Saturday, December 23, 2017
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
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. https://economics21.org/html/our-fatal-attraction-marxism-socialism-2704.html
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 https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2017-12-01/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. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/nov/17/berta-caceres-murder-case-honduras-land-rights
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. https://www.amnestyusa.org/urgent-actions/urgent-action-update-cartoonist-still-detained-without-charge-equatorial-guinea-ua-219-17/ 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 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/27/opinion/equatorial-guinea-obiang-vice-president-corruption.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=Moth-Visible&moduleDetail=inside-nyt-region-4&module=inside-nyt-region®ion=inside-nyt-region&WT.nav=inside-nyt-region
From The Economist Espresso for November 24, 2017:
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 dwide.org/human-lion-conflict- 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!