s wall, which has not been good for that country’s reputation. Perhaps because he feels besieged by the Mueller investigation, Trump has been asserting his manhood in a tangible way by demanding a physical wall, threatening a government shutdown over a border wall promised to his ever-shrinking base of supporters. Hey, isn’t Mexico supposed to pay for the wall anyway? So, let’s say that Trump makes the government shut down happen; then what? I doubt Republicans would want that, especially as Trump is taking full ownership. (Now, at the last moment, the budget has apparently been extended into the new year, though Trump has yet to sign.)

Donald Trump, who has so often boasted about his enormous wealth, could actually offer to fund the @#$%^&* wall himself, put his own vast money where his mouth is. But a wall between Mexico and the US is not a good optic or environmentally sound; better is a see-through fence only where necessary. Speedier processing of asylum applicants and getting separated kids back with their parents should be added to any border security effort. Children should not die in custody, as has sometimes happened. But parents also bear responsibility for embarking with them on such a perilous journey.

Yet, those who seek asylum because of threats of gang violence or domestic abuse are not making unsubstantiated claims. A young Honduran man was murdered days after being deported.

Here is another challenge to Trump & Co. Judge orders deported asylum seekers to be returned to US, in a Trump administration rebuke

Instead of pledging money for a wall, the US has reportedly partnered quietly with Mexico, pledging $10 billion in aid for southern Mexico and Central America. Trump has not tweeted about this, as far as I know. It’s not clear whether this is actual money, just a loan, or a matter of moving funds around.

Mexico is also reportedly considering a $30 billion Central American investment to stop the migrant crisis. Again, after this announcement, details of an actual investment are murky. It may be loans, private donations, and/or funds already allocated for other purposes, possibly not new money.

The Trump administration does deserve some credit for agreeing to ban bump stocks, a no-brainer, also for agreeing to reduce some federal sentences.

The Fed ever so slightly raised interest rates despite a warning from Trump. The stock market, which has been plunging, is recovering somewhat.

Maybe The Donald has finally begun realizing that he’s in trouble, as he reportedly failed to leave his bedroom on Dec. 14 when news came crashing down all around him.

There has been speculation (wishful thinking?) that Trump might actually resign, claiming victory for the most successful presidency ever known in American history. He doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of job satisfaction right now. However, resignation might bring the day of reckoning for him even closer, although the political class might just let him retire in collective relief. Surely Pence would pardon him and he would still enjoy Secret Service protection. He could continue to play golf and give rally speeches to his ardent followers to boost his ego—maybe even charge admission. It’s doubtful after his real estate machinations have been so thoroughly exposed that he could get back into that business.

Would a truly capable and smart leader, secure about his own abilities, actually boast that he’s the greatest ever? Muhammed Ali’s boasting was partly tongue-in- cheek, but Trump has avoided any hint of irony in his own braggadocio. And does the United States really need to tout its economic might and military superiority? Doing so raises doubts, especially under Trump when we are actually going downhill. (But the man does know now to draw attention to himself. I’ll grant him that.)

With all the focus in the Republican Party—and for that matter among members of the public--on jobs, jobs, jobs, I’m reminded of the maxim of the occupational therapy association where I worked for 16 years, namely that everyone seeks “purposeful activity” however defined subjectively by each person. Work and being paid for that work are major ways of valuing one’s own “purposeful activity,” though an artist like Van Gogh might paint on his own schedule and without any remuneration. Actually, primates and other mammals also seem to engage in purposeful activity and often seem listless and bored without it. Hence, gerbils have climbing wheels, dogs chase sticks, and zoo gorillas’ search out hidden food.

At this point, the revelation of the vast extent of clergy sex abuse, especially of minors, in the Catholic church and the cover-up, not only in the US, but around the world, has prompted me to take a long time-out from the church. I feel for sympathy for Pope Francis confronting this serious long-festering problem. I remember my own youthful interest in becoming a nun and even, not so long ago, attending a mass officiated by Cardinal McCarrick. But now, late in life, the pope and the church would have to take dramatic action to win me back again.

Dear readers, why not consider giving your loved ones an adventure-filled, inspiring book for the holidays, one outside the ordinary mainstream, namely, one of my own titles, available on Amazon? (You can tell the recipient you know the author.) The main message of both books (Triumph & Hope and Confessions of Secret Latina), memoirs from my own life, is that we all have unique and amazing experiences, not only you and me, but even the panhandler on the corner if only he could put words to paper. My immediate neighbors greet me regularly outside my front door, seeing only a slender smiling woman of a certain age and, as I return their greetings, I see only their own superficial appearance. But we all have secret depths and unique feelings and vast experiences. Read about my many adventures and challenges, then acknowledge and celebrate your own.  

Monday, December 10, 2018

Son’s Death Anniversary, 70th Human Rights Declaration Anniversary, RIP George HW Bush, Migrants, Assange, Suicide in America, Plunging Birthrates

My 3-year-old grandson Kingston in Hawaii, in a photo taken by his father, my son Jon, visiting there recently from his current home in W Va. 

           Dec. 19 is the anniversary of my beloved son Andrew's untimely death.

December 10 is not only Human Rights Day, but also the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We’d like to think some progress has been made during those 70 years.

Donald Trump, who has constantly disparaged the Bush family and George HW Bush’s NAFTA initiative, suddenly decided to go all-out for the former president’s funeral. Trump is nothing if not unpredictable. Of course, the Bush family, in an attempt at reconciliation, invited Trump to the funeral, an olive branch that he seems to have relished after being snubbed by McCain’s family. (How will he react if former President Carter dies on his watch?) No doubt Trump was squirming in his seat during the long ceremony which was not about him for a change and seemed a rebuttal to his approach to governing.

Though I did not vote for GHW, I consider him to have been an OK president, better than his son. He was certainly moderate and reasonable in contrast to Trump. He showed restraint after the invasion of Kuwait (but failed to support the Iraqis after urging them to “rise up”). He presided over the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which I had worked on beforehand behind the scenes, assisting my late former husband. Bush Senior also signed the Clean Air Act now being thwarted by Trump. He advocated statehood for Puerto Rico. His “Thousand Points of Light.“ much disparaged by Trump, were considered inspiring. And the elder Bush welcomed the fall of the Berlin Wall, but also oversaw the Tiananmen Square massacre.

But for all the accolades heaped on a fallen leader, his legacy is not unblemished. Bush presided over the Anita Hill hearings and nominated Clarence Thomas and also was lukewarm about confronting AIDS, which afflicted my late Cuban foster son Alex, leading to his death. The Willie Horton accusations that he repeatedly leveled during his presidential campaign were pretty egregious. Father Bush was also famous for his garbled syntax, echoed later by his son in his own presidency. (But compared to Trump, GHW in his presidency was the soul of eloquence.) In his later (senile?) years, while posing for photo ops in his wheelchair, the late former president would reportedly routinely pinch the bottoms of unsuspecting young women standing next to him and chortle “David-cop-a feel,” to wife Barbara’s great consternation. So, like most human beings, he leaves a mixed legacy.

The Me-Too movement is an ongoing cultural and power distribution shift leaving many men befuddled and defensive and propelling many of them to join with misogynist Donald Trump. While women of my generation in our youth simply accepted male dominance and sexual aggression as reality, thanks to birth control and rising expectations, women are now seeking more options. Just as there was (and still is) resistance to black empowerment and equality, there is going to be continuing resistance to female empowerment. At least some of the vilification of Hillary Clinton has been based on that. Today’s Republican-dominated Senate is one of the last bastions of male dominance.

Here’s another take on the Central American migrant caravan.

The migrant situation is complicated, like most issues when examined in depth. I am not a big fan of contrarian legislator Mel Zelaya, who may have set this caravan in motion. Neither am I a fan of the current president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, who managed to change the constitution to give himself a second term, as Zelaya had attempted to do, but was thwarted. A pox on both their houses! 

Here’s another story about the Honduran president’s brother being indicted on drug charges in the US,].

Of course, there were 16 siblings in the Honduran president’s family, so their parents might not have been able to keep track of them all and chances are that some bad apples might have turned up among them. Many Hondurans believe the president is another bad apple, but the family does seem to have been an enterprising bunch. When I was in Honduras in Feb., people who had voted for the president considered him the lesser of evils, as the other major candidate was a TV entertainer who had bragged about his sexual prowess and was supported by Zelaya, the legislator and former president mentioned in these pages before, an ally of the late Hugo Chavez. Many people simply told me they had not voted when faced with those choices. I will say that President Hernandez talking on TV sounded much more organized and coherent than Trump, including when he took questions from reporters. That's not saying much. 

