Friday, June 2, 2017

Daughter Stephanie’s visit, Ramadan, Trump (who else?)

 Same line-up, daughter Stephanie and 2 friends, 30 ago and 30 years later--they went on a camping reunion trip in the same place, together with other pals, on Memorial Day weekend. .

Two photos above of biologist daughter Steph telling her nephew De'Andre's class about what scientists like her might do out in the field, including showing them some live insects and spiders in plastic containers.

Above--my 2 "girls" Melanie and Stephanie at my house during Steph's recent visit.

We were thrilled in DC to have a visit from my daughter Stephanie living in Honolulu, here for a reunion at their former campsite with her old camping buddies. Over 30 years and distance, she and her high school pals have maintained their bonds. She also gave a talk about her work as a scientist and a biologist to her nephew’s 3rd grade class.

At a friend’s outdoor home barbeque, I was introduced to artificial grass. It is really an all-weather sort of grassy rug sprouting something that looks and feels like grass (but doesn’t smell like grass). It stays green and never needs watering or mowing. I suppose it eventually wears out, but meanwhile, if you like a grassy-looking lawn, it beats a real one. A very clever invention.

While it might be wise to remove Confederate monuments and flags, I would draw the line at removing those of Robert E. Lee, a historic figure who has enjoyed a fairly good reputation on both sides.

Haruna, one of my Nigerian visitors, at his first visit to a DC mosque on Wisconsin Ave. saw a man outside as he entered and had a feeling his was from his home village, as indeed he was. It is the second time one of my Nigerians has met someone from his home village at a place of worship here. As I have said before on this blog, Stephen, the other GAO fellow, met a woman from his home village in the elevator at the cathedral at Catholic University. Nigerians are apparently dispersed all over the world, including right here in DC.  Since Ramadan has started, Haruna has complained about our early sunrises and late sunsets at this time of year!

According to reports, Canadians are the foreign nationals most likely to overstay their visas—Mexicans are only second. Do we see Canadians being deported in droves? Do we ever see them being deported at all? No. I suspect that when a Canadian is found to have overstayed a visa, he or she is advised to renew it or to leave quietly. Of course, Canadians easily blend in, speak our language, and most look like the white Americans who seem to be the most anti-immigrant, so animosity toward people who are “different” does not apply.

While it may go nowhere during the Trump administration, there is a bipartisan effort in the Senate to further remove US travel bans to Cuba, such as they are—now a pro-forma Treasury Dept. license is required. That would be OK as it increases Americans’ freedom to travel. But I am not personally in favor of a related measure, that is, total lifting of the embargo at this time because food, most medicines, and a number of other products are already exempt and Cuba is free to trade with the rest of the world —the only thing the US embargo does now is require the Cuban government to pay in cash, not with credit, since it notoriously doesn’t pay its bills once it racks up credit. Furthermore, the embargo has scant impact on the Cuban people, since all imports and their profits are controlled by the military elite who simply will increase their power over the citizenry and their own special privileges. If there were more “filter-down” to ordinary people, that would be a different story. However, I do support cultural and educational exchanges, and also encourage travelers—as I’ve said before—to stay in licensed private homes or facilities run by churches and to travel outside Havana.

At the same time, Trump is said to be planning to reverse Obama’s Cuba policies.
Nothing specific, as usual, from Trump, but he may let the Cuban-American lawmakers decide what to do. I think he should just let it alone--though maybe not take any further steps, but who am I to say? I do have opinions about what Mr. Trump should do, but is he listening to folks like me? Whom does he listen to? It seems to go in one ear and out the other—or to his twitter finger. Mostly, I’d like him to stop initiating or advising harmful, thoughtless, and just plain mean policies, like taking away school lunches from poor kids.

I cannot help thinking that Trump’s diehard supporters are not unlike the many fervent Cuban people who so wholeheartedly supported Fidel Castro in the wake of his victory and who continued to give him the benefit of the doubt for years after it became obvious that his promises were not being kept. Initially, Cubans simply fell in love with Castro and with the vision of the glorious future that he painted and a few elderly Cubans still have not jettisoned that view and are hopeful about its fulfillment. May they die happy.

And so, I suspect, strange as it may seem, some white Americans who have felt downtrodden (the “deplorables”) and misunderstood are now happy to believe in Trump’s promises that they will soon have good jobs (including in coal), pay lower taxes, have excellent and cheaper health care, and enjoy superiority over people of other races and backgrounds. In clinging to those beliefs and hopes, they are not susceptible to facts or logic and Trump can do or say anything without losing their support. The same was true for a long time with Castro’s core supporters who took years to realize that his promises were fake, but, by then, his repressive apparatus was in place and, using special privileges and rewards, he had won the loyalty of the top military commanders to do his bidding—and those military who strayed were simply jailed or executed. It was like the mafia. The only advantage we have now with Trump is that his base of support is small and shrinking and there are still democratic curbs available, which must be fully utilized. The Republican Party needs to wake up first. Also Trump has nowhere near the cunning of Fidel Castro. In fact, his mind seems to be failing.

Trump read a prepared speech at Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day that sounded half-way coherent. You can see that Melania is uncomfortable around him, but maybe she is afraid for herself and her son if she tries to make a break. Maybe she has a pre-nup with Trump and would end up with little or nothing. But if she were going to separate from him, she would do better while he is still in the White House because then he would want to protect his image somewhat more. I guess she feels she has to come to DC to live in the White House now, like it or not. She probably wasn't sure what to say when Pope Francis asked her what she feeds her husband, seeing that he is pretty rotund. She probably avoids eating with him and certainly does not advise him on what to eat. 

How much disorder and craziness can Republicans tolerate? So far, it seems like quite a bit for most of them. As the midterms get closer, though, more might jump the Trump ship. Personal self-interest in getting re-elected will trump Trump. However, I just heard from someone in a southern state that he was glad that Trump "gave the Europeans hell." There are still quite a few true believers out there who are going to stick with him no matter what. I keep looking for even a tiny silver lining, but haven’t found one yet. Maybe this is it: Trump-themed toilet paper being sold in Mexico

According to Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, ”[W]hen you have a president who is so active, who is so articulate, who is so good at communicating with the media, sometimes you get staff that have to keep up with him.” [Italics added.]

Now we have to endure—and the whole world has to endure—the US exiting from a treaty it had already agreed to. Well, several big states plan to continue the fight against greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, which will mitigate the harm of Trump’s withdrawal. And how many coal mining jobs will be resurrected?

And I thought GWBush was the worst president I would ever see in my lifetime. Bush reportedly said after the Trump inaugural speech something like, "That was some weird shit." At least he is happy now painting dogs and self-portraits of himself in the bathtub (and also, veterans, which is a somewhat useful.) Can we find a harmless hobby for Trump? Let him tweet his heart out post-presidency? No, that would only rile up his supporters and jeopardize current office-holders. Some Republicans must be tearing their hair, uncertain just what to do next. For those in Trump-majority districts, their best bet is just to stick with him, at least rhetorically. Bravo for McCain calling him out—of course, it helps that McCain is a senator with a few years still to go in his term and unlikely to run again after that.

While quite possibly Joe Biden could have beaten Trump when Hillary did not (since only a few additional votes could have made the difference—but obviously, we will never know), it now seems like very poor sportsmanship to be second-hand quarterbacking on the issue. Biden was not the candidate for reasons both personal and political. I have observed Biden in meetings and have tried to get his attention during his Latin America trips on issues of importance in the Caribbean related to my Amnesty Int’l volunteer role without success. In the DR, he stuck to a bland script instead of challenging his hosts especially on the Haitian descendants’ issue.  The speeches I’ve heard him give seem to lack a deeper insight, unlike those of Barack Obama or even Hillary Clinton. Maybe Biden would have appealed to some of the same base that supported Trump, that is, white working class voters with a superficial understanding of issues. I’ve always considered Biden an appealing and probably honest guy, but rather simplistic. Likewise, while Bernie Sanders was a better speaker and someone who has seemed very genuine (a quality that Hillary has lacked and the more she tries to sound genuine, the worse the impression she gives), I also thought his prescriptions for our country were simplistic or simply unworkable. That’s why I voted for Hillary, despite her apparent lack of charm (though some of that lack was exaggerated by media commentary). She would have been a workhorse, maybe plodding, but organized and no longer making mistakes with e-mail! Anyway, Joe, it’s too late now. You didn’t even put your hat into the ring, so it’s easy to say you would have beaten Trump, since there is no way to prove it. It might make you feel better to say so, but sounds like sour grapes now.

Biden is now raising money on and off-line, trying to get financial benefit and a platform by appealing to anti-Hillary Democrats—an effort so transparently gratuitous and self-promoting that I will not contribute. He says he plans to run for president in 2020, a slim prospect in my opinion and I don’t appreciate his trashing Hillary to try to get there. A number of Democrats are trying to jump onto the anti-Trump bandwagon to feather their own nests. Nor will I contribute to the many appeals from Patrick Leahy, who lost me back when he facilitated a US Cuban prisoner’s (successful) artificial insemination of the man’s wife back in Cuba. I thought that was going beyond diplomacy. Bloomberg is right—too many Democrats are eyeing 2020 and stepping on each other’s toes.
Donald Trump enjoyed a royal welcome in Saudi Arabia, that oil-rich arch-conservative nation to which he has agreed to sell lots of military hardware. Trump seems to bask most happily in praise and gifts. Apparently, for him, the Saudi royalty are good Muslims. Their kingly outreach seems calculated to stoke his ego, so battered here at home, and he has a very thin skin. The King even gave him a medal. Wow! See: Under fire at home, Trump in Saudi on first foreign trip (Reuters, May 20, 2017) I noticed that although Melania wore no headscarf there, she did wear long sleeves and a floor-length dress. (Even the Saudis know that fossils fuels are on their way out, while Donald may be oblivious.)
What more is there is say about Donald Trump? He has been a disaster for our country, the world, and the Republican Party—even for his buddies in Israel. The stock market has been jumping up and down. And it doesn’t look like he is capable of learning or improving. He’s just a very flawed and unfortunate human being who has somehow managed to captivate a small group of hard-core supporters who are almost as ignorant, greedy, and mean-spirited as he is. The only good thing is that Trump is so inept, he doesn’t actually accomplish much of anything—he’s mostly just hot air. Unfortunately, he has also latched onto the Republican Party which seems unable or unwilling to shake him. He has no apparent capacity for self-awareness, no ability to see himself as others might see him. (GWBush at least seemed to have had some self-deprecating insights.) The chances of Trump being crazy like a fox seem increasingly dim; he’s just crazy. Talk about fakery—he’s faking it big time, faking that he understands issues, the political process, other players’ motives. And yet, I know people who like it that he is “giving hell” to the Europeans. I think he’s actually making an ass out of himself (and our country). He said he needed to think more about his climate pact decision—probably needed to come home and talk with Jared, as he was getting confused by the advocacy of European counterparts. (And now Jared himself seems to be in trouble and under the microscope.)

As I’ve said, I've been depressed ever since the day after the election. And Trump just piles on one more hurtful policy after another. The Paris Accord decision is just the latest, not the last. It's hard to keep on fighting and resisting, but already 3 states are joining the Paris Accord, California, New York, and Washington. Republicans support states’ rights—don’t they? Giving retired coal miners a guaranteed income for life would have been better all around. 

To some extent, it might be worse if Trump should actually get impeached and a more level-headed but stricter conservative like Pence ends up taking over and proves to be more effective in achieving that extreme agenda after his many years of political experience.  Some pundits are predicting Trump’s political demise while others foresee him lasting a full 2 terms (God forbid!). No one really knows what to expect next. Trump is such a totally unique phenomenon, all bets are off. That’s been part of his appeal. As I’ve said before, history is not linear, inexorably following a smooth, predictable path. As per chaos theory, spikes, troughs, and cataclysms can and do happen. Other unexpected and surprising leaders, both good and bad, have arisen out of the blue and captured widespread support: Hitler, Castro, Mandela, Martin Luther King. So chance, luck, or fortune, one way or the other, has played a role in their sudden rise. Meanwhile, a careful and well-prepared un-sexy plodder like Hillary Clinton falls by the wayside.

To be completely nitpicking, a small thing but emblematic of Trump’s carelessness, is even his neglect of his own appearance, notwithstanding his concern about his hair. His suits look bulky and ill-fitting and invariably his tie—often red—hangs well below his waist, the usual end point for men’s ties.

While those of us who don’t have catastrophic health costs might resent subsidizing those who do, who’s to say we might not have such costs in the future and also need that coverage? That’s the point of insurance, right? I’ve paid for house insurance for years, hoping never to need it. Of course, as we age, sooner or later, we will all probably need some medical treatment, though perhaps not any in a given year. (Only a sudden death, like getting killed in an accident or suffering a fatal heart attack or stroke without any prior symptoms will save us.)

Neither socialism nor an unfettered free market seems to provide most citizens of a nation with an optimal quality of life. Rather, the best system seems one combining a market economy, free press, and voting with high enough taxes to provide basic government services such as education, security, infrastructure, and health care. Good examples are the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands which manage to provide a good quality of life for nearly all citizens. Eliminating government and making it the boogey man doesn’t work so well. Allowing everyone unfettered individual freedom, as some libertarians (and many Republicans) seem to advocate, means we are free to be run over by an errant driver, free to be shot by someone with a random grudge, free to die because we cannot afford medical bills. Is that really freedom?  Meanwhile, although I am mentioning nation states here, I and many others think that national boundaries should be further softened; it’s happening anyway—contrary to Trump’s “America first” notion.  

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