Thursday, July 20, 2017

Nigerians’ Departure, Honduran Visitors, Friend’s 70th Birthday, Book Translation, Etc.



I put the photo of me wearing my Honduras Peace Corps t-shirt next to an airplane seatmate wearing his Panama PC shirt on LinkedIn and it has had over 7,000 views there—never expected it to be an internet sensation. Here it is again. 






Photos above refer to a 600-page book I am translating from Spanish to English for a friend. The intact published Spanish version is on the floor, but I also have loose pages from the book. Each time I've translated both sides of a page, I throw it on the floor to make me feel like I'm progressing.
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Below: I had two summer visitors from Honduras, Gustavo, the judge from Choluteca in my Honduras Peace Corps book (Triumph & Hops: Golden Years with the Peace Corps in Honduras), and his wife.







Haruna, one of my GAO visitors, had to leave early, but Stephen (above) stayed until the end and got his certificate of completion. A GAO friend and his wife and I joined him for lunch at a local eatery the day before his departure. I miss both Stephen and Haruna, but am enjoying a sort respite from visitors.






Above, my friend Pam's 70th birthday--she gave me permission to post photos. Her husband roasted a whole pig for the occasion and her daughter, shown with her on the left, 2 photos up, came out from California for the occasion. (It's a milestone I've long since passed.)

Short, cogent article below about Trump’s war on the press. Berating the press is not only a favorite form of protection or denial for Trump, but is part of keeping up his image of a being combative tough guy.

Rumor has it that Trump wants to buy TIME magazine—then he can put a bona fide heroic photo of himself on the cover!

One has to wonder if cancellation of the longstanding plan to move FBI headquarters to a new location was retaliation for FBI investigation, current and future, into Trump’s affairs?

It’s so sad that the fluke of Trump’s election has ushered in a government of blatant cruelty, stinginess, and greed, a malignant government, whatever the issue or policy. What hurts me most is the cruelty of deportation orders—Iraqi Christians, a 20-year Mexican coffee farmer deported from Kona in Hawaii, and the parents of four American teen and preteen siblings living in San Diego, leaving them to fend for themselves. If it’s not broken, why break it? Why deliberately disrupt lives for no good reason? Common sense, fairness, nuance, are simply not applied by either Jeff Sessions or Donald Trump. They are impervious to appeals to empathy, an emotion with which they apparently lack, except when it comes to the Trump family, which is accorded all sorts of protections and perks.

As for Obamacare’s failure, Trump can take steps to make that happen. Already, all the uncertainty is riling the healthcare market.

Texas U.S. Representative Bill Flores, a Republican now in his fourth term in the state’s 17th District, told a local CBS affiliate that Trump’s children, as well as his son-in-law, should be bounced from the White House. A good idea!

Honduras is on "red alert" over the number of women being murdered, according to the country's rights activists. Members of 20 different women's groups have banded together to highlight the problem, saying at least 18 women were killed in the past two weeks. The organizations say out of 463 women murdered last year, only 15 cases were investigated. The country's overall murder rate is down, according to official statistics. The state figures, released this week, show the total murders fell by 22% in the first six months of this year. The government says it is making progress and is working to reduce violence across the country https://www.yahoo.com/news/m/4becb051-f7ad-394c-a7c0-af2e0cdfc24b/ss_honduras-on-%27red-alert%27-over.html

My friend and former housemate, a water specialist on contract with USAID, was off to the Congo where many unfortunate South Sudan refugees have fled and need clean water in the refugee camps. Of course, like all good things, including Peace Corps, Trump’s budget wants to cut USAID and foreign aid to give tax cuts to the upper brackets.


AI  issued an Urgent Action for our Turkey director: https://www.amnestyusa.org/urgent-actions/urgent-action-free-director-of-ai-turkey-turkey-ua-166-17/

Our organization also issued two new UAs for Cuban prisoners:


However, we just got word that the three siblings below have been released


Panama offers Cuban migrants a ticket to Havana and $1,650 each. Most don’t want to return there.

I dreamt about my late son Andrew, who died in 2004. I was surprised to have him show up after so many years. He said he had been living and working in California and would be moving back to our area, which pleased me. My daughters still have pieces of his clothing,




Thursday, July 6, 2017

Nigerian visitors, Oregon Family Remembrance and Reunion, Honduras, Vehicle as Terror Weapon, Basic Income

Here I am in my home office with my Nigerian GAO visitor (at right, since departed) and two additional guests whom he invited to our house. Along with Stephen, another Nigerian, I was almost began feeling like the minority American in my own house! The Nigerians do speak English, but also chat together in other languages, as is common in Africa. Nigeria is a country I've never visited, but would like to see some day, having heard so much about it. Do we ever have enough time, money, and reasons to explore so many interesting parts of the world? I've lived in or visited most countries in Europe and the Americas, but been to only three in Africa: Kenya, South Sudan, and Morocco, in Asia, only to Japan and Thailand. But, since 2000, when I joined the Peace Corps in Honduras, that country has been my main destination, 13 times in the 13 years since Peace Corps as a medical brigade volunteer and interpreter.

