Saturday, December 2, 2017

Thanksgiving, World AIDS Day, Zero-Sum Economics, Zimbabwe, Political Asylum, Honduran Elections, Cuba Project, Sexual Harassment, Keystone, Republican Tax & Other “Reforms,” Giant Avocado Plant

 Lighting was dim, but the woman standing next to her dad is Julie, my late son Andrew's first serious girlfriend.

 Julie with her look-alike daughter, now attending Wilson High, Julie's own and my kids' alma mater.
                                            Grandson gives Grandpa a hug. 

Apologies for odd spacing and fonts in previous posting, aspects not always under my control (may happen again this time).

This Thanksgiving, what did we have to be thankful for?  For many of us, perhaps for merely being alive and retaining fairly normal cognition. The outrages of the Trump administration, while still outrageous, have become more normative, so not so surprising, making the daily barrage of shocks less acute. With any loss, whether of a loved one, job, health, or function, human beings do tend to adjust to a “new normal,” still experiencing negativity, but not the immediate impact. So we do need to be thankful for the human ability to adapt, not to adapt to the point where we passively accept Donald Trump and his weird political antics and allies as “normal,” but adapt sufficiently to be able live somewhat graciously and productively despite his continued assaults on humankind’s collective wellbeing. We must still stop reacting passively and act to do something about him. So far, what to do to effectively counteract him and his allies is uncertain.

Dec. 1 was World AIDS Day, a date when as a Peace Corps volunteer, I organized marches and educational skits in Honduras as part of our efforts to educate the public about a scourge assaulting both genders and even newborn babies during my service tenure (2000-2003).

Have had more political asylum interpretations lately for pro bono legal cases. These interviews are somewhat emotionally stressful, especially as we are not allowed to talk about them later—nor do I usually get any feedback on whether asylum is actually granted, except in cases where I serve as an expert witness for a case referred to Amnesty International--then lawyers will often let me know later what the judge’s decision has been. But since one of my past professions was as a social worker, I’ve seen quite a lot in my day, not to mention experiences in the Peace Corps and annually as a medical brigade volunteer. When death is the outcome of any situation, I cannot help reliving my own losses, especially of my son and foster son. But I would not say I have yet reached “burn-out.” Writing my books has been somewhat protective, allowing me to express what I’ve experienced on paper and sharing it with others.

Meanwhile, on-line groups requesting money to counter Trump are metastasizing at an alarming rate. Are all legit and how would we know? However, I have signed petitions and re-posted them on Facebook. It’s hard for ordinary citizens (including me) to accept that we have an ignoramus dunderhead in charge, with authority over us all, someone obviously uninformed and mentally deficient and unstable. Let him indulge in tweeting, playing golf, getting his face on magazine covers, and giving speeches to cheering supporters, but get him out of government! Let’s give him a sweet way out, as was done with Mugabe (see comments on that below).

Here’s a provocative article from the neo-conservative Manhattan Institute by Emory University economics professor Paul Rubin arguing against the zero-sum view of economics, which both Trump and socialists apparently adhere to, but from different angles.

Trump thinks (if he thinks at all), in zero-sum terms, that curbing immigration and international trade helps our economy, while the opposite is actually the case. Self-identified socialists (and Marxists) believe that if the rich get richer, it means the poor get poorer, not necessarily borne out either in the real world. Neither unbridled capitalism nor total government control is desirable, but rather something in between. If we all tried, like Donald Trump, to evade all taxes, we would have no roads, public schools, police, or other necessary services.

While I found presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to be an engaging speaker expressing a very genuine persona, I did regard his economic views as over-simplified and unrealistic, so I favored Hillary. And while single-payer health care is, in my opinion, a desirable goal, as is Bernie’s “Medicare for all” calling for expanding the mixed system that we seniors now use, it will take several steps to get there and cannot be implemented in one fell swoop. “Socialism,” Sanders’ mantra, also has been the rallying cry of disastrous dictatorial regimes, such as Cuba and Venezuela (and also the USSR, China, Vietnam, and North Korea).

The Trump administration’s announcement of the end of TPS (temporary protective status) for Nicaraguans and Haitians is more unwelcome news. So far, nothing has been said about ending TPS for Hondurans and Salvadorans, but can that be far behind?  It would be great if lawmakers representing south Florida and other areas where TPS recipients abound would come together to promote an extension for all those groups. Maybe after the 2018 elections, that will actually be possible.

I have friends on both sides in the Honduran elections, but even those who voted for Hernandez, out of loyalty to their National Party, are uneasy about his efforts to win a second consecutive term, something never permitted before. Honduras still hasn't declared a winner in its presidential vote — and tensions are rising Los Angeles Times, Nov. 30, 2017

I thought Hernandez had it sewed up and apparently so did he, though at least not yet. And like us here in the US, politics there are completely polarized, but more likely to be expressed in violence.
Honduran Vote Count Enters Fifth Day With Protests Escalating (excerpt) The Organization of American States (OAS) appeared to have salvaged the credibility of the election on Wednesday by eliciting signed statements from both candidates vowing to respect the final result once disputed votes had been checked. But a few hours later Nasralla rejected the OAS accord, saying his opponents were trying to rob him. He urged supporters to take to the streets in protest.
Fraught times: elections in Honduras, The Econmist, Nov. 30, 2017 Today the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) is expected to deliver final results for the November 26th presidential vote. A delayed tally released on Monday shocked Hondurans by showing opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla five points ahead. That was followed by a tense day and a half with no official updates. This morning, a partial count showed President Juan Orlando Hernández leading with a thin margin: just 22,677 votes, with 89% counted. Mr Nasralla cried fraud, and rejected an agreement to respect the result. EU election monitors have criticised the TSE’s initial silence; in past elections it released results more quickly. Many believe the body favours the incumbent. Last night police fired tear gas at rock-throwing protesters outside a building storing ballots. The TSE said its system crashed and suspended counting again. Whoever loses is expected to take to the streets with his supporters. Frictions are mounting, and swirling rumours about fraud have become shouts.

I’ve been following the case of a murdered Honduran, Berta Caceres, who has become more famous in death than she was in life. Though she has been hailed as an "indigenous leader," she was not indigenous herself, though she was a leader against the local dam project, which has been halted. Opinion on her is divided in La Esperanza where she lived and where I go every year. Worldwide, her profile has been elevated and her namesake daughter has taken up the mantle and has traveled to the US and Europe. Some in La Esperanza feel the daughter is exploiting her mother’s memory. No matter what, her mother didn't deserve to be murdered and sadly cannot be brought back.

Finally, after decades, Robert Mugabe’s reign has been ended in Zimbabwe, though little is known about the intentions of those who have taken control. From all accounts, the “coup” was directed by a rival faction of his own palace guard, so maybe little relief is in store for ordinary citizens. When Mugabe was asked to resign, apparently he initially resisted, threatening to go on a hunger strike. The struggle seems to have been between his decades’ younger wife, angling to succeed him, and his former top official and heir apparent, Emmerson Mnangagwa, recently dismissed at the behest of Mugabe’s wife Grace, according to informed speculation.  Most Zim citizens are celebrating Mugabe’s removal from power after 37 years, but his designated successor is not exactly a spring chicken either, as he is reported to be in his 70’s. People might not have wanted to see Mugabe starve himself to death, so are glad he is going peacefully and without resistance at last. He has been given a golden parachute and many honors to ease the transition. At age 93, isn’t it high time he retired?

Equatorial Guinea has been on my radar, as Africa’s only Spanish-speaking country, ever since I translated some human-rights-related documents for Amnesty International and realized that nation’s deplorable human rights record.  Here is an Amnesty International Urgent Action about a detained cartoonist. Ramón Esono Ebalé, an Equatorial Guinean cartoonist and activist, has spent over 50 days in prison without being formally charged. His continued detention is related to his artistic work which has been critical of the government. The Cartoonists Rights Network International has awarded him the 2017 Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning.
Here is an excerpt from my Confessions book:  The United States also engages with tiny oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s only Spanish-speaking country, whose horrendous human rights record I only discovered when translating some documents for Amnesty International. The government of septuagenarian Teodoro Obiang, a dictator in power for more than 30 years, has been described by Washington-based Freedom House as “a highly corrupt regime with one of the worst human rights records in Africa.” Mr. Obiang received military training under Franco and opponents accuse him of using North Korea as a role model. The country’s massive oil wealth has not trickled down to the impoverished population. American engagement there, centered on the exploitation of oil and including an exchange of ambassadors, has done nothing to provide ordinary citizens with either economic and social, or civic and political, rights. [p. 16]

Oil, Instagram and the Plunder of Equatorial Guinea

From The Economist Espresso for November 24, 2017:
Cuban elections
Cubans vote in municipal elections, the first in a series of political exercises that will culminate in February 2018, when for the first time in 59 years the island will be ruled by someone other than a Castro. Authorities have tightly policed the nomination process, even though the elected delegates won’t have any real political power—their main responsibilities will include voicing citizens’ complaints about potholes, water shortages and tardy chicken deliveries. Over 200 opposition candidates have sought a seat, but none has made it onto the ballot. Some have been convicted of petty crimes, others tricked out of attending the nomination meetings in which local community members decide, by show of hands, who their candidates will be. Disappointed by the lack of competitiveness and transparency, many Cubans are expected to abstain from voting, dismissing their suffrage as theatre.

Although voting in compulsory in Cuba, apparently this round of municipal elections apparently saw the largest number of non-voters, also blank or spoiled ballots, some, marked plebiscito, though no one knows how many.

We have launched a new Cuba campaign at Amnesty international, “Your mind is in prison” Cuba’s web of control over free expression and its chilling effect on everyday life (Report, 16 November 2017):

See also Cuba’s Internet paradox: How controlled and censored Internet risks Cuba’s achievements in education (Feature, 29 August 2017)

The lion population in Kenya is crashing as humans and lions compete for space. In spring of 2017, armed herders invaded protected lands in Kenya seeking grazing for livestock. Alan Toth, fellow former Peace Corps volunteer of my acquaintance (South Africa 2010-12), recently traveled to Kenya to document the struggles of conservationists and researchers as they work against this human-lion conflict. http://peacecorpsworl in-kenya-film-by-alan-toth-sou th-africa/

This NYTimes opinion piece makes the case that TV interviewers, like disgraced Matt Lauer, grilled Hillary Clinton in a hostile way, deliberately making her seem untrustworthy and unlikeable because of their ingrained opposition to a female president, while going easy on Donald Trump. As I’ve mentioned before, I found Hillary quite personable and forthright in smaller group discussions on gun control and healthcare back when she was First Lady.

According to the Daily Kos, (Nov. 13, 2017) Trump’s now-departed professor at Wharton once said: “Donald Trump was the dumbest goddam student I ever had!" Korea’s Kim has also reportedly called Trump “stupid” and an “old lunatic.” Is he far from wrong? (For starters, Trump should start spell-checking his tweets.) Trump is certainly tone-deaf in terms of empathy; at an award ceremony for Native American WW II heroes, he referred to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.
Donald Trump, bite your tongue and wear mittens to control your twitter fingers!

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore is a caricature of a southern good-old boy worthy of a white-trash sit-com, complete with his glorification of Confederate generals, biblical literalism, anti-gay stance, and signature cowboy hat. Sexual aggression against teenage girls completes the picture. Saturday Night Live aptly let the Sessions character tell Moore that he is “too Alabama.” Ted Cruz has even dis-endorsed Moore. Rush Limbaugh points out that Moore was a Democrat when his alleged offenses against teenage girls took place, so what would you expect? Probably Trump had been supporting Moore in part to deflect attention from similar sexcapades of his own. Trump already has 16 accusers, but will they ever gain any traction?

Republican Party grass-roots donors are now being offered a chance to have breakfast with Trump. I wonder how many eager beavers will be donating to actually get that chance? Maybe about as many as attended his Christmas tree lighting ceremony (or his inauguration).

Bill Clinton engaged in his own sexual dalliances that led to his impeachment, but not to his removal from office, with most of his affairs seemly consensual—or were they? Monica, although much younger (age 22), apparently made the first overtures. Of course, during the campaign, Trump often brought up Bill’s infidelities against Hillary perhaps to divert attention from his own?

Barack Obama appears to have been squeaky clean in terms of treatment of the opposite sex, but, of course, much support for Trump was motivated by a backlash against Obama and everything he represented, maybe even marital fidelity, since many Trump voters are white men who support male privilege. Those folks and some of “their” women bristled at the very idea of a minority president and against his many real achievements, won despite implacable resistance from a Republican Congress, now trying (very clumsily) to dismantle his legacy.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) spoke with news outlets revealing that at least two currently serving (unnamed) US congressmen are known sexual harassers and gropers. Reportedly, taxpayers have paid out $15 million to victims of congressional harassers over the last decade or so.

Not to make light of Al Franken’s own groping scandals, but unlike Republicans now being accused, he has not denied them (there was photographic evidence of at least one allegation) and he has apologized, even asking for a Senate review. And while his reputation has certainly been tarnished and his Senate seat is in jeopardy, his actions seem less egregious than the accusations against Republicans, including both Donald Trump and former President HW Bush, yet right-wing media has had a field day over Franken. But Franken and other Democrats, including Conyers, do need to be called out, just as with Republicans -- sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.  I’m sorry to see former Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor also “outed.”  

It’s very frustrating to be living in DC right now, so close to Donald Trump and company, and to have no voting delegates in Congress. I wish/hope the Republican tax bill somehow fails or can be reversed next year after a Democratic majority arises, overcoming gerrymandering and big money. It would be best to just leave well enough alone in the tax system. We’re doing OK now. As for all the women coming out of the woodwork against men in power, most of us of a certain age just thought that was just the way the way things worked. It’s not so shocking to us, though Garrison Keillor and Sen. Al Franken really hurt (I once waved to Franken, sitting by the window in a Capitol Hill restaurant).  

Sexual harassment and even sexual aggression by men in power have been part of the culture for too long, so it’s good to finally be revealing it and trying thwart it everywhere. I’m sure many men in power are now quaking in their boots, hoping they’re not outed next. A big part of the problem is that those in power and authority are predominately men and, for many women, career advancement requires succumbing to sexual aggression and keeping quiet about it. Conversely, rejecting sexual overtures can mean not only failure to advance, but actual job loss, one more reason for having a woman president and more women in key positions. On the other hand, where women are in positions above men, they may try to exploit them sexually, especially in cases of female teachers of vulnerable adolescent boys. So, it’s partly a power dynamic.

As I’ve said before on this forum, probably the majority of women—myself included—have had similar harassment experiences, not necessarily outright kissing, groping, or actual rape, but catcalls, innuendos, inappropriate hugs, and even unwanted touching, often masquerading as accidental. There has been a pervasive culture of harassment of women by men in power and authority almost forever, at least in western countries, where men usually have women employees in subordinate positions. Where men and women are strictly segregated, as in Saudi Arabia, there may be less opportunity for sexual harassment or rape, but women as a whole class are subjugated.

I usually handled harassment by withdrawing or trying to turn it into a joke or teasing in an ambiguous situation, and many such minor situations are ambiguous in terms of proving intent. Anyway, who are you going to tell if you are a woman being subjected to sexual harassment? Who will believe you? You might well lose your job or face a lawsuit if you complain. And why are women only coming forward now? Many did complain at the time, but they were dismissed or even chided. Now with the example of others coming forward, they may feel more supported and believed. Like many young women of my time, I tried to avoid further complications by not reporting an incident of harassment (or was it really?) in the workplace, preferring to subtly indicate to the guy that his behavior was unacceptable, but also offering an easy way out for us both by half-joking (“Don’t let it happen again!”). Harassment of women is so pervasive, so much a part of our culture, that we can’t be reacting to every individual incident. Also, it’s sometimes hard to draw the line between a flirtation that lets a woman know that a man is interested, thus inviting her to respond, and outright harassment. Anyway, back in the day, such matters were routinely swept under the rug and simply never mentioned in polite society.

This discussion has reminded me of an incident described in my Confessions book (p. 84). In 1953, at age 15, I was subjected to groping under the table in a Havana hotel restaurant by a middle-aged man who snuck his hand under my skirt after he sat down to join me. So, me too!

As environmentalists had feared, the Keystone pipeline has spilled 210,000 gallons of oil.

What more is there to say about the Republicans’ tax “reform” bill with a partial Obamacare repeal tacked on? Those folks and their haphazard and mostly harmful proposals are beyond belief. The aim seems to be to get something, anything signed into law so they can point to a victory, never mind the actual consequences. Are enough American voters still stupid enough to keep on supporting them, despite their admitted advantages of incumbency, big money, and gerrymandering? We’ll see in the mid-term elections. Many voters are woefully ignorant and don’t really understand their own interests, but are so many of them really so stupid? Maybe so, as many have continued supporting a manifestly stupid leader.

The current political outrages are both big and small—among the somewhat smaller was the Trump administration’s decision to allow trophies of the body parts of endangered hunted animals to be brought back to the US, apparently as a favor to Trump’s big-game hunting sons. But then the fierce backlash caused Mr. Trump to push the pause button on that decision. On so many fronts under Trump, political bipartisanship and reasonable discourse have been thwarted. I’m an older lady who has lived through and seen quite a lot in my long life, but nothing like this before. And it’s ruining the US reputation and influence all over the world, giving China and Russia openings to take the lead. By interfering in our elections, Russia and Assange have certainly gotten their revenge—and I’ll include Edward Snowden there too, although Amnesty International has supported him under the guise of free speech, much to my dismay.

Here’s a photo of the offshoot from an ordinary avocado seed that I planted, which not only has shot up like Jack’s beanstalk engulfing my entire enclosed first-floor back porch with a giant tree, but which now has brought forth this offspring growing bigger by the day. All my despite pruning of the “mother” tree, root-bound in a modest-sized pot, has not thwarted its growth. I’ve tried giving it away, but no one has room.

The on-line right-wing Townhall Daily has announced “The Democratic Party Is Dead.”  Don’t be so sure, folks! 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Honduras PC Volunteer Returns, Interpreter Surprise, Amnesty Int’l Venezuela, Visa Lottery, Mass Shootings, Va. Election, Trump Hotels, Free Speech, Ending TPS, Int’l Adoptions, Fire This Time

For a taste of what living in Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer was like, take a look at this You-tube video from a volunteer whose term overlapped with mine (since I extended my term after starting in 2000).  And, of course, I’ve been back 13 times since, including last Feb. Many familiar scenes appear here:

Speaking of Honduras, while I was serving as an interpreter at a recent parent-teacher school meeting, one of the teachers noticed the tiny logo on my t-shirt for International Health Service of Minnesota (, one of the brigades where I’ve volunteered yearly since leaving Peace Corps Honduras—was there most recently in Feb. 2017. Her parents, a nurse and a physician, are also yearly volunteers, but in a different part of Honduras from where I usually go. Small world!

Interpreting is a job full of surprises; we never know quite what to expect. Recently, at a law office, I met as interpreter with an asylum applicant, a male-to-female transgender woman, still using a male first name, probably because identifying documents and gender identity cannot be legally changed in the country of origin and all documents would be in that name. I wish I could say more, including original country, but confidentiality precludes it. 

Recently, at the DC Amnesty International office, I am among about 20 people attending a presentation by Marcos Gomez, the head of Amnesty International Venezuela, one of the largest groups in Latin America. Here is a statement issued by the office prior to his appearance:
Earlier this year, amidst an increase in protests around Venezuela have resulted in more than 43 deaths and hundreds of people injured and imprisoned, Amnesty International launched the report Silenced By Force: Politically-Motivated Arbitrary Detentions in Venezuela. The report provides details on a catalogue of illegal actions taken by Venezuelan authorities to repress freedom of expression, and documents how Venezuelan authorities are using the justice system to illegally increase persecution and punishment of those who think differently. Marcos Gomez heads the 40-year old country section of Amnesty International Venezuela (AIVEN) and manages 50 local staff. The Venezuela Section of Amnesty International is one of the largest throughout the Global South with more than 450,000 supporters and 20 networks in all of Venezuela's major cities. Marcos will also provide updates on the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, and on recently documented findings of how Venezuelan security forces have used illegal raids and attacks on private homes as a way of stamping out dissent, expanding their repressive tactics from the streets to people’s homes.

As for Americans’ Cuba travel: U.S. tourists and companies will no longer be able to do business with a long list of entities that allegedly have ties to Cuban military, intelligence or security services. American tourists will also no longer be able to travel to Cuba on individual people-to-people exchange programs. They must travel now with a sponsoring organization or, if there on educational travel, with an American group or university.

Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbec man charged with killing 8 people in the NYC terrorist attack, had won the visa lottery. I am well acquainted with the visa lottery, as per my Confessions book: Once, in a remarkable streak of luck, three visitors, from Argentina, Japan, and Tunisia respectively, all won that year’s U.S. visa lottery. Our house acquired such a lucky-charm reputation thereafter that visa-lottery hopefuls clamored to live with us, although none subsequently won.

Of course, the visa lottery is not the real problem.

Prepare Yourself for Jihad 3.0

Radical Islamic terrorists will revive their movement. The U.S. needs to focus on defeating the ideology. By Husain Haqqan Wall St. Journal Nov. 2, 2017 Tuesday's terrorist attack in New York City, committed by an immigrant from Uzbekistan, is a reminder that radical political Islam won’t end with the recent defeat of Islamic State in Raqqa. The U.S. must re-evaluate its alliances in the Muslim world based on whether or not partners encourage extremism. Saudi Arabia’s recent avowal to teach moderation in religion, emulating the United Arab Emirates’ campaign against radical Islamism, deserves American support, as does Morocco’s decision to work with the Holocaust Memorial Museum to educate its people about the Holocaust and teach tolerance. On the other hand, Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey’s decision to include jihadi teachings in its school curriculum indicate their support of radicalism. Above all, the U.S. must focus on defeating radical Islamist ideology, not just its periodic manifestation in terrorist attacks.

Even closer to home, how many more mass shootings have to occur before more effective gun control is enacted? Apparently the supposed protective benefit of allowing an armed citizenry is not working in terms of preventing such attacks. An article in the right-wing Townhall Daily is headlined “We Don’t Need Gun Control to Prevent Mass Shootings." OK, then, what do we need? Other developed countries, even less developed ones, don’t have this problem. Mr. Trump says it’s a mental health issue, not “a gun situation.”  If so, what do we do to prevent those with mental health issues from having guns, including Donald Trump himself, who evidently has his own mental health issues?

Despite a bad conduct military discharge and having been found to have assaulted his wife and child, the Texas shooter was able to assemble a firearms collection.

Avid Trump supporter Texas Gov. Greg Abbott commented on Sunday’s killing in Sutherland Spring, Texas, and on the killing of 58 people in Las Vegas in October: :
We have acts of evil taking place, and because they are close in time to us right now, we think this is something heavy right now. But put this in the context of history. Look at what happened with Hitler, the horrific events during that era, and Mussolini. 

Predictably, Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and many other political leaders sent their usual “thoughts and prayers” to Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday after the gunman killed 26 people and injured 20 more at the First Baptist Church. It always is said to be “too soon” to discuss gun control after a mass shooting. But many on Twitter pointed out that the victims were attending church, so likely were already engaged in prayer, and still suffered at the hands of a gunman. Now, they say, it’s time for politicians to offer something more than thoughts and prayers:
FollowFollow @SpeakerRyan
Reports out of Texas are devastating. The people of Sutherland Springs need our prayers right now.

rosanne cash Retweeted Paul Ryan
They were in a church that was full of prayers. They need a government who will enact common sense gun laws. #GunControlNow

Mr. Trump poured gasoline on the fire of the gun debate by reportedly calling for more guns, when all evidence shows that fewer guns deaths occur where there are fewer guns in circulation. As for his international forays, "I do think both the Chinese and the Russians think they can play him," former National Intelligence Director James Clapper said of Trump.

Of course, Trump apparently considers himself to be especially gifted and possessing a very high IQ (he seems obsessed with IQ scores and proving that he is smart). Actually, he is rumored to have been mediocre in college (and maybe a legacy student?) and has what many have called a 3rd-grade vocabulary and obviously poor grammar and spelling. He also is ignorant of basic facts, as when he urged Japanese car makers to make cars in the US, as if they weren’t already doing that! Is Trump’s base really as clueless as he is and do his folks see ignorance as a virtue? Shouldn’t our leaders be a little savvier than the average voter?

GWBush seemed not too swift mentally as president, but he could be folksy and self-deprecating. Bill Clinton was savvy, but a philanderer. Obama as president was a straight arrow and very bright, but maybe a bit too cerebral? What redeeming virtues fitting him for the presidency does a mentally and emotionally challenged guy like Donald Trump have? Rather, let him return to playing golf and promoting his various properties. Maybe he can entertain himself by giving (paid) speeches to his adoring fans?

Well, at least Ralph Northam won, whew! not that he's so fantastic, but certainly much better than the alternative. Former RNC Chair Michael Steele is right in commenting on Trump's blaming of Ed Gillespie for not fully embracing him--Steele asked Trump if he had won Virginia? 

Is the following true or “fake news”?

Former Mexican ambassador Arturo Sarukhan, who served as Mexico’s ambassador to the United States from 2007 to 2013, says State Department is telling world leaders to stay at Trump hotels.

The Trump-friendly daily on-line “news” source, Townhall Daily, displays headlines like: “Mueller Strikes Out: Democrat Nuts and Never Trumpers Hardest Hit,” “The Left Is Just Full of Miserable People,” “Hillary Is Having A Terrible Day,” “Mueller Must Resign,” and “Sex: The Progressives’ Problem.” Not sure how I came to receive it, but it’s an interesting look into the alternative world of Trump supporters, the hard-core base. Might most of this be considered honest-to-goodness “fake news”?

Trump routinely labels unfavorable press reports and falling poll numbers “fake news,” and when votes don’t go his way, that’s because illegal aliens voted. And, of course, his predecessor Barack Obama was born in Kenya, hence an illegal alien president who also had smaller inaugural crowd. The economy is in ruins, Obamacare is imploding, and coal is coming back!! And, oh, by the way, Trump is the smartest president ever and the very “best” since Abraham Lincoln. Does that remind you of a tin-horn dictator along the lines of Robert Mugabe? The Alabama Senate race has Trump in a quandary—it's a very high-stakes race.

A democratic government, with free speech and elections, allows different voices to be expressed, making it good for sorting out beliefs and actions, but also subjecting  vulnerable and uniformed citizens to manipulation. What has protected Trump so far—giving credit now where credit is due—is that the economy has continued to hum along, just as under Obama, not quite with the wild success that Trump had predicted, but still doing OK and the stock market has kept on going up. Will it last?

Here’s another huge pending disruption, affecting Hondurans, among others, also Haitians under my jurisdiction as Amnesty International Caribbean Coordinator: Trump administration to drop protections for Central Americans and Haitians: report | TheHill Nicaraguans are already being notified that their TPS will expire.

Very appropirate of Hawaiians to be greeting Trump with “Welcome to Kenya” signs.

As if international adoptions needed any more complications, Trump administration putting new hurdles on international adoptions, The Columbus Dispatch, Mon, Nov 6

I have an internationally adopted son, Jon, now past 40, and for many years I was a board member of a local international adoption agency that has closed its doors because of the difficulty of maneuvering in the current climate.

In another blow to adoptions (don't Republicans favor adoption over abortion?, Paul Ryan Defends Elimination of the Adoption Tax Credit 

Finally, we all support free speech, but are not allowed to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater when there is no actual fire. But what if our country really is on fire? Isn’t it time to start shouting “fire!” now about the Trump administration? 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Son’s Progress, Pedestrians with Phones, Cuban Migrants Seek Refuge in Chile, Turkey Releases Amnesty Activists, Honduran Elections, George Bush Senior and Other Harassers, Putin’s Revenge, Trump Targets Hillary in Mueller Probe, Tax “Reform”

                     Daughter Melanie offers son Jonathan a bite off her plate at restaurant meal.

 Halloween is a favorite holiday.

A new law taking effect in Honolulu, where my younger daughter lives, has now made it illegal to text or be looking down at a phone while crossing the street. Pedestrians in Hawaii's state capital who cross a street or highway while using a mobile electronic device can be slammed with a fine of up to $35 for their first offense, according to the new law.
Here’s a brave soul, apparently not intimidated by alleged sonic attacks: 
The Cuban government has alleged that the whole attack story is made-up, but, if so, why have some Canadian diplomats in Havana and tourists claimed the same harm?

According to a report in the Chilean newspaper La Estrella de Iquique, 74 Cuban migrants arrived at the Chilean border seeking refuge and more were reported en route. If Cuban migrants have been blocked going north, now some are veering south instead.

Seven Amnesty International activists arrested in Turkey after a July workshop (that started with yoga) have been freed pending trial for terrorism, while one still remains in custody.

On November 26, 2017, Honduras will elect a new president.  Amnesty International and ten allied organizations urge presidential candidates to include in their government plans, ten measures to respect the human rights of the Honduran people and protect all those who raise their voices when these rights are violated.

Report: Coordinated plot to murder Honduran activist Caceres

There have been ample on-line defenses of George HW Bush after he reportedly touched women’s backsides in photo-ops while joking about “David Cop-a-Feel” as Barbara Bush stood stoically nearby. His defenders say he is to be excused by being old and demented and that he is a great man and was a great president. If he is truly mentally compromised, his caregivers, including Barbara, should make sure to stand between him and other women, as all have now been amply forewarned.  That GHW has indulged in such behavior in his old age would indicate (but does not prove) that he might well have done so earlier in life and the habit just carried over. For many men, it’s a culturally acquired habit, learned behavior, though I would not totally discount the influence of testosterone either. Even male animals seem more aggressive, sexually and competitively against other males, than do females. Still, the fact that many or even most men do not harass women sexually or otherwise proves it’s not something beyond their control.

According to one of my more thoughtful blog readers :  all i have to say is that the issue is not about  attractiveness or male testosterone but more about power.  should a woman have to pay 'extra' to get ahead?  is that equality?  are u saying that if she does not  like it, she can go back to wherever she came from, without consequence to the aggressor?   and that the next woman not hit on, can get the opportunity?
   i do not see this as about attractiveness.  Donald Trump is a pretty attractive guy, notwithstanding his personality.  and Harvey W. with all that $ and connections n starpower is too.  but they have used their power to extract sexual favors.  and that is not correct.  if we are putting guys in jail for rape, then these guys......

She’s quite right-- sex should not be the price of success in film or any other field, though it often is. An aspiring actress or any other female employee should not have to pay her dues that way nor be blacklisted because she refuses to consent. Women do need to speak up, despite fear of retaliation. Maybe Harvey and Donald are (or once were) attractive guys in terms of their prominence and power, though it's hard, at least for me, to see that now—it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Trump won supporters by being anti-establishment, vowing to “drain the swamp.” Now Steve Bannon is turning the tables, using the same rhetoric against Republican incumbents.

Trump is reacting to the first Mueller actions with an attack on Hillary Clinton, par for the course. He must be itching to tell Mueller: “You’re fired!” (Golly, despite his superior intelligence and deal-making skills, he’s finding this darn presidential thing surprisingly harder than being a reality TV star or even a mega businessman!)

A 2- segment Frontline program, Putin’s Revenge, apparently attributes Vladimir Putin’s interventions aimed at elevating Donald Trump and harming Hillary Clinton’s presidential election prospects to her efforts as secretary of state to assist pro-democracy forces in Russia and undermine Putin. Putin aimed to deliberately harm Clinton and the US in retaliation, but apparently never expected Trump to actually win. Of course, that win was due not only to Putin’s efforts, but also to the quirk of the Electoral College system, which has unfortunately given us the president we have today.

Barack Obama tried to educate the electorate by word and example, but Trump uses both avenues to dumb down voters and reinforce and justify their prejudices.

If it ain’t broke, why try to fix it? What’s the point of tax reform, except to give Republican donors, along with Trump and his cronies, a further tax break and to punish blue-state citizens and their office holders by not allowing exemptions for state and local taxes? Of course, Trump wants a “victory”   and about which he can point to as a “win” about which he can tweet his heart out. But changing the tax code to reflect his wishes means a higher deficit, unlikely trickle-down to the bulk of citizens (never happened before), and possible harm to the economy which is doing just fine right now with Janet Yellen at the helm and under the current tax code. His base is likely to lose out.

“Tax reform” always has winners and losers. The main thrust of the Republican tax reform seems to be to accelerate tax collections now rather than later through 401K changes to reduce the immediate deficit impact of reductions in tax rates.

Not much information is available about the young migrant in immigration detention who was finally allowed to have an abortion. I wonder what country she is from and whether she might have been raped?  Not a few youthful first pregnancies in Latin American countries are attributed, rightly or wrongly, to rape. And it’s very unlikely that a legal abortion would have been available in her home country. Did she perhaps cross the border with abortion in mind?  Most young pregnant undocumented women would have welcomed becoming mothers here, believing that would give them a foothold in this country. However, that’s not necessarily the case. More likely, both refugee mother and small child would return back together to her country after she is deported. My friend who teaches preschool and kindergarten kids in public schools in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, tells me that a large proportion of her students were born in the US.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Son’s Progress, International Adoption, Sexual Harassment, Donald Trump (unfortunately, still with us), Puerto Rico

My son Jonathan, badly injured in a beating and robbery with an iron bar in Honolulu’s Chinatown, is recovering physically and emotionally from the trauma, but still has not recovered sight in his right eye. He likes to wear colored eye patches. It will take some time for the blood to clear sufficiently for an ophthalmologist to see whether he will need a retinal repair to restore maximum sight in that eye. But his spirits are good and he is glad to be far from the scene of the crime.

As someone who has adopted internationally, namely my son Jon born in Colombia, I’m someone who had gone against the grain by adopting a boy, while girls have always been more available, especially in China, though now that country is shifting away from the almost exclusive permission to adopt girls. (At the time that Jon came into our family, I already had a boy and two girls.) International adoption has been shrinking due to many factors: international politics, tighter rules, greater and more expensive bureaucracy, the trend toward smaller and less child-oriented families, and the proliferation of new fertility technologies such as the use of gestational mothers, egg and sperm donation, and fertility drugs. I know several people who have adopted girls from China, including single women, but apparently single adoption by women (almost never allowed for single men) is usually no longer allowed there.

This below is regarding a drug raid in Honduras in 2012
D.E.A. Says Hondurans Opened Fire During a Drug Raid. A Video Suggests Otherwise. - The New York Times®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Not to be nonchalant about sexual harassment and abuse in light of the Harvey Weinstein accusations (and those also against Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Clarence Thomas, Mel Gibson, and Roman Polanski, among many many other prominent men). However, being the subject of sexual harassment to a lesser or greater degree is practically a universal female experience. It’s not something particularly rare or surprising, so, to me, is not all that shocking when it is revealed; it’s what you would expect under the circumstances. Whether because of testosterone, a bullying mindset, macho culture, male financial and political dominance, or a combination thereof, harassment happens to almost all women routinely, if even to a lesser extent to most of us than among the rich and famous, and also because some women aspiring to enter those upper ranks are complicit in their own denigration. (Anita Hill would back me up on the universality of sexual harassment of women.) Many of these men, Trump and Weinstein included, are unattractive to women, even repulsive, so they try to bully their way into being accepted, at least sexually.

