Friday, September 4, 2015

Miracle Baby, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Hungary, China’s Stock Market, DR Deportations. Salva Kiir. Cuba, Amnesty’s Prostitution Decriminalization Policy Again, Ashley Madison, Planned Parenthood Again, Gun Killings--Again

My friends and neighbors, pictured here with their older son and newest member, are celebrating the homecoming of the baby, born prematurely and then having undergone heart surgery. It’s a real miracle that he survived and is so alert after all.

Presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a border wall with Canada. If a wall with Mexico is a nutty idea, a wall along the 5,000+mile Canadian border is even more ridiculous. He’s trying to out-Trump Donald Trump.

According to a friend, in a NYorker cartoon, one guy observes to another that Trump campaign news has been moved to the newspaper’s comic section. And a recent NYorker cover shows Trump coming down in a belly-flop high dive, alarming other Republican hopefuls in the water below. But, of course, Trump supporters are not NYorker readers. It's amazing how far the guy has gotten just by being outrageous and naughty. Many voters, frustrated in their daily life, must enjoy having Trump give voice to that. It hasn't ended yet. A really scary thought is that he might actually win the presidency. We all say it's impossible, but look how far he's gotten, and he’s been having a lot of fun doing it. Of course, so far, he's been spending his own money and, at some point, he may decide to stop. Or he may stop if he is no longer getting a response and attention. Trump’s remarks seem to be unedited, flowing freely out of his mouth without thought or preparation. It must be a challenging to be on his campaign staff, which I suspect sees quite a bit of turnover. Either he or they are probably quick to say, “You’re fired!”

Jeb Bush explaining that he was actually referring to Asians in his “anchor babies” remark is not going to win many Asian American votes. Presidential candidates should know that their every remark is going to be documented, repeated, and magnified. Trump doesn’t care, as long as he gets publicity, but a serious candidate like Jeb should watch his mouth.

Meanwhile, a young Hungarian law student, with her family there over the summer, tells me about all the refugees trying to swarm across Hungary's borders and how she had been trying to help them out while the government was building an emergency fence to keep them out. She helped fee desperate families with infants and small children sleeping outside on the sidewalk around the Budapest train station. And my friend in Yemen recounts chaos and despair there. But we have enough problems just here in this hemisphere. Now all we need in the US is a President Trump and we might as well join the Mars expedition and start over again there.

News of China’s stock market crash has probably now reached actual stockholders there, as they have seen their own holdings shrink. However, while the rest of the world reacted immediately, sending stocks lower everywhere, it is prohibited to divulge such news in China either in the press or on line. So take note, Cuba watchers, a thaw in diplomatic relations does not necessarily mean a thaw inside the country. However, as awareness of the government’s manipulation of the Chinese stock market and the cover-up filter down to unfortunate stockholders, the government loses legitimacy. Over 200 Chinese have been arrested and blamed for the crash. Meanwhile, the leadership launched a massive military parade which citizens could only watch on TV, most of them forbidden to watch in person.

The DR Haitian descendants’ crisis continues because much of the public and politicians there support it, much as anti-immigrant voters here support Trump: There is also confusion in the public mind, as perhaps also among the authorities, between Haitian-born and Dominican-born people of Haitian descent. The latter are claiming “birthright” citizenship.

That Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina actually resigned under pressure is pretty amazing, that he was jailed, even more so. That’s fairly unprecedented in Latin America (or anywhere).  Richard Nixon was the only US president who resigned, saved from prosecution by a pardon from his successor.

Salva Kiir, South Sudan’s pugnacious president, finally reluctantly (and quite belatedly) signed a peace agreement with his vice president and rival. So tragic to see this infighting is such a fragile country, where I had a mission in 2006, before independence.

What President Obama has tried to do both regarding Iran and Cuba is to upset the narrative and alliances in the region, which has been happening already to some extent. Over time, with more American tourism and less Cuban government blaming of the American “Empire” for all of Cuba’s ills, maybe the Cuban people will start wondering whether their leaders are the ones actually responsible for the economic stagnation on their island and the problems they are experiencing in their daily life. (Dissidents already blame the Cuban leadership but they are not a majority right now and are prevented from making their views known to others.) The question then will be what the Cuban people might do about it in a harsh and very controlling dictatorship, an aspect of Cuba life not readily visible to tourists or outside observers. The experience of China and Viet Nam is not cause for optimism in that regard. People there are becoming more aware of government strictures and responsibility, but don’t have mechanisms for overcoming them and the leadership always has control of the military and police to stop any free expression or unrest.

Yet now, diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US are a reality, so there is no going back. The US from now on must work within that framework. While Senator Leahy is wrong that critics of the Obama/Castro deal are nostalgic for Batista, many are nostalgic for a year ago, before full diplomatic relations were anticipated and some are fruitlessly trying to turn back the clock to that time. Instead, they need to think of working within the current system, no matter how much they lament it. Cuba has now started teaching English in schools, a good sign.

A blog proposes, OK, let’s flood Cuba with American visitors, as President Obama envisions, adding only a simple requirement whereby all U.S. "people-to-people" travelers to Cuba -- better yet, every category of U.S. travelers to Cuba -- must patronize exclusively home businesses, staying only at "casas particulares" and dining only at "paladares," not in hotels and resorts controlled by the government.  Could Americans of any political persuasion oppose that?

I see that the Cuban Five visited Robben Island, as if to draw a parallel between their imprisonment in the US and Nelson Mandela's. The many plantados who have served 20-30 sentences in Cuba under even more cruel conditions would be a closer parallel. Quite a few Cuban political prisoners spent years breaking up rocks on Isla de Pinos, a notorious island prison off the coast, accessible only by boat.

Cuban doctors, like other Cubans, are trying to get to the US before the door closes.

I seem to be encountering all kinds of discouraging, but realistic, news about Latin America today and, additionally, worldwide stock market fluctuations won't help any of these problems.

As a member and activist since 1981, maybe I shouldn’t be airing Amnesty International’s dirty laundry on this blog, but concerns about the worldwide organization’s vote to support the decriminalization of the acts of all participants in prostitution has taken many members by surprise, arousing considerable pushback. Maybe paid sex is the new sexual frontier, but consensus has hardly arrived yet and is ranging within Amnesty activist ranks. It implies an inequality between men and women when it comes to sex--that women must be paid to engage in sex that otherwise they would reject.  It has been revealed that this policy was advocated most forcefully by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which gave a considerable donation to Amnesty. Allegedly, the foundation insisted on the full decriminalization policy, and maneuvered to make sure the resolution voted on at the recent meeting of Amnesty’s worldwide congress was just for that, with decriminalization only of prostitutes not offered as an alternative. I had always been favorably disposed toward Soros, but if he really pushed Amnesty into this corner, I will have to rethink my opinion. Another aspect of the problem is that at the world congress, held every 2 years, each member country has a single vote on any issue, regardless of its size, number of members, and financial support of the movement, obviously giving small countries the same weight as the US, UK, Canada, and France, all of which opposed the measure. One has to wonder what arms were twisted in small nations, much as might have been the case with FIFA. Some countries have implemented the so-called Nordic model, not only Sweden, but also Canada, whereby johns are punished, but not prostitutes, something which has reportedly had mixed outcomes. In Canada, prostitutes are disproportionately native women. See No More Stolen Sisters page on AI Canada's website:

Germany has come closest to putting full decriminalization into effect, with unfortunate results according to this article:

The New York Times has come editorially against paid sex. The Amnesty position has started a debate on the issue, perhaps more than anticipated, with few coming out in support of full decriminalization.

Here is a US Amnesty member’s comment:

The point someone made about this being an example of elitism is very much on target. I think that those who are pushing this agenda are just so convinced that they are "right" about this issue and that those opposed have some kind of backward world view and so they feel justified blasting through their pet issue over the objections of those "less enlightened" of us because of course they know better than we do, being blessed with this superior insight of theirs. But the fact is that there is plenty of research that shows that--despite what they claim in the abstract---decriminalizing the entire sex industry, as was done in Germany and the Netherlands, led to a sharp increase in trafficking and other abuses. So the facts are definitely not on the side of the know-it-alls. Also, they have rallied together with certain sex worker organizations in western countries that represent the minority of sex workers who are well off and "empowered"--and they trot them out as if they were representative of sex workers everywhere. And the tortured language used in the AI documents that I have seen to justify this new policy completely evades the issue of why the Scandinavian model cannot address the problems that are identified. Everyone seems to agree that the victims of the sex trade should not be arrested, persecuted, harassed. But the Scandinavian model addresses that problem very well--it calls for decriminalization of the survivors. What's not to like? The AI policy goes out on the limb and declares there is a new human right--the right of men who happen to have money in their pocket to exploit other human beings for their selfish gratification. We are now saying this is a basic right to their sexual expression. This in effect is like declaring that it is an equivalent right to that of LGBT people to choose their own partners free of harassment and discrimination--because the new "human rights" of johns and pimps is also based (according to the logic of the new policy) on the same premise.

Another Amnesty activist advises, please go here: to see a lengthy article that appeared in Der Spiegel--it details the utter failure of Germany's effort to implement exactly what the proposed AI policy is calling for--the results are extremely troubling. This article also describes the success of the program implemented in Sweden--the so-called Nordic model which protects the survivors of sex commerce but does NOT decriminalize the ugly commerce itself. I urge you and everyone else to read this article carefully. The proposed policy has already been implemented and the experiment has FAILED--failed UTTERLY and MISERABLY.

It’s not really so shocking to find out that many of the married men paying their dues to Ashley Madison were actually corresponding with a bot, not an actual woman. They must pay for any correspondence, not for meetings with a real person. Women can exchange messages for free. Only married men have been “outed,” no women. It would not be surprising if more married men than married women had actually signed up for that dating website and that the enterprise made up for the shortfall and kept the guys enrolled with teasers and photos from fake women. While some married women do seek affairs, usually they do so with men they already know, not via a website. It’s no secret that having greater testosterone along with cultural factors would propel more men toward infidelity.

As for the Planned Parenthood debate, I should have emphasized that in my fantasy all-purpose pregnancy assistance center, staff would absolutely have a non-pejorative attitude and sympathy for any woman finding herself unexpectedly pregnant and in a tight spot, whether through a contraception failure, having too many kids already, date rape, a health problem for her or the fetus, or being under age herself. I should have emphasized that more. And Pope Francis, by authorizing forgiveness for an abortion, has acknowledged how widespread it is. Because of ideology or political correctness, opinions on abortion have becomes excessively polarized and mutually defensive. Let’s be reasonable and follow public opinion, which supports abortion in the first trimester, but not thereafter, and has reacted negatively to some of the excesses and practices of Planned Parenthood which have overshadowed for many people the good that agency actually does. Voluntarily stopping later abortions by Planned Parenthood would diffuse much of the opposition.  Pro-lifers claim that younger people are more sympathetic to their view than older ones. I haven’t seen the data, but it’s possible that younger people, more accustomed to using contraception, see unwanted pregnancy as preventable. Also, unmarried pregnancy no longer bears much of a stigma. Certainly, the number of abortions has been dropping. However, it does seem that Hegel was right, that opinions tend to gather steam in one direction, often going too far, inspiring a retreat and a correction, with a continuous oscillation and a slow movement toward what we might define as consensus and progress. (Admittedly, that’s Hegel simplified.)

Another senseless gun killing has taken place around Roanoke, near Virginia Tech and Blacksburg where my parents used to live, ordinarily a very peaceful place—though, of course, the Va. Tech mass murder occurred there not so very long ago. Even if that fatal TV interview had been conducted with an armed guard standing nearby, probably those deaths could not have been prevented. The gun was also purchased legally, after the requisite background check. Until someone goes off the rails or accidentally discharges a gun, how can it be predicted, with no prior record of misuse, that they will use it safely? Aggressive gun rights’ advocates, especially the NRA, are putting us all in danger. Gun deaths have now spiked in DC after a period of decline. People have been shot after petty arguments, such as an elbowing at a nightclub. Without firearms, there might have been a fight, but hardly a fatal one. When is the Hegelian dialectic going to kick for gun control? While opinion is divided if the question is posed as gun “rights” versus gun “control,” polls show a majority on both sides support background checks and banning assault weapons.

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