Many, if not most, people in Central America dream of going to the US. It's a shared fantasy of a better life, although since Trump took office, some have changed their mind—his rhetoric has had a chilling effect and border crossing are actually down. Still, poverty and violence there are real, but unless you are starving, you can adjust to poverty--it becomes normal. It's a situation shared with all your associates, so simply what you come to expect, as I found out when I lived there as a Peace Corps volunteer for 3 1/2 years. When I came home to the US to a bathroom with a hot shower and flush toilet, that seemed exotic. But violence that threatens you directly is another matter. I do worry about my own safety whenever I go to Honduras, especially in a taxi or on a bus when a hold-up is always possible. And it really isn't feasible for a poor Honduran to just pick up and move to a safer part of the country since there are not many safe places, except maybe in remote villages where it's practically impossible to fit in and earn even a subsistence living. For many Central American young people, the journey north is an adventure and a rite of passage.

The northward journey is dangerous and difficult and the risks don’t end when they arrive in the US, but when they are first starting out, they don’t know that. Of course, this guy did, because he had done it before.

If Mexico is willing to accept most of the migrants who already speak their national language and are willing to work in border sweatshops for $2 or less per hour, that might still be preferable for them than trying to get into the US. But Mexico's capacity is also limited and there is plenty of violence there too. It would be an irony if migrants now become attracted by “the Mexican dream." 

Why is Sen. Chuck Schumer seeming to agree to fund Trump’s border wall? Is it to try to agree with Trump on something or to avoid a government shutdown? Is it because he knows the rest of the Democratic contingent won’t allow it? It would be a big waste of money, be environmentally damaging, and present a negative image of our country. Shore up fences, if you will, but no wall! Now Schumer is saying it’s money actually for “border security,” not necessarily for a wall.

My younger daughter and her husband live and work in Honolulu and I have a little grandson living there, and am also concerned for all of Hawaii’s residents. So, I believe we need to get Trump out of the presidency as soon as possible, before North Korea builds up its nuclear arsenal to the point that it can reach not only Seoul and Tokyo, but Honolulu. Trump represents a grave danger to humankind.

Julian Assange may have avoided prison by holing up in the Ecuadoran Embassy, its own sort of prison. Now that it is becoming clear that WikiLeaks was instrumental in getting Trump elected, will Assange become eligible for a presidential pardon? If so, there may not be much time left, as the noose seems to be tightening around Donald Trump. (Or is that just my wishful thinking?) Trump seems to be getting increasingly ansy as he tries to feign being in charge. Will his supporters both in government and in the public jettison him if the evidence against him appears too strong? If it comes to that, probably Mike Pence will pardon him, following the Nixon playbook. Then Donald Trump can retire mercifully to the golf course and try again to make real estate deals, though with much diminished capacity with his fraudulence revealed. He may even find a ghostwriter for another memoir giving his side of the story, how the fake media and deep state did him in, which will still sell among his hard core.

Looking back on my Peace Corps years, after the tragic deaths of my son and Cuban foster son and so many years of juggling the needs of my family as a single parent with work obligations and volunteer duties, being in rural Honduras served as a retreat and a respite. Some folks may seek peace in an ashram or a monastery, but I was able to get away from it all by just leading a simple life in a Honduran village. No wonder that I was willing to extend my Peace Corps service for more than a year while many other volunteers went home early or left immediately after completing their 27-month term.

According to the Economist cover story for Nov. 24-30, 2018, global suicide rates are falling, rising only in the US, where half of suicides are carried out with guns. Since suicide is often an impulsive act, easy gun availability makes it lethal.

In the same issue, US birthrates are falling below replacement, approaching low European and Japanese levels. The availability of effective contraception is certainly a factor, as is the greater participation of women in the workforce. Birthrates for Hispanic women are the only sector approaching replacement, but even those have begun falling. All the more reason why our country, as well as Europe and Japan, should welcome more immigrants. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Thanksgiving Here & Abroad, World AIDS Day, Pending Anniversary of Son Andrew’s Death, Daughter Melanie’s Birthday, Camp Fire, Trump Again & Again (alas still with us!), Canadian Diplomats Targeted by Sonic Attacks in Cuba, Refugees & Migrants

Here is my friend Priscila with her 2 sons on Thanksgiving morning at McDonald’s, of all places, the only local breakfast venue we could find that was open.

I had a wonderful dinner that evening with my daughter Melanie, my only child living here in DC.

Here’s something about Honduras regarding the migrant caravan. Who really are the “very bad hombres” whom Trump has referred to in relation to the migrants? I’ve been asking folks in Honduras about this allegation.  "Caravan Refugees Fled Honduras —Where the President's Brother is an Alleged Cartel Kingpin"

Central American migrants being sprayed with tear gas reminded me of my own experience. While tear gas may be less harmful than bullets, it is hardly benign. I was caught with a crowd demonstrating against Pinochet while an election observer in Chile in 1988. We all experienced eye irritation and searing of our throats and lungs, all of us gasping and choking as we fled.

On Thanksgiving, the Donald, quite typically, gave thanks for himself for being such an outstanding president. Was he joking or just acting out a parody of himself? GW Bush, under the spell of Cheney and other wayward advisers, did some very dumb and harmful things, but also did, or at least tried to do, a few good things, like immigration reform (unsuccessfully). But it’s hard to say anything good at all about Trump so far, two years in. Of course, “good” and “bad” are subjective categories about which there will always be disagreement. However, in a democracy, the definition of such terms should rest with the majority, while under Trump, only a minority really consider him a “good” president and a majority consider him decidedly “bad”. He’s had enough time and opportunity to show his good side, if he has one. We like to think that humankind is making progress, but under Trump, the world has been backsliding. Even US life expectancy has fallen slightly. So now the task is to get rid of Trump and start to undo the damage.

Today is World AIDS Day, which I used to celebrate in Honduras with the aid of young people marching along with an AIDS banner that we had made and putting on outdoor skits about avoiding sex or using condoms or getting tested if they were pregnant (a teenage girl with a pillow under her shirt).

Yet, I agree with House Democrats who want to go slow in opposing and investigating Trump to avoid arousing his supporters, both in Congress and among the public, and to tamp down the already fierce partisan divide. They should offer an olive branch and try to find areas of agreement with Trump, even as he remains in fighting mode. How about building a very short section of “The Wall” just to give him something to brag about and stand next to for photo-ops?  Trump is vulnerable to manipulation by actors both foreign and domestic, even within his inner circle, especially if they seem to praise him.

Thanksgiving just past has put me in mind of Thanksgiving holidays that I have celebrated in other countries, including in Colombia as a teenager, in Romania on a mission on behalf of institutionalized children, and later as Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras.  Of course, Thanksgiving is not a holiday elsewhere, except in Canada at an earlier date, nor are turkeys normally eaten elsewhere, being an American bird. So it’s always a special task to find a Thanksgiving turkey in other countries and, in my experience, they are usually tough and boney and forget about cranberry sauce. Still, there is a special camaraderie in celebrating the holiday with just a few kindred souls and in making the effort to try to duplicate the holiday back home.

December is a bittersweet month for our family. My older son, Andrew, died at age 27 on December 19 in 1994, a date that is also my daughter Melanie’s birthday. This year, she turns 50, which I simply have trouble believing. Has it really been 50 years since I first held that little dark-haired baby in arms? Lots of water under the bridge since then.

After the terrible Camp Fire in northern California, I suspect a few folks who had wanted to skip out on their families and start a new life will now do so, since it has been predicted that not all bodies of the disappeared will be found.

Donald Trump, misspeaking as usual, referred to the fire-ravaged town of Paradise as “Pleasure.” Nor has he commented much on his daughter Ivanka’s use of private e-mail for government business, something that he considered a mortal sin when done by Hillary, requiring “lock her up.” It’s not like Ivanka didn’t know that was a no-no. The Trump offspring have been pretty quiet lately, laying low. And Donald has basically exonerated the Saudi Crown Prince in the Khashoggi murder. Of course, GW Bush also ignored the Saudi role in 9/11.

Singer Rufus Wainright is right-on, warning that “the fox is in the henhouse.” Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency, after acquiring the support of only a minority of Americans, gives the majority the experience of living under a dictatorship where everything is decreed by the dictator and enforced by the minority who support him. Trump has certainly acted like a dictator, firing people willy-nilly, aligning himself with foreign dictators, and trying to silence the media. While the minority who voted for Trump might have felt disregarded before and empowered now, is it better that they overrule the majority? In a dictatorship, a minority always supports the ruler as he cannot act alone and must rely on his faithful to carry out orders. When Trump’s appointees fail to carry out his mandates, he fires them. Will we remember Trump when he is out of office, as is bound to happen, hopefully sooner rather than later? Then the analysis of what went wrong will go on ad infinitum. But at the moment, the Tea Party is still going strong, at least on line, drumming up conspiracy theories.

This article in the NYTimes warns that projections of the US becoming a “minority-majority” country, that is, with native-born whites in the minority, has become a rallying cry for Trump and other white racists. So might it be best to play down those predictions? The article points out that the definition of “whiteness” is pretty fluid and that people with some minority inheritance may actually become absorbed into the “white category, since race is a social construct, not something objective and immutable. Definitions change, Is the offspring of a parent with northern European heritage and another parent of another ethnicity “white”? If that offspring married someone of European heritage, then what? Are Jewish people “white”? What about a blond, blue-eyed Hispanic?  There have been two cases recently of black men shot and killed while trying to defend against a shooter. The NRA’s “a good guy with a gun” refers only to white guys?

The pattern for Trump appointees seems to get fired (like on The Apprentice) or being pressed to resign, then to write a book.

US diplomats in Havana are not the only ones injured by mysterious sonic attacks that also targeted Canadian diplomats.

It’s great that Honduran migrants are being offered jobs in Tijuana, where they not only don’t have to worry about being deported, but also speak the same language as everyone else. Some locals have protested their arrival, but they seem to be a minority.

While my sympathies are with refugees and migrants to the US, who enrich our culture, help fill our worker shortage, and offset the aging of the population, nonetheless, there are limits as to how many new people can be absorbed, something Canada, Australia, and Europe are also grappling with. But we can admit higher numbers than are now being permitted.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Red-hot Peppers, Early Snow, Daughter’s Birthday, Gun Violence, Trump Stumbles in Europe, Border Wall, Cuba, Paradise Lost, Thanksgiving Wishes

Hot peppers anyone? They can clear out your throat and sinuses. The pepper plant grown from seeds planted by my former Bhutan visitors is now bearing fruit that’s turning fiery. I don’t care for hot peppers myself and my family and associates who have dared to try them have found them really a bit too hot, all excerpt my visitor from Bhutan, who has snapped them up. Sometimes I check the weather in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, and it’s always cold and rainy there, colder and rainier (and snowier) than even here in Washington, DC, so folks there may need to eat hot peppers to keep them warm inside.

On Nov. 15, as all DC residents know, we woke up to snow, not a lot, but very early in the season, the earliest Nov. snowfall in 30 years. [photo]

Yes, 46 years ago in Nov., I gave birth to my daughter Stephanie at George Washington University Hospital here in DC. She is a woman of many talents, but has chosen to work in science, where she excels, as in everything. Am I perhaps biased? I consider all my kids and grandkids very special, as most of us do.

It’s safe to say that most Americans are getting weary of mass shootings and of NRA arguments touting the sacredness of the Second Amendment. As a Canadian couple commented after a previous mass shooting, “We’re from Canada, so we don’t have this sort of thing there.” How terrible that a young man who was spared in Las Vegas was killed a few months later in Thousand Oaks. His anguished mother said she doesn’t want any more “thoughts and prayers,” she just wants gun control! After a mass shooting in Australia, tough gun-control measures were enacted there that almost halted such shootings in their tracks.

I’d ask those who contend that the best defense against gun violence is having even more guns around to take a look at Honduras. There city grocery stores, Western Union outlets, banks, cell phone sellers, and even some ice cream parlors have armed guards. The result is an enormous gun death rate, though, so far, no copycat mass shootings. More guns statistically result in more gun injuries and deaths. Doesn’t the right to life and to the pursuit of happiness, also enshrined in the Constitution, trump the right to bear arms? Why not try a new approach, one that reduces the number of and access to guns, since a “more-guns” strategy obviously is not working? This is no longer the wild west! I’ve even advocated giving time-limited financial incentives to gun manufacturers to reduce their production and switch to making plowshares or whatever, much like what has been given to farmers to grow fewer excess crops.

One of the rightwing websites supporting Trump that has gotten into my feed is now offering a chance to win a state-of-the-art pistol complete with earmuffs and ammunition. Apparently, avid gun-owners (whose numbers mercifully are shrinking), don’t feel safe without their handgun at their bedside or strapped to their side; it’s part of their persona. Those folks will just have to die out.

Why are guns and people such a dangerous combination? Because people tend to be impulsive, irrational, excitable, and error-prone. In the hands of children, many guns become lethal toys. Motor vehicles are dangerous too, so there are restrictions on driving. And while driverless cars may not be foolproof (nothing is), they are probably safer than cars with human drivers. People are inherently accident-prone. Probably more than half of humans now on earth are the products of surprise or accidental pregnancies.

Trump embarrassed himself and us all with his missteps and misstatements recently in Europe, missing a main event on his official itinerary because of rain, while other world leaders still attended. He probably just didn’t feel like appearing there after making statements that displayed his woeful ignorance of history and geography. A high school student could have done better. When Trump doesn’t know something, he should just keep his mouth shut. Rain seems to present a persistent problem for him, as when walking in the rain with Melania, he forgets to put the umbrella over her head and when he enters a plane, since he doesn’t know how to close an umbrella, he just leaves it open outside.

If Trump actually told the truth, we wouldn’t believe it. Are we really to believe that he, as the president who fired Sessions right after the midterms, didn’t know about Whitaker’s views on the Mueller investigation when he skipped over Rosenstein, the next-in-line, to appoint the newly hired Whitaker whose antagonistic views on Mueller were common knowledge? What an ill-informed chief executive, if that were the case. And his self-evaluation is way off if he thinks he’s wildly popular and an A+ president, attributing his low marks to “fake news.”

Unfortunately, the guy is seriously mentally and emotionally challenged, so sad for him, his family, and his associates, and sadder yet for our whole country and the wider world. He is setting a bad example for other despots and encouraging actual fake news on the internet which multiplies and disperses his misstatements. Worse yet, he is not only uninformed and cognitively challenged, but also very meanspirited and deliberately cruel and never says he’s sorry or wrong. He is gratuitously nasty. We are almost becoming numb to his mistakes, misstatements, and insults. And when Trump reads from a teleprompter, he undermines a fairly straightforward presentation with a silly ad lib. He never apologizes or backtracks, doubling down instead. He should retire ASAP to the golf course and take out his frustrations on a little round golf ball. Pundits say it’s hard for a nation to recover after being led by demagogue and charlatan, so the longer Trump remains in in office, the worse it gets.

Sarah Sanders has defended Trump’s efforts to strip Jim Acosta’s White House press credentials saying there has to be “decorum” in the White House. How about the commander-in-chief setting the example?

Trump is lucky that the good economy, started under Obama, is still keeping him afloat as president. If, indeed, he has done nothing wrong, he should be glad an inquiry will prove that and not be acting so guilty and defensive. When Trump wrongly accused Obama of having been born in Kenya (for which he has never apologized), Obama finally came up with his official Hawaii birth certificate. If the accusations against Trump are wrong, let him come up with evidence to prove his case instead of belittling and name-calling his accusers.   

The man has certainly been in a funk and a very bad mood ever since the mid-terms, not only missing a commemoration ceremony he went to France precisely to attend, but also an Asian-Pacific economic summit, sending Pence (with his own ambitions) instead. On Veterans’ Day, he failed to go to Arlington Cemetery, as is customary. Trump is probably rightly worried now that Mueller will get him and that he may be losing supporters even in the Republican Senate as his hard-core base shrinks. If the Republican Party finally sees its way clear to jettison its knee-jerk support of Trump for its own survival, then he will be left without allies. Some Republican office-holders already realize he is dragging down their party. Mostly, he has been governing by winging it and letting staff clean up his messes. We’ve lost a lot of respect not only for the president himself, but for the office.

In Brownsville, Texas, Catholic Bishop Daniel Flores says church property should not be used for a border wall - that it “would limit freedom of the church to exercise her mission in the Rio Grande Valley.” He is worried they won’t be able to stop federal officials who have now filed in court to obtain rights to survey the property for eventual border wall construction.

I feel like a broken record advocating that the Catholic Church, in which I was raised, baptized, and married, allow married and women priests. (See pp.181-2 of my book Triumph & Hope.) Now, George Shultz, former Secretary of Labor, says the same in an article appearing in the Washington Post
Pope Francis, who started out with much support from the faithful, has had his image tarnished by the revelation of longstanding priestly child sex abuse and coverup. And the church worldwide has suffered a serious crisis; it is not just an American problem.

In Brazil, President-elect Jair Bostoner will require Cuban doctors working there to receive their pay directly, instead having it go to the Cuban government, and also have then be allowed to bring their families with them, so the Cuban government has decided to pull them out. The Cuban government’s doctors-for-hire program, a big source of foreign income, has long been a bone of contention. As per my books, I have often worked with Cuban doctors and other health professionals in Honduras, some of whom have stayed on there, leaving their families in Cuba behind.

On Dec. 7, the OAS has scheduled a conference at its DC headquarters on Human Rights in Cuba.

I well remember Paradise, California, a lovely special town, not far from Sacramento where I lived many years ago. My late ex-husband and I bought a piece of land on a stream outside of Paradise and camped out there several times. My ex got that property in our divorce. So sorry it has all gone up in smoke.

Happy Thanksgiving, Feliz Día de Acción de Gracias