A new year, new possibilities, new problems. Let’s see what 2018 brings. Life is always a surprise. We had light snow here in DC between Christmas and New Year’s, unusual so early in the season, and bitter cold, though with my house facing south, when the sun came out, the snow all melted. I don’t remember having such a cold winter in a very long time. [photo, snow]
How do they do it? Visitors from other countries, including from some African countries recently much maligned by Trump, have called me via some sort of phone system that I don’t understand, which apparently costs nothing or next to nothing. They are not happy about the president’s remarks.
I won’t say how old she is because that makes me feel older still!!
Speaking of birthdays, I just sent a bunch of party goodies for the birthday of a great lady living in Vermont, Egyptian-born Wanda, who will be 103! I’ve known her and her family since my own childhood. She’s able to live at home due not only to her good constitution but because her family takes good care of her, prepares her meals, and keeps her company, as they say “It takes a village.”
I signed up for Clean Choices Energy, which sent a statement showing that my electricity is coming 100% from wind and solar—take that Donald Trump!
On Jan. 10, joined a group gathered in front of the Supreme Court to advocate for the “Motor-Voter Act,” making voter registration automatic when someone gets a driver’s license.
South Sudan needs peace to recover from the effects of years of war against the north, from which it finally gained independence in 2011. See my 2007 article: Southern Sudan May Show the Way, Template for a Post-Treaty Darfur? https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/627
When I was in South Sudan, I learned that women there typically undergo severe FGM, making childbirth difficult, among other problems. In the wee morning hours recently, I tuned into BBC and learned about the challenges of eradicating FGM, which still afflicts millions of women around the world, even secretly in this country. It is a rite of female passage and would require the substitution of another accepted rite, hard to do when FGM has been practiced for generations. In some western countries, although this is also prohibited, some girls are subjected to just a symbolic needle prick in the sensitive genital area, not as drastic as the full surgery, but not completely without risks either from pain and infection. (Male circumcision, while somewhat controversial, has pros and cons and does not affect sexual or other functioning.) I did find one tribe in South Sudan whose passage rite for both genders was pulling out the two lower front teeth, certainly better than FGM, but also not without risks and problems. Scaring and extension of earlobes and necks are other common rites and practices. Apparently the efforts focus on making a permanent change in the body, but with so many ordinary challenges to life and health, more benign rites like the Latin American quinceanera deserve wider dissemination.
Good news: Ethiopia Says It Will Free All of Its Political Prisoners
"Amnesty International's Fisseha Tekle said the announcement could "signal the end of an era of bloody repression in Ethiopia."
"Amnesty International's Fisseha Tekle said the announcement could "signal the end of an era of bloody repression in Ethiopia."
Great news! Wouldn't it be nice if other leaders followed his example? Let's hope it really happens.
Josephine Olsen, PhD, has been named new Director of the Peace Corps. Olsen is senior lecturer at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and a former volunteer in Tunisia. I don’t know her, but she sounds fine. Despite her experience and credentials, some insiders say that she is not such good news for the corps, while others who have worked with her tout her highly. We shall have to wait and see.
Post-election violence still occurring in Honduras, with fault on both sides, according to folks there. The consensus of friends in Honduras is that neither candidate was desirable and most voted for neither. There is a lot of feeling that incumbent President Juan O. Hernandez, declared the winner, should not have tried for second term. But the OAS did not call for a reelection and the Trump administration has recognized the election, while also issuing a travel advisory, one reason I am delaying making my final plans for Feb. I want to make sure the medical brigades will be going forward. Operation Smile, where I volunteer annually as an interpreter, is scheduled to take place at San Felipe public hospital Feb. 15-23, only about a block from the US Embassy where daily demonstrations are being held because the US has recognized the incumbent president. I've been back to Honduras 13 times in the 13 years since Peace Corps there and if I don't go this year, it will be the first time I will have missed.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/02/us-silent-as-honduras-protesters-killed-in-post-election-violence Families fear no justice for victims as 31 die in Honduras post-election violence | World news | The Guardian
Opposition candidate Nasralla Thousands march against election result in Honduras http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/nation-world/world/article193402094.html
My friends in Honduras (most voted for neither main presidential candidate) say that opposition candidate Nasaralla has threatened all-out “rebellion” if Hernandez takes office as scheduled on Jan. 20.
