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.  




Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Nigeria, France, Cuba, Life in these United States with President Trump, Quality vs. Length of Life, Honduras, Dreams


After complaining about the cold since their arrival in late March (45-55 F), now when we had a couple of humid days in the ‘80’s, my Nigerian visitors began complaining about the heat. They each have window A/C in their rooms and can turn it on any time, also fans. I’ve told them this has been nothing compared to the heat and humidity in June and July.

As I said to my Nigerian visitors: Congratulations to Nigeria on the release of some of the Chibok girls. However, the girls have apparently not been returned to their families—at least not yet—but have been put on display as a group by the government to tout its success in recovering them. My visitors have reminded me that the capital of Nigeria, where they work, is Abuja, not Lagos, as many Americans seem to think.

Glad Macron won election in France, breaking the retrogressive streak started by Brexit, continued full bore by Trump.

I have a new article on-line: https://democraciaparticipativa.net/forum/iberoamerica-y-espana-latin-america-spain/9328-for-sirley-avila-a-bridge-too-far.html#9886
I usually also try to post on Huffington Post, but now they’ve changed the name to HuffPost and have a new system that I haven’t been able to figure out yet.

According to Spanish-language news service Cubalex, our Cuba panelist at Amnesty Int’l USA’s 2016 annual conference in Miami, attorney Laritza Diversent, is throwing in the towel and has been granted asylum in the US along with 13 other members of her legal office. Their harassment, no doubt, was exacerbated by her appearance on our forum.
Todos abandonarán la isla por estar “en situación de riesgo”
Jueves, mayo 4, 2017 | Agencias

Juan Gonzalez, one of the 26 Cuban political prisoners released with Jesse Jackson, as per my Confessions book, has just died. After more than 20 years in prison and with indefinite sentences, they were all released overnight back in 1984, thanks to the intervention of our local Amnesty International group, 211, and, of course, Jackson. Juan had spent his first nights in freedom at my house. At least, they all enjoyed some post-prison years, though Juan had been paralyzed and bedridden after a stroke, so his death had been expected for some time.

In a reversal of Cuban government policy of sending doctors abroad (to earn money for the Cuban government)—now volunteer American surgeons are going to Cuba to perform knee and hip replacements.  Of course, I am very familiar with such medical and surgical brigades to Honduras and have participated as a helper and interpreter in many. I do think such exchanges are helpful not only to the patients but in terms of intercountry relations, whatever country is involved.

May 4, 2017 Russia resumes sending oil to Cuba News expected to raise eyebrows in Washington, D.C.
By Thomson Reuters, Russia has begun shipping large quantities of oil to Cuba for the first time this century, sources said, as supplies to the island from crisis-wracked Venezuela have dwindled.

Russia has also agreed to foot the repair bill for Havana’s crumbling capitol building, its design inspired by our own capitol.

I did take time out the other evening with a friend to attend a new Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, performed in Spanish, at the Gala theater in DC. Called In the Heights, it follows events day and night in NYC’s Washington Heights’ neighborhood, using a very authentic-looking stage set. Miranda, who appeared as the lead in his creation Hamilton, alas was not at our performance. A very lively bilingual cast made up for it, including singing and dancing with flags, showcasing the rivalry between Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. I was glad to see a senior citizen in a lead role.

I agree with Neil Buchanan that Hillary Clinton has been criticized well beyond what she deserves.  I have thought that ever since I first met her as First Lady years ago. She is not charismatic—no dis agreement there-- but is that the most important attribute of a president? Apparently so—Trump seems to have it, at least according to his supporters. I thought both the emphasis on Clinton’s e-mail server and Benghazi were overblown and I have said as much previously on this blog. I was surprised at a recent conference when a woman from Germany told me Hillary Clinton had been a weak candidate. Why did she think that? Because “everyone” knew it. I think Hillary got a bad rap. And I’m glad she’s going to try to get Democrats more involved now in challenging Republicans at all levels.
https://www.yahoo.com/news/why-hillary-held-impossible-standard-140001227.html

One advantage of not having a single payer health system, like we don’t have now, is that our country is less vulnerable to the sort of cyberattacks that have hit other nations.

Can I avoid mentioning Donald Trump? Living here on Capitol Hill, in the belly of the beast, it’s hard to avoid even thinking about him. He does seem to have a way of grabbing attention.  Now he has declared himself inventor of the phrase “prime the pump,” as if that didn’t come out of the experience of getting a water pump going long before he or any of us were born.

