Sunday, June 18, 2017

Asylum Hearing, Comey Testimony, Trump’s Birthday, South Sudan, Japanese Emperor, Human Rights

The immigration debate came home to me, as it often does in my interpretation work, as I was the interpreter at an asylum hearing for a high school student who came here as an unaccompanied minor and who is now over age 18. I really cannot say more because of confidentiality rules, just that I would think such individual cases would pull at the heartstrings of most observers, even Trump supporters, though maybe not Jeff Sessions.
On June 8, when James Comey was testifying before Congress, I happened to be at meeting the Amnesty In’tl USA’s DC office and stayed on to see C-Span’s live TV coverage (I don’t have TV myself). Comey sounded quite credible and sincere. Republican lawmakers, as usual, seem to be hanging tight with Trump, at least for the most part, and at the hearing, they tried to steer back to Clinton’s failings, as if to make them equivalent to Trump’s. SOS to Republicans, Trump, not Hillary, is president now!! McCain, who actually sounded a bit demented, especially focused on Hillary’s e-mails. I’m surprised he didn’t mention Benghazi! Later, McCain claimed to have stayed up late watching a baseball game on TV. Apparently, while Trump’s overall approval ratings keep falling, a majority of Republican voters still support him, so I suppose it’s wise of most Republican lawmakers to hang tight for now.
Trump’s attorneys must have babysat Trump, because he neither spoke nor tweeted during or right after Comey’s testimony. Diehard Trump voters think Comey lied, not Trump. After all, that’s what Trump has been saying. Trump’s legal advisers point out that conviction of Trump for any crime, such as obstruction of justice, requires intent and it would be hard to prove Trump’s intent.  He is so clueless and muddled, his intent may be impossible to discern, much less to prove. Nancy Pelosi has a point, Trump needs to sleep more to clear his mind.
The only way to keep Republicans honest is to beat them at the ballot box. So far, they are mostly supporting and making excuses for Trump, although most must have greater private misgivings. They keep hoping that sticking with him will not only keep themselves in office, but help them promote their “agenda.” Of course, their constituents would have to turn against Trump for them to get worried and, so far, most Trump supporters are sticking by him. Paradoxically, while rural and small-town folks are most anti-immigrant, they actually have little contact with immigrants. If they knew them as real people, they might feel differently.
Donald Trump celebrated his 71st birthday amid little fanfare—maybe not to call attention to his age. “Seventy-one candles on that cake,” said Stephen Colbert. “Although Trump later said it was ‘over a million candles. Most candles ever.’”
Apparently the Trump administration, mostly under Sessions’ initiative, is really cracking down on undocumented immigrants, including now, Iraqi Christians. It’s as if Trump is lashing to hurt as many people as possible because of his fury over his inability to cover-up his own wrong doing.  If Hillary had been in office, she would have named different officials and would have vetoed some of what is going on now in deportations. It’s so short-sighted, not only harmful to law-abiding families well-established here, but harmful to the economy by removing workers from certain sectors. White Americans are not reproducing their ranks—even in red states—let’s face it.
A fair portion of the electorate indulges in magical thinking (which Trump especially exploits), that is, that fewer taxes will result in more jobs and in more money in everyone’s pocket. Has that ever happened? No, fewer taxes have actually meant a bigger deficit, fewer services, more inflation, higher interest rates, less citizen protection, fewer jobs, less commerce.
I see in the Washington Examiner that a Republican congressman wants to charge 55,000 immigrants $1 million each for Trump's border wall. He is Dana Rohrabacher of California. He also wants to eliminate the diversity lottery whereby some years ago (in the 1980’s), three guys here on visitors' visas staying at my house temporarily, all incredibly won the lottery that year (sometime in the 1980's), one from Argentina, one from Japan, one from Tunisia. What are the odds? People clamored to stay with my family after that but none ever won after that. 

Trump seeks to reopen cases of hundreds reprieved from deportation

The Homeland Security director has also been quoted as saying he wants to deport “illegal aliens” before they commit a crime. Of course, that sort of preemption could apply to any of us. It reminds me of Cuba’s arrests of opposition figures for “pre-delinquency”—that is to prevent their future delinquent behavior. Trump is also getting heat for trying to deport Iraqi Christians.

Meanwhile, Trump unveiled a new Cuba policy (mostly crafted by Sen. Marco Rubio):

See also:

Trump did seem a little more human or closer to normal when he went to Camp David on Father’s Day with his wife’s parents.

I imagine that Bill Cosby’s wife Camille is firmly standing by him, despite his admitting to giving drugs to a younger sexual partner in their own home, because it is in her interest to do so. Given his many escapades of infidelity, she surely must have been aware of at least some and still chose to remain married to Cosby because of the benefits she enjoyed as his wife. Also, she may not want to admit the extent of his misdeeds as that reflects badly on her. Probably the hung jury has something to do with African American jurors (even one?) being stubbornly unwilling to convict one of their own, as happened with OJ Simpson. I’m saying that as someone who has African American family members and knows their loyalty to each other in a world where they feel beleaguered and seek some pay-back. Cosby is playing the elderly, blind, and ill defendant to the hilt.

Vice president Pence met with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, a member of the conservative National Party, running for an unprecedented second term (until now consecutive second presidential terms were prohibited, but Hernandez pushed through a change in the constitution). He is likely to win in November because the opposition is divided between the Liberal Party and a new party created by former Liberal president Manuel Zelaya, ousted controversially when he wanted to run for a second term, who is now running his wife Xiomara Castro in his stead. (Nothing mentioned about any of this in the meeting between Pence and Hernandez.)

Trump aaounced a new Cuba policy, crafted with the help of Senator Marco Rubio. The return of “wet-foot/dry-foot” was deemed unlikely in light of Trump’s anit-immigration stance.

Of course, all sides must condemn the shooting in suburban Virginia of Congressman Steve Scalise, as well as the fatal shooting the same day at a UPS workplace in the SF Bay area. While Trump, reading from a teleprompter, gave a calm response, Republicans seem to be emphasizing the deceased gunman’s extremist political views—he was, by the way, an older white male from the mid-west—part of the usual Trump demographic. Nothing was said about his ability to obtain a firearm or about the extremist views voiced by Trump and associates that might have aroused his reaction.

Cuba must end human rights violations to improve relations, US warns | World news | The Guardian

It is true—and am witness to that as volunteer Caribbean coordinator for Amnesty Int’l USA (also author of a book on the subject, Confessions)—that the Cuban government violates human rights in a wholesale way and has been doing so for decades, for generations, really. But what is the best remedy—more interchange or less with that government?  The US has vacillated back and forth without visible improvements in Cuba.
Seven Republican Congressmen have asked Trump to keep Cuba open: The Republican congressmen who signed the letter are Reps. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Ted Poe of Texas, Darin LaHood of Illinois, Roger Marshall of Kansas, James Comer of Kentucky and Jack Bergman of Michigan.
Meanwhile, Cubans, like others, are being deported. For a long time, the Cuban government failed to accept them, but is now accepting more returnees.
Now every non-citizen in the US must feel wary, creating an uncomfortable civic atmosphere. And if it’s true that Canadians most often overstay their visas, why don’t we see ICE deporting Canadians or putting them into detention facilities?  It’s true that the US cannot be a haven for anyone aspiring to a new life, any more than Europe can be, but long-term residents who have worked, bought hoes, had children—in short, out down roots over the years—deserve consideration and it is beneficial to the rest of us to grant it to them.
Years ago, when working as a writer and editor of OT Week, a publication of the Amer. Occupational Therapy Ass’n, I met and spoke with the emperor and empress of Japan at a DC event linking environment and health. Now I see that Emperor Akihito, at age 83, is stepping down. The royal succession problem is that he only has a daughter and she is planning to marry a commoner anyway. I think we bowed when meeting each other—I don’t remember that we shook hands as maybe that’s not permitted for an emperor. I did take photos, but who knows where they are now? That was before the internet and keeping photos digitally. I do wish him well and salute his unprecedented move. It may be tiring to be an emperor. Or any other monarch, though Britain’s Queen Elizabeth keeps hanging in there while the crown prince grows long in tooth as well.    
Turkey arrested Amnesty International lawyers in another anti-Gulen sweep. Yet another dark day for liberty and human rights in the world
 The civil war in South Sudan continues—such a tragedy, but one which no seems able or willing to stop. I will try to keep the vision of that country as it was when I visited there in 2006, before independence which turns out to be mixed blessing. Now instead of fighting together against external forces, primarily to obtain independence from the north, South Sudanese tribal loyalties have come to the fore and the two main tribes have turned on each other in the fight for dominance.
There is an argument occurring now within Amnesty Int’l about abortion—how much of a “right” is it and up to what stage? That question within AI has not been answered, as far as I know, nor is there a good mechanism for doing that within the organization which is too large and unwieldy, its millions of members worldwide being a strength, but also a liability, when it comes to trying to reach consensus. I’ve found it hard to defend AI's apparent pro-abortion stance, especially when my own enthusiasm is not so great. I'm not sure that AI has put a limit on its defense in terms of the stage of fetal development. When you feel movements in your womb, it's hard to say that's just fetal tissue and not a human life. On the other hand, if someone is of sound mind and has thought it through for a time, I don’t object to a medically assisted “right to die.”
AI is both an advocacy organization and a worldwide membership organization with millions of members worldwide, some more active than others. That creates complications. Every two years, there is a sort of mini-UN session (I once attended one) where member nations (“sections”), each with one vote, come together to vote and set policy. Individual members identifying themselves as such are not supposed to publicly oppose AI policies that have been adopted. For example, an activist was chastised and “put on probation,” so to speak, when she wrote a letter-to-the-editor identifying herself as an AI member and opposing the organization’s advocacy for the complete decriminalization of all players in the sex industry, including madams and pimps, and decrying the way the new policy was apparently rammed through at the international meeting with the British sex-work industry’s and others’ financial support, using that to influence the vote of small participant nations. Sex worker decriminalization across the board is another AI policy that I have not been eager to support—though I and many others would support decriminalization for sex workers themselves, just not for the other players who may be controlling and exploiting them. So, yes, even though AI attempts to be politically neutral, it’s hard to maintain that stance with such a far-flung and heterogeneous organization involved in so many issues. It was easier when AI just supporter the peaceful expression of free speech.
AI has also supported gay rights, something not universally supported worldwide. This was brought home to me by Nigerian visitors, who said that President Obama, of whom Africans were initially proud because of his African heritage, turned them off completely when he announced his support for gay marriage. In Nigeria, they said, public opinion turned against him overnight. How could he advocate something so bestial, so contrary to nature? I do not oppose gay marriage myself and have a gay nephew married to his partner, so I had a heated discussion with my two Nigerians, one Muslim, one Catholic. Certainly their view was widespread until recently in our own country and Europe and still holds sway in many developing countries. Certainly in Honduras, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti, countries with which I am intimately familiar, both through my visits there and my Amnesty work, gay unions, especially between men, are strongly disapproved. They also said that the Australian prime minister had married a man. Not so, that was the Luxembourg prime minister.
Another issue AI has grappled with is FMG, which certainly most women oppose, though maybe men in some countries support it. I saw and heard firsthand about the terrible effects in south Sudan and once it’s done, it’s hard to remedy. 
Of course, all these issues are matters of cultural beliefs which evolve and change over time. There are cultures that support plural marriage, usually for men but occasionally for women; child marriage; and the death penalty—including for adultery in Saudi Arabia. And the US Constitution evolves as well. Nothing stands still and never changes. Are there actually universal human rights? We might like to think so, but there seems to be no agreement on what they are.   

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