As if Honduras didn’t have enough problems: Large 7.6-magnitude earthquake strikes off Honduras coast - NY Daily News http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/large-7-6-magnitude-earthquake-strikes-honduras-coast-article-1.3747872
And, finally, ending TPS for Hondurans is also looming. Yes, if Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Salvadorans have to go, Hondurans surely are next. https://www.apnews.com/66f92c087cbf42719fdc4cde3e6f24d0/Honduras-next-in-line-for-US-decision-on-protected-migrants
On Jan. 10, the Americas advocacy director and I met at the Amnesty Int’l USA office with Felix Llerena, (above) a 21-year-old Cuban expelled from the university allegedly for his dissident views. I had earlier served as his interpreter at a meeting with GWU students where he had asked for a meeting with us at the AIUSA office. Llerena, a supporter of the Varela Project, had told the students the he was arrested in front of his mother and accused of having terrorist links, also of “pre-delinquency.” A copy of the US constitution and a book by Jose Marti were confiscated from his home and he said that the security forces encouraged neighbors to attack him with machetes if he tried talking to others about his beliefs. At our meeting, he thanked us for all that AI has done for Cuba. Our advocacy director told him about our limitations in being unable to visit Cuba and our concerns about the embargo and other matters. He praised our Cuba report. He told us that he had been prevented from leaving Cuba, even being removed from a flight to a Latin America youth/student network meeting in Cancun and having all his documents and devices confiscated. He was arrested again in July and returned to his home province of Santa Clara and not allowed to leave the province until four EU delegates visited him there in August, after which his charges were dropped. He was allowed to travel to the US in October where he has remained since. He is scheduled to give a talk at NY U on Jan. 19 and plans to return to Cuba in February. He said that the regime leadership doesn’t expect him to actually return, but that he feels it is important for young people to remain in Cuba and work for a more open system. He does not know what awaits him on his return.
Tillerson tells AP that Cuba is still risky; FBI doubts sonic attack. Sen. Flake also doubts the attacks occurred--on the other hand, Canadian diplomats have also reported them. I don't know, but it's true that moving embassy functions to Colombia has certainly hampered them. Are the attacks real or an excuse?
Here’s another theory on the attacks on personnel at the US Embassy in Havana, virus attacks. That certainly seem plausible, whether intentional or not: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/us-considers-virus-explain-attacks-cuba-52235692
Goodbye Venezuela, hello Russia. Can Vladimir Putin save Cuba?
In light of its own priestly pedophile scandal, the Australian government has asked the Catholic Church to end its celibacy rule for priests. I’ve long advocated that, and also for allowing women priests. As per my Honduras Peace Corps book, Triumph & Hope,
“I have always believed, along with many fellow Catholics, that allowing married and women priests would not only enrich and expand the applicant pool, but also reduce the risk of pedophilia and other abuses.” (pp.181-182) Not all pedophilia would be eliminated by eliminating celibacy, but it would certainly be reduced. And while female pedophilia exists, it is quite rare, usually a teacher with a teenage boy student, and, as with much male pedophilia and sex abuse, combines authority and sexual exploitation.
I cannot disagree with North Korea’s Kim that Trump is a “dotard.” Trump’s bragging that he has a “bigger nuclear button” sounds a lot like the “small hands” debate during the primaries. The problem is that in the case of nuclear threats, such talk is really scary, especially when Trump’s opponent is equally unhinged, or is he just playing Trump for a fool? Trump is easily manipulated by other leaders. Think about it, Donald, would a genuinely intelligent guy actually boast about it? It’s unfortunate for Trump and his family that he is so seriously confused and otherwise mentally and emotionally challenged; I feel especially for Melania and young Barron, though Barron is rumored to be away at boarding school most of the time and therefore not bearing the brunt. In the future, after The Donald has passed on, perhaps the family will let us know what they actually went through in their private life while the rest of us were suffering out in the public sphere. What Trump really needs is a cushy retirement to Mar-a-Lago where he can watch Fox News for hours on end, tweet daily about it to his faithful followers, and then play golf to his heart’s content, a place where folks who still adore him can come to pay homage and cheer him on wearing his signature hats, praising him as “America’s greatest president ever.”
It’s quite astonishing, at least to me, that Donald Trump is supposedly the second most admired man in American after Barack Obama. That’s according to a recent poll. Barack Obama in first place is no big surprise, but Trump—can he really be second? I’d rather see Pence, O’Connell, or even Ryan in second place than Trump. Are so many Americans really so mean-spirited and stupid themselves that they actually admire the current president? It’s so disheartening. Good that Orrin Hatch is retiring and hope Mitt Romney wins his seat to provide him a platform to counter Trump. Someone needs to shake up the Republican electorate and shake it out of its torpor! Since the Republican Party has a disproportionate advantage in how districts are drawn, then we all rely on that party to do the right thing.
Allowing states to require able-bodied adults to engage in work or volunteer activities to receive food stamps doesn’t seem outrageous, but the devil is in the details. What will qualify and how will compliance be monitored?
Trump rarely is seen out and about here in the nation’s capital, as Michelle and Barack Obama often were. And he doesn’t go anywhere with Melania except to political events or to Mar-a-Lago. The Obamas often ate at local restaurants and showed up at church services together. Michelle visited a number of public schools to the delight of students whom I know. The Obamas were and are still much loved around DC, while Trump and family would be booed if they dared appear. Tiffany, a Georgetown Law student, was spotted recently with another young woman at a local eatery, but since she is not so closely associated with her father, she is not so reviled. Trump and his supporters don’t seem to realize that most Americans don’t share their narrow racist, sexist, and overly economically oriented self-interest.
Now, since lifting regulations possibly discouraging coal production have resulted in no new coal production, the Trump administration reportedly is considering actually subsidizing coal production to make it more competitive with other forms of energy, thereby keeping Trump’s promises to coal miners that their jobs would be coming back. Meanwhile. A coal plant in Green County, WVa., which voted big for Trump, has just closed.
The new “tell-all” best-seller Trump book, aptly named Fire and Fury (Trump himself gifted that title to the author), may or may not be 100% true, but it probably is more reliable than what comes out of The Donald’s mouth. We already know Trump lies, has a short attention span, is forgetful, and doesn’t read, so all that’s nothing new. That Melania was unhappy with his presidential win is believable. In photos, she’s never smiling, looking almost grim. Trump’s lawyers are reportedly trying to get Mueller to question him in writing and to have him submit his answers in writing—or to avoid having Mueller question him at all. Certainly the Trump presidency has been the number one story of our nation and of the world in 2017 and will be again, it seems, in 2018. Donald Trump has sucked most of the air out of the rest of the news cycle.
Say it isn’t so, Oprah; we certainly don’t need another celebrity political candidate! Put your celebrity behind another woman. But if it should be Trump versus Oprah (heaven forbid!), of course, we have to go with Oprah.
Putin is certainly running circles around the US in general and around Trump in particular in terms of intelligence and political strategy. He is leveraging what might look like a weak hand into something pretty powerful and that’s perhaps why Russians will support his reelection once again. Can we hack into Putin’s on-line activity in retaliation for having given us the Trump presidency, or is Putin too clever to permit that?
A Neo-Nazi affiliated teen has shot and killed his girlfriend’s parents in Reston, Va., just outside DC, after they told her to stop seeing him because of his beliefs and his efforts to influence her. He also shot himself in the head, but was not killed outright. Do neo-Nazis feel no obligation to stop radicalizing impressionable young people?
An elementary fact that anti-immigration zealots like Trump ignore is that by the mere law of averages and simple chance, a few immigrants inevitably are going to do something harmful, whether that involves an accident (as the jury determined in the California shooting case that Trump highlighted) or even a deliberate act. However, on average, immigrants probably are responsible for far less harm than native-born Americans and also provide net benefits to the body politic. Unfortunately, Trump’s grandfather’s journey from Germany as an immigrant has turned out to have inflicted major damage on us now in the US, but Trump and his grandfather are outliers in that regard.
After repeated outrages by Trump, we are starting to expect them, so our own outrage has become more muted. What do we now expect from Trump? That he will do something stupid and harmful, so the shock is less. At the same time, perhaps Trump’s cries of “fake news” and his blatant name-calling are also losing their punch, even among his core supporters. We’re all getting used to Donald Trump, though it’s not yet quite the “new normal.” And Democrats, who were stunned to wake up the day after the election to a President Trump, seem to have regained their energy and equilibrium to confront him and to challenge the Republican Party that is supporting him with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Democrats are energized against Trump and the Republican agenda, though providing a temporary economic bump from the tax bill may counteract Democratic efforts in the 2018 mid-terms.
In fact, Trump’s outrages have mostly had the effect of enhancing the fortunes of anyone or whatever he attacks. Not only have opposition and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, flourished, but when he says that Vanity Fair or the New York Times is “on its last legs” and “failing,” that drives more people to subscribe, just as happened with Obamacare which has had a surge while Trump’s base actually believes the program has been repealed because he said so. And the me-too movement owes much of its momentum to a backlash against Trump’s bragging about grabbing women. However, Trump’s core supporters, predominately white men without a college education, may still identify with him, and vicariously enjoy his unfettered access to women and his ability to wield influence on foreign and domestic affairs from a place of ignorance commensurate with their own. “Yes sir,” they may be thinking, “that’s exactly what I would do or say myself if I were president.” He’s one of them.
According to core Trump supporters, including those within the Republican Congress, because credible evidence comes out indicating that Trump is uniformed, confused, or doing something illegal or immoral, then ipso facto, the source of that evidence is politically biased and “out to get” Trump. Immediately, there are counter-complaints of a “cover-up” of Hillary Clinton’s alleged misdeeds and calls to investigate her. Hey folks, Hillary is not the president; your guy Donald Trump is the president and just maybe he has done something wrong. Isn’t it important to find that out?
It is a truism that the future is always a matter of probabilities, never certainty, except that we all will die. But will you or I actually wake up tomorrow morning? Chances are better than 99% that we will. That will be true for many successive mornings until, one day, we won’t wake up again.
Trump’s presidency is due to a series of unlucky and unlikely probabilities. That’s true as well in the rise of some other unexpected leaders, such Cuba’s Fidel Castro. As stated in my Confessions book, “History is not linear, inexorably following a smooth, predictable path. As per chaos theory, spikes, troughs, and cataclysms can and do happen. Fidel Castro’s seizure of power was such an event, no ordinary dictatorship.” (p. 42)
And Trump’s presidency is another such unprecedented event.
Would it be wise, for self-protection, for me to avoid altogether the news and the demonstrations taking place so close to my doorstep? What if I just cocooned inside my home and with my family, ignoring the outside world? Is there anything I could do anyway besides vote when the time comes to end this living nightmare? There are enough everyday challenges to confront without adding awareness of Trump’s daily outrages on top of everything else.
In terms of probabilities, also connected with Donald Trump’s policies, if you possess a firearm, there’s actually a very small chance that it will really protect you when you need it and a far greater likelihood that you, your child, or another person will be injured or killed by your gun, either through accident, suicide, or an impulsive act. Just having a gun available or actually in one’s hand increases the odds of its use, often inadvertently, including by police. (Police reportedly killed more than 1,000 people in the US in 2017, with probably a fair number of those deaths avoidable.) If you are holding a gun and your finger is on the trigger when you feel threatened or despondent or simply curious about how it works, it’s fairly likely that you will pull the trigger even when, upon later reflection, you should not have done so. Thus police shot an unarmed man who answered the door after a false report that he was holding his family hostage. Such a shooting might later be deemed “accidental,” but it would have been a completely avoidable accident.
How many curious kids have accidentally shot themselves, their siblings, or their parents? How many parents have killed their kids in the dark of night thinking they were burglars? How many armed police have shot unarmed citizens for no apparent reason? At a New Year’s Eve gathering, a 16-year-old New Jersey boy killed his parents, sister, and a visitor using a semi-automatic rifle legally owned and registered to a family member. Was that gun protective of that family? In Tennessee, a 12-year-old girl shot and killed another girl. Human beings are accident-prone and impulsive, which is why self-driving cars are safer than those being driven by people.
Since Australia has restricted gun ownership, its gun death rate has fallen precipitously. Is the “right to bear arms” so sacrosanct that it’s worth such carnage? Not only are these youthful killers subjected to a lifetime of remorse and long-term incarceration, but their victims are deprived of the right to life. It’s even doubtful that the “right to bear arms” was ever originally intended to apply to individual gun ownership—its enshrinement was just the fluke of a relatively recent and unprecedented Supreme Court decision, perhaps influenced by NRA propaganda, an interpretation that has now come to hold sway and become sacrosanct. The Founding Fathers may never have intended private gun ownership.
An Iraq veteran killed a Colorado deputy—again, does that mean Iraq veterans are dangerous and should never have firearms? That’s the argument used by Trump and his base for keeping out immigrants, when the actions of one may have resulted in someone’s death or injury. Remember probabilities, folks!
Talk about a tongue-twister, using the term “anti-abortion-rights advocates” instead of “pro-lifers.”