Below, photos from late June 2017 "Joe family reunion" in Portland, Oregon, also a memorial held there for my late ex-husband's sister who passed away at age 84, just days before our scheduled get-together. Although I was divorced after spending 24 years as a member of the "Joe" clan (last name's spelling thanks to Papa Joe when he arrived from Korea), later, because of marriages, my own side of the family are practically the only ones still bearing the odd "Joe" last name. (I'm glad now to be accepted back into the fold.)



 Above various gatherings, not everybody together at all times in all places. Our gathering spanned several days.

Left and below, eating at pirate-themed  restaurant. (If I were better at arranging these photos, they wouldn't take up so much space.)

Family members came from the east coast (ourselves), Minnesota, California, and various parts of Oregon.

Above, my nephew Darrel, a loud snorer, right,  great-grandson De'Andre in pool at our Air B&B rental with my nephew Conrad. 



 Below, Darrell with daughter (a model and clothes designer) in the California Bay area. De'Andre in hot tub.






Below, making Korean mandu, something I once often made years ago with the family.



Above, center, new widower Bernard, age 85,  wife of the recently departed and mourned Elizabeth; at left is my granddaughter Natasha,



 Early fireworks

The beautiful gardens of our rented house put me in mind of one of my favorite childhood books, The Secret Garden. 






 


Below, Multnomah Falls--the others crossed the bridge partway up, but I stayed behind, being afraid of heights.
Osprey below is a common bird of prey in the area, seen here in the falls' museum.




Above, on flight back to DC, fortuitously and with completely random seating, I found myself next to another former Peace Corps volunteer, both of us wearing our PC t-shirts, his for Panama, mine for Honduras. Small world! 


We had such a wonderful reunion with my ex-husband’s family, people I was once close to but was cut off from for a time after 24 years of marriage to my late ex-husband, who remarried. They all accepted me as if I had never been gone. Now we were brought together again, as can be seen, but sadly, my ex's older sister, Elizabeth/Betty, age 84, died days before our scheduled get-together.

Since I don’t have or watch TV in my own home, it was revelation for me to see it airing fairly constantly at the AirB&B house that we were renting. There are lots of commercials on TV depicting an idealized version of the American family, a Mom, a Dad, a couple of kids playing outdoors while a dog romps with them. The news and ads seemed repetitious. I’m so grateful for more balanced and substantive public radio news with few ads and I only hope Trump Inc. won’t manage to gut that, along with other damage he is doing.

Apparently Comey was not the only government official that Trump leaned on to stop the Russia investigation. But others have apparently testified to that behind closed doors.

Team Trump plans to reduce Peace Corps spending by close to $12 million immediately. This is not good news and could portend even deeper cuts in the years ahead. More at : http://peacecorpsworldwide. org/taylor-dibbert-now-isnt- the-time-to-cut-peace-corps- funding-guatemala/


Sen. Bernie Sanders has gleefully pointed out Trump’s praise of the Australian single-payer health care system in a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, after making unfavorable comments about our own system.

No need to say much about Trump’s continuing weird and concerning personal behavior, which speaks for itself and which may still inspire his base—the worse he acts, the better a shrinking number seem to like it—and is something which the spineless Republican Party mostly fails to acknowledge.  Maybe he likes being an outrageous showman to distract from his other problems: lack of broad popularity, the Russian investigation, his dearth of knowledge and plans, his apparent mental and emotional deficiencies. The guy seems impervious to embarrassment and unaware of normal expectations. (His family and staff must secretly be cringing.) He and Kim Jung-Un, two crazies, are a dangerous, possibly combustible, combination.

Of course, Kim’s ace-in-the-hole is nuclear capability. Thank goodness that the Soviets halted Cuba’s attempt to acquire the same, or we might be facing a similar threat much closer to home.

I was at a recent interpretation assignment for speech and behavioral therapy for a boy and his father. The boy is being regularly coached to pay more attention, wait his turn, and respond appropriately. Too bad Trump won’t be attending any such therapy to help him learn to behave in a less impulsive and more socially acceptable manner, but maybe it’s too late for him. My 9-year-old great-grandson would be as capable as Trump of declaring that North Korea has engaged in "very, very bad behavior” and that “something will have to be done about it," warning of “severe things” (such as what?). Maybe Trump wants to keep Kim guessing?

As part of the American majority who never voted for the Donald, I do feel resentful of the quirks of the electoral college and Republican gerrymandering which have allowed an uniformed and vindictive minority to hold our country hostage with this clown. In the other hand, he makes for a lively news cycle, ample fodder for conversation, and is certainly one for the history books. 

Glad to hear there has been a stay of deportation of Iraqi Christians.  Can’t Trump’s evangelical supporters get behind the effort to support them?
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/22/iraq-deportation-us-judge-halts-detroit-ice-raid

Environmental activist Bertha Caceres’ daughter and namesake, carrying on her work in Honduras, reportedly narrowly escaped a machete attack.


Vehicles being used as terror weapons has proven to be a frightening new development since vehicles are everywhere and readily available, and are also needed in everyday life. 

Finally, since greater automation allows more production with fewer workers, there will be no going back to the mass factory jobs of old (sorry, Trump) nor a romantic return to rugged frontier individualism and survival of the fittest, a vision at least given lip service by many Republican politicians. Nor should the financial benefits of automation accrue only to CEOs and shareholders, but can be more equitably distributed in a national “safety net,” if you will, including in support of education and the arts, to offer people more avenues of what we used to call “purposeful activity” when I worked at the occupational therapy association. A guaranteed minimum income, universal health care, and support for education at least at the community college level (Hillary Clinton’s plan) would benefit the economy by promoting jobs—both in the health and education sectors and by providing buying power to benefit recipients. I am not advocating Soviet (or Cuban) style top-down control of the entire economy or full-blown socialism, whatever that means, but something along the lines of the system of the Nordic countries have adopted, with regular, fair elections, a competitive economy, substantial taxes, and a basic minimum social safety net. Those countries have proved that such a system can work in the real world. Henry Ford deliberately paid his workers enough to buy the cars they made—what goes around, comes around—we need to keep the economy and life moving and even Donald Trump cannot take it with him.

Here’s a start in the US--from Business Insider: Hawaii just became the first US state to pass a bill supporting basic income — here's the man behind it--State Representative Chris Lee. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Asylum Hearing, Comey Testimony, Trump’s Birthday, South Sudan, Japanese Emperor, Human Rights

The immigration debate came home to me, as it often does in my interpretation work, as I was the interpreter at an asylum hearing for a high school student who came here as an unaccompanied minor and who is now over age 18. I really cannot say more because of confidentiality rules, just that I would think such individual cases would pull at the heartstrings of most observers, even Trump supporters, though maybe not Jeff Sessions.
On June 8, when James Comey was testifying before Congress, I happened to be at meeting the Amnesty In’tl USA’s DC office and stayed on to see C-Span’s live TV coverage (I don’t have TV myself). Comey sounded quite credible and sincere. Republican lawmakers, as usual, seem to be hanging tight with Trump, at least for the most part, and at the hearing, they tried to steer back to Clinton’s failings, as if to make them equivalent to Trump’s. SOS to Republicans, Trump, not Hillary, is president now!! McCain, who actually sounded a bit demented, especially focused on Hillary’s e-mails. I’m surprised he didn’t mention Benghazi! Later, McCain claimed to have stayed up late watching a baseball game on TV. Apparently, while Trump’s overall approval ratings keep falling, a majority of Republican voters still support him, so I suppose it’s wise of most Republican lawmakers to hang tight for now.
Trump’s attorneys must have babysat Trump, because he neither spoke nor tweeted during or right after Comey’s testimony. Diehard Trump voters think Comey lied, not Trump. After all, that’s what Trump has been saying. Trump’s legal advisers point out that conviction of Trump for any crime, such as obstruction of justice, requires intent and it would be hard to prove Trump’s intent.  He is so clueless and muddled, his intent may be impossible to discern, much less to prove. Nancy Pelosi has a point, Trump needs to sleep more to clear his mind.
The only way to keep Republicans honest is to beat them at the ballot box. So far, they are mostly supporting and making excuses for Trump, although most must have greater private misgivings. They keep hoping that sticking with him will not only keep themselves in office, but help them promote their “agenda.” Of course, their constituents would have to turn against Trump for them to get worried and, so far, most Trump supporters are sticking by him. Paradoxically, while rural and small-town folks are most anti-immigrant, they actually have little contact with immigrants. If they knew them as real people, they might feel differently.
Donald Trump celebrated his 71st birthday amid little fanfare—maybe not to call attention to his age. “Seventy-one candles on that cake,” said Stephen Colbert. “Although Trump later said it was ‘over a million candles. Most candles ever.’”
Apparently the Trump administration, mostly under Sessions’ initiative, is really cracking down on undocumented immigrants, including now, Iraqi Christians. It’s as if Trump is lashing to hurt as many people as possible because of his fury over his inability to cover-up his own wrong doing.  If Hillary had been in office, she would have named different officials and would have vetoed some of what is going on now in deportations. It’s so short-sighted, not only harmful to law-abiding families well-established here, but harmful to the economy by removing workers from certain sectors. White Americans are not reproducing their ranks—even in red states—let’s face it. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/07/donald-trump-immigration-court-deportation-lasalle?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Outlook
A fair portion of the electorate indulges in magical thinking (which Trump especially exploits), that is, that fewer taxes will result in more jobs and in more money in everyone’s pocket. Has that ever happened? No, fewer taxes have actually meant a bigger deficit, fewer services, more inflation, higher interest rates, less citizen protection, fewer jobs, less commerce.
I see in the Washington Examiner that a Republican congressman wants to charge 55,000 immigrants $1 million each for Trump's border wall. He is Dana Rohrabacher of California. He also wants to eliminate the diversity lottery whereby some years ago (in the 1980’s), three guys here on visitors' visas staying at my house temporarily, all incredibly won the lottery that year (sometime in the 1980's), one from Argentina, one from Japan, one from Tunisia. What are the odds? People clamored to stay with my family after that but none ever won after that. 

Trump seeks to reopen cases of hundreds reprieved from deportation

The Homeland Security director has also been quoted as saying he wants to deport “illegal aliens” before they commit a crime. Of course, that sort of preemption could apply to any of us. It reminds me of Cuba’s arrests of opposition figures for “pre-delinquency”—that is to prevent their future delinquent behavior. Trump is also getting heat for trying to deport Iraqi Christians.

Meanwhile, Trump unveiled a new Cuba policy (mostly crafted by Sen. Marco Rubio):

See also: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/06/15/cuba-power-play-with-colombia-draws-rubio-ire-239587

Trump did seem a little more human or closer to normal when he went to Camp David on Father’s Day with his wife’s parents.

I imagine that Bill Cosby’s wife Camille is firmly standing by him, despite his admitting to giving drugs to a younger sexual partner in their own home, because it is in her interest to do so. Given his many escapades of infidelity, she surely must have been aware of at least some and still chose to remain married to Cosby because of the benefits she enjoyed as his wife. Also, she may not want to admit the extent of his misdeeds as that reflects badly on her. Probably the hung jury has something to do with African American jurors (even one?) being stubbornly unwilling to convict one of their own, as happened with OJ Simpson. I’m saying that as someone who has African American family members and knows their loyalty to each other in a world where they feel beleaguered and seek some pay-back. Cosby is playing the elderly, blind, and ill defendant to the hilt.

Vice president Pence met with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, a member of the conservative National Party, running for an unprecedented second term (until now consecutive second presidential terms were prohibited, but Hernandez pushed through a change in the constitution). He is likely to win in November because the opposition is divided between the Liberal Party and a new party created by former Liberal president Manuel Zelaya, ousted controversially when he wanted to run for a second term, who is now running his wife Xiomara Castro in his stead. (Nothing mentioned about any of this in the meeting between Pence and Hernandez.) 
https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/06/15/readout-vice-presidents-meeting-honduran-presiden

Trump aaounced a new Cuba policy, crafted with the help of Senator Marco Rubio. The return of “wet-foot/dry-foot” was deemed unlikely in light of Trump’s anit-immigration stance.


Of course, all sides must condemn the shooting in suburban Virginia of Congressman Steve Scalise, as well as the fatal shooting the same day at a UPS workplace in the SF Bay area. While Trump, reading from a teleprompter, gave a calm response, Republicans seem to be emphasizing the deceased gunman’s extremist political views—he was, by the way, an older white male from the mid-west—part of the usual Trump demographic. Nothing was said about his ability to obtain a firearm or about the extremist views voiced by Trump and associates that might have aroused his reaction.

Cuba must end human rights violations to improve relations, US warns | World news | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/13/cuba-human-rights-violations-rex-tillerson-us-relations

It is true—and am witness to that as volunteer Caribbean coordinator for Amnesty Int’l USA (also author of a book on the subject, Confessions)—that the Cuban government violates human rights in a wholesale way and has been doing so for decades, for generations, really. But what is the best remedy—more interchange or less with that government?  The US has vacillated back and forth without visible improvements in Cuba.
Seven Republican Congressmen have asked Trump to keep Cuba open: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/house-republicans-send-letter-trump-urging-cuba-remain/story?id=47941330 The Republican congressmen who signed the letter are Reps. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Ted Poe of Texas, Darin LaHood of Illinois, Roger Marshall of Kansas, James Comer of Kentucky and Jack Bergman of Michigan.
Meanwhile, Cubans, like others, are being deported. For a long time, the Cuban government failed to accept them, but is now accepting more returnees. https://www.yahoo.com/news/cubans-now-face-same-deportation-risk-other-immigrants-092233678.html
Now every non-citizen in the US must feel wary, creating an uncomfortable civic atmosphere. And if it’s true that Canadians most often overstay their visas, why don’t we see ICE deporting Canadians or putting them into detention facilities?  It’s true that the US cannot be a haven for anyone aspiring to a new life, any more than Europe can be, but long-term residents who have worked, bought hoes, had children—in short, out down roots over the years—deserve consideration and it is beneficial to the rest of us to grant it to them.
Years ago, when working as a writer and editor of OT Week, a publication of the Amer. Occupational Therapy Ass’n, I met and spoke with the emperor and empress of Japan at a DC event linking environment and health. Now I see that Emperor Akihito, at age 83, is stepping down. The royal succession problem is that he only has a daughter and she is planning to marry a commoner anyway. I think we bowed when meeting each other—I don’t remember that we shook hands as maybe that’s not permitted for an emperor. I did take photos, but who knows where they are now? That was before the internet and keeping photos digitally. I do wish him well and salute his unprecedented move. It may be tiring to be an emperor. Or any other monarch, though Britain’s Queen Elizabeth keeps hanging in there while the crown prince grows long in tooth as well.    
Turkey arrested Amnesty International lawyers in another anti-Gulen sweep. Yet another dark day for liberty and human rights in the world 
https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif
 The civil war in South Sudan continues—such a tragedy, but one which no seems able or willing to stop. I will try to keep the vision of that country as it was when I visited there in 2006, before independence which turns out to be mixed blessing. Now instead of fighting together against external forces, primarily to obtain independence from the north, South Sudanese tribal loyalties have come to the fore and the two main tribes have turned on each other in the fight for dominance.
There is an argument occurring now within Amnesty Int’l about abortion—how much of a “right” is it and up to what stage? That question within AI has not been answered, as far as I know, nor is there a good mechanism for doing that within the organization which is too large and unwieldy, its millions of members worldwide being a strength, but also a liability, when it comes to trying to reach consensus. I’ve found it hard to defend AI's apparent pro-abortion stance, especially when my own enthusiasm is not so great. I'm not sure that AI has put a limit on its defense in terms of the stage of fetal development. When you feel movements in your womb, it's hard to say that's just fetal tissue and not a human life. On the other hand, if someone is of sound mind and has thought it through for a time, I don’t object to a medically assisted “right to die.”
AI is both an advocacy organization and a worldwide membership organization with millions of members worldwide, some more active than others. That creates complications. Every two years, there is a sort of mini-UN session (I once attended one) where member nations (“sections”), each with one vote, come together to vote and set policy. Individual members identifying themselves as such are not supposed to publicly oppose AI policies that have been adopted. For example, an activist was chastised and “put on probation,” so to speak, when she wrote a letter-to-the-editor identifying herself as an AI member and opposing the organization’s advocacy for the complete decriminalization of all players in the sex industry, including madams and pimps, and decrying the way the new policy was apparently rammed through at the international meeting with the British sex-work industry’s and others’ financial support, using that to influence the vote of small participant nations. Sex worker decriminalization across the board is another AI policy that I have not been eager to support—though I and many others would support decriminalization for sex workers themselves, just not for the other players who may be controlling and exploiting them. So, yes, even though AI attempts to be politically neutral, it’s hard to maintain that stance with such a far-flung and heterogeneous organization involved in so many issues. It was easier when AI just supporter the peaceful expression of free speech.
AI has also supported gay rights, something not universally supported worldwide. This was brought home to me by Nigerian visitors, who said that President Obama, of whom Africans were initially proud because of his African heritage, turned them off completely when he announced his support for gay marriage. In Nigeria, they said, public opinion turned against him overnight. How could he advocate something so bestial, so contrary to nature? I do not oppose gay marriage myself and have a gay nephew married to his partner, so I had a heated discussion with my two Nigerians, one Muslim, one Catholic. Certainly their view was widespread until recently in our own country and Europe and still holds sway in many developing countries. Certainly in Honduras, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti, countries with which I am intimately familiar, both through my visits there and my Amnesty work, gay unions, especially between men, are strongly disapproved. They also said that the Australian prime minister had married a man. Not so, that was the Luxembourg prime minister.
Another issue AI has grappled with is FMG, which certainly most women oppose, though maybe men in some countries support it. I saw and heard firsthand about the terrible effects in south Sudan and once it’s done, it’s hard to remedy. 
Of course, all these issues are matters of cultural beliefs which evolve and change over time. There are cultures that support plural marriage, usually for men but occasionally for women; child marriage; and the death penalty—including for adultery in Saudi Arabia. And the US Constitution evolves as well. Nothing stands still and never changes. Are there actually universal human rights? We might like to think so, but there seems to be no agreement on what they are.   

Friday, June 2, 2017

Daughter Stephanie’s visit, Ramadan, Trump (who else?)

 Same line-up, daughter Stephanie and 2 friends, 30 ago and 30 years later--they went on a camping reunion trip in the same place, together with other pals, on Memorial Day weekend. .



Two photos above of biologist daughter Steph telling her nephew De'Andre's class about what scientists like her might do out in the field, including showing them some live insects and spiders in plastic containers.

















Above--my 2 "girls" Melanie and Stephanie at my house during Steph's recent visit.

We were thrilled in DC to have a visit from my daughter Stephanie living in Honolulu, here for a reunion at their former campsite with her old camping buddies. Over 30 years and distance, she and her high school pals have maintained their bonds. She also gave a talk about her work as a scientist and a biologist to her nephew’s 3rd grade class.

At a friend’s outdoor home barbeque, I was introduced to artificial grass. It is really an all-weather sort of grassy rug sprouting something that looks and feels like grass (but doesn’t smell like grass). It stays green and never needs watering or mowing. I suppose it eventually wears out, but meanwhile, if you like a grassy-looking lawn, it beats a real one. A very clever invention.

While it might be wise to remove Confederate monuments and flags, I would draw the line at removing those of Robert E. Lee, a historic figure who has enjoyed a fairly good reputation on both sides.

Haruna, one of my Nigerian visitors, at his first visit to a DC mosque on Wisconsin Ave. saw a man outside as he entered and had a feeling his was from his home village, as indeed he was. It is the second time one of my Nigerians has met someone from his home village at a place of worship here. As I have said before on this blog, Stephen, the other GAO fellow, met a woman from his home village in the elevator at the cathedral at Catholic University. Nigerians are apparently dispersed all over the world, including right here in DC.  Since Ramadan has started, Haruna has complained about our early sunrises and late sunsets at this time of year!

According to reports, Canadians are the foreign nationals most likely to overstay their visas—Mexicans are only second. Do we see Canadians being deported in droves? Do we ever see them being deported at all? No. I suspect that when a Canadian is found to have overstayed a visa, he or she is advised to renew it or to leave quietly. Of course, Canadians easily blend in, speak our language, and most look like the white Americans who seem to be the most anti-immigrant, so animosity toward people who are “different” does not apply.

While it may go nowhere during the Trump administration, there is a bipartisan effort in the Senate to further remove US travel bans to Cuba, such as they are—now a pro-forma Treasury Dept. license is required. That would be OK as it increases Americans’ freedom to travel. But I am not personally in favor of a related measure, that is, total lifting of the embargo at this time because food, most medicines, and a number of other products are already exempt and Cuba is free to trade with the rest of the world —the only thing the US embargo does now is require the Cuban government to pay in cash, not with credit, since it notoriously doesn’t pay its bills once it racks up credit. Furthermore, the embargo has scant impact on the Cuban people, since all imports and their profits are controlled by the military elite who simply will increase their power over the citizenry and their own special privileges. If there were more “filter-down” to ordinary people, that would be a different story. However, I do support cultural and educational exchanges, and also encourage travelers—as I’ve said before—to stay in licensed private homes or facilities run by churches and to travel outside Havana.


At the same time, Trump is said to be planning to reverse Obama’s Cuba policies.
Nothing specific, as usual, from Trump, but he may let the Cuban-American lawmakers decide what to do. I think he should just let it alone--though maybe not take any further steps, but who am I to say? I do have opinions about what Mr. Trump should do, but is he listening to folks like me? Whom does he listen to? It seems to go in one ear and out the other—or to his twitter finger. Mostly, I’d like him to stop initiating or advising harmful, thoughtless, and just plain mean policies, like taking away school lunches from poor kids.

I cannot help thinking that Trump’s diehard supporters are not unlike the many fervent Cuban people who so wholeheartedly supported Fidel Castro in the wake of his victory and who continued to give him the benefit of the doubt for years after it became obvious that his promises were not being kept. Initially, Cubans simply fell in love with Castro and with the vision of the glorious future that he painted and a few elderly Cubans still have not jettisoned that view and are hopeful about its fulfillment. May they die happy.

And so, I suspect, strange as it may seem, some white Americans who have felt downtrodden (the “deplorables”) and misunderstood are now happy to believe in Trump’s promises that they will soon have good jobs (including in coal), pay lower taxes, have excellent and cheaper health care, and enjoy superiority over people of other races and backgrounds. In clinging to those beliefs and hopes, they are not susceptible to facts or logic and Trump can do or say anything without losing their support. The same was true for a long time with Castro’s core supporters who took years to realize that his promises were fake, but, by then, his repressive apparatus was in place and, using special privileges and rewards, he had won the loyalty of the top military commanders to do his bidding—and those military who strayed were simply jailed or executed. It was like the mafia. The only advantage we have now with Trump is that his base of support is small and shrinking and there are still democratic curbs available, which must be fully utilized. The Republican Party needs to wake up first. Also Trump has nowhere near the cunning of Fidel Castro. In fact, his mind seems to be failing.

Trump read a prepared speech at Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day that sounded half-way coherent. You can see that Melania is uncomfortable around him, but maybe she is afraid for herself and her son if she tries to make a break. Maybe she has a pre-nup with Trump and would end up with little or nothing. But if she were going to separate from him, she would do better while he is still in the White House because then he would want to protect his image somewhat more. I guess she feels she has to come to DC to live in the White House now, like it or not. She probably wasn't sure what to say when Pope Francis asked her what she feeds her husband, seeing that he is pretty rotund. She probably avoids eating with him and certainly does not advise him on what to eat. 

How much disorder and craziness can Republicans tolerate? So far, it seems like quite a bit for most of them. As the midterms get closer, though, more might jump the Trump ship. Personal self-interest in getting re-elected will trump Trump. However, I just heard from someone in a southern state that he was glad that Trump "gave the Europeans hell." There are still quite a few true believers out there who are going to stick with him no matter what. I keep looking for even a tiny silver lining, but haven’t found one yet. Maybe this is it: Trump-themed toilet paper being sold in Mexico https://www.yahoo.com/news/mexican-lawyer-markets-trump-branded-135055843.html

According to Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, ”[W]hen you have a president who is so active, who is so articulate, who is so good at communicating with the media, sometimes you get staff that have to keep up with him.” [Italics added.]

Now we have to endure—and the whole world has to endure—the US exiting from a treaty it had already agreed to. Well, several big states plan to continue the fight against greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, which will mitigate the harm of Trump’s withdrawal. And how many coal mining jobs will be resurrected?

And I thought GWBush was the worst president I would ever see in my lifetime. Bush reportedly said after the Trump inaugural speech something like, "That was some weird shit." At least he is happy now painting dogs and self-portraits of himself in the bathtub (and also, veterans, which is a somewhat useful.) Can we find a harmless hobby for Trump? Let him tweet his heart out post-presidency? No, that would only rile up his supporters and jeopardize current office-holders. Some Republicans must be tearing their hair, uncertain just what to do next. For those in Trump-majority districts, their best bet is just to stick with him, at least rhetorically. Bravo for McCain calling him out—of course, it helps that McCain is a senator with a few years still to go in his term and unlikely to run again after that.

While quite possibly Joe Biden could have beaten Trump when Hillary did not (since only a few additional votes could have made the difference—but obviously, we will never know), it now seems like very poor sportsmanship to be second-hand quarterbacking on the issue. Biden was not the candidate for reasons both personal and political. I have observed Biden in meetings and have tried to get his attention during his Latin America trips on issues of importance in the Caribbean related to my Amnesty Int’l volunteer role without success. In the DR, he stuck to a bland script instead of challenging his hosts especially on the Haitian descendants’ issue.  The speeches I’ve heard him give seem to lack a deeper insight, unlike those of Barack Obama or even Hillary Clinton. Maybe Biden would have appealed to some of the same base that supported Trump, that is, white working class voters with a superficial understanding of issues. I’ve always considered Biden an appealing and probably honest guy, but rather simplistic. Likewise, while Bernie Sanders was a better speaker and someone who has seemed very genuine (a quality that Hillary has lacked and the more she tries to sound genuine, the worse the impression she gives), I also thought his prescriptions for our country were simplistic or simply unworkable. That’s why I voted for Hillary, despite her apparent lack of charm (though some of that lack was exaggerated by media commentary). She would have been a workhorse, maybe plodding, but organized and no longer making mistakes with e-mail! Anyway, Joe, it’s too late now. You didn’t even put your hat into the ring, so it’s easy to say you would have beaten Trump, since there is no way to prove it. It might make you feel better to say so, but sounds like sour grapes now.

Biden is now raising money on and off-line, trying to get financial benefit and a platform by appealing to anti-Hillary Democrats—an effort so transparently gratuitous and self-promoting that I will not contribute. He says he plans to run for president in 2020, a slim prospect in my opinion and I don’t appreciate his trashing Hillary to try to get there. A number of Democrats are trying to jump onto the anti-Trump bandwagon to feather their own nests. Nor will I contribute to the many appeals from Patrick Leahy, who lost me back when he facilitated a US Cuban prisoner’s (successful) artificial insemination of the man’s wife back in Cuba. I thought that was going beyond diplomacy. Bloomberg is right—too many Democrats are eyeing 2020 and stepping on each other’s toes.
Donald Trump enjoyed a royal welcome in Saudi Arabia, that oil-rich arch-conservative nation to which he has agreed to sell lots of military hardware. Trump seems to bask most happily in praise and gifts. Apparently, for him, the Saudi royalty are good Muslims. Their kingly outreach seems calculated to stoke his ego, so battered here at home, and he has a very thin skin. The King even gave him a medal. Wow! See: Under fire at home, Trump in Saudi on first foreign trip (Reuters, May 20, 2017) I noticed that although Melania wore no headscarf there, she did wear long sleeves and a floor-length dress. (Even the Saudis know that fossils fuels are on their way out, while Donald may be oblivious.)
What more is there is say about Donald Trump? He has been a disaster for our country, the world, and the Republican Party—even for his buddies in Israel. The stock market has been jumping up and down. And it doesn’t look like he is capable of learning or improving. He’s just a very flawed and unfortunate human being who has somehow managed to captivate a small group of hard-core supporters who are almost as ignorant, greedy, and mean-spirited as he is. The only good thing is that Trump is so inept, he doesn’t actually accomplish much of anything—he’s mostly just hot air. Unfortunately, he has also latched onto the Republican Party which seems unable or unwilling to shake him. He has no apparent capacity for self-awareness, no ability to see himself as others might see him. (GWBush at least seemed to have had some self-deprecating insights.) The chances of Trump being crazy like a fox seem increasingly dim; he’s just crazy. Talk about fakery—he’s faking it big time, faking that he understands issues, the political process, other players’ motives. And yet, I know people who like it that he is “giving hell” to the Europeans. I think he’s actually making an ass out of himself (and our country). He said he needed to think more about his climate pact decision—probably needed to come home and talk with Jared, as he was getting confused by the advocacy of European counterparts. (And now Jared himself seems to be in trouble and under the microscope.)

As I’ve said, I've been depressed ever since the day after the election. And Trump just piles on one more hurtful policy after another. The Paris Accord decision is just the latest, not the last. It's hard to keep on fighting and resisting, but already 3 states are joining the Paris Accord, California, New York, and Washington. Republicans support states’ rights—don’t they? Giving retired coal miners a guaranteed income for life would have been better all around. 

To some extent, it might be worse if Trump should actually get impeached and a more level-headed but stricter conservative like Pence ends up taking over and proves to be more effective in achieving that extreme agenda after his many years of political experience.  Some pundits are predicting Trump’s political demise while others foresee him lasting a full 2 terms (God forbid!). No one really knows what to expect next. Trump is such a totally unique phenomenon, all bets are off. That’s been part of his appeal. As I’ve said before, history is not linear, inexorably following a smooth, predictable path. As per chaos theory, spikes, troughs, and cataclysms can and do happen. Other unexpected and surprising leaders, both good and bad, have arisen out of the blue and captured widespread support: Hitler, Castro, Mandela, Martin Luther King. So chance, luck, or fortune, one way or the other, has played a role in their sudden rise. Meanwhile, a careful and well-prepared un-sexy plodder like Hillary Clinton falls by the wayside.

To be completely nitpicking, a small thing but emblematic of Trump’s carelessness, is even his neglect of his own appearance, notwithstanding his concern about his hair. His suits look bulky and ill-fitting and invariably his tie—often red—hangs well below his waist, the usual end point for men’s ties.

While those of us who don’t have catastrophic health costs might resent subsidizing those who do, who’s to say we might not have such costs in the future and also need that coverage? That’s the point of insurance, right? I’ve paid for house insurance for years, hoping never to need it. Of course, as we age, sooner or later, we will all probably need some medical treatment, though perhaps not any in a given year. (Only a sudden death, like getting killed in an accident or suffering a fatal heart attack or stroke without any prior symptoms will save us.)

Neither socialism nor an unfettered free market seems to provide most citizens of a nation with an optimal quality of life. Rather, the best system seems one combining a market economy, free press, and voting with high enough taxes to provide basic government services such as education, security, infrastructure, and health care. Good examples are the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands which manage to provide a good quality of life for nearly all citizens. Eliminating government and making it the boogey man doesn’t work so well. Allowing everyone unfettered individual freedom, as some libertarians (and many Republicans) seem to advocate, means we are free to be run over by an errant driver, free to be shot by someone with a random grudge, free to die because we cannot afford medical bills. Is that really freedom?  Meanwhile, although I am mentioning nation states here, I and many others think that national boundaries should be further softened; it’s happening anyway—contrary to Trump’s “America first” notion.