Whatever Trump’s true motivations in firing Comey, at the very least, it looks suspiciously like a cover-up. He seems hell bent on squelching any further investigation into his Russia ties and is pulling out all the stops in self-defense. OK, Republicans, time to step up to the plate and, even though you may have no feeling of responsibility to the nation as a whole, for the sake of your party and of your own political survival, it’s time to jettison your support of Trump although he has hypocritically adopted the Republican label. Is he loyal to you and your party? Does he care if you get re-elected?

Robert Reich sent out this message, which seems to hit the nail on the head:
I've got a bridge to sell to anyone who believes Donald Trump's claim that he fired FBI Director James Comey because Comey wasn't fair to Hillary Clinton.
Trump fired Comey because the FBI was getting closer—by the day—to the truth about Trump's ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign.
Just days before he was fired, Comey had asked for more resources for the investigation. And prosecutors had just issued grand jury subpoenas for associates of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Trump is not just a liar (although that's well established). He may also be a traitor. And for the sake of our democracy, we need to know the full truth.
Republicans have, to put it politely, not led the way in doing what's necessary to protect our democracy.
When Trump walked off in an apparent huff when questioned about his accusation that Obama had “tapped my wires,” you certainly have to wonder again about his mental health—also his mental acuity. In anyone else, his confusion, lack of comprehension, and garbled vocabulary all would be signs of dementia and/or mental illness. (Apparently his father had dementia.) Of course, for his base, it doesn’t seem to matter what he says, does, or actually achieves—they are simply in love with the guy and so whatever he says or does is fine by them. And Trump is in love with himself too and apparently feeling no pain or self-doubt. Either Trump is crazy and/or demented, or he is crazy like a fox (less likely as the days go by), trying to throw off everyone else—all of whom he sees as adversaries. That may be what he has been doing his whole life and either he doesn’t care for any real connection or communication with others or he is leading a very lonely existence. Say what you will about Hillary, she is not crazy. I think that Jared and Ivanka may have inserted themselves into the White House partly to do damage control.

Some Trump supporters have been thrilled at be given apparent license to express their basest feelings, throw temper tantrums, hurt or bully others, lie, and amass unneeded wealth, beginning with the example set by president himself and others among his appointees who already have more money than they can actually spend. I do think a president and other public officials should lead by example. Trump’s supporters say he “won,” so that gives them license. He won only because of a quirk in our laws that allowed a minority vote getter to triumph. Many of his supporters are saying “it’s our turn,” after having long felt disenfranchised by so-called “liberal elites.” It’s understandable that those who feel they are in the minority would resent being ruled by a majority, but is it better that the minority now rules over the majority and is exacting its revenge? From what’s been happening at town halls, it does seems that the fickle electorate and even some Trump sycophants are now turning against him and his Republican sheep, so populism can also go the other way. If the Republican Party cannot stand up to Trump, then they have to be defeated at the ballot box, but that means a two-year delay while still more damage can be done. Now Trump’s possible sexual exploits in Moscow seem trivial compared to more serious Russia charges, the former only important in terms of their blackmail potential. While decrying the emphasis on his collusion with Moscow, Trump apparently ends up sharing classified information with the Russians.

As usual, many Republican spokespersons, both in Congress and in the right-leaning media, have bemoaned the leaks flowing out like from a sieve rather than on the actual contents of the leaks. Does it occur to them that the leaks are the result of genuine concern by public servants about the unprecedented carelessness of our current president. (I bet Melania is sick and tired of her marriage and is only sticking with it now because of her son and maybe because she fears retribution from her husband if she should complain at this juncture. If Trump is forced to leave office soon, maybe she doesn’t have to move from NYC after all.)

It is not so surprising that Mr. Trump invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House. Birds of a feather.

In the May 1 issue, New Yorker editor David Remnick has written a long, thoughtful, and scathing piece about Donald Trump and his first 100 days as president, his history of trickery and dishonesty to get where he is, his excessive self-inflation and lying, but what to do about him is the problem. It’s hard to keep saying and hoping that the government will settle down to business as usual, because obviously as long as Trump is in office, that won’t happen. The man appears to be incapable of learning on the job or learning anything. He’s not funny anymore.

Conservative pundit George Will has also written a blistering article questioning Donald Trump’s state of mind which, I hope, will cause some Republicans to take notice and take action. As Americans, we are pretty much at the mercy of the Republican establishment and of the Republican Party, now holding all the reins of power. It has an obligation to protect us that goes above party loyalty to Trump. After all, Trump evidently feels no particular loyalty toward the Republican Party.

George F. Will: A president who does not know what it is to know


Trump is already warning that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom he derisively calls “Pocahontas,” may run for president in 2020. Well, I hope she will, especially if Trump is her challenger and, this time, we will swamp him so completely in the right states (having learned that bitter lesson from 2016) that his only defense will be to blame “fake media,” “illegal voters,” and “voter fraud,” or maybe even “Obama,” all favorite scapegoats, and to exit the presidential stage saying he was absolutely the very best, most fabulous, greatest ever American president, bar none, that our nation has ever known. He can then still travel around the country giving speeches to his few remaining adoring supporters to stoke his ego. (Warren, no doubt, will sew up the Native American vote, thanks to Trump’s derisiveness toward that small, but, iconic constituency.)

Republicans in general and Trump in particular seem to be appealing to voters’ most vengeful and just plain mean instincts, countenancing the bullying of others by name-calling and punishing them with new laws, whether tax, gun, or so-called religious freedom laws. Muslims, Hispanics, gays, women, poor people, the mentally ill, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and others are all fair game. And voters are being deliberately misled. In Kentucky, the expansion of Obamacare or the ACA was sold to voters as a program called “Connect,” to deliberately disassociate it from the actual program of which it is a part. A majority of that state’s voters went for Trump and probably have no idea that their “Connect Care” is in any way threatened by the Republican health care plan.

Of course, there must be some limits on what health care, whether or not publicly supported, can provide. Potential costs are almost unlimited—limited only by current knowledge and resources. We have already extended life perhaps beyond optimal limits for many people. Very wealthy people are now able to invest in cryonics, efforts to freeze their bodies after death and potentially revive them. Also, there is a move afoot to do a “head transplant,” really, as I understand it, a body transplant onto someone’s head and brain. These might be seen as efforts to extend life indefinitely and defer death, but death—I would argue—will always come sooner or later. Over many years, accidents will inevitably happen to an individual and, at the very least, when earth implodes at the end of eons, human beings, if any are still left, will go with it. The whole effort to keep extending life and deferring death, while understandable, has been taken to extremes by some fanatical death avoiders. What about trying to live the life you now have as well as possible? What about extending quality of life for all people, rather than focusing on life extension for a few? And maintaining quality of life may require some limits on how many lives Mother Earth can accommodate at any one time. Life extension means fewer people living longer rather than more people living shorter, but perhaps more fulfilling and productive lives. Already, with so many dependent elderly people who are disabled and mentally challenged having their lives extended in group care facilities, fewer resources are available for younger people who must sustain them. At the same time, cutting back on current levels of care and support will be felt as a deprivation, so it may be best to proceed slowly in adding new benefits.

While Trump’s ascendency to the US presidency might be reversible, at least so far, Republicans have mostly been clinging to him—not breaking faith, trying to make excuses for him, defending his obvious gaffes. With the Republican Party holding so many political cards, it may be hard to overcome their unified hold—and by extension—that of Donald Trump. But we must be aware and beware, learning from the example of other nations where a leader who seems to have been elected democratically slowly erodes democratic institutions to seize more lasting power. There are many examples: Russia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Turkey, just to name a few, and perhaps our country is not exempt. So, we have to keep on pushing, even as the other side has so many advantages of money and influence. And while I don’t think at age 79, I am the right person to enter the political arena right now, younger folks do need to step up and not lose heart of they are defeated on the first round. (I might actually do as well as many of them, but ageism would defeat me.) They need to make their plans and ideas known to voters and constituents. And I put my hope in the usual oscillation between political extremes and the backlash that the current Trump administration might be promoting.

Here was a woman’s reply to Congressman Rod Blum (R-Iowa) (perhaps referring to himself?)  asking why a 62-year-old man has to support maternity care in the health care system. By any chance, do women just spontaneously become pregnant and cannot a 62-year-old man still impregnate a woman? It takes two to tango.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/05/15/a-congressman-said-making-a-man-get-maternity-insurance-was-crazy-a-womans-reply-went-viral/?tid=sm_fb&utm_term=.62795c54b704

Meanwhile it is no surprise to me to read that Honduran violence especially targets women. We who are familiar with that country already know that. When I was in the Peace Corps there, Honduran women who had been raped and impregnated by their rapists would never dare report the rape to the police. Instead, they just went ahead and bore the child. Do I have fear every time I go to Honduras? Yes, and I do take precautions, but you cannot take every precaution. Even wealthy families with servants and security guards have their members kidnapped and killed.  I just accept the risk as part of the territory. But, at some point, I have promised my kids that I will stop going—though not yet.

In my writings, in speeches, and on this forum, I have said before that as an adoptive as well as a birth parent, I am not 100% pro-choice on abortion and that I attended the January women’s march because of other issues.  Most of the American public wants some limits, despite Roe vs. Wade—or perhaps because of it. A morning-after pill, no argument there—maybe even no limits on abortion within the first trimester. After that, the question and opinions get more nuanced and less dogmatic, in fact, most Americans do favor some limits after three months. Hispanic voters especially, by and large, are anti-abortion. Being pro-life is pretty well embedded in Hispanic culture, which is one reason that the Democratic Party and candidates need to open the party’s tent to pro-life Democrats. (Even Hillary has said they should be welcome.) http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-robert-pro-life-democrats-abortion-20170501-story.html

Lately, in my dreams—at least those I can remember—my late ex-husband Tom and I are together once again, interacting quite amicably. It surprises me that we get along so well and naturally in my dreams (wishful thinking?) when that wasn’t the case near the end of and after our 24-year marriage in 1980, when he left the family, married someone else, became a father again, and died in 1999. In my dreams, as in real life, he is blind but unusually friendly toward me. Nothing there about how I had to struggle to try to get adequate child support, nothing about his refusal to even speak to me for so many years. Very interesting how the unconscious may play into our desires, even though Tom and I broke up 37 years ago and he died in 1999. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Trump’s First 100 Days, Czech-Cuban Human Rights Partnership, FMG, Transgenderism

Six days before marking his first 100 days in office, President Trump had the lowest approval rating of any president in the more than 70 years since such polls have been taken, this, according to a pair of polls published Sunday. However, true to his past reaction to bad news both in his business and personal life, he has been tweeting about how great he is and how successful—showing, he says, the most achievements of any president ever! So far, apparently, his hard-core base has been willing to still believe in him, but will they continue to be satisfied with nothing but hot air and self-promotion? About the only victory he can really point to is the appointment of a Supreme Court justice, that accomplished by the questionable shenanigans of the Senate, refusing to give a hearing to President Obama’s nominee. I guess Trump cannot control his urge to brag about himself. Trump's popularity in polls has never risen, though apparently his smallish hard-core base remains stubbornly loyal. 
As Donald Trump completes his first 100 days in office, he has, of course, characterized them as the most successful ever in the history of the American presidency. By any other measure, they have been one of the least successful, but who cares if you are citing “alternative facts?” And when news media and think tanks contradict Trump, he just attacks them as “fake news.” All his life, he has been winging it, tricking others, and boasting about himself, so why stop now? Vicariously, his base identifies with him and loves his boldness in saying whatever he wants, whether true or not. But can the country and the world survive a Trump presidency?
I’ve tried to imagine Donald Trump when he was a roly-poly baby or a silly blond elementary school kid. He was probably a fairly likeable human being back then—when did he start morphing into the obnoxious braggart and bully that he has since become? Are his parents somehow to blame? When did he become tone-deaf to how other people think and feel? How could the warped development of someone like him be prevented? Now that he is 70 years old and showing no signs so far of learning from the experience of actually being president, it may be too late for him to change. Very sad for him, for his family including his wife and young son, for our country, and for the world although perhaps Trump himself, who seems to live exclusively in a virtual world inside his own imagination, feels no sadness at all, though he says being president is harder than he had expected. I will grant Mr. Trump one achievement since he has assumed the presidency: his anti-immigration stance has had a psychological effect in reducing the numbers of people trying to illegally cross our southern border. He doesn’t even need that wall! And it’s better that he leaves details to others. Also, while chaos may put his political adversaries (and friends) off guard and give a strategic advantage as an opening gambit, some coherence needs to develop over time. Obama may have been too predictable—mostly you knew where he stood and he seemed to have a plan laid out.  Trump likes to upset the applecart with weird out-of-the blue tweets. I suppose his followers like it that he can upset the political establishment and world markets with just a simple tweet, sometimes containing bad grammar and misspellings.
               Trump may be the law-and-order candidate but when it comes to skirting the law himself, he doesn’t hesitate (though this was taken down after protests, slowing that protests sometimes work):
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-mar-a-lago-state-department_us_58fe4e4fe4b06b9cb9193b03?o1p&ncid=inblnkushpmg00000009
When Trump gave a speech at the NRA, I would bet that the audience was not allowed to carry guns. Why not, if guns are so protective and, of course, a patriotic constitutional right under the Second Amendment? Concealed carry, open-carry, who cares, as long as you have your firearm always at the ready, even on a college campus or in church or at your bedside at night?
Say what you will about Donald Trump and the Republican Party, the Democrats have been MIA. They seem to have been confused and devastated and unsure about what to do next. Of course, we all have to roll up our sleeves and not just lament, but get to work at the grassroots level. I agree with West in the following article:

The Democrats delivered one thing in the past 100 days: disappointment
Cornel Westwhttps://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-delivered-one-thing-100-days-disappointmenthttps://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-delivered-one-thing-100-days-disappointmentww.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-deliThe Democrats delivered one thing in the past 100 days: disappointment | Cornel West | Opinion | The Guardian


https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-delivered-one-thing-100-days-disappointmentvered-one-thing-100-days-disappointmenthttps://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-delivered-one-thing-1 
Bernie is not the answer any more, neither is Hillary, but then who is? Any volunteers? We Democrats need new faces, fresh blood, something to light a fire under us. A dark horse! I don't think we’ve gotten over being stunned by Hillary's loss, even though many folks weren't crazy about her, and not yet over the shock of Trump's unimaginable ascendancy to the presidency--I still cannot bring myself to actually say he won, because of his big loss of the popular vote. As I've mentioned, I was in Chappaqua for a book talk the day after the election where the whole town was in mourning. I've been pretty depressed myself about the election ever since and Trump's performance hasn't improved my mood. He's as crazy, dishonest, and unreliable as we had feared. But we Democrats have to start climbing out of the slough of despond and get to work! And do more than just sign petitions and march, because this administration and this Congress don't care about any of that, they just care about their own voters and campaign donations. Unfortunately, we here in DC are handicapped by being dis-enfranchised. I’ve been waiting, looking for a silver lining with Trump, but haven’t found it yet.

While reducing upper income tax brackets may promote some job creation through rich peoples’ investments and purchases, giving tax breaks and income support to lower income levels can also increase jobs by producing customers for basic products they would be unable to afford otherwise like food, housing, transportation, and child care. My vote instead would be for lower level tax benefits—even subsidies—to promote more overall economic activity.
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As with Trump supporters here--or Brexit, or Le Pen supporters in France—Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban is playing on people's suspicions and fears of outsiders. But nothing stands still. The political pendulum does seem to swing back and forth--let's hope it's gone as far as it can in this protectionist xenophobic direction and that a backlash will push it again more toward the center--though not too far in the other direction either, as that brings its own problems.  


The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR,

NY Times, The Cost of Trump’s Retreat From Rights

[Scathing article about Trump administration’s human rights record.].html ays-disappointmenthttps://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-Had the opportunity to attend a talk and film showing by Dr. Marin Palous on Czech-Cuban human rights collaboration at European Union Delegation headquarters. The late Cuban democracy advocate Oswaldo Paya had a chance to meet Vaclav Havel in Prague and their meeting was filmed. (I also once met Paya in Cuba before his movement was underway, as recounted in my Confessions book.)

It turns out that FGM on some young girls is being practiced in the US, despite being illegal. It would be even more harmful for girls living here because it is not the cultural norm and so they won’t have cultural and social support which may to some extent mitigate the harm where it is widely practiced. Misery loves company. I do recall it was a routine practice in South Sudan when I was there, sometimes with fatal consequences, but not all tribes participated. At least one tribe whose members I met there had another rite of passage for children of both genders, still harmful, but much less so, namely extracting their 2 lower permanent front teeth. Why or what that signified, I am not sure, but they were able to manage by biting with side teeth. Scarring, ear piercing (I have that myself), and neck stretching are other practices, though some are dying out. In the US and the west, tattoos are in vogue.  The girls in my family all have them.

The most drastic sort of body change now apparently gaining popularity is transgenderism, but not just cross-dressing and passing for a person of the opposite sex, as happened at times past—especially among women passing as men to engage in work open only to men, such as joining the military or a ship’s crew.  Now, hormones and surgery are available to actually transform the physical body and probably even the emotions and intellect in the direction of the desired gender.  A hundred years ago, a man aspiring to become female could not actually grow breasts and a woman aspiring to become male could not grow a beard and deepen her voice. But the voice apparently doesn’t go in the opposite direction—the male voice remains  despite hormone treatment. Have you ever heard Caitlyn Jenner being interviewed? Sounds pretty much like Bruce.