Friday, February 3, 2017

Another Honduras Trip, Trump et al, Abortion, & Sundry Topics

When I commented to a friend that every time I'm preparing to go to Honduras, I start getting cold feet, because it's rugged, uncertain, uncomfortable, and sometimes risky. But usually when I actually arrive, I feel at home and OK. My friend sent me this card to inspire me and it has helped me to get in the mood as I prepare for the journey. Obviously, I don't have to go--it's purely voluntary.
Here's a boy I expect to see at the Triunfo health center when I go there. He is only 4, so maybe something can be done, though probably only if he could come to the US and that might be hard under the Trump administration. Once a boy 14, with a similar deformity, was referred to me, but 14 really is too old, However, maybe this 4-year-old would have a chance. 

[Apologies for font changes and odd spacing--I've tried to fix it.]

While it’s certainly true, as others have pointed out, that murders, injuries, and 
robberies can take place anywhere, including right in my hometown of Capitol Hill, 
Washington, DC,statistically, they are many orders of magnitude higher in Honduras, 
where I was robbed and attacked several times during Peace Corps and where many Honduran 
friends have experienced the same. Furthermore, I have to travel alone around the country, 
usually with large items (suitcase of donated medicines, wheelchair, walker, books, etc.) on 
ordinary buses, and buses are often held up and passengers robbed. It’s not surprising 
that Honduran migrants seek greater safety in the US.  

                                We had another dusting of snow, this time in late January. 
Apologies, folks, for putting everything but the kitchen sink in this posting. I’m getting 
ready to leave and have not taken time to edit. Besides, there’s so much news out 
there; who can digest it all? Also, excuse the font changes and odd spacing; I've tried
to correct it several times without success.
After 8 years of Obama, when trust in America’s word and the nation’s international 
reputation had started to improve, now Trump has shattered it all in a single week. 
His actions have been calculatedly cruel and unproductive, taking down the health 
insurance website, blocking visa holders at airports, and mocking the press and 
Democratic lawmakers. Trump’s supporters say to give him chance. Well, we did 
and he has screwed up royally. It doesn’t look like he wants to learn or change. 

People gathered outside the Supreme Court (in my neighborhood) last Monday and Tues. 
nights in opposition to Trump’s Supreme Ct. nominee, whoever he might be (and we 
knew it would be “he”). 
Chaos on the news: in broadcast, print, and the blogesphere, but Trumps seems to relish 
press criticism.
Kellyanne Conway crowed when the Dow Jones first went above 20,000—then it went 
down again; the market doesn’t respond well to chaos. Apparently, she’s having trouble 
finding a private school in DC willing to take her kids. Poor kids! 
On the other hand, maybe there’s a method to Trump’s madness:
One of my correspondents warns (and I agree), Bannon is the bad guy, the one to worry
about. Obviously Trump needs someone who isn't ignorant and is willing to pay attention 
to what's going on in the world in the light of what the administration hopes to 
accomplish, but I'd rather see Dick Cheney in there than this creep -- combination of 
Savonarola and Goebbels. Of course, Bannon doesn’t need Congressional or Senate 
confirmation and has already wormed his way into important meetings. Another 
observation from this correspondent: The disloyal opposition so far has mainly preached 
to each other. They need to get a grip on their moral and intellectual fastidiousness and 
go out among the heathen. 

That is exactly what a Venezuelan economist now living in exile in Spain advises based his country’s long struggles against Hugo Chavez’s populism of the left. Read the article for details, but essentially stop trying primarily to counter Trump head- with logic, laws, and protest demonstrations, which would only allow a populist like him to arouse his followers with false allegations in his defense, Rather, have Democratic voters and lawmakers make friends and find common cause with people in his base of popular support. Understand their frustrations and issues, he says, don’t label them as ignoramuses. He would have approved of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s gesture of tacit support in attending Trump’s inauguration. Democratic office-seekers and office-holders might do well to follow his advice.                

We desperately need to find a Democratic (or even a Republican) counter-populist who can take on Donald Trump on his own turf. Where is Elvis when we need him? Obama is not flamboyant enough, but he is popular and should be able to challenge Trump. But maybe we should just let Trump sink himself? Can we stand to wait?

