Thursday, April 6, 2017

Another Birthday, Nigerian Visitors, Peace Corps on Trump’s Chopping Block? Sen. Kaine’s Letter, Obamacare’s Half-Life, Cuba, Jamaica, South Sudan

                                              My birthday--I won't say which one.


Two visitors from Nigeria are staying with me temporarily while attending a GAO course here, perhaps their last chance to do so during the Trump administration. Although, back home, they do not cook, wash clothes, iron, or clean up, since both have wives and also servants, now they are gamely trying their best, with some messiness in the kitchen, but that’s improving. One man was going to put his woolen suit jacket into the washing machine, but I stopped him in time! He also burned a pot of rice, sending smoke throughout the house. I hope he won’t start that. I once had a young woman from Italy staying with me who regularly burned rice at least once a week. It’s kind of scary to have the house fill up with smoke.

While the future of the Peace Corps is threatened by the proposed slashing of the foreign aid budget, here is part of a letter Va. Senator Tim Kaine wrote to a former volunteer asking about the corps’ future. (The cost of supporting and protecting the Trump family seems to exceed the cost of the entire Peace Corps.)

I understand the value of serving abroad to help people in need.  When I was in law school, I decided to take a year off from my studies to work with Jesuit missionaries in El Progreso, Honduras, where I taught young students carpentry and welding skills.  This experience taught me the importance of skills-based training-both abroad and at home-and inspired me to pursue the issue of expanding career and technical education in the U.S. Senate.  In February 2015, I had the pleasure of returning to El Progreso and seeing the success and expansion of the campus where I taught.
In March 2015, I wrote a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, urging full support for the President’s 2016 budget request of $410 million for the Peace Corps.  I am glad that this budget request was included in a bipartisan agreement by the House and Senate to fund operations of government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016.  In March 2016, I joined 29 of my colleagues in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, reiterating the need to continue strong investments in the Peace Corps for Fiscal Year 2017.  As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will continue to support a strong diplomatic corps, including the Peace Corps.

#ProtectPeaceCorps just got a big boost as well. In a powerful show of support for the Peace Corps from Congress, a record 175 House Members signed the Peace Corps Funding Dear Colleague Letter in support of level funding for the agency for FY18. 

A New York Times’ editorial questions the wisdom of slashing any part of foreign aid:

Donald Trump and the Republican leadership have found out how hard it is to take away an entitlement once it is in place. Trump’s boasts of his deal making prowess notwithstanding, he could not make the healthcare deal, at least not yet. He didn’t even really try—did no apparent homework—just found health care surprisingly complicated! How about that? Basically, his main operational method is bluster and threat, not the careful working out of details and the lining up of support. (Lyndon Johnson was the champion of persuasive arm-twisting.) And since Trump has a notoriously short attention span, he wasn’t willing (or able?) to put in the required effort. He wanted to move on to something easier where he could tout success. Americans also want easier health coverage, as well as less costly, and a number of them voted for Trump based on his promises in that regard; it’s so much easier to promise on the campaign trail than to deliver. Trump should realize that he is a minority president, that most Americans did not vote for him (and many find him repugnant), and that he needs to win them/us over, not just keep playing to his shrinking base. If he fails to keep his promises, he will lose even more support among the diehard faithful. It was instructive that a grumpy Donald Trump decided he was not going to sign some pending executive orders because he just didn’t feel like it. Sounds like being president is not as much fun as he had imagined.

As far as health care, the number of conceivable medical interventions is practically infinite and none can deter decline and death forever. However, there are certain basic interventions that Americans may or may not agree are necessary in any health system. Of course, we now have a firm bloc of Republican lawmakers who don’t think government has any role in health care (patient, health thyself!) and even some who think that government itself (including them?) is unnecessary and evil. So moving forward on any future health plan looks murky. There are bipartisan fixes that could be made to Obamacare, but is anyone willing to stick out his/her neck to try to make them happen?

For one thing, there needs to be a moratorium on increases in compensation for US healthcare workers, from physicians on up, since one reason our system is so costly is that payment here is far above what the same professionals earn in other developed countries. I remember when I worked at the American Occupational Therapy Association that Canadian therapists flocked here because of the much higher salaries. This problem could be better controlled under a single-payer, government-sponsored system, which, no doubt, the health professions would lobby against. However, the compensation problem, especially incentives for highly paid surgeons to provide costly interventions, while important, is secondary to the current threat to Obamacare and to government support of our hybrid health delivery system. Would Republicans have us go back to just using home remedies and paying doctors with chickens?  

At the same time, Trump is so quirky and unpredictable that he might get behind some actual fixes to Obamacare with the help of moderate Republicans and some Democrats, making it more operational and effective and getting us closer to universal coverage. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I’d like to hope that having Ivanka in the White House might offer a moderating influence and maybe Jared as well, a young man who is in way over his head but may also be more moderate than Trump himself and his other advisers, except perhaps on the question of Israel? That Bannon is off the National Security Council and that Kellyanne has not been seen lately are positive developments.

Russian intervention may or may not have been the final straw that made the catastrophic accident of the Trump presidency possible. Trump’s margin was so thin in key Electoral College states, it probably did make a difference, but we don’t live in that alternative universe. FBI chief Comey’s gratuitous announcement of a further investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails just days before the election, based on the seizure of Anthony Weiner’s laptop, also bears blame. Whatever factors contributed to the unfortunate outcome, we are now stuck for the duration, however long that might be. Still, we do need to combat further Russian interference and find out—even in the face of Republican obstructionism--whether Putin holds a blackmail card against Trump for supposedly cavorting with Russian prostitutes in 2013 (“I don’t even know Putin,” The Donald has said since). That remains to be seen—or maybe will never be seen. Trump’s evangelical supporters would not like to find out about something like that, though Trump himself would dismiss it is as “fake news.” No doubt, Vladimir Putin is rubbing his hands gleefully at the success of his plot, well beyond his wildest dreams. US decline is in full swing.

Here is a scathing editorial about Trump and his presidency in the LA Times. It hits the nail on the head (though he would certainly dismiss it as a media conspiracy and “fake news.” )

Here is a NY drug case involving a former Honduran president and possibly the current one, running for reelection under controversial terms because a second consecutive term has not been allowed before in Honduras.

Mexico is offering to consider asylum for 500 Cubans stuck at the border since President Obama announced the end of “wet-foot/dry-foot.”

Sirley Avila, the Cuban woman whose hand was severed and who suffered other serious injuries in May 2015 after objecting to a local school closing, is now in a shelter near Miami, trying to get assistance to move out. As stated on this blog, I just saw her in March. After 6 months in rehab, she had returned to Cuba, only to be harassed by State Security (with lights and sirens) and threatened by her former attacker, roaming free. Now, with documents that she says prove government complicity, she is asking the Cuban government to recognize the crime against her and provide compensation. As a result, her son, who has remained in Cuba caring for her elderly mother and is also the father of two children, has been threatened by an unknown individual if Sirley does not withdraw her demand. Sirley says she is worried sick that her son will be killed, but she doesn’t think she should withdraw her just demand under threat. As a mother who has lost a son and a foster son, I told her to think carefully about going forward, as we both know that as long as the current Cuban government is in power, it is not going to recognize the crime against her, its own complicity, or pay any compensation. If her son is killed, she may have a further cause to pursue, just as is being done by family of the late Dama de Blanco Laura Pollan after her suspicious death and by Oswaldo Paya’s daughter, Rosa Maria, after he was killed. But whatever justice may eventually prevail in those cases (not any time soon), that will be cold comfort, as those lost will not return and I can attest to the difficulty of living after the death of a child—of any age—regardless of subsequent successes.

Re Jamaica, a country within my Amnesty International Caribbean volunteer orbit, see:
Together we are stronger By Shackelia Jackson, sister of Nakiea, killed by the Jamaican police in 2014

Amnesty International has issued a new Urgent Action (UA) on behalf of Dr. Eduardo Cardet in Cuba following a national’s court decision to sentence him to three years’ imprisonment for criticizing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Dr. Cardet is a prisoner of conscience imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and we are therefore demanding his immediate and unconditional release.

Here’s another Cuba UA: Four family members in prison since Fidel’s death, three on a hunger strike.
However, the three sibling hunger strikers were recently released conditionally to the hospital and their mother remains under house arrest, so the matter is not resolved:

I attended a presentation at the EU Delegation’s DC headquarters by Professor Martin Palous, on Cuba-Czech ties, including details of a meeting between the late Cuban democracy advocate Oswaldo Paya and Vaclav Havel, which included a film of a performance by Porno Para Ricardo (including reference to piglet artist El Sexto) and appearances by Paya’s daughter Rosa Maria. As per my Confessions book, I met Paya early on, met his daughter after his death, and also describe the irreverent group Porno Para Ricardo, which makes fun of the Castro brothers. Afterward, I gave a copy of my book, plus some material on Sirley Avila, to Dr. Palous, since he teaches a diplomacy class at Florida International University and his students would be interested and also might be able to help Sirley.

As for South Sudan, those of us who have visited and been involved with that beleaguered country, were thrilled by the overwhelming independence vote that in 2011 led to the birth of a new nation. (I spent almost a month in South Sudan in 2006.) But the (divided) leadership simply could not jettison its warlike rebel and tribal mode of thinking, with each leader always seeking to win exclusive advantages for his own side/tribe. That sort of mindset is typical of all governing systems to an extent—our own included—but in South Sudan, already ravished by years of war with the north, it has proved catastrophic.

No comments: