Friday, April 21, 2017

Easter, Milestones, Cuba, Trump on the Warpath and Just Being Trumpian, SOS to Sessions: Hawaii Is a State!

 Stephen from Nigeria, Easter Sunday, 2017, Cathedral Shrine, Catholic University, Washington, DC

                                 Redbud in our front yard finally blooming, April 2017

 ¿ ñ íóúá üé ¡
Easter, Milestones, Cuba, Trump on the Warpath and Just Being Trumpian, SOS to Sessions: Hawaii Is a State!

[Redbud flowers—spring has finally sprung--Easter]

Stephen, one of my 2 Nigerian GAO visitors, and I attended 10:30 am Easter Sunday Mass at the cathedral at Catholic University. We went by metro. It was a very warm day, lots of flowers and flowering trees, and crowds of people going into the cathedral. We entered first at the lower level and I showed him what is called the underground church. Then, we took an elevator up to the main or upper church. A woman with two little girls got on the elevator with us and, to my surprise, Stephen began speaking to them in an unfamiliar language and the woman answered him back. He told me later, though he had never seen her before, that he knew by intuition that she was from his native village and that they shared a language. He said as soon as he saw her, he had a feeling of kinship with her—he just knew she was from there! What are the odds of that happening by chance in an elevator in Washington, DC?

There was standing room only inside the upper cathedral with its valued ceiling and many alcoves and statues. I did find a seat on a bench in one of the side chapels, where I could still hear, but not see the main service. Stephen chose to stay standing up in front. DC’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl presided. I don’t know why, but those of us in our side cubicle never had the collection basket passed to us. The cathedral must have lost hundreds of dollars or more by neglecting us. The organ music and choir were magnificent, especially one or more sopranos who performed solos, their voices echoing off and traveling throughout that huge vaulted chamber.  Later, Stephen and I went back downstairs because he wanted to buy a rosary. The ones for sales, some made of precious stones, were too expensive. But at the information desk, we were each given a free plastic one and I gave mine to Stephen for his wife.

When we came back from the cathedral, we walked again past the Eastern Market outdoor vendors, then stopped for a while outside Java Café to hear a trio playing music, not for tips, just for fun. They had brought an upright piano, which a middle-aged man wearing shorts played with vigor, accompanied by two other men playing a trumpet and a trombone. Stephen filmed and recorded them with his Samsung phone. So Easter turned out to be a fun day.

My childhood friend Anna, living in another state, after being run over by a vehicle belonging to her assisted living facility some 2½ years ago, then spending 2 years in the hospital and losing a leg, finally got a pretty fair settlement in a jury trial. I’ve mentioned her here before. The other side kept stalling, probably hoping she would die first. She was someone who had visited me in the Peace Corps in Honduras. With grit and the help of medical experts, she survived. However, now new health problems have arisen. I fault (bad) luck, God, and, more especially, the facility that maimed her for stalling on compensation, so that she will probably have a reduced time left to enjoy her settlement. As Jimmy Carter said, life is unfair.  (We already knew that.)

Another long-time friend living in DC, Velma (“Vee”) whom I had known almost since moving here  in 1969, died at age 95 after a fall in her own home, where she was still living alone, but with help coming in. She had lived a good, productive life and is survived by children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She was not ill for long, so she might be said to have had a good death. We held a remembrance party at her home in her honor, something of which I think she would have approved, although she definitely did not want an actual funeral and having people standing around weeping.  As we get older and closer to death ourselves, we start having more friends and contemporaries becoming ill and dying, which is only to be expected, but most deaths come as a surprise and certainly as a loss. I remember that my mother, who died at age 92, kept going to more frequent funerals until, finally, it was her turn. My own most profound personal losses, obviously, have been of younger family members, those who left before their time, namely my son Andrew at age 27, my own life’s worst calamity, and my Cuban foster son Alex at age 31.

Speaking of the loss of young people, has MS 13 now brought its lethal ways to the United States? Its threats and now actual murders need to be nipped in the bud.  (I’m referring to the four young men murdered gang-style in New York State.) 

Cuba will open up to a U.N. human rights expert for first time in a decade

We already knew about this at Amnesty Int’l, 588 Cubans allowed residency in Mexico, not their first choice, but still OK, they get to be in a Spanish-speaking country with more freedom and opportunities than in Cuba, (However, I understand that Cubans arriving at the southern border have been sent back to Cuba.)

Moving on to Africa, where I am less familiar, only having been to Morocco, Kenya, and South Sudan, the nation of Zimbabwe, though troubled, is not high on anyone’s radar screen. However, the Zimbabwe country specialist for Amnesty Int’l USA, a volunteer like I am for the Caribbean, spoke to our local Amnesty Group 211. She said presidential elections are scheduled for July 2018 and octogenarian Robert Mugabe is planning to run, if he survives until then, as he is now in fragile health. She said there are many other aspiring candidates, none very inspiring. Zimbabwe is in terrible financial trouble, with rampant inflation—and no longer using US dollars—and it is an authoritarian state despite nominal elections. But it is not in as bad shape in terms of violence as some other African countries, so gets little attention.  We sent notes of moral support to be given to women human rights advocates, but just signing our first names and not putting a return address. The idea was to let them know they are not forgotten.

We don’t know if Trump had a strategy mapped out for following up on his order to make an airstrike in Syria—probably not. But for once, it seemed to be an action that might be considered presidential in the traditional sense. It also has helped divert attention away from his Russia ties and Russian interference in his election. Some cynical Democrats think that was the main impetus behind his Syria action. While some Republican voters and lawmakers may have heralded Trump’s decisiveness on Syria, they should remember how the same Republicans hampered Obama’s ability to act on Syria and in many other spheres. Trump’s meeting with China’s president also has seemed presidential, so maybe he’s finally starting to get the hang of the office and starting to do more of what’s usually expected of a president after his rocky and disorganized start and his many lies and ridiculous statements and tweets. (But he may be losing some of the hard core who love those outrageous tweets.) Probably the successful placing of Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, whatever one thinks of Gorsuch, was also a big plus for Trump.  

The apparent downgrading of Bannon is also positive—and maybe we have young Jared to thank for that? However, Bannon may have too much dirt on Trump for him to get rid of him entirely—at least that’s the rumor (or maybe just another instance of fake news? These days, it’s hard to tell.) Now can Trump, who was so concerned about Syrian babies, wrap his flighty mind around the prospect of granting of refugee status to fleeing and already heavily vetted Syrians with babies that would be progress.  Meanwhile, he seems to be enjoying a bit too much the feeling of power coming from ordering military strikes, so there needs to be some curb or forethought there, preferably from a Congress that becomes more than a rubber stamp. Trump vs. Kim, 2 crazies facing off, a dangerous situation.
Perhaps someone on Kim’s team was executed for the recent failed nuclear display?

Nor should we feel secure with Trump’s finger on our nuclear trigger, though it has begun dawning on him that we need allies in Asia. Or, at least, it has dawned on Mike Pence. Trump has learned a few things on the job—i.e. health care is complicated, who knew?  But as a self-inflating 70-year-old man who has bluffed and bullied his way through life so far, we cannot expect Donald Trump to make a major transformation. After the election, I’d hoped against hope that he might begin to modify, since his positions have seemed pretty changeable. But, so far, he and his chosen acolytes have shown themselves to mostly be mean-spirited (trying to take away poor kids’ school lunches!), willing to wreak havoc, and lie outright. Also, his continued  braggadocio is unattractive in a leader or in anyone. He has gone out of his way to praise his own capacities (“I’m very smart”), tout the luxury of his DC hotel and, at the White House Easter egg roll, he loudly praised Melania’s role there, saying more or less, “Look what a good job she did!” regarding one of the few public events at which she has appeared (where was their son?). In bad taste and something that only highlights how few public appearances Melania has actually made. Can you imagine Barack Obama publicly praising Michelle for participating in an Easter egg roll? You have to feel sorry for a guy so clueless and socially awkward. No wonder he has to grab women, because he would seem so wildly unattractive to most women. But his base is still clinging to him and Republican lawmakers, whatever their private misgivings, are mostly hanging tight so far. If voters turn against them, then they might begin to see the light. The US now has become a bad example to the rest of the world, which often looks to us for moral guidance and leadership. Indeed, the retrograde elements of other nations now seem emboldened by the Trump phenomenon.

To some extent, though we must continue to fight against the odds, we just have to suck it up to some extent and keep on going, as with any of life’s major calamities and hurdles. When Trump is gone, then we can try to do major damage control and remediation. I’ve been depressed ever since election night. Trump has turned out to be just as terrible as I’d feared on that fateful night.

As someone who has been advocating on social media and in person that Trump release his tax returns, I wish I had known, as Trump loudly claims, that we are all being paid for making our demands. I’d like my cut!  Since Trump is such a shameless liar and Republicans are not daring to call him out, our tactic must be, even against unfair odds, to undermine his credibility with voters and topple some of the lawmakers who have been supporting him, even when they know better.

Rich old overweight white guys like Trump, O’Reilly, and Roger Ailes with negative sex appeal, all married, of course, apparently like to feel “macho” by bullying women into going to bed with them. At least, that’s my perspective. They are really physically repulsive as far as I can see and certainly falling back on threats and coercion would not enhance their attractiveness. Why do some men, especially, seem to identify with them? Because they vicariously enjoy their domination of women? I don’t get it, but maybe men do. That all three have gotten as far as they have before being taken down is a sad commentary. Trump is still left to go.

Hello Mr. Sessions, Hawaii is a state, just like the one you come from.

Kellyanne Conway, who apparently coined the term “alternative facts,” got a laugh here in DC at a recent speech at the Newseum (a news museum) when she complained about negative press and opined that “people literally say things that just aren't true.” Imagine that? She, Sean Spicer, and her big boss, Donald Trump, would find themselves getting a little more favorable press coverage if they actually were more truthful and more credible.  

Meanwhile, despite some fall-off in NYC, Ivanka's biz prospers as politics mixes with business

As for Arkansas’s spate of pending executions—whether or not all eight are actually carried out (as of this writing, one has actually gone forward)—they do seem to have brought some negative publicity to that state. Would you want to live in a state known for executing more inmates than ever before in a single month? Or maybe that’s just my perception as someone who would like to see the death penalty abolished. Not that those men are likely to be innocent, though that’s always a possibility judging by the success of the Innocence Project. Although rare, I don’t doubt that some innocent prisoners have been executed. No, that’s not my main objection; I just don’t think the death penalty is much of a deterrent (some murderers actually seem to crave martyrdom) or that the government should be in the business of executing people. I don’t like the idea of government—at whatever level—executing people in your and my name and with our tax dollars. That’s something done by Saudi Arabia, China, and North Korea, but our country should move away from such retribution. At the same time, I have little sympathy for the Norwegian mass murder who constantly complains about his cushy incarceration. According to polls, a slight majority of Americans still favor the death penalty for capital crimes, though that majority has been shrinking. The death penalty is especially favored by Republican voters.

Vehicles seem to be the new attack weapon of choice being used by terrorists against unsuspecting civilians. Cars, trucks, we do need them to transport people and goods, but how can civilians be better protected from being directly targeted by malevolent drivers? Having ridden in my brother’s self-driving Tesla, I can also envision a self-driving vehicle being programmed to ram into a crowd with no driver actually inside.

Finally, after an absence—I attended a recent meeting of Compassionate Friends, a support group for bereaved parents. For a while, I was leading a Spanish-speaking group at Providence Hospital, but a Colombian nun working with me there became very ill and we had to give up the effort. I cannot say that belonging to a parental support group takes away the grief, but it does make the parent who has lost a child feel less alone. It's hard enough to lose a child, but worse when others shun you or say stupid things like, "I know how you must feel because my son was very sick once and we feared we'd lose him, though he's just fine now." There's a big difference in the latter case--your son is still alive; mine is not. When I attend meetings now, it is mainly to help newly bereaved parents who are often in a state of shock.


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