Howard Stern, purporting to be Trump’s long-time close friend, believes that our new president only entered the race to increase the popularity of Celebrity Apprentice, never expecting to win. The man wants to be liked, loved, praised and applauded.  He’s not happy with actually being president and being criticized and his mental health may suffer [even more?].
Here’s a CNN article speculating that Trump’s own “extreme vetting” requirements would 
actually keep him out of our country.
However well-vetted a refugee or group of refugees may be, among very large numbers, 
a paltry few, over time, may turn out to be undesirable or even dangerous. Nothing in
 life is 100%; it’s always a matter of probabilities. Even your next-door neighbor has a 
very small chance of being an ax-murderer. That would be very shocking and unfortunate,
 but doesn’t mean that all neighbors are dangerous. But someone like Donald Trump will 
seek out that needle in the haystack, that rare Muslim refugee who did a bad deed, and 
blow up that finding to ban Muslim refugees or to stoke continual suspicion and 
discrimination against them. 
Trump’s policies and attitudes may well have inspired the man who attacked a mosque in 
Quebec. Trump and his acolytes are encouraging and reinforcing some people’s worst 
instincts, their prejudices, avarice, greed, misogyny, sexism, racism, religious bigotry, 
homophobia, and crass and vulgar displays of wealth such as those of Donald Trump 
himself. Does the guy have any redeeming qualities? “The world is a mess,” Trump has 
been quoted as saying. Is he doing anything to help clear up that mess? 
Thank goodness for this: US judge temporarily halts visa detentions.
But detentions are halted only for those specific travelers—the general ban remains in place. Trump is making lots of work (much of it pro-bono) for lawyers.

Trump will be in a hurry to get his Supreme Court nominee approved pronto, but at least there have to be hearings first.
And here’s Garrison Keillor sounding off, beseeching Republican lawmakers to please help us, which is what I have been saying and hoping, although unfortunately not living in the districts of any of those lawmakers and you cannot reach them except by e-mail and putting in a zip code for their district—as a disenfranchised DC resident, I’ve tried and been rejected.

Those who might have hoped that the office of president would modify Donald Trump are finding out that’s not happening. Taking office has not damped him down in the slightest, in fact, just the opposite—he feels all-powerful now. As his loyal side-kick Kellyanne warns, “Get used to it. He’s just getting started.” Well, Trump better get used to getting pushback too, even from Republicans—this is not his private hotel empire, after all, or his so-called reality TV show where he can say, “You’re fired!”

Creating chaos seems to excite Trump; he loves wrecking it, knocking it down, just like a kid with a block tower. Let the pieces fall where they may and let someone else pick them up. He’s remained his same impulsive, thin-skinned, lying, insecure, overly-defensive, and childish self (though perhaps that’s being uncharitable to children.) If anything, having more authority has made him even worse than before. He’s obsessed about his own popularity or lack thereof. He is also a conspiracy theorist par excellence. Maybe if there is a re-examination of November’s votes, looking for his alleged voter fraud, he will end up losing by even more? A recount has already been done by Jill Stein in several states. Interestingly enough, so far, his daughter Tiffany and some of his allies have been found registered in 2 different states. Maybe they didn’t vote for him even once? Tiffany is reportedly a registered Democrat.

Let’s hope that Trump’s presidency creates a backlash and that Republicans can be ousted from Congress in 2018 for supporting him. Trump himself is unlikely to change and mature. But as a friend observes, some of his most outrageous acts are just the first sally—he fully expects to pull back in the bargaining. Meanwhile, his loyal base loves his extreme initial pronouncements, giving grief to other politicians and the elite. And he certainly gets publicity and keeps the news cycle going,

It could well be that his strategy, as indicated, is to be totally outrageous, then back-track slightly to get where he wants to be, thus seeming to be magnanimous. He does love publicity and attention and he's certainly getting that. One friend says that his extremism is a calculated opening salvo--which his small very loyal base loves and which makes news--but he's already poised to pull back, making it look like he's willing to compromise--and so maybe he's actually smarter than he seems? Let's hope so. 

Chaos has reigned internationally since Trump took office.
The travel ban affecting selected Muslim countries (but not Saudi Arabia) continues to 
cause outrage.

Trump sent six Christian refugees back to the Middle East; however, I have it on good authority from someone directly involved that they were then sent back and are now in the US:
Below, just another example of media bias against Trump? Why would the media necessarily be aligned against him? Or is it really a case of the media fulfilling its role as watchdog for the citizenry? Trump Is Already Damaging the State Dept.
Apparently, I am not the only one who first saw Melania, especially in her displays of body language in her interactions with her husband, acting as a very reluctant first lady and an unhappy partner to Donald Trump. After I first thought that, I then I’ve seen a number of internet postings now expressing similar impressions. It would be a blow to Trump’s image if she decided to divorce him, though she might not do that if he allows her to remain living with her son at Trump Tower unmolested by him as he grapples with his new life in Washington. A baby born in Cuba reportedly has already been named Melania.

Trump reportedly wasn’t very happy about our women’s march and the sister marches all over the world. His popularity is below 50%, a new low for a new president.

The March for Life, another much smaller women’s march, occurred less than a week after our main march, this second one on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. I did participate in the first march the day after the election, which I considered mainly to be an anti-Trump march, even though it might have included abortion support in its platform. I never actually saw a platform for the march—the main unifying theme was anti-Trump and there were signs for many different causes and objectives. As I’ve indicated before, as both a birth and an adoptive mother, I am not so keen on “abortion rights,” especially after the first trimester, unless there is an overriding reason, such as the fetus’s seriously abnormal development, a grave risk to the mother’s health, or a pregnancy resulting from the rape of a very young girl who neglected to tell anyone early on. Polls I’ve seen show that perhaps a majority of Americans feel the same way, that abortion should mainly be limited to the first trimester. The 20-week abortion ban being proposed by some Republicans doesn’t seem to me to be outrageous—not that abortions are common after that anyway or done for frivolous reasons. While certainly abortions occur in Latin America, usually in secret as they are not legal, and while contraception and even tubal ligations are both legal and popular, most women in conversation will express horror at the very idea of abortion. Among many African Americans, especially church-goers and even among Black Lives Matter supporters (sign: “Black Lives Matter, Both Born and Pre-Born”), there is also a strong anti-abortion sentiment. However, it should be noted that although Mike Pence addressed the pro-life march, many of its marchers emphasized that they were not pro-Trump.

The exact moment when an individual human life begins is actually a bit blurry and certainly subject to debate, although much more is known now than previously about all stages of fetal development. A fertilized embryo can be frozen for years—is that an individual person? In custody disputes over fertilized embryos, they have even been given names based on their apparent gender. Of course, if an embryo were implanted, it probably actually would become a person, or perhaps 2 or 3, if it were divided. Some right-to-life advocates have even “adopted” discarded embryos, having them implanted and gestated in their own bodies. Otherwise, that potential individual would never have been born. About 1 ½ months after embryo implantation or six weeks after conception (whatever that point is), the fetal heart begins to beat, but may not be easily detectable until 8-12 weeks. Twelve weeks is the end of the first trimester and certainly a heartbeat would be audible by then. Many spontaneous miscarriages occur during that first trimester. Most people, if they heard a heartbeat, would not want to go ahead with an abortion, which is why pro-life advocates try to have a pregnant woman hear it before undergoing the procedure. And medical viability outside the uterus keeps going down, making late-term abortions more problematic.

More and more, producing a child is often a medical engineering feat, with certain qualities and even gender sometimes being chosen by the person designated as the parent (and paying the bill), and perhaps having several contributors to the final product—sperm donor, egg donor, gestational mother. We may yet get to the point of gestating fetuses in artificial wombs, which almost is what some NICUs now provide. And there have reportedly even been babies born with 3 biological “parents.” Birth is no longer a matter of nature simply taking its course, as has been the case for millennia. And not every baby is precious, in that he or she may or may not become a valued and valuable human being. If Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Trump had been aborted, the whole world might have been better off.  

Complicating matters still further, scientists are talking mow about experimenting with combining human and animal DNA to produce a sort of hybrid. Yikes! Where would that fit into the debate about the sanctity of human life? Some people even think primates are quasi-humans and need humane protection. PETA folks might even say those protections should extend to other animals, certainly to mammals. Think also of the monks purported to stay inside lest outdoors they step on an insect and kill it.

But whatever the new landscape of pregnancy and support for life, I do object to coded language describing “pro-life” advocates not as anti-abortion, which they certainly are, but, rather, as “anti-abortion rights,” “anti-reproductive rights,” and “anti-choice,” deliberately negative labels.

At the other end of life, sometimes too many medical interventions do occur. These may be costly and painful and may not add to quality of life. Sometimes, when medical facilities have financial incentives to provide costly care, that may weigh in the decision along with concerns by family and patient for the patient’s wellbeing and continued existence. I’m not opposed to assisted suicide if a person is suffering and is of sound mind in deciding to end their life. In that, I part company with right-to-lifers. And I have Kaiser health insurance, in part because there are no incentives there to provide unneeded care in order to collect payment. Usually procedures are covered by a combination of monthly premiums and co-payments for appointments, exams, and surgery, but at a lower cost than outside. And prescriptions are also cheaper because medications are bought in bulk. Is Kaiser sometimes a frustrating bureaucracy—yes—and you can forget about having a personal relationship with your primary care physician or consulting with an expert outside the closed Kaiser system. You will communicate with your doctor mostly via e-mail. But I think, on balance, that it’s a worthwhile and cost-effective system.

I once thought GWBush was the worst president I would ever see in my lifetime. He certainly made a huge, naive mistake (under pressure from Dick Cheney et al.) by launching the Iraq war and imagining the creation of a democratic country. I was never fond of Harry Truman either because of his authorization of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, Trump has the potential for doing even more damage and certainly should not have the sole finger on the nuclear trigger. At the very least, Congress should be required to approve any nuclear action.  

There is a generally accepted definition of what a “crazy” person is. Though there may be cultural variations, he or she is someone whose behavior is way outside the norm; someone who is delusional, has illusions of possessing superior knowledge and intelligence, and is erratic, unpredictable, illogical, emotionally volatile, impulsive, and unconnected to reality. Does that describe anyone we can think of? Most citizens vote for politicians based on trust, but our current president continues to undermine trust by insisting on lies, changing his position frequently thus making his word undependable, and his past business success seems to have been based, like his political success, mostly on trickery and subterfuge. Like some other crazy people, he does have a small number of fervent believers, who may continue to support him fanatically, like the followers of prophets who have sometimes gone along with them to their death.

The rumor is that the blackmail Putin is holding over Trump involves eyewitnesses to or even a video of him urinating on Russian prostitutes—a so-called “golden shower” kink. Is that merely fake news? Perhaps, but the potential blackmail apparently involves some unflattering sexual activity by our new president. And now a Russian official close to the case has been found dead—was he suspected of leaking this information? Anthony Weiner is a lightweight pervert compared to Trump. I hope a tape, if it exists, of his sexual exploits in Moscow will soon be released and that his support base will shrink still further among supporters in Congress and among the public. However, Trump’s most fervent acolytes will still dismiss it as a conspiracy and fake news.

For us dis-enfranchised folks living in DC wanting to weigh in with a particular lawmaker, a friend has very clever idea, much easier and more effective than my previous tactic of writing and mailing a snail-mail letter from my address, which is obviously outside his/her district, meaning it probably gets thrown directly into the trash. I have almost never gotten a reply from a snail mail letter sent to a lawmaker outside DC (the only exception was Rep. John Lewis of Ga.).

My friend recommends: Barbara, on addresses within a district of a congressman, you do need that address to get into the system on emails. Create one. For Ryan, use map quest to find an address in the district. Like a business address in Kenosha, Wisconsin. And just like that a Barbara Joe with an address and zip code in his district. You are in their system and you can send him a letter. Will they read it?  Who knows?  Just as much a chance of their reading it as their reading any other congressional letter. Most likely you will be registered as someone in the district for or against something and you will get a form letter email back. At least you will feel you have been heard. Not any worse than their robo-calls to people. 

No big surprise, Trump has asked James Comey to stay on as AG. Comey has been more than loyal to Trump, linking Hillary falsely to Weiner’s e-mail account just before the election and now refusing to divulge anything about Russian hacking and possible blackmail against Trump himself. George Orwell’s 1984 is reviving in popularity as a best-seller.

Chelsea Manning will be freed.

Manning has become a columnist:

After promising to come voluntarily to the US if Chelsea Manning were released, Julian Assange has now changed his mind. Manning has served several years in prison, Snowden is in self-exile, and Assange is still living in the Ecuadoran Embassy, so they have all paid a price for their release of data harmful to the US and the world, all of which has led us to this very unfortunate Trump presidency, the worst harm of all.

Julian Assange: “Chelsea Manning clemency was bid to make life hard for me.” |The Guardian
A friend imagines Obama’s thinking on Assange’s position after Manning’s commutation, “We have Assange right where we want him: between a rock and a hard place. He has a long time to think about his next move. Who will deal with him now? Maybe he can ask Putin to get him out. Putin wouldn't care to do that, as he is using him right where he is. Why should Putin get even more tied up with Assange? Assange will sit and enjoy life on the inside for a very long time.”  

Here’s a spoof from the Onion—not so far from the truth—about al qaeda just sitting back, enjoying seeing America destroy itself. We really hope this is fake news.

I happened to hear one of Sister Maureen Fielder’s early morning NPR show, Interfaith Voices, in which she was talking with Georgia Congressman John Lewis. (Fielder also attends Communitas, a sort of “house” Catholic church that I have attended). I first saw Lewis more than 50 years ago (when he had more hair) at MLKing's "I Have a Dream" speech and rally. Admittedly, he was at a distance and I never actually spoke with him, although security in those days for crowded gatherings was not as great as it is today. I've been volunteer coordinator for the Caribbean for Amnesty Int'l USA for a number of years, including Cuba, so was gratified when Lewis met with a former Amnesty 17-year prisoner of conscience, afro-Cuban Jose Luis Garcia Perez (Antunez), featured in my Confessions book. Antunez was here on his one and only US visit in Jan. 2015, as he was not permitted to leave Cuba again. Other members of the Congressional Black Caucus had shunned Antunez out of solidarity with Fidel Castro, but Lewis received him warmly as someone who, like himself, had been unjustly imprisoned. Later, I sent Lewis a thank-you note for meeting with Antunez and he sent me a letter of reply, much to my surprise. I thoroughly agreed with his decision not to attend Trump's inauguration. We need more Congress members like Lewis! 

Finally, something about Honduras, where I will go shortly, so don’t expect to hear from me for a while: