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.

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