Saturday, August 22, 2015

Confession, New Grandson Again, Good Samaritan’s Death, President Carter, Cosby, Pangolin, Prostitution Issue, Trump, China, Thailand, Ecuador, Kerry in Havana, Gun Deaths, Seeking Abortion Middle Ground

I must confess to not being a very focused person, something readers have certainly noticed. That’s why I’m rarely bored. My interests wander all over the map, so I hope my readers are willing to follow, although they may not always agree. I’m using this blog as a sort of diary, in case anyone wants to review my life later after I depart this mortal coil.


My new grandson, Kingston, is shown here with his father, my son Jonathan, and with his aunt, daughter Stephanie and his two older sisters.

A stone’s throw from my daughter Stephanie’s home near the University of Hawaii, a young man tried to pull back a suicidal friend as both plunged 14 stories from a dorm room, killing the good Samaritan and severely injuring the would-be suicide.
Sorry to hear that my one-time acquaintance, former President Jimmy Carter, has brain cancer, but, at age 90, he seems ready to go, saying he is at ease with whatever happens and has had a wonderful life, which seems quite true. Certainly, he has been productive and remarkably active since leaving the presidency. But Carter, like the rest of us, is not immortal. His mother and siblings, if I am not mistaken, all died fairly early of pancreatic cancer, a scourge that former President Carter himself apparently escaped. He should be proud of all he has accomplished in his long life, especially since his presidency, which was when I first met him with my late ex-husband, who did some work for him on domestic policy with my help (my husband was totally blind). Carter knows he leaves a considerable positive legacy around the world. He has authored a number of books, including a recently published memoir, one of several he has written. I haven’t read it, but I have read some of his other books. Although I often agree with their policy perspective, I’ve found them not particularly gripping or well-written, but celebrities and public figures don’t have to necessarily write an interesting story to attract readers or sell books. What they have to say is important because of who they are. GWBush’s memoir is a case in point. Unlike Bush, Carter appears to have written most of his books himself, though I’m sure he had some editorial help. He seems to have enjoyed writing them, boasting a bit about all the books he has written, all showcasing his own experience and opinions. I appreciate that both his mother and his grandson were Peace Corps volunteers, part of a long familial chain of public service. I noted that Carter himself spoke some Spanish.
The only matters about which I might fault Carter in his largely exemplary life have been his quick imprimatur of Hugo Chavez’s first election, without investigating allegations of serious flaws, which started Venezuela on its downward spiral, and his apparent tacit support for the Castro regime in Cuba. He openly praised a model Cuban AIDS treatment center, apparently without questioning or realizing that such a facility was a show piece, not routine care available for most AIDS patients. He was reported to have also praised Cuban medical care, which certainly can be excellent, but is not generally offered at that quality to most citizens, though the Cuban regime has convinced the world otherwise. Another, more minor, matter is his involvement, along with the participation of Peace Corps staff, in choosing recipients of a biennial award in honor of his mother, Lillian Carter, given to senior volunteers where, in my opinion, more than once, those actually chosen were not nearly as deserving in their post-service contributions as some other candidates, such as those I was supporting. Of course, I may be biased.
Bill Cosby certainly has been busy raping women all his life, using a pretty successful modus operandi. Many women didn’t remember exactly what had happened because they were drugged at the time and/or were too afraid to come forward. His system worked well over the years and, like many habitual offenders, he kept using the same tactics until he finally got called out. Josh Duggar is another hypocrite, a media personality representing himself as a family values guy while secretly acting otherwise.
I fail to understand why the US government would need to inform the parents of a female hostage of ISIS that she was raped multiple times before being executed. At this juncture, that just adds to their grief. So what was the purpose of revealing that? Was it to get the American public more aroused against ISIS? Such additional information seems gratuitous at best. Later, it was interpreted to show her bravery in taking the brunt of sexual violence to protect young captive girls.
Have you ever heard of a pangolin, a small, scaly anteater type mammal found in Africa, but increasingly endangered as people routinely eat them and also use their parts in Chinese medicine? I had never heard of them either, but they need protection now as they are nearing extinction, just as we are becoming aware of their existence.

Not surprisingly, reaction around the world has been largely negative to the advocacy of the total decriminalization of the sex trade—prostitutes, johns, and pimps alike—by Amnesty International (AI) at its worldwide congress. These are simple transactions between consenting adults seems to be the reasoning. If the prostitutes’ actions alone were decriminalized, that might be more justifiable than decriminalizing the whole enterprise: johns, pimps, brothels, middle men—and what about taxing earnings? Is decriminalization the same as legalization? Do authorities now actually police private conduct between consenting adults, even if money and gifts are exchanged? I doubt it. Many men give jewelry or other gifts to girlfriends and mistresses. Of course, in Saudi Arabia, while polygamy is allowed, extramarital sex is not, whether or not anything is exchanged, but practices there are not likely to be influenced by Amnesty International, which has not been able to stop Saudi executions for adultery or homosexuality, for example.
Granted, there are always nuances and exceptional circumstances with any conduct. With prostitution, where should the line be drawn? Indeed, given that sex mores have been relaxing rapidly worldwide, perhaps decriminalization of the world’s oldest profession is the direction that consensus is now headed with Amnesty only leading the way. Acceptance of premarital sex, open marriage, bisexuality, and gay sex—even of sex change—has been growing, aided by the development of treatment for sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS, hormone treatment, contraception, and the internet. However, the experience of New Zealand and the Netherlands in decriminalizing prostitution has not been positive. Rather, prostitution has doubled afterward, as has venereal disease, and most prostitutes even there have been anxious to leave the life. Prostitutes generally enter the sex trade as minors, surely something Amnesty would not endorse.
Here’s a comment on the new AI sex worker decriminalization policy from a member website: The lack of inclusion of survivor groups and slanting toward the "sex worker" groups is particularly disturbing. I feel like asking questions, like I believe that "[i]ndividuals can exercise agency in deciding to sell sex" is beside the point. Maybe so, but what percentage of the people who sell themselves, or are sold, feel that way, and what about the rest who want to escape?
According to the article below in the Huffington Post from Equality Now, a "2003 study found that 89% of women in prostitution would choose to exit if they felt empowered to do so - and if other options were made available to them." So is AI policy only for those 11%, maybe who consider it a free choice? (I also recommend reading the study on PTSD rates for prostitutes in 9 countries it links to, and all the other horrible conditions they face, including high incidence of head injuries. Anybody here want to make that career choice, or advise their daughter, or son, to? It does include some men and transgender individuals in their research, facing just as bad conditions, it seems like the buyers are all men).
There seems to be quite a bit of pushback on the decision from Amnesty members around the world now, although they (we) elected delegates to the international meeting where the controversial decision was made, but mostly without our awareness that this topic would be voted on. Certainly, as an active member since 1981, I was taken by surprise. National Amnesty organizations may now decide whether to actually work in favor of this policy and some are refusing, notably France, for starters. Women seem far more opposed than men. Since most prostitutes are women, we women may imagine ourselves in their place, with the idea of having sex for money clashing with our view of sex as an expression of special affection and regard.
Amnesty International’s endorsement of the decriminalization of prostitution and all its various players has at least raised the public profile of the organization, though probably not increased donations. Now a DC city councilmember, inspired by Amnesty, says he’s planning to introduce a prostitution decriminalization bill. Editorially, the Washington Post came out against the idea.
And since I’m being an old fuddy duddy anyway, and taking advantage of my soapbox here, as an aside, I fail to see (admittedly from my female vantage point) why celebrities have to aggressively display their breasts, often with outfits providing just the barest covering over the nipple. Ladies, we know you have breasts! No need to flaunt them.
The Donald seems to be having a lot of fun, saying anything outrageous that comes into his shaggy head, enjoying evoking shock among his listeners, eagerly playing the role of con man, huckster, and snake oil salesman. Like any such showman, he still manages to attract and convince the gullible, only too eager to believe his magical and impossible message. Sounds like he may want to become a dictator, even trashing the Constitution. How can the Constitution be considered unconstitutional? No matter. He also still disputed Obama’s birth certificate when it was authenticated and displayed. Much of Trump’s appeal derives from his ability to thumb his nose at the Republican Party and the political establishment, as well as at laws and history. But does he actually believe his own pronouncements, often delivered with his trademark squinting frown? Or is he merely putting on a performance? A high wall could be built along much of the Mexican border, but what about tunnels? And who are “them” versus “us’? Unfortunately for Trump supporters, it’s too late; many of those he characterizes as “them” are already “us”. Pundits keep waiting for him to implode by going too far, but the more outlandish his pronouncements, the more his popularity soars. Where will it end? Maybe with a dream ticket: Donald Trump/Dr. Ben Carson (who is polling second)? The mood of Trump supporters is pure anti-establishment, sweep the field clean—kick all the bums out! The best thing for the Democrats and for the USA would be for Trump to embark on a loud 3rd party candidacy to draw all those negative vibes toward himself.  
In China, a massive port disaster like the one being brought under control and still under investigation in Tianjin will cause some heads to roll—maybe even literally through execution.  Although news in China is government-controlled and may single out certain unfortunate individuals for blame, it’s still possible that the Chinese people may come to question the entire system and the self-appointed leadership that allowed something like this to happen.
In Bangkok, a lovely, lively city that I once visited, has been subjected to an apparent terrorist bomb attack. What is the aim—to demonstrate power, cause destruction, or wreak revenge? To disrupt tourism? So sad.
In South Sudan, another place I’ve been, hard-headed president Salva Kiir has refused to sign a peace agreement painstakingly worked out by the African Union and supported by the US and that his vice president and rival has already signed. Kiir says he needs at least 15 days to review it; meanwhile, the civil war is this fragile and long-suffering new nation continues unabated. Such havoc that one person can wreak through force of sheer personality, stubbornness, guile, and power hunger! How do such people, usually men, maneuver themselves into positions of power, which they then turn around and use against those who put them there? (Trump supporters, beware!)
In Ecuador, a massive gathering of indigenous people arrived in the capital of Quito after a 800-km. long national march, protesting, among other matters, constitutional changes that would allow President Rafael Correa successive indefinite terms in office.
More here about how former Peace Corps volunteers in the DR are working against the Haitian descendants law,  
Also, the ethnic fight has spilled over to the US among Haitian and Dominican immigrants who, you might think would all be sympathetic with Haitian descendants in the US.         
I well remember radio spots financed by USAID when I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras, urging parents not to leave their children behind by going to the US. Now U.S. Customs and Border Protection has launched a more extensive advertising campaign to dissuade Central Americans from trying to enter the United States illegally and to avoid last year’s influx. The message of the campaign, appearing on television, radio stations, social media, and posters in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, is simple: “It is very, very dangerous and you are not going to be allowed to claim that you are eligible to remain in the United States.”
I do agree with this judge, however, for those who’ve already made it here,
I seem unable to avoid commenting on Cuba, a nation close to my heart with issues that aren’t going to go away any time soon, though headlines may fade. Apparently President Obama began his second term with the idea of rapprochement with Cuba, though the path was secretive, arduous, and uncertain. The Cuban government certainly increased its leverage in such a deal by seizing Alan Gross as a hostage. Here below is the link to a detailed account, originally appearing in the NYTimes, about how matters unfolded. Now, finally, the Cuban side has agreed to allow US Embassy personnel to travel outside of Havana, but only after giving prior notice (allowing the Cubans to arrest or detain in their homes any suspected opposition figures who might want to speak with them). The Cuban regime is holding on tight to protect its control and its perks, trying to reap all the benefits of a bilateral relationship without giving up anything on its side. The Cubans loudly accuse the US of racial profiling, though that is not an official policy of the federal government, quite to the contrary, while beating up and arresting peaceful women marchers is a consistent daily practice of the Cuban government.
Although the NYTimes has relentlessly supported the Obama/Raul Castro accords, the Washington Post has been equally critical, highlighting the snub of Cuban dissidents at the embassy opening, though Kerry did agree to meet with them later at the home of the chief of mission. He gave a speech about democracy that was actually broadcast on Cuban State TV and he strolled through Old Havana, both events of significance. No top Cuban officials apparently attended the embassy opening and some dissidents refused to attend his alternate gathering. Since the article below appeared, President Obama has gone even further, announcing further unilateral relaxation of US travel rules to Cuba. Apparently, he has decided to keep giving the Cuban leadership whatever it wants without trying to exact any concessions for citizens’ rights. Does he think the latter will come automatically from increased tourism and money flowing into the coffers of the political elite? Or has he given up on Cuban civilians’ rights ?
Senator Patrick Leahy, hardly one of my favorite politicians, persists in spreading misinformation about Cuba, either through ignorance or deliberate manipulation. He keeps accusing today’s critics of Obama’s Cuba policy of being Batista supporters: [P]ositive change in Cuba will take time. But it will come not as a result of stubborn nostalgia by a vociferous few for the Batista years.” Few Cubans in 1958-59 were Batista supporters and few if any opponents of the Castros today were even alive when Batista was in power. Absolutely no one is talking about Batista today except Leahy. Most Castro opponents during his early years, inside and outside his government, had first opposed Batista before pledging their allegiance to Fidel, only to withdraw it in disillusionment when they saw him becoming an even more ruthless dictator than his predecessor. The nostalgia Leahy talks about, to the extent it actually exists, is for a time before Batista seized power (he had once been elected). Leahy himself is promoting a stubborn nostalgia based on a romantic view of the 56-year Castro dictatorship.
Here below is a fairly complete, balanced analysis of the pros and cons for outsiders of investing in Cuba, showing it to be less than the golden opportunity many American business enterprises had anticipated. If correct, this view, outlined by the Business Council of Latin America and Carlos Alberto Montaner in a meeting on Cuba held in San Juan, PR, Aug. 14, 2015, means that Cuba is probably not going to follow the Chinese and Vietnamese economic model of allowing citizens to establish and direct private companies or to set up partnerships with foreign firms—rather, except for small family home businesses, all enterprises will remain under the control of the Cuban government and military, including those involving foreign investors.
According to the above analysis, ordinary Cubans are not likely to get even the citizen investment and business opportunities now available in China and Vietnam. There, such opportunities were opened only through decisions made at the very top of the government leadership, not due to citizen pressure or outside investor demand. The Cuban leadership and military are likely to retain full control of outside investors and the economic efforts of Cuban citizens, at least until the Castro brothers pass on. After that, with any luck, the leadership may embark slowly on a modified Chinese model. Otherwise, it doesn't look like a lot of outside investment in Cuba is likely to occur, especially after the initial wave of excitement and euphoria about restored diplomatic relations dies down. Investors will see that few opportunities are really open to them, as opposed to the regime, to make a profit and most profit will come from tourists, not from in-country production. It's hard to believe that the Cuban economic system can limp along as it has, especially with the price of oil still low. Even China is not doing so well these days, despite government intervention in the market. Hope China doesn't drag the world economy down with it.
Gun deaths, which had been diminishing despite highly publicized mass murders, are now on the uptick. According to the Center for Disease Control, 33,636 people died due to gun-related causes in 2013, the year with the most recent data. The national average is 10.6 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. But that number varies widely from state to state. The Kaiser Family Foundation assembled a table of statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on 2013 mortality rates from firearms in each state. Kaiser combined together various firearm-related causes of death, including assault by firearm, police shootings, suicide by firearm, and accidental discharges.
Some highlights: • States with the highest rate include Alaska (19.8) and Louisiana (19.3). Alaska doesn't require residents to have a permit for carrying concealed weapons, while Louisiana does, but has fairly permissive gun laws otherwise.
• States with the lowest rate include Massachusetts (3.1) and Hawaii (2.6). Both states have some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. Read more:
“Right to choose,” “right to life,” "Politically motivated witch hunt,”" Billion-dollar industry that dissects babies,” are some of the heated charges exchanged after recent revelations that Planned Parenthood has been harvesting and passing along fetal body parts. Abortion arguments have not died down appreciably in the more than four decades since Roe vs. Wade. Dare I wade into the argument and try to find a middle ground?
The US Supreme Court in 1973 held that for abortions during the first trimester, the decision must be left to the judgment of the pregnant woman’s doctor. For second trimester pregnancies, states may promote their interests in the mother’s health by regulating abortion procedures. As for third trimester pregnancies, states may support the potentiality of human life by regulating or even prohibiting abortion, except when necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. Planned Parenthood undertook the performance of legal abortions soon after the court’s decision. Now that organization finds itself at the center of a typically polarized political controversy, with several public officials cutting ties with Planned Parenthood while some supporters have increased their donations. The controversy is not likely to go away.
Might Planned Parenthood now agree to a compromise in the current controversy? Or having won this round of funding battles, will it hold fast to present policies? Is a middle ground on such a contentious issue even possible? Or will this fight continue? Though it would be unpopular with both Planned Parenthood supporters and detractors, it may be time to consider a more nuanced abortion policy. No doubt the organization does much useful work in providing contraception, STD testing, and cancer screening, but abortion is its most controversial service. Part of the outcry over Planned Parenthood and the casual acknowledgement of the transfer of fetal body parts stems from the public being alerted to the fact that aborted fetuses actually have body parts—hearts, kidneys, livers, lungs-- that can be transplanted into other fetuses or babies—in one reported case, a heart was still beating when removed. Surely a woman’s “right to choose” does not extend that far. It’s been comforting to think of abortions as getting rid of unwanted “tissue” that may eventually form into a viable baby, as a strictly medical procedure between a woman and her doctor, obscuring the fact that it’s not the same as removing a tumor or an inflamed appendix. The revelation that an aborted fetus may already have human body parts is disconcerting.
Roe vs. Wade allowed abortion up to viability, but viability has kept moving earlier as tiny babies born even before 24 weeks sometimes survive. Reproductive innovations—in vitro fertilization, egg and sperm donation, surrogacy, embryo freezing—all have propelled reproduction into new territory since Roe vs. Wade and have increased our understanding of fetal development.  We now know that an embryo may divide several days after fertilization, so that the initial embryo (which can be kept frozen in suspended animation for years) might be considered more in terms of its potential humanity, but only later becomes one or more distinct individuals. Women do undergo abortions all over the world and many others experience miscarriages, the latter often considered a tragedy, but less so than a stillbirth. Perhaps a majority of sexually active women have experienced either a miscarriage or an abortion. At one time, “quickening,” that is, when fetal movements could be felt, was when a fetus was considered human. When does a fetus begin to feel pain? When does self-awareness and consciousness develop, or is that only after a baby’s birth and emergence into the light of day? These are not abstract questions, but are probably discernible by contemporary science and medicine, more answerable now than when Roe vs. Wade was first decided.
As a lifelong Democrat and human rights advocate, an adoptive parent who has also given birth, and a board member of an international adoption agency,  as well as a Spanish interpreter who has worked in a NICU, I find myself in sympathy with stopping all abortions at 20 weeks, provided there is no other overriding consideration. Surveys have shown that most Americans, while they do support first-trimester abortions by a small majority, would cut abortion off at that point (which probably would not yield many useful body parts). Abortion-rights advocates, including many allied with Planned Parenthood, decry any such proposals an attack on women’s reproductive rights, but as understanding of pregnancy and fetal development increases, along with successful medical interventions for preterm infants, that no longer seems like such an unreasonable standard. Planned Parenthood would perhaps experience less hostility toward provision of early abortions if it expressed a willingness to stop later ones, rather than reacting so defensively.
To depict abortion as just an ordinary medical procedure is unrealistic. The issue remains as divisive as ever—or has become even more so—since the days of Roe vs. Wade. Those questioning a woman’s right to an abortion at any stage are often accused of being hypocrites in favor of capital punishment, but I, for one, oppose capital punishment and there are many others who share my position. Additionally, the overpopulation argument no longer holds in developed countries, where the average age keeps rising and deaths may exceed births. In the U.S., our population distribution has remained steady thanks only to the fecundity of Hispanic women (Donald Trump: take note).
In my dreams (why not?--dreams are free), Planned Parenthood and pro-lifers would join forces in a pilot project, financed perhaps by a generous intrepid donor, offering women with problem pregnancies a truly full range of choices and services, not only morning-after pills, contraception, pregnancy verification, sterilization, and first-trimester abortion, but also ultrasound, prenatal care, and temporary support, even delivery options from water births to C-sections, as well as later foster care and adoption services if desired. Pregnant women would not be pressured to make any particular choice and early abortion would not be discouraged, but other realistic alternatives would be offered. Adoption and alternative fertility options have become big business, with women who agree to become surrogates or to give up their babies for adoption currently being amply supported by the future parents. Such support, along with Medicaid and Obamacare, could perhaps help finance the type of center envisioned. Then, an unexpectedly pregnant woman would have a real choice.
If I had the time, energy, and means—or could convince a willing deep-pockets donor--I’d like to try to put together something like that myself, though it would probably be attacked by both sides and therefore face difficulties in staff recruitment.
Such a proposal puts me in neither the conservative nor liberal camp, which is fine with me. My liberal credentials are already under attack because I don’t support the dictatorial Castro regime. Where my opinions fall along the liberal-conservative spectrum depends on the particular issue. I don’t object to assisted suicide, provided that the person is mentally competent and has really thought it through for a time, and that no relief of their suffering (subjectively experienced) is in sight. Gay marriage (or open marriage or even a marriage of more than 2 consenting adults) is OK if other people want to do it—though not for me. However, I don’t agree with gay rights advocates that the prohibition of gay men’s blood donations is discriminatory. Because of the very high rate of HIV among gay men, allowing that seems like an unnecessary risk, especially as the need for blood transfusions is diminishing and blood donation is not a human right. I do realize that allowing assisted suicide or gay marriage creates a social atmosphere that may support or encourage more of those behaviors, whereas if they were prohibited, some people might find another way. There are societies that allow sexual contact between adults and children, even child marriage, or that tacitly support the rape and abuse of women, honor killings, genital mutilation, and plural marriage, behaviors that are prohibited in the U.S. We shouldn’t pretend that our current mores are universal or are the Ten Commandments handed down from on high. 

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