Being married and having young children, I found to be temporarily somewhat protective. Getting older also has helped, though not so much in Honduras. Most women pretty much expect it, take it for granted, and try to avoid it. I am certainly not condoning sexual harassment, but not so surprised or shocked when it comes to light. Of course, we women should continue to fight all types of harassment, reveal it, and avoid it whenever possible. I suppose there are a few instances of prominent women bullying men sexually or otherwise, but they are rare and outside the norm, while men harassing and bullying women is probably an almost universal phenomenon. Perhaps in Scandinavia, the pattern has been broken or at least attenuated?

Probably the American president has less control over national and international affairs than we would like to imagine, but the idea of his (or potentially her) control is somewhat comforting. Right now, the world feels rudderless, like no one is in charge. Or maybe that a big old cry baby is in charge. You know who I mean.

Instead of accomplishing anything constructive and moderately helpful, Trump is enjoying the power and license to be totally destructive, setting out to demolish Obama’s “legacy” any way he can, sort of like an overgrown wayward child delighting in crashing and stomping on whatever lies in his path or captures his flighty attention. It’s a way for him to demonstrate his power and feel self-important. He deliberately picks fights, however small, with everybody, maybe to get attention? He then leaves it to others to pick up the pieces; he often simply sends a tweet to the Republican Congress just to “fix it” without offering any ideas about how to fix it himself, whether Obamacare, NAFTA, NATO, Iran, or DACA, or even what a fix might look like, just saying that the current  policy is terrible, a disaster, so fix it. Then he doesn’t have to think of a solution himself or shoulder much blame should it go wrong. Trump seems unable to learn either from his mistakes, experience, or advice, even the advice of the generals with whom he has surrounded himself, while touting them as being above reproach or human frailties. General Kelly has disproved this with his awkward defense of Trump. 

Trump himself could go a long toward improving his own image if he would simply apologize for gross remarks, for instance, say “Sorry” to the bereaved widow whom he offended.
Trump’s main modus operandi seems to be pitting “us” against “them,” among the latter, African Americans, Hispanics, foreigners, Muslims, strangers, gays, non-English speakers, and Puerto Ricans who are not really Americans--and also women. 

That primitive instinct to stick to the familiar social in-group, evident also in animals, is something many humans have been able to move beyond, especially those of us who have lived and worked in other countries or, more particularly, have joined the Peace Corps. I get do get regular e-mails from Townhall Daily, a very conservative pro-Trump outlet, just to see what the other side thinks and why. It’s still asking for Hillary to be jailed. I also read the Washington Examiner, another conservative outlet which, however, is starting to express some misgivings about Trump.

If, indeed, Melania has a body double (as has been speculated) wearing cap and big sunglasses and not speaking aloud, more power to her for avoiding travels with her oafish husband, whom she must regret marrying. Her life may have been tolerable when she and her son spent their days alone together in their NYC penthouse, but spending more time with Donald is not something she seems to enjoy. He’s the kind of overbearing, tone-deaf, overweight middle-aged man who touts his wealth and importance, someone whom most women would gladly avoid. You have to feel sort of sorry for such an unappealing guy who probably has no real friends or loved ones. Now, it’s too late for him to learn new social skills or to discard the habit of lying whenever it suits him. He (as well as his staff) thinks being a military general automatically gives someone unquestioned authority. General Kelly tried to coach Trump on what to say to a grieving widow, but, even so, Trump botched it and Kelly botched it later trying to pick up the pieces. Just repeatedly saying “I’m very, very smart” is not convincing. Apparently, even in college, Trump was a challenged student.

But if the guy is unappealing as a man and disastrous playing at being president, the specter of a President Mike Pence is hardly a more welcome prospect. Pence is even more right-wing than Trump, already has alliances in Congress, and has thought through his positions and policies, perhaps making him an even nastier and more effective foe than Trump. So, we all need to be careful what we wish for. The ideal scenario would be for the Trump presidency to blow up right around the mid-term elections, giving the Democrats a majority to confront and counteract either Trump or Pence. If ever we emerge from the Trump catastrophe and want to look back, I should return to these blog pages from 2017 and, I hope, not much longer than that.

At the same time, the proliferation of intrusive e-mails touting Trump’s outrages and soliciting funds to counter him is getting rather annoying. And they are preaching only to the converted. And how do we know where that money actually goes? I would go broke responding to them all and responding to any would probably disperse my e-mail address to even more political outlets.

Trump and his minions seem not to realize that Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are US territories and therefore our responsibility. That allows Trump to act as though any post-hurricane help offered there is some sort of charity. At the same time, apart from hurricanes, PR has a fairly moderate climate with houses that don’t need heat and could get by, if properly prepared, without electrical power, as do millions of people all over the world. Cooking over a wood fire is not impossible, as I know from my Peace Corps days and from my annual visits to Honduras. Folks without electricity can and do use candles, kerosene lamps, flashlights, diesel generators, and even car batteries for light. Maybe some such items could be rushed to our Caribbean brothers and sisters to use (with due caution) while the electrical grid is being reconstructed. Of course, ideally, electrical wires would be placed underground, as we have them here in Washington, DC, expensive initially, but promoting protection in the long run. 

A couple of postings back, I mentioned but forgot to post the sign put at Hillary’s driveway on the day after the election by her neighbors. Better late than never, here it is: