Saturday, June 15, 2019

Surprise Phone Call, D-Day, Local Events, Compassion Fatigue, July 4, Cuba Travel Ban, Sex Abuse in Baptists churches and elsewhere, Abortion/Miscarriage

A man who had been visiting me from Nigeria a couple of years ago called on Eid, quite a nice surprise I usually don’t answer unfamiliar numbers, but this time, glad I did.  

My late father, US Army Col. Leonard Currie, though born in Alberta, Canada, had become a US citizen and was in Normandy on D-Day.


                  My 11-year-old great-grandson De’Andre is 
                visiting the DC area 
                from Florida for the summer.  

My visitor from Bhutan and his colleague, who is staying with a friend nearby, participated in a Cultural Day at GAO, where they are taking a course. GAO fellows from various countries participated which showcased scenes, food, and artifacts from each home country. 


Waiting in line at the Post Office, I talked with a young mother who looked Hispanic and admired her new baby girl. But like too many mothers in Honduras, her baby's hands were covered by mittens. I didn’t know such baby mittens were still being made and were available in the US, ostensibly used to keep newborns from scratching their faces. (It is sometimes hard to trim tiny fingernails.) I used to try to dissuade Honduran mothers from using them; they considered babies sucking on their fingers unsanitary and bad for their future teeth. Sucking fingers is normal and instinctive for babies! But I hesitated to offer advice there in PO as the poor child sucked on one of the mittens. 

Working recently as an interpreter at a DC public school that shall remain nameless, I saw a hall bulletin board featuring photos of prominent people, including the Obamas and Hillary Clinton, but not Donald J. Trump! At that same school, I learned that cursive writing is no longer taught. Why bother when communication is electronic and letters appear only in print? Some folks may remember, as I do, practicing writing each cursive letter, upper and lower case. And will our grandchildren be able to read letters, documents, and diaries that we and historical figures have written in cursive? Signatures are usually done in cursive, though many people now just scribble something unintelligible.

Previously on these pages, I questioned whether overwork was really responsible for the 2018 suicide, at age 65, of Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher, Gaëtan Mootoo, as per his suicide note, prompting a large financial settlement for his family? I speculated that there may have been other factors, maybe health, relationship, or personal problems, since he could have simply resigned or retired, or insisted on getting more help. However, a Mexican lawyer involved in human rights work made a convincing case that compassion fatigue is real and can actually drive someone over the edge. Dealing with human problems and suffering day after day can become overwhelming and seriously depressing because of inability to make any major inroads. She considered the Mootoo suicide quite understandable in light of the pressures of human rights work and the settlement, fully justified.

There is a rather scathing article in The Economist (June 8, 2019), about AI’s toxic work environment.
I still think that staff suicides at AI are not fully attributable to the work culture, but am willing to acknowledge that the sheer pressure of human rights work and the constant exposure to human traumas and suffering could push a sensitive person over the edge. So now I must admit that the work could actually be a major factor in suicides, with that work being even more thankless for unpaid volunteers like me who get little acknowledgement.

I do appreciate The Economist’s frank discussion of compassion fatigue at AI, but must express my annoyance that an otherwise impeccable publication, insists on changing US book titles and formal institutional names to British spelling, as in the case in the reference in the AI article to a Harvard-published book, rendered as "The Fearless Organisation." I looked up that book on Amazon, and the title is shown with a z. I've even seen The Economist do that in letters-to-the-editor from the US. But American publications don't change the spelling of British book titles or institutions; we don’t write about the “Labor Party.” I wonder if each issue of the magazine is subjected to spell-check before it goes to print, which automatically converts American spellings? 

It looks like Mr. Trump is hell-bent on ruining the usual non-political, nationally unifying July 4th celebration by changing its location and featuring himself as the main speaker, positioning himself at the Lincoln Memorial, perhaps hoping that Lincoln’s reputation will rub off on him. The optics may play well with Fox News and its viewers, but I predict that attendance will be smaller than normal and marred by demonstrations. The Trump Baby blimp is already being readied. I certainly do not plan to attend the fireworks this year. 

Image result for trump baby blimp gif

If Trump got 5% of the DC vote, that's an overestimate. He is totally reviled by DC citizens, so security for his July 4th appearance, if goes ahead (plans have yet to be presented), will be a nightmare. Of course, Trump will say he got the biggest crowd ever to hear his speech, just like the crowd that attended his inauguration. He claims to be "your favorite president." When he loses in 2020 (we simply cannot have another fluke like 2016!), he can always say it's fraud, fake news, illegals voting, or whatever. "This too shall pass" does give some comfort, but is harder to invoke when our life horizon as seniors is somewhat limited. We'd like to survive long enough to see it actually happen! 

This is my reply to a friend favoring a Biden/Booker Democratic ticket: I'm not crazy about Biden. He was not helpful on our Amnesty Caribbean issues when he was veep and we’d asked him when he visited certain countries to put in a word--at least, he did not do so publicly and never got back to us. But I would certainly vote for him over Trump and he would probably have the best chance to appeal to moderate voters, so, yes, I’d vote for him, but would like him to have a female running mate. Booker is a very smart guy--if Biden gets the nomination and chooses him, that would fine. Of course, there are many like me who would vote for anyone over Trump, which is one reason so many people are running, hoping to be "the one." But Biden, for all his missteps, probably still has the best chance of both getting the nomination and winning the presidency, Electoral College or no. Several states are making sure all their Electoral College votes go the winning candidate--they have learned a lesson from 2016!

Trump’s travel ban affects Cubans trying to make it in the private sector and also is annoying to cruise ship passengers rerouted to other destinations: Cubans Pay for Trump’s Travel Ban, Wall St. Journal, June 7, 2019

Would-be American visitors to Cuba should complain to Trump and to the White House, not that Trump would care, except maybe if they say they won't vote for him in 2020. It's a mistake to cut off American visitors to Cuba, because now, after the death of Fidel and the reduction in Venezuelan oil shipments, ordinary citizens’ support for the government is shakier than ever. Being able to meet and serve even non-Spanish speaking tourists would help undermine the regime, especially if such services are offered by folks in the small, struggling private sector.

It has become apparent that sex abuse is not confined to the Catholic church, as Baptists are now grappling with the same issue. And so are sports, colleges, Hollywood, government at all levels, international bodies, other countries, in short, it seems it be a worldwide problem. Why is it so widespread, universal really? It’s due, I believe, to a combination of culture, testosterone effects, power dynamics, physical strength and force, and economics—exacerbated by sheer inertia, shame, and fear on the part of victims. Women sexual predators are much rarer, often teachers of young male students or another woman in a position of authority. Now the Me-Too movement is confronting sex abuse and we’ll see where that leads.                                                                                                                                                                        

As for the abortion debate, especially regarding early abortions, which admittedly are the majority, I think pro-life folks should largely give up the fight, since medication abortions cannot be controlled as a practical matter. Instead, they would do well to focus instead on second and third trimester abortions, where Roe was more equivocal and where public opinion might favor their arguments. I’ve already mentioned having seen children born after 25 and 26 weeks gestation who are functioning and personable, perhaps with some delays. A baby born after 23 weeks just went home, admittedly after much special treatment. I do think abortions in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters should be quite limited and perhaps be called euthanasia if deemed necessary because of a serious fetal defect. They should not be performed then just because a woman had failed to notice she was pregnant and doesn’t want a child.  

It also must be acknowledged that there may be as many or more early miscarriages at the same stage of gestation as an early abortion, a loss certainly, but not regarded as such a terrible loss, especially if the woman gets pregnant again, although that will produce a new and completely different individual. (We are getting into philosophical weeds here.) Some women who have lost a pregnancy through either miscarriage or abortion, go on to have subsequent children who might not have been born if the earlier pregnancy had resulted in a birth. Each of us owes our existence to the unique and chance uniting of a particular sperm and ovum. It’s the same ovum (or sometimes ova) throughout a female cycle, but sperm comes in multiples and if a different sperm had united with the ovum, a different individual, maybe of the other gender, would have been produced, not me or thee. And feelings about miscarriage in early pregnancy do vary widely. A woman at a session of a bereavement support group I attended after my son had died lamented the death, by name, of her 4-month-old son. We all sympathized, as she was very outspoken about grieving the loss of her only child. Only later did I learn that her “son” was a 4-month fetus and she had had no other children. So, different strokes for different folks.

Monday, June 3, 2019

New Citizen, Bambi, A Death, School Interpretation, Impeachment? Migrants, Latin America, Andrew Yang, Child Support, Abortion Again, Oxycodone, Bedbugs

                              A man who has done house repairs for me over the years                                 finally became a US citizen. (Sorry for odd spacing and  
for some places where larger type appears. Hard to remedy.)
My lone visitor now from Bhutan had visitors of his own who are living now in NY State. They drove to our place all the way from Rochester to pick him up and take him there. Their preschool boy did some minor damage in my house which is not organized for active kids, though I once had them myself. Bhutan, as I have mentioned before, is a tiny, mountainous Buddhist country with only 800,000 people, just a little more than in Washington, DC. It has a king, a queen, and a little prince.

Here’s something about the young dragon prince of Bhutan:

My visitor’s nephews, including boy playing the piano at my house. 

         Here is my visitor near Niagara Falls on his trip to Rochester. 

My son Jonathan discovered a tiny fawn when he was helping a            neighbor with landscaping. He found its mother in the roadway with          a broken leg after being hit by a car. After checking with wildlife                services, who said nothing could be done to help the mother and to          get out of the way so she could retrieve her offspring, he did                    just that and she limped off with the baby into the woods. (As I've            mentioned before, Jon had his left index finger amputated after an            erroneous diagnosis, hence his missing finger in one photo.) He sent          the photos to his kids still living in Hawaii, who are familiar with the          tale of Bambi. 


Just found out when I took an empty egg carton over for a farmer/vendor at Eastern Market that he had died suddenly of a heart attack, so won't be coming back, such a nice, friendly guy. But when any of us dies, as we all will, going quickly like that is preferable to suffering a long illness. From now on, in our household, we will have to put our empty egg cartons into the recycling bin. 

At a recent school interpretation taking place on a rare Saturday near the end of the semester, I was fortunate to be assigned to a group of mostly Spanish-speaking high school students, with a few English speakers included who needed interpretation. There were emotional discussions of fear of deportation, about what they could do as mainly under 18 non-citizens for self-protection, and how to get the most out of their educational experience. Washington, DC, is a sanctuary city, but also the current residence of Donald J. Trump, which has increased the fear level. Schools were thought to also be sanctuaries, like churches, where ICE could not detain them, but there was uncertainty about that. They discussed the status of a fellow student, who as soon as she turned 18 was, then targeted by ICE, but, so far, has not been arrested and deported. Is the Trump administration starting to realize that for reelection, Mr. Trump needs to appeal beyond his base and that not all Americans support his tough anti-immigrant policies? For now, at least, most of the ill-considered “wall” plan seems to have been abandoned, although Steve Bannon cleverly managed to have a mile-long token section built with donated funds. Now a local mayor is challenging the effort because the group lacked the proper permits and many  folks are opposed.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wise to give Trump a royal welcome that flattered and catered to him like the one he had received in Saudi Arabia, unlike how he was received in London with protesters and a baby Trump blimp overhead. And apparently the White Housed asked that name of the docked Navy ship named for the late Senator John McCain be obscured, lest it upset the prickly Commander-in-Chief.

No such thing as climate change? Trump supporters in the heartland are feeling the brunt of it right now, as well as more tariffs, this time on Mexico. He thinks that by threatening and punishing other nations—Iran, China, Mexico—he will get his way. Doesn’t he know that may just harden their resistance?  

Trump keeps ranting against the “fake news, corrupt press” without giving any specific examples. He lies so much if he actually told the truth, we wouldn’t believe him. Likewise, he likes to label political rivals “low IQ,” engaging in schoolboy-type name-calling. Look who’s talking! That White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders could support Trump’s allegations of Biden’s (or Bidan’s, as Trump misspelled his name) “low IQ” by saying that North Korean Chairman Kim agrees with him on that point is pretty ludicrous. (Kim’s a guy we should trust after he reportedly executed members of his summit staff after Trump walked out on their most recent talks?) How can Sanders and other Trump spokespeople keep a straight face? Is toadying up to Trump worth it just to keep their jobs? And Trump managed to work mention of Biden’s supposed low IQ into his press conference in Japan probably to his hosts’ surprise. This comedy of errors might be entertaining if its consequences weren’t so serious. Joe Biden is not a brilliant orator like Obama or even a thoughtful policy wonk like Hillary Clinton, and he is not politically correct (which might actually endear him to Trump supporters), but he’s several notches above Donald Trump on the IQ scale.

If Trump were not occupying such an influential office right now inflicting major damage around the world, we would want to show compassion toward someone so obviously mentally and emotionally challenged, someone who apparently struggled through higher education bolstered by his father’s influence and a fake draft deferment, a guy who now knows he’s in way over his head. If Republicans did not support him so mindlessly, he might be gone by now.

I agree with Nancy Pelosi (a much savvier politician than Donald Trump will ever be) that The Donald seems to be begging for impeachment. He’s not quite sure what it means, but he knows it’s something bad. Actually, impeachment doesn’t mean the end of a presidency, at least it didn’t for Bill Clinton. Does Trump think it would raise his profile as a tough guy and arouse his base and fellow Republicans in his defense? Or is he even thinking that far ahead? Trump has speculated about Pelosi’s mental fitness too when she is a way sharper and better politician than he will ever be. And she is right, why invoke impeachment? When Bill Clinton was impeached, it only increased his popularity. Trump supporters would rally in his defense—better to keep investigating and reveal his lies and coverups. Defeat him at the ballot box and then let him rant about election fraud.

With his usual lack of modesty, Trump did not credit Russia or even his faithful voters for helping him get elected.  “No, Russia did not get me elected,” Trump said. “You know who got me elected? You know who got me elected? I got me elected.” If he were a normal guy, a savvy politician and head of state, he would find a way to make a joke about the baby Trump blimp if it shows up again in London. But no, his hosts will have to try to shield him from it because of his very thin skin, just as efforts were made to prevent him from seeing John McCain’s name on a ship.

Rep. Lauren Underwood, a nurse and first-term Democratic congresswoman from Illinois, has accused the head of the Department of Homeland Security of implementing policies that have directly resulted in the deaths of five migrant children in U.S. Border Patrol custody. Another relatively new Congressperson, Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., agreed that the migrant deaths were "intentional" based on actions taken by the Trump administration to halt or limit Central American migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. Specifically referred to were policies separating parents from children and keeping minors in detention in sometimes inadequate and overcrowded circumstances where contagion can spread. The deaths were probably not intentional, though the policies that may have contributed to those deaths were intentional and designed to inflict discomfort. On the other hand, the kids who died had probably originally come from very impoverished circumstances and had arrived at the border malnourished after an arduous and exhausting journey, so may have been especially vulnerable.

You probably know about the case of Scott Warren, an Arizona doctor who was arrested helping migrants. “Providing humanitarian aid is never a crime. “If Dr. Warren were convicted and imprisoned on these absurd charges, he would be a prisoner of conscience, detained for his volunteer activities motivated by humanitarian principles and his religious beliefs,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

In Mexico, which at first had welcomed migrants, most headed to the US, is finding patience now wearing thin and some migrants are being deported by Mexico. Mexican President Lopez Obrador seems to want to maintain good relations with the Cuban leadership by making a special effort to deport Cuban migrants (who have struggled mightily to get as far as Mexico), while Cubans who make it across the US border are not treated any better than any other migrants.  A Mexican priest helping all migrants and running a migrant shelter, Father Alejandro Solalinde, has called upon the Mexican president to treat all migrants equally and with compassion and not to selectively deport Cubans, implying that the consequences for a Cuban deportee are more dire than for a Guatemalan deportee.

Specific examples of Cuba’s export of medical services for direct payment to the Cuban government with only a small stipend to the doctors themselves is described in both my books. And the food shortage in Cuba and exemption of food from the US embargo is treated in my Confessions book. In both cases, I don’t cite statistics, but use the experiences of actual people to demonstrate.  

The hidden world of the doctors Cuba sends overseas

Shortages plague Cuba as U.S. sanctions sharpen economic woes

[Here’s an alternative view.]
The U.S. Bears No Blame as Cuba Starves on Its Policies Today, less than 25% of Cuba’s arable land is in cultivation. Wall St, Journal, May 20, 2019. Regarding “Cuba to Ration Sales of Basic Food Items” (World News, May 13), Cuba’s Commerce Minister Betsy Diaz asserts that the U.S. embargo forces the island to buy food from distant markets, which raises prices. The “distant markets” for about 75% of Cuba’s food imports are actually in the U.S.

Former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo (2010-2014) is being investigated by an OAS body on money laundering and drug charges.
According to folks in Honduras, the current president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, may be involved as well as the former president. President Hernandez’s brother is being investigated by US authorities for money laundering and drug trafficking.

Now, the US Embassy, a place I know well, was attacked in protests over decrees by Hernandez that his critics argue will lead to the privatization of public services. The demonstrators were pushed toward the embassy after being dispersed from a nearby commercial zone by police, though it was not immediately clear why they attacked the building. They set fire to embassy gate.

Amnesty International writes to the government of Trinidad and Tobago [within my responsibility as Amnesty International USA’s volunteer Caribbean coordinator] to welcome the recent announcement that a registration process will be opened for Venezuelan migrants and refugees in the country and to request further information on the proposal.
TO KEITH CHRISTOPHER ROWLEY PRIME MINISTER OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO Dear Prime Minister, I am writing on behalf of Amnesty International to welcome your government’s recent announcement that a registration process will be opened for Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Trinidad and Tobago and to request further information on the proposal. The human rights situation in Venezuela As you may have seen, just this month Amnesty International issued its most recent in a series of reports on Venezuela, Hunger for justice: Crimes against humanity in Venezuela.1 It details how selective extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, and deaths and injuries caused by the excessive use of force by the Venezuelan authorities or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the Venezuelan authorities, may constitute crimes against humanity and require an urgent response from the international community. This situation, as well as the serious deterioration in living conditions and the systematic violation of economic, social and cultural rights, have forced more than 3.7 million people to flee Venezuela, and at least 3 million are in other Latin American or Caribbean countries and in need international protection. Venezuelans need international protection In September 2018, in our letter2 to Presidents across the Latin America and Caribbean region, in the face of mass human rights violations in Venezuela we called on regional states to provide unrestricted access to international systems of protection such as refugee status and other complementary mechanisms, to expedite access for Venezuelans to legal residency with appropriate safeguards, and to strictly adhere to and respect the principle of non-refoulement. (The whole document on line.)

Among the lesser known Democratic presidential hopefuls is 44-year-old Andrew Yang, the only one of total Asian descent so far. On-line, Yang is described as a wealthy philanthropist and the founder of Venture for America. He apparently has never held public office. However, he has an intriguing idea, namely to give each American $1,000 a month as a basic income. He points that in red-state Alaska, the annual oil stipend for all residents helps lift up everyone there and bolsters the whole economy. Since jobs are being automated at a fast clip, such a provision would keep people and the economy going.  

If men are so concerned about women getting abortions, it might help if more men were willing to provide child support and if legal and societal pressure obligated them to do so.

Restrictive state laws on abortion have reignited the abortion debate decades after Roe, while in that same period, other mores have shifted rapidly and substantially, such as for couples living together out-of-wedlock, single motherhood, gay marriage and gay relationships, and even assisted suicide. All those involve consenting adults. But abortion may or may not involve another individual, that is the crucial question. Abortion is not so easy to support, despite prominent women who have worn the abortion label as a badge of honor and the “women’s rights” rhetoric used, along with efforts to categorize it as “medical care” and apply the tortuous label of “anti-abortion-rights advocates” to opponents. What about just calling them “anti-abortion”? Such opponents are simply against regarding abortion as a “right.” And some women have publicly bragged about achievements attributable to their abortion. But many mothers have accomplished as much or more. Abortion is not a sacrament; it deserves a more nuanced and reasonable discussion than that occurring right now, but most political issues are now suffering the same polarized treatment.

Pope Francis has come out forcefully against abortion, having been somewhat muted before and sympathetic to women who have sought one. I admit to having always been very invested in my kids, whether they came to me by birth, adoption, or foster care (Cuban foster son). And having tragically lost both my older son and foster son, I am still protective of my surviving kids, even now, when all are age 45 and older. So I may be more maternally oriented than some other women, but I can still sympathize with the panic felt by those who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and be concerned about the harmful lengths they might try to go to avoid giving birth. But the whole discussion of the pre-Roe use of coat hangers and of maternal deaths, though some did occur, has been greatly exaggerated, especially now when safer and easier options like the morning-after pill exist and are unlikely to be outlawed. Some initially panicked women have gone on to give birth and to bond with their children, grateful to have them. The stigma against unwed motherhood has greatly diminished so now now about 40% of all US births are to single women. But the overall US birthrate is below replacement, which is concerning.   

In my opinion, use of the morning-after-pill and first-trimester abortions should not, and, as a practical matter, cannot be easily and legally prevented and most Americans would agree. But, after that, support for abortion falls off and I’ve expressed my own concern especially about abortions occurring later in the second trimester when some fetuses could survive outside the womb and when they can feel pain, so the method used, if considered necessary, must still be humane.

Of course, children become adults and adults come in all configurations. Some become Mother Teresa while others may end up as Donald Trump or even Joseph Stalin. And the so-called Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though I am a long-time member of Amnesty International, is hardly universal or unchanging. Families, groups, communities, and nations develop their own mores, which are not static. In the stone age, males may have killed each other with rocks and clubs and raped females after dragging them off by their hair. We are all descended from them.

As a frequent listener to NPR, I often hear ads for Raymond James, a financial advisory firm that my late son Andrew worked for at the reception desk in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, for several years. After that, he left to work for a company changing truck tires going flat out on the highway, a physically demanding job that resulted in a serious back injury which eventually led to his death. He was awaiting back surgery and taking oxycodone when he died in his sleep. Now, I am wondering if we should enter a class action lawsuit against the drug? Although he was not addicted as he had been taking it only a short time, his doctor may have been unaware then, 25 years ago, of its dangers. But the statute of limitations may have run out and who knows where his doctor might be now? I’m not sure I want to revisit the matter and money alone could never compensate for his death.

Some things never change, such as the lowly bedbug. Since even dinosaurs were plagued by bedbugs, it’s no wonder those darn critters are so hard to eliminate. They will probably even survive when humans are long gone. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Mother’s Day, Graduates, Statehood, Carter’s Accident, Trump to Host Migrants? Businessman Trump. McConnell, Latin America, Since Parkland, Property Tax Proposal, Sex Boycott, Abortion Rights & Wrongs, Socialism, Beliefs & Reality, Royal Birth, Churches, Testosterone

                Above, Mother's Day in W Va. where son Jonathan lives,
           myself here with him and daughter Melanie. Daughter Stephanie
           in Hawaii sent a package that included a live orchid.               
               [Apologies for any odd spacing, cannot seem to fix it.]
 My visitors from Bhutan and Nepal have graduated from a                   certificate program at George Washington U. law school. The
 young man from Bhutan appears with me here. 


 Not having a TV set or ever having watched TV, I’ve been                         completely out of the cultural loop on “Game of Thrones.”
May more billionaires follow the lead of Morehouse College   commencement speaker Robert Smith in paying off student loans (hint here to Donald Trump).

Southland College Prep Charter High School is sending all its seniors to college in the fall. It’s rare for a school to do that, especially one where almost all the students are African American. But the south suburban Richton Park, Illinois, charter school is doing it again for the sixth year in a row. Southland’s student body is more than 90% African American. All 116 students in the senior class are graduating this month. The students have collectively earned more than $50 million in scholarships, according to school officials.

Hooray! The U.S. House of Representatives will take up a vote on D.C. statehood next week – the   first time the chamber has voted on the issue in more than 25 years.

Ninety-four-year-old former President Jimmy Carter, the longest-lived former president, fell and broke his hip when he was getting ready to go out hunting wild turkeys. Carter, as I have said before in these pages and in my books, was someone I have known and talked with on several occasions, but not lately. I do wish him a speedy recovery. Hip fractures are not uncommon among older folks and often are a death knell, but Carter has excellent care and, like Ronald Reagan, who also broke a hip in his 90’s, I would expect him to recover.

Good idea for migrants being sent to Florida: Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen said, “I would suggest that we bring them to the Trump hotels and ask the president to open his heart and home.” 

News headline: KARMA ALERT: Trump Appeal Now Goes To Court Headed By Merrick Garland.

Savvy businessman? Trump fired back at the New York Times after the newspaper obtained his state tax returns from 1985 to 1994, showing that his businesses lost more than $1 billion during that period. According to the Times, Trump lost more money than nearly any other taxpayer in the country. Trump lost so much during those years, the paper added, “he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years.” (Ordinary taxpayers like you and me cannot say the same.) So, Trump’s wealth and business savvy are fake news. No wonder he wanted his tax returns kept secret! He is a fake billionaire and probably a tax cheat like Nixon as well, but on a much grander scale. No wonder he has been trying to keep his tax returns and financial records secret! The emperor has no clothes and he may yet run our economy into the ground as well. Will his base still support him, simply dismissing his new tax information more “fake news”? He is the true king of fake news, taking advantage of his bully pulpit to spread it. He deflects attention from himself by accusing his opponents of doing precisely what he is doing.

Trump voters and supporters have made the point that Democrats have acted arrogantly toward them, disparaging their intelligence (“deplorables”) and acting like superior know-it-alls. But read any Republican oriented on-line or print publication to see very snarky disparaging labels put on Democrats and the “Democrat” Party, accusing them of “socialism” and of wanting a police state like that of Stalin, Castro, and Mao. But usually Democrats don’t express hurt feelings as Republicans do. Rather, to the extent that Democratic lawmakers might be considered socialists, they envision socialism along Scandinavian lines, that is, with private profitmaking enterprises existing alongside generous social and governmental benefits (and high taxes).

With Trump in the presidency, our country has let the fox into the henhouse or else we (some of us anyway) have clutched the viper to our bosom. With one hand, he gave a big tax cut to the wealthy who contributed to his candidacy while recouping some of those losses through tariffs being paid by American consumers. Meanwhile, the national debt has soared and there is talk of cutting Medicaid, food stamps, and social security.

Being a leader means being able to make decisions for a group, organization, nation, or the world that others have confidence in and will follow. With Trump in charge, his orders are not always carried out because it often becomes evident to his immediate subordinates that his decisions are dangerous, blatantly misguided, or wrong. The problem with Trump being thrust into a leadership role is not only that he is breathtakingly ignorant on very simple matters, large and small, but he seems to believe that he knows more than the experts in any field. Then when his decisions go array, he blames others, or else the media for distortion. He tries to act presidential, but ends up as a parody. Comics have quite a challenge making fun of him, since he is already doing a pretty good job himself. Most of us could better in the presidency than he has done.

In contrast, Nancy Pelosi seems to be an effective and thoughtful political leader with a long-term perspective. She wants to avoid or stall talk of impeachment or censure to avoid riling up Trump supporters.

Trump is such an impulsive and thoughtless decision maker that when the totally foreseeable bad outcomes of his decisions come to pass, as with the China trade war, he now proposes subsidies for farmers predictably impacted by his hasty decision, as he is starting to worry about losing their votes in 2020. But farmers are saying, “We want trade, not aid.” And what about helping not only farmers but consumers too? What about the growing national debt? Even white men without a college education might now start questioning their knee-jerk support. And once the tide begins to turn against Mr. Trump and his base starts losing faith, it could become an avalanche. He seems to be aware of that and looking toward 2020, has reversed his steel and aluminum tariffs and made a clumsy stab at immigration reform in a plan crafted by his son-in-law. After being such an unpopular president and having lost the popular vote by such a wide margin, he would have to do a lot to gain the trust of the majority. Now, his off-the-cuff and hollow efforts are probably too little and too late, despite the still strong economy. The tariff war with China has already cost consumers more than the relief afforded by tax reform. Trump’s base has grown very little since he’s been in office.

As the field of Democratic presidential contenders continue to grow, we are losing count. How many are there now? It seems to be 24 or 25 at the moment. Each probably feels he or she would be a slam dunk over Trump. Meanwhile, they can raise their own political profile and the issues they care about and henceforth put “2020 presidential candidate” on their resume.
Four American tourists and their Canadian pilot died in a small plane crash off the northern Caribbean islands of Honduras.

Now, even Mexico’s initial welcome to migrants seems to be wearing thin.

In Nicaragua, a jailed American protester has been killed in a scuffle with guards.

When it comes to changing governance in Venezuela and Cuba (and Nicaragua), I am closer to this administration’s goals there than on anything else, but not necessarily on the tactics being used. The current leadership of those countries is overdue to be replaced according to my considerable personal and human rights experience. However, the lukewarm support on US Venezuela policy from traditional allies probably stems from negativity around the world toward Trump and anything his administration is trying to do, regardless of its possible merit.

Now, instead of the “special period” of scarcity experienced in the 1990’s during my Cuba visits, it’s being called the “exceptional period.”

On a Spanish language on-line news service (CubaNet), accusations (speculations?) have appeared that the Cuban regime, instead of helping Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez with his health problems, actually made them worse. When he went to Havana for treatment, it is alleged that his condition was deliberately aggravated so that the more malleable Nicolas Maduro could be brought on board, a man who would then be totally beholden to the Cubans. Chavez was not a good guy and was ruthlessly repressive—I have known credible victims of his government’s tactics—but Maduro has been even worse and has never enjoyed as much popular support. However, it would be an almost fatal blow to the Cuban regime, now in power for more than 60 years, and also to Ortega in Nicaragua, if Maduro should fall and Guaidó took over. And, yes, it would be a feather in Trump’s cap if that should happen, and then I could finally give his administration credit for achieving something positive. We should hope that the Maduro regime will not last as long as the Castros in Cuba

During the Venezuelan political standoff, water and electricity had been turned off at the embassy in Washington, while 4 American Maduro supporters remained holed up inside. Jesse Jackson brought them food. Outside, Venezuelan exiles, Guaidó supporters, created a protective ring around the embassy. Finally, the saga ended with the arrest of the “trespassers.”  

Since Parkland #sinceparkland, nearly 1,200 American kids and teens have been killed by guns with all their names listed by the Miami Herald,

Another was just killed. Six early teen boys were at a sleepover in Illinois when one shot and killed another, he said by accident. I imagine it was like with my younger son, that the boy hosting the others found his father's gun and, while playing around, shot and killed his friend. It could have happened to my son, who was 11 at the time, but he was only shot in the foot. I would like to see a comparison of accidental or malicious gun killings put side-by-side with a list of people whose lives were saved by “a good guy with a gun.”

There have been far too many school shootings in the US and too many shootings overall, accidental or otherwise. Fatal shootings have become an epidemic. If a distraught or disturbed 9-year-old can get access to a gun and kill his mother, as happened in Michigan, then there are too many guns in circulation. The tide of public opinion seems to be turning against the NRA and its relentless parroting of the “Second Amendment right to bear arms.” Death threats made by self-declared NRA members against gun control advocates have called into question the NRA’s tax-exempt status.

DC Councilmember Grasso proposed an extra property tax for “mansions,” houses assessed at over $1 million. That would put a crimp in sales of DC properties, I would imagine. And what about old timers like myself, with 50 years on Capitol Hill? Does he want us to be displaced? Our property taxes are already very high.  

The call for a sex boycott (of whom by whom?) if Georgia doesn’t change its new abortion proposal is a little puzzling, since a sex boycott would effectively limit demand for abortions.

If even evangelical leader Pat Robertson says Alabama’s anti-abortion bill goes too far, that’s saying something. (No one has promoted sanctioning a woman who seeks an abortion, only the doctor who performs one.) Maybe the Alabama bill was enacted as a test case to see how far curbs might be able to go. But with abortion inducing pills available in the early stages, probably even in Alabama, there is little risk of a return to coat hangers. Of course, as I’ve said before, as both an adoptive and a birth mother, with my American adopted children born before Roe, I am well aware that they probably would not have been born if that decision had been in effect then. So I am more ambivalent about abortion rights than many women. When Roe was enacted, the matter may not have been totally thought-out or knowledge may have been incomplete then, with more about fetal development known now. There seems to be majority support for first trimester abortions, so there is little argument about that part of Roe (except maybe in Alabama), but it may be time to rethink practices after that. In addition to having known functioning second-trimester-born children and having felt second-trimester movements myself, I heard an interview with a woman working at Planned Parenthood who quit after she saw on an ultrasound the fetus seemingly trying to evade the extricating tool during an abortion. And 2nd or even 3rd trimester abortions deemed necessary because of severe fetal abnormalities, that is, any abortion when the fetus has sensation, should be done humanely, in the form of euthanasia, perhaps with a lethal dose of a sedative or anesthetic. I’ve seen many discussions of situations justifying a late-term abortion, but never any mention of the means. There have been perhaps erroneous reports of crushing the skull and extracting the organs and tissues for transplantation or experimentation, or is that just anti-abortion propaganda?

At the same time, a fertilized ovum prior to implantation is just a potential life, not an actual one. It might be held in frozen limbo for years; it might not implant; and it might even divide into 2 or 3. As I’ve said, most Americans would probably approve allowing first trimester abortions, that is, up to 12 weeks or approximately 3 months. The “abortion rights” issue has not “flipped” as quickly as gay marriage perhaps because of its moral ambiguity. “Death with dignity” or medical suicide in the face of terminal illness is less controversial because it involves a decision by a consenting adult, while an unborn child has no voice.

As mentioned before, I’ve seen very functional and lovable kids through my interpretation work, born at only 25 or 26 weeks. The 2nd trimester is defined as 13-28 weeks, so I would hesitate to see approval of abortions then, especially at that later end except for very drastic reasons. And if the fetus is born alive after being taken from the womb, every effort should be made to maintain viability. In the 3rd trimester, any abortion deemed necessary should be in the form of euthanasia, perhaps with a lethal dose of a sedative or anesthetic. I’ve seen many discussions of cases justifying a 3rd trimester abortion, but never any mention of the means. So maybe in light of new medical knowledge, revising Roe is justifiable, but with this court, who knows? The issue is sure to sharpen the political divide. Of course, pregnancy, like any aspect of life, is a continuum, not discreet trimester categories. As mores have changed, most unmarried women who give birth keep their babies, so very few give them up for adoption.

Any student of history and comparative culture knows that questions around abortion or any other issue can never be settled once and for all by the Supreme Court or any other human entity. Right and wrong are not written in stone like the 10 Commandments handed down from on high, although some US lawmakers have tried to erect stone facsimiles. Mores do change, as is happening now with the Me-Too movement to the chagrin of men operating under the old rules. And the abortion issue is currently caught up in a fierce debate. Roe was not the final word. I once knew a man from Papua New Guinea who told me that in his country, it was a rite of passage for a young man to murder at least one member of a rival tribe. (He hinted that he done so himself.) Moral relativity is the rule not the exception in all human development. And while many of us in the human rights movement tout the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such rights are hardly universal or static.

From the distance of time, I’ve been musing about my naïve beliefs as a young woman, beliefs fostered by American and world culture about the light at the end of the tunnel, the treasure at the end of the rainbow, and living happily ever after. “Follow your dreams;” “Don’t ‘settle’ for less;” “Keep on working toward your goals,” these hopes and admonitions are still popular among young people (and those of all ages), fostered by motivational speakers, books, TV shows, social media. and films. When I left home at age 16 to attend college (my parents were living in Colombia then), I felt emancipated and finally in charge of my own destiny. I envisioned a life of smooth sailing after graduation, following a very traditional trajectory: a job, marriage, a house, then kids. I did manage to achieve most of it. Of course, I soon found out that the sailing is never smooth for very long and that new challenges and obstacles always arise. We can never rest on our laurels. Finally, in old age, I am no longer surprised by unexpected consequences.  And a life of unbroken ease would actually be rather boring and make us feel pretty useless. I remember the occupational therapy adage of the need for ”purposeful activity” (which applies even to pets and zoo animals). Perhaps that’s why folks decide to run marathons and why celebrities end up with so many drug problems, rivalries, and divorces. It’s fun to go on vacation or out for an evening, but not all the time. I suspect that those who retire to Disneyfied senior gated communities promising non-stop access to golf, movies, and dances soon find out that life there is not all fun and games after all. Having lived to retirement age, how can they have been so easily duped?

Speaking of dreams and reality, it’s not very surprising that Meghan Markle did not give birth at home, as per her publicly announced plan, but was transferred to a hospital. First-time mothers may think they are fully prepared physically and psychologically for “natural childbirth.” After all, birth has been a normal, universal human experience occurring over the eons. So, before-the-fact, they imagine that they won’t need any intervention for delay, complications, or pain, probably considering the prospect of future pain in the abstract before any reality actually hits them. Most births the world over do involve substantial pain with nothing done to alleviate it, but since a royal has a choice, then, if and when the going gets rough, it’s no surprise that she would take it. Of course, just speculating here as childbirth experiences do vary. If an infant is small or the mother has given birth before, the newborn may just slip out, surprising the mother, who may not have even realized she was pregnant. But that is rare.

On the subject of the new royal baby, much has been made about his mixed racial heritage. Already, his mother’s barely evident African American ethnicity has been exaggerated and highlighted by her in her wedding ceremony. Her own mother is also quite light-skinned. If Markle never mentioned her racial background, she could easily “pass.” Her child’s ethnicity will be even more diluted. My granddaughter, with an African American father, looks far more “black” than Meghan Markle, and my great-grandson more so still, but they don’t go around touting it; it’s just a fact. Maybe Markle wants to stand out more within the royal family?

I mentioned last time that I had attended an Amnesty International volunteer colleague’s memorial service. It was held in a local Episcopal church whose stained-glass windows, music, vestments, and rituals are very like those in a Catholic church. In fact, they are so similar that a Catholic visitor from Nigeria thought he was attending a Catholic church, when it was actually a local Episcopal church. I salute the Episcopal church for its married and women priests, something which we Catholics certainly should emulate. I say “we Catholics” with some hesitation, as the pedophile scandal within the church has been very alienating and I’m not quite sure I still want to remain within the fold. 

Sexuality seems to be running amok not only with scandals being revealed within the Catholic and other churches, most recently, in the Church of England, but also among the Boy Scouts, Olympic sports, Hollywood, radio and TV, physicians’ practices, universities, schools, and elective offices. Is this explosion of awareness merely a recognition of “human nature,” or perhaps a result of the effects of male testosterone boosted by a culture of sexual entitlement? Based my own and friends’ experiences that it has been going on for decades, probably much longer.

Speaking of testosterone, female athletes who have enhanced their performance by taking it have been disqualified. How South African runner Caster Semenya would be classified along a gender continuum is unknown, but she is speculated to be intersex or to have a rare combination of X and Y chromosomes. In any case, her testosterone levels are very high for a female and outwardly she looks like a man with a flat chest, square jaw, broad shoulders, and, perhaps, facial hair. In recorded interviews, her voice sounds masculine. So, where is the gender divide? And what about males who transition to female? Certainly, testosterone provides an advantage in both men’s and women’s sports and so taking extra testosterone is forbidden. But here is the case of Semenya, identified as female at birth, who apparently is not taking anything. Is she just a lucky natural athlete? What if she were 6-foot-6 and played basketball? Would that be unfair? Female competitors, no matter how hard they train, cannot seem to catch up to her. The jury is still out about what to do about Semenya, but requiring suppression of natural testosterone seems rather drastic