Sunday, July 24, 2016

At Home, New HP Cuba Article, Kaine, "Electile" Disfunction, Clinton & Trump, Ginsberg, Gun Laws & Terrorism, FGM, Turkey, Haiti, Cuba, US Parents

                     Boniface from Kenya (where he has returned) giving GAO graduation keynote address

                                           Boniface with GAO graduation certificate

Morning (L) and evening vistas out my bedroom window

Neighbor mixing dirt with sand from my kids' old sandbox to fill in holes in local soccer fields

Daughter Stephanie visiting from Hawaii, by late brother Andrew's gravestone in our backyard

 Daughters Melanie and Stephanie with great-grandson De'Andre in my kitchen and home

Boniface, my visitor from Kenya, has left, but I attended his graduation at GAO, where he was the keynote speaker. There I met two Argentine fellows who knew a woman from Argentina who stayed with me a few years ago.

Civic-minded neighbors, helping me with yardwork, have mixed dirt with sand from a defunct sandbox that my kids used to play in and taken it to fill up inundations in local soccer fields.

Here’s the 5th and latest in my Huffington Post Cuba series:

All my Huffington Post Cuba articles are available at this address:

Hillary Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine as a running mate seems like a safe, wise choice. Kaine has been called a “Pope Francis” Catholic. He did Jesuit service in northern Honduras in areas where I've worked and the little Spanish I've heard him speak sounds pretty good, a lot better than George Bush or even Jeb, who has a Hispanic wife, not that that is the most important qualification in a VP. He might also appeal to some of those white male voters whom Trump has been courting. Some people find him too cautious or conservative. Well, it’s hard to find candidates for office that agree 100% on all issues with a majority of voters, including with me and thee. Some voters will prefer to throw caution to the winds, shake up the entire system, and vote on faith or emotion for Trump, which, if he wins, they will no doubt come to regret.

The late Libya Ambassador Chris Stevens’ mother has a letter in the NYTimes, asking Republicans and Donald Trump to stop using her son’s name and memory in their political campaigns. Stevens was a former Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, also, according to people I've met who knew him, a guy who was often independent and dismissive of advice, such the advice he was given not to go to the Benghazi outpost (not an embassy) on that fateful anniversary (we don’t like to blame the victim). 

According to some recent pollster estimates, Trump has a 25% chance of winning the presidential election, which is not zero and is actually a pretty frightening figure, especially since some other polls show him neck-n-neck with Clinton.

Talk about negative campaigns, Trump and his surrogates are saying, vote for Donald Trump to prevent (Crooked, Lying) Hillary from becoming president, while Clinton’s supporters are saying that it’s imperative to vote for her to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president. Trump’s supporters are even saying to jail or shoot her. (If anyone has engaged in lies and crooked deals, it’s Trump.) Trump may have given diehard Republicans a reason to support him by choosing a staid conservative running mate with a track record like Pence’s. They are certainly the odd couple. But for people who genuinely feel unable to vote for either Trump or Hillary, although knowing that one of them is bound to win, yet considering them equivalent evils, can either not vote the top of the ticket or vote for a protest candidate.

Electile Dysfunction is a parodic neologism making the rounds on social media. The Urban Dictionary defines Electile Dysfunction as “The inability of voters to become aroused over any of the choices for President put forth by either party during an election year.” July 25 is the start of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.

Yet, I don’t consider Trump and Clinton equivalent extremes. Trump is extremely extreme, unpredictable, and uninformed, whereas (my bias showing?), Clinton, with her obvious faults, is more predictable, moderate, and centrist, more like a normal human being, although with more single-minded ambition and drive than most of us, especially than us women. I’m wondering if her alleged untrustworthiness is real or a media exaggeration, based partly on her gender? Trump is so over-the-top, showing such crass braggadocio that you almost feel sorry for him and wonder if he is compensating for feelings of inferiority—maybe impressing his late father in the hereafter, who had originally gifted him with enormous wealth, or maybe Rubio was right about a certain body part? It’s said that Hitler had an undescended testicle about which he was ashamed. I don’t know what psychiatric diagnosis might be applied to Trump; he’s certainly not normal—he seems perpetually manic, overcompensating for something, and completely lacking in empathy—he delights in tricking people, getting rich at others’ expense and bragging about it. Why do so many voters identify with him? Because they’d like to be in his shoes—or think that he help them get there? True believers don’t care if Melania’s speech was plagiarized, to an extent that if a college student did it, he or she would be out. Of course, Melania is saying she wrote every word herself--her command of English then is very good! Apparently there was a part of Donald Trump Jr.’s speech that was also cribbed—Trump should tell those lazy speech writers “You’re fired!”

Breaking news: Trump staffer fesses up: I cribbed Michelle Obama speech

Actually, listening to the Republican Convention speakers on the radio almost made me sick to my stomach—I’ve never had a physical reaction before to a political event and I’ve witnessed a lot of them in many different countries, including as an election observer. .

The choice between the two presidential candidates is not between individual unbridled freedom and strict government-controlled socialism or ironfisted communism, but between chaos and a middle ground allowing and protecting basic personal freedoms, yet still implementing restraint and organizing economic and national life to benefit a majority of citizens.

The NYTimes reported a recent poll showing Trump and Clinton running at a dead heat, which is really scary, given that Brexit polls showed a similar 50-50 pattern, with “stay” supposedly winning slightly. Was that pollsters’ wishful thinking? Do voting and democracy really provide the best form of government? An autocracy or even a dictatorship is certainly more stable and predictable, as well as more traditional throughout history. Is voting by uninformed and easily misled voters really the best way to choose leaders? Apparently a majority of Russians support Putin. Dictators like the Castro brothers, as well as the leaders of Saudi Arabia, North Korea, China, and Vietnam, may have a point. At least, they provide stability and predictability.  

A Trump victory is definitely possible, as unthinkable as that may seem to so many of us. There are unhappy voters who will just say “Let’s throw all the bums out and start over completely, fresh and brand-new with Trump.” He’s exciting, certainly different—Hillary is someone we know only too well, maybe like the new suitor versus the tired old familiar spouse. Trump, with his get-rich-quick huckster message, appeals to those struggling to make ends meet, which is most people. Remember, who would have thought that the British, generally considered more thoughtful and less impulsive than Americans, would have voted for Brexit?  And that vote was not as momentous as the US presidency. 

In this election, perhaps more than in any other, many voters seem more motivated by hatred (not too strong a word) of the other party’s candidate than by love of their own.

Amnesty International USA is sending observers to the political conventions.

I must agree with the Washington Post and NYTimes editorial boards that although it might not have been illegal for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to state aloud what many of us are thinking about Trump, that he’s a faker, still, certainly it was unwise of her to do so. Maybe at age 83, she is losing some of her marbles? That’s what people often think about older folks. Or maybe she just feels free at her age to speak her mind? In light of her statement, if Hillary wins, it may be time for Ginsberg to gracefully retire. She has only given Hillary’s detractors more ammunition to use against her. However, under pressure, Ginsberg later admitted that it had been unwise to have said what she did, but she did not really retract her statement.

Leave it to a smirking GWBush to do something inappropriate at the Dallas officers’ memorial service. After giving a pretty good prepared speech in Dallas, he pulled a surprised Michelle Obama out to do a jig, not exactly called for during such a solemn occasion. The man seems to be impulsively goofy, lacking in common sense and a basic understanding of accepted political etiquette, and not for the first time either. His wife looked on horrified—she must often try to guide and calm him. Was he trying to show solidarity with black people or what? He has 2 left feet and shows a deficit of social skills—maybe the poor guy has a cognitive abnormality?

In Idaho, a man dressed as woman, who said he identifies as female, was found taking photos of a woman in a department store dressing room, the worst nightmare of the whole transgender bathroom debate. Of course, regardless of gender, a person should not be taking unauthorized photos of someone else dressing or undressing. .

The young German mall shooter looks like his was a copy-cat crime, perhaps partially motivated by his Iranian heritage. Lone wolf guys like him are very hard to detect in advance. And where did he get a gun?

Two courthouse employees and the shooter were killed in Michigan—he was apparently a jail inmate trying to escape, who, though handcuffed, managed to grab a guard’s gun. In Baton Rouge, several police officers shot, three killed. A civil war with real bullets seems to be underway. A patient and a hospital employee shot and killed in Florida. A three-year-old policeman’s son killed himself with his father’s gun in Colorado. Either reduce the sheer number of guns in circulation or prevent some people from getting them, which is much harder. I foresee a time when Americans will look back on the gun culture as a historical anomaly.

States with “open carry” laws are finding that pretty frightening when it’s being practiced by a group of black men either participating in a demonstration or when just being out and about. Nor were firearms allowed inside the Republic Convention. Why not, if they are so protective and a constitutional right that the party so strongly supports? And Ohio is an open-carry state. The police asked for a suspension of open-carry for the duration of the convention, a request that was denied. Fortunately, nothing accidental or deliberately harmful happened.

Estimates are that the US suicide rate could fall by one-third if there were more gun restrictions.

Germany, even with its strict gun laws, has seen a mass shooting. And now there is a new copycat terrorist weapon, a truck, which, combined with firearms, managed to kill and injure a lot of people in France. And, of course, social media brings these ideas much closer to home. A disgruntled “lone wolf” with no direct ties to other terrorists can carry out shootings or vehicular manslaughter without any forewarning communications with anyone else, making such attacks hard to prevent. A vicious cycle is created. Young black or Muslim men are feared and feel ostracized and alienated, propelling them to plan revenge, thus, in turn, making other young men who look like them seem dangerous, causing them to feel them resentful, creating a vicious cycle. Someone who has been robbed by a young black man is going to cross the street if one approaches, so a perfectly innocent man feels stereotyped. But how is the observer to know his intentions? Even black taxi drivers hesitate to pick up young black men.

Here’s Adriano, cousin of the Dominican Espaillat family profiled in my Cuba book, who came close to beating Rangel before, but now has a good chance since Rangel is retiring. I’ve had falling out with the family over disagreement about the DR government’s anti-Haitian descendants’ policy.
ere’s the Espaillat cousin H

The UN has recognized Female Genital Mutilation, which an estimated 200 million women have undergone, typically before puberty, to be “child abuse.” It’s obviously painful, may result in death, dampens sexual pleasure which is apparently its aim, may interfere with urination, and complicates childbirth in areas of the world where that’s already complicated enough. A few female supporters of the practice argue that it’s part of their culture. If so, and a woman over 21 really wants to have it done, then that’s her right, just as some women put themselves through painful and unnecessary plastic surgery. Eradicating the practice will require convincing both men and women that a woman’s fidelity does not require FMG and that women who have been mutilated may still stray. If some other cultural marker is required, ritual scarring would be less harmful, though even that should be allowed only by a consenting adult. In one South Sudan tribe, whose members I met in 2006, the cultural marker for both genders is pulling out the 2 front bottom teeth. That seems somewhat harmful and painful, but is still better than FGM.

The number of migrants under 18 traveling alone is increasing all over the world.

As for Turkey, Erdogan has become increasingly autocratic and even despotic, but he was elected and re-elected (with irregularities and suppression?) and now will become even more so.

More bad news from Honduras:

US official confronts Haiti impasse, but friends who know Haiti say many resent such interference:

In Haiti, UN peacekeepers, post-earthquake, not only unleashed cholera, but also left babies behind, as often happens,

Article about former AI Cuban POC El Sexto:

25 Cuban migrants come ashore at the Keys (unlike those unlucky rafters who landed on a lighthouse and were ordered returned to Cuba by a judge)

On the lighter side in Cuba, daiquiri contests—for foreign visitors only, it goes without saying-

The Cuban government has opened a bulk goods store, maybe not yet Costco, but along those lines, selling toilet paper, tomato sauce, and cooking oil in quantity to small licensed home enterprises.

Article below about the reassignment (and apparent downgrading) of Cuban economics minister Marino Murillo. Incidentally, Murillo’s daughter crossed the border in Texas a while back, asking for political asylum (as per my book).

See below, about the functioning of the black market in Cuba, which has been around for decades, despite draconian sanctions against those who are caught. But it’s so pervasive

Cuba’s human rights abuses worse despite US ties, Andres Oppenheimer
Story below is about Jose Daniel Ferrer, a Cuban dissident who spent 8 years in prison as one of the Cuban Five, now on the first trip he was allowed outside of Cuba since his release in 2011.

Another Black Spring prisoner recently allowed to leave Cuba for the first time, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, was here in DC with his wife, also in my Cuba book on p.171.

Parents, in polls, typically report less satisfaction than non-parents. But, as it turns out, this is true only in America, not in other countries where parents have more moral and material support.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Direct Democracy, Race Relations, Another Honduran Activist Murdered, Selected World Highlights, Hillary’s E-mail, Trump on the Stump, Gun Rights vs. Rights to Protection From Gun Violence

Can there be too much direct democracy, i.e. like the Brexit vote? That is why it might be advisable to avoid referendums (or is it referenda?). Rather, it’s usually wise for the electorate, made up of busy people certainly not experts on most issues, to elect representatives rather than trying to make every decision themselves, or so this article below argues persuasively. It would not be workable to submit every governmental action to popular vote.

In the wake of police shootings of African American men and the murder of police officers in Dallas, as well as previously with the Black Lives Matter movement, people of all races have been urged to speak directly to each other about race. Well, within my multiracial and mixed-race family, with Asian, African American, and Caucasian members (we seem to be missing Native Americans), we’ve never had such discussions. And the non-white members don’t seem to feel themselves separate and distinct. Maybe it’s something we should bring up? I did once ask my daughter living in Hawaii if she ever felt her half-Korean ethnicity. She laughed, “I know I’m hapa-haole, [half haole or white]” referring to an Asian-Caucasian mix common there, “but I don’t think about it.” Likewise, my granddaughter who is half black says she never is very aware of her race—she just is. Objectively, she knows other people would consider her African American—she’s not rejecting that racial classification—but she doesn’t feel different from anyone else or from her mother, who is not black. Perhaps the solution to many current racial problems is intermarriage producing mixed-race kids. Certainly, none of my family members considers him or herself a member of the “black” or “Asian” “community,” instead, it’s more—though not completely—like being tall or brunette. Nor is my gay nephew consciously a member of the “gay community.” Probably there are others who feel differently about those identities or are they only individual characteristics?   

My younger son Jon, adopted from Colombia, is Hispanic by ethnicity. Obviously, he knows where he was born and once took a Spanish class in college, which he found difficult. There are not many Hispanics in Hawaii, where he lives, and where he very much blends into the mixed ethnic landscape.  

A San Francisco court has now called for the release from custody of migrant kids, but not their parents: the Where do they go? Hope they have other relatives in this country.

Another environmental activist has been murdered in Honduras after Bertha Caceres was killed in La Esperanza, this time in the capital of Tegucigalpa, where numerous murders take place daily. The government has approved certain dam projects that local people oppose, which has led to heightened tensions, which the Honduran government seems to be doing nothing to address or ameliorate.

World anger over Honduras activist Lesbia Yaneth Urquia's death

Two Spanish bull fighters killed in a single day, partial payback for the          many bulls killed. I never could stomach bull fighting or cock fighting either. Seeing each once was more than enough. I’m also squeamish about eating meat, though I do sometimes eat it, especially fish or chicken when invited out.

South Sudan’s civil war seems to have resumed. When I was there in 2006, of course, all sides were united against the north. Now that they have a country, South Sudanese keep fighting among themselves. Their tribal loyalties are stronger than their weak national loyalty. And after years—generations really—of civil war, maybe that’s what they know best.

With $240 million in upgrades planned for the Guantanamo Naval Base, it doesn’t look likely to be closed soon.

Some 500 Venezuelan housewives reportedly rushed over the border into Colombia to buy toilet paper, cooking oil, and rice. So-called “socialist” economic systems, whether in the USSR, China, Cuba, or Venezuela, whatever their other possible virtues, have not been able to provide basic necessities, especially sufficient food, to the population. I’ve said it before and will say it again, Cuba, with ample fertile land, must import 80% of its food when it was largely self-sufficient in food before the Revolution —and it’s not a lot of food available at that, just the bare minimum diet, except for what goes to tourist hotels and restaurants and to the military—and includes importing sugar from neighboring DR. No other country in the Americas has to import most of its food.

Article below about former Cuban prisoner and performance artist Danilo Maldonado, whom I fought to be declared a Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience:

Can’t remember if I shared this before, an Atlantic article featuring Rosa Maria Paya, whose father, a democracy activist, died in Cuba under suspicious circumstances. She has been to our Amnesty Int’l DC office and a photo and my interview with her appears in my Confessions book.

Cuba is the preferred destination of many American tourists—it’s been a flood. In Miami, there is a whole section of the airport for Cuba-bound tourists. Can Cuba cope? American tourism is the major source of economic growth right now in Cuba.

Meanwhile, Raul Castro has announced a period of increased austerity. Maybe he didn’t say why, but it’s due to reduced revenues from Venezuela oil, both less oil and lower revenues for oil being resold. Cubans, most of whom were struggling already, had been anticipating a financial boost because of ties with the US, but tourism cannot make up for the loss of oil revenue. The Cuban leadership needs to allow or institute an economic system that allows its citizens to become more productive, but after decades of reliance on outside support, first the USSR, then Venezuela, the powers-that-be in Cuba (the Castro brothers and the Cuban military) need to widen opportunities and unleash the people’s own potential.  

Perhaps the worldwide reduction in oil prices is partially due to increased use of alternative sources, as well as of conservation measures. If so, the reduction will persist. Although probably some of my father’s relatives in Alberta are befitting from oil revenues there, I find it ridiculous that the US is being sued for $15 billion for not approving the Keystone oil pipeline.

Thank goodness the saga of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail irregularities is over, more or less, though not in terms of the presidential campaign and certainly not in the Republican Congress, which, of course, will hold multiple hearings to highlight it all over again. The Congress may find, like with Benghazi, that voters will get tired of hearing the same accusations ad infinitum. We’ve all gotten the message: she wasn’t supposed to do that. I think she knows now how to properly handle official e-mail. She has acknowledged making a mistake, for which she is sorry. What more should she do? For convenience in a very stressful and fast-moving job, she did what her Republican predecessors as Secretaries of State had done before, mix private and official e-mail on a private server. For criminal charges, there usually must be intent and intent to break the law does not appear to have been present in Clinton’s actions (General Petraeus did much worse, with intent, but got off with a misdemeanor and probation, though he isn’t running for president, but might actually have been a candidate otherwise.) The issue of e-mail use was not raised previously and, from now on, secretaries of state will be more careful. Was Clinton careless? Yes, but that’s understandable under the pressures of the office. I’m sure that John Kerry is taking special note now.

Of course, the investigation adds to the notion that Hillary is untrustworthy, an image that Republicans have relentlessly fostered. What else leads to that conclusion? Bengahzi? There, I think she was as straightforward as she could be and, from what I know from Stevens’ associates, he himself was much to blame for taking a known risk. Is Hillary really two-faced and sneaky or is that just a characterization promulgated by Republicans and Donald Trump? In any case, the notion persists and feeds on itself and will hamper her ability to govern if she is elected, which I trust she will be. Trump’s unpredictability and capriciousness makes him even less trustworthy. So it boils down, as often, to the lesser of evils. What’s the alternative? Most people can identify with Clinton’s e-mail mistake, but the mind and decisions made by Trump are hilarious, scary, just in bad taste, and always unpredictable. Throwing caution to the winds and appealing to blind faith, his counterintuitive and contradictory claims, Trump’s exaggerated predictions remind me of Fidel Castro in his charismatic heyday promising that Cuba would produce enough milk to fill Havana Bay, more goose paté than France, and, in 1970, ten million tons of sugar, none of which actually happened. An occasional surprise and outlandish prediction (the Wall) piques voter interest and imagination, but a steady diet by the nation’s leader would be impossible to implement and no way to run a country or engage internationally. Constant unpredictability can lead to chaos. Another political figure who was briefly popular, but also off-the-wall, was Sarah Palin, though she seized the financial moment of her place in the sun, authoring (I didn’t say “writing”) two books about herself that were brief best sellers, soon tossed into the dustbin. Do some Republican pundits and supporters believe they can tame and channel Trump? Don’t bet on it—they may be fired if they try. Others have suggested that Donald really doesn’t want to be president, but I wouldn’t count on him resigning if he should win, though some wishful thinkers are floating that notion, that he might just quit and endorse someone else. You never know what the Donald might do next. He could say that he was bowing to pressures to quit from his family, especially from wife Melania, a private person who doesn’t want to leave NYC.

The “Dump Trump” movement at the convention is gathering steam and we will soon see if it has traction. July 18 is the start of the Republican convention. If such a long-shot Trump defeat should happen, some voters who would have voted for Hillary by default will go for this new, untested candidate. But Trump supporters will feel rightly double-crossed and who knows what they might do?

A long NYorker article about being on the campaign trail with Trump (“Trump Days” by George Saunders (July 11) indicates that the risk to our country is not only that Trump might actually become president, but that he has energized and gained support from so many fervent followers. That makes Saunders pessimistic about the continued viability of the American project and the nation’s future.

Again, I’m getting e-mails tying Hillary Clinton to the murder of Honduran environmental activist Bertha Caceres. Probably now, she will also be blamed for the more recent environmental activist’s murder. Rumors and conspiracy theories like that can take on a life of their own by being continually repeated, especially in the digital age. People like to hear sensationalist claims and enjoy being righteously and vicariously shocked.

Another I’ve heard again lately is that European migrants are being murdered for the organs—I just saw another serious internet posting on that. If that is really happening, supposedly because rich people are willing to pay for organs, where is the network of clandestine surgeons and hidden hospitals performing the very delicate and exacting transplant procedures with those organs? As an interpreter, I’ve been present for the meticulous hospital matching sessions between donors and organ recipients. You can’t just kill someone for their organs—to do what with them? Who will transport them? How? Who will buy them? That part of the story is always missing, as are the names of actual victims of this practice, whose bodies would have been found by police with their organs missing. More common in a developing country is someone selling a kidney or part of a liver, organs that can be removed without killing the donor, or women “renting out” their wombs for surrogacy. All of that is well-documented, but I’d like to see evidence of a case of someone actually receiving an organ from a donor who was killed for that purpose. It is said that the Chinese may take organs or tissues, especially corneas, from prisoners being executed, but, then all the matching has been done beforehand and the item is ready for immediate use.
Could killing someone for their organs ever happen? Yes, conceivably, if someone were kidnapped, blood and tissues then analyzed and screened for HIV and other illnesses, and, if found to match those of a given wealthy patient awaiting transplant, then the victim could be killed for the needed organ with the transplant occurring in a top-secret facility. But I think this is an “urban myth” or another popular conspiracy theory, so let’s see evidence of even one such actual case; if true, surely someone willing to tell all has witnessed it or even taken cell phone photos. It’s one of the myths that keeps on circulating. In Guatemala, false rumors of adopted children being taken for their organs led to the end of that nation’s inter-country adoption program, to the detriment of abandoned children who would otherwise have had families. The rumor also led to the murder of an American aid worker who had nothing to do with adoption, much less with organ transplant, because local people thought she had come to steal their children for their organs. I would ask people making these organ-robbing claims to think about the consequences of spreading such rumors without evidence.

Douglas Bukowski, in a letter in the Chicago Tribune, argues that the Catholic priest shortage could be solved by two simple steps: allowing married and female priests, something I argue in my Honduras Peace Corps book, p. 182

Now “trigger-happy” would seem to apply to both armed police and civilians. And are we seeing the beginning of civil war with firearms, based on race differences or other grievances? A Missouri police officer was shot by a motorist he had stopped. Now that black citizens in Texas are walking around with “open carry” firearms, maybe white people with have second thoughts about laws allowing that. It does seem that if someone feels the need for self-protection, a single, simple handgun would be sufficient, not higher powered weapons.

Still more people killed by firearms in the US in a single day than in the UK all year. Three, including a nine-year-old, were killed exiting a store in San Bernardino. Victims, who might theoretically be able to defend themselves with arms, are often caught by surprise. Just having a gun seems to make it likely to go off, even in the hands of a police officer. And with the proliferation of guns, police may fear that any motion by a suspect means he is reaching for a gun. In countries with gun restrictions, police are often not armed themselves and, occasionally, that can backfire, as with the Norwegian mass shooter—though certainly he was an outlier. Are people of color in the US being targeted by police? It would seem so, if a broken taillight was the reason for the Minneapolis police stop. Couldn’t the officer have just let the driver know the taillight was out and to get it fixed? Someone need not be killed for that. The man’s mistake, perhaps, was mentioning that he had a legal gun, anticipating that it might be found, but the officer apparently interpreted that as a threat.
Despite continuous gun sales and NRA outreach to new gun owners, such as women and, now, gays, hunting is down and the number of gun owners is static or shrinking, even as they own more guns per capita. The gun culture may be waning, but is becoming fiercer among the minority of gun owners and perhaps among ethnic minorities. I’ve proposed before paying gun manufacturers to convert to some other product, much as government has paid farmers not to grow certain crops, but that idea has not caught fire. Reduced gun production, coupled with gun buy-back programs, could reduce the number of guns in circulation. Certainly high-powered weapons, such as those used in Orlando and Dallas, are not needed for personal self-defense.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

July 4th, GAO Cultural Day, HP Articles Repeated, Nicaragua, Cuba, South Sudan, Brexit, Trump, Immigration, Sanders, Clarence Thomas’s Wife, Guns, AI Sex Worker Policy

Happy July 4th, was a rainy, cool day in DC, though the fireworks went on as usual. I skipped them this year.  

Boniface, my Kenya visitor, and the other GAO fellows attending his government auditing/accounting course displayed items from their home countries at a "Cultural Day." Boniface's country, Kenya, is one I’ve had the privilege of visiting more than once, so it was great to see highlights regarding the historic island of Lamu and safaris, both of which I’ve experienced and would recommend, along with much more in that beautiful and varied country. In these 2 photos, Boniface is discussing the different types of identifying necklaces worn by single and married ladies--presumably Masai. I've met GAO fellows before from China, but this was the first time I'd met one from Vietnam at her display table. Also, I don't recall a fellow from Hungary before either--that table had delicious run balls! Boniface is leaving soon and I will miss him!

First, my Huffington Post article on Cuban performance “painted piglet” artist Danilo Maldonado was also been picked up by Democracia Participativa, then the other 4 articles in my Cuba HP series. It would be great if such publicity led to more book sales, but most readers of that second website are Spanish speakers. They will read a blog posting in English, but not a whole book. Here, again, is the “piggies” article as it appears there.

Now, I’ve been invited to the NYC area to give a couple of Cuba book talks in November—will keep you posted on the particulars.

“In the word question, there is a beautiful word – quest.
 I love that word.  We are all partners in a quest. 
 The essential questions have no answers.  You are my question,
 and I am yours – and then there is dialogue. 
 The moment we have answers, there is no dialogue. 
 Questions unite people.”
  Elie Wiesel

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, whose unexpected electoral defeat by Violeta Chamorro I witnessed as an election observer in 1990, has made a comeback, changed the Nicaraguan constitution to permit himself consecutive terms, and packed the high court to rule against any other presidential candidates, leaving himself as the sole candidate for an unprecedented third term. I know my friends in Nicaragua are gnashing their teeth:

As per the above, Starwood Corp. is going to manage a hotel in Cuba run by the Cuban military, which actually runs all hotels and funnels the money into its coffers, distributing it on the basis of favoritism and party loyalty, keeping the bulk of each employee’s pay, usually over 90%. The military under General Raul Castro and his son, also a general, use this money to make sure members of the military remain well-fed and faithful, a system Venezuela has copied to assure there is no military coup. If you are just an ordinary Cuban—or worse yet—a suspected dissident, you can forget about working in a hotel or any aspect of tourism—which offers the best jobs now in Cuba. What else is Cuba producing? Cigars and rum? Not food—it must import food despite having ample fertile land.

South Sudan has cancelled its 5-year independence celebration because of renewed fighting. We who have been to South Sudan all celebrated that independence too soon.

Like many observers, I’m shocked and disappointed by the UK’s “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union and don’t know why David Cameron even promised to put it to a vote. (My 401K retirement account has also taken a hit.) The decision is having negative economic consequences worldwide, not so much because of the immediate practical impact (though that will be substantial), but because of the psychological implications—the domino effect and making people everywhere feel unsure about the financial future. Of course, Donald Trump in Scotland crowed about the outcome (even though Scotland voted not to exit). Many Britons, like citizens of other countries, are feeling invaded, that their way of life is threatened—the same sentiment occurs here in the US and is giving Trump a boost. We should not assume that he “cannot win,” as he has actually won so far and the UK example shows us once again that common sense and reason do not always prevail in politics. Only after the fact do voters regret unwise choices. Brits are already feeling remorse.

Brexit also has unleashed a rash of discriminatory acts in the wake of vote—something that would happen here if Trump should win. Bigots would feel they have license to disparage or harm those they don’t like or with whom they disagree.

Trump is a patent or alternative medicine huckster, a guy who claims he’s got “the answer,” boasting that he’s gotten rich and so will teach you how to do the same, when one way he’s gotten rich is by scams, such as sucking people into paying for his “get-rich-quick” seminars and courses. People want to believe in a magic solution—for achieving true love, beauty, health, riches, fame—and when they discover the charade, it’s too late. The same is happening with Brexit and will happen with President Donald Trump if the American electorate should be gullible enough to buy the medicine he’s peddling. He misstates facts—or lies outright. Much of his money, besides initially being inherited, was made by being a bully, a quick-switch artist, and a gambler who just lucked out. Most of his financial transactions skirted the edge of legality, which is no way to run a nation and engage with the world. But somehow, Hillary has to find a way to get voters to trust her and to educate them on what’s realistic and possible. A reasoned message will be hard to transmit when Trump has fired up desperate voters’ dreams and adrenalin.  “I’ll bring back coal,” he vows, “I’ll bring back steel. I’ll put Hillary in prison. I’m very smart, very very rich, so just trust me. Don’t trust the establishment that has failed you. I know how to do stuff.” The novelty and unpredictability of his pronouncements is alluring to some, while people like me find it scary. He seems to be all ego and id, no superego to put the brakes on—a real caricature of the ugly American. Maybe his parents were overindulgent with him when he was growing up? Some Republicans are resigned to sitting this one out, so whoever wins, they won’t feel at fault.

Certainly immigration, one of Trump’s key issues, like any other, has pros and cons. Immigration provides a willing workforce, often in their prime years, while at the same time, removing them from the often-struggling nations that have raised and educated them. And there are limits as to how many immigrants can be absorbed during any one time period. By analogy, you might welcome one or two visitors in your home, but not 20. It’s not necessarily xenophobic to want to limit the flow of newcomers. So, British people’s concerns about migrants are understandable, though there is disagreement about how many is too many and whether the migrants are actually “taking over” and changing the country for the worse. Maybe they are enriching it. Yet, some Americans bristle at hearing people speaking languages other than English and seeing signs in Spanish.

Holding his nose, looking even more cranky than usual, Bernie Sanders says he will now vote for Hillary. Many voters will vote for Hillary in the same dispirited spirit; often in an election (and in life), we are faced with selecting what we regard as the lesser of evils. If Hillary wins, she should include Bernie in her government, just as Obama reached out to her.

Sanders is only helping Trump by staying in the race
By Allan J. Lichtman

Clarence Thomas’s wife is angrily shooting down rumors, reported here last time, that he is considering retirement. Too bad if it's a false rumor--I hope if he has actually had a thought about retiring that now he won't feel he has to stick it out on the court just to prove the rumors wrong. In photos, he never looks like he's having a good time. Maybe with the new court, if he finds himself continually on the losing side, he'll decide to quit--let's keep our fingers crossed. 

More senseless guns deaths, including a father who accidentally killed his teenage son at a Florida gun range and kids here in DC who found a gun in a vacant house and one ended up killed. I cannot forget when my then-11-year-old son Jon and his friends were playing with a gun that dropped, discharged, and thankfully the bullet only hit my son on the foot. Another man in the Midwest shot his 3 children, his wife, then himself in short order. Without a gun, he might have hurt some family members, but probably would not have been able to kill them all. Apparently even the NRA supported some gun controls back in the 1930s. The current “gun rights” attribution to the Second Amendment is a fairly recent notion—in previous generations, personal firearms possession was never considered a constitutional right, not even by the Founding Fathers. Of course, the main problem with guns is people and people are unfortunately prone to impulse, accident, and aggression. And trying to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill is an impractical solution because there is no clear definition of mental illness nor is it necessarily a static state. Furthermore, there is disagreement about whether those defined as mentally ill are really more prone to violence than the general population. Often in the case of gun violence, that designation is made after-the-fact.

Evan Osnos, writing in the New Yorker (June 27, 2016), gives a comprehensive review of how “gun rights” came to be. The idea was something that surged strongly only around the 1970’s in a concerted campaign by gun manufacturers and their allies in the NRA, boosted by the Supreme Court giving a new slant to the Second Amendment, enshrining it as an individually-based doctrine never envisioned before or by the Founding Fathers. A few interesting facts are revealed by the article, including that more American civilians have been killed by guns in the last decade than Americans killed in combat in World War II. Both hunting and the number of gun owners are shrinking, but each gun owner is collecting more guns and, while gun owners comprise only a minority, they are strong single-issue voters and donors and therefore have more individual political clout than non-gun owners. Accidents and suicides account for the majority of gun deaths. Another biker gun brawl, this one in Atlanta, has ended with injuries and death. In contrast, a fierce clash in Sacramento between protesters and counter protesters resulted in stabbings, but no deaths.

Statistically, just owning a gun puts a person at greater risk of dying from being shot. Apparently if someone has a gun, using it on impulse is more likely. That may have been the case of the Texas mother who shot and killed her two daughters, then was shot herself. She was a big gun-rights supporter, with an apparent history (after-the-fact revelation) of mental illness who nevertheless was able to own several guns.

A special problem in the US, unlike in other countries where gun ownership and gun deaths are rare, is that we do have a gun culture, at least among a fairly substantial and vocal segment of the population. Furthermore, there are so many firearms already in circulation that having a gun at the ready may be protective in some cases. An Oregon mother recently shot and killed a stranger in her child’s bedroom. Now the NRA and gun sellers are reaching out to gay people, as they reached out previously to women, as a new market for guns. Meanwhile, as with other divides, polarization between gun advocates and opponents is growing.

My readers already know which side I favor in this debate. Bravo, I would say to the Congressional sit-in led by Rep. John Lewis, of whom I’ve been an admirer ever since he broke with the Congressional Black Caucus to meet with former Amnesty Int’l prisoner of conscience Jorge Luis Garcia Perez in January 2015. Shunning Cuban democracy advocates and supporting the Castro brothers is certainly an example of unhealthy “political correctness.” That term is often misused to support bigotry and misogyny but in this case, it applies. (I sent a congratulatory note to Lewis, since, as a non-constituent, his site wouldn’t accept my e-mail.)

Heard a compilation of extensive NPR interviews with President Obama. He is certainly a very bright and thoughtful man, very articulate, the complete reverse of mumbling, bumbling speaker GW Bush. Some of Obama’s positions are well thought out, but he hasn’t always been able to convey his thinking to an unsophisticated electorate and certainly hasn’t found a way to win over a recalcitrant Republican Congress—nor has he apparently actually tried to be “pals” with their members. Lyndon Johnson was a master at going behind the scenes and twisting arms, but that has not been Obama’s style nor would many Republicans be receptive to any overtures he might make. That he has African heritage certainly hasn’t helped nor did he have much time as a senator to make alliances beforehand. He seized the moment and ran with it. Let’s see what he does after his presidency, as he is still young enough to make a mark. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him teaching.

I’ve been trying to puzzle out Obama’s seeming passivity in the agreements made with Iran and Cuba—yielding a whole lot and getting almost no concessions in return. Cuban leaders and apologists imply that is only right, given US “aggression” against Cuba for all these years. Certainly Cuban democracy activists expected and would have appreciated more support, but I think his strategy, rightly or wrongly, has been to show Cuban leaders and the world, especially Latin America, that the US is not attacking or beating up on poor little Cuba—thereby trying to gain some grudging trust from the Cuban leadership even if it’s still a dictatorship, while also allowing that leadership, indirectly, to ease some controls on the population, because now who or what is the terrible enemy that must be so diligently guarded against? On Syria, it seems Obama should have been more aggressive against both ISIS and Assad—I don’t know how that would be done, as they maybe contradictory aims. I don’t claim to know the Syrian situation in depth.

Good grief, now just because I Googled wheelchairs to see what they cost new to possibly take one to Honduras, not only am I being bombarded on Yahoo (but not on my gmail account) with ads for wheelchairs, also for walkers, adult diapers, and various medications—I guess that all goes with being an old person who might be in the market for a wheelchair.

Some readers may be aware, as I’ve mentioned it before, that there is a big controversy within Amnesty Int’l (AI) about prostitution and “sex worker” rights. This is perhaps the next frontier in the culture wars. AI has led the way with a controversial vote (I won’t get into the whole backstory and accusations on all sides) to decriminalize all aspects of paid sex, including the roles of johns, pimps, and madams. Important sectors of the AI movement, even entire countries’ AI sections, are now trying to modify that decision, saying it was rammed through without proper discussion and research and with financial support from the sex industry. However, some advocates of decriminalization point out that the sex industry is only one step removed from dating in these days of contraception, abortion, STD treatment, and internet connections, which promote “hooking up,” and where a man often invites a woman out to dinner, a show, and flowers with the expectation of a sexual reward at the end of the evening. So, perhaps, like gay marriage, transsexualism, and even the stigma of divorce, paid sex as a crime or even something unsavory, will go the way of the dodo. We may still decide to criminalize forced or underage sex, but even the latter is murky, since most prostitutes say they began as minors.

Here’s a comment from an exchange among AI members, speculating on whether prostitution might even be argued to be a human right: Nevada might be a pertinent place for us to study, since there is both legal and illegal prostitution there. I have read that the illegal prostitution, mostly in Las Vegas, is far more important financially than the legal prostitution in the North.

On the issue of making Amnesty policy on the basis of research, so far as I know, prostitution has never been considered a human right or even to be within the "penumbra" of such rights. In fact, the 1949 human rights convention seems to say exactly the opposite. In such circumstances, perhaps research becomes necessary to clarify the issue, and determine what human rights, if any, are being violated.

But if we do research, surely it should be comprehensive and conclusive and the 4 studies which have been done are anything but that. Why a policy advocating full legalization would not study jurisdictions like Germany and Nevada, which have already adopted that policy, is something I cannot understand.