Keep an Eye on the News, Summer 2018

The news is coming fast and furious right now, probably because of the coming midterms and there are so many interesting stories that I will not be able to write in depth about each one of them while they are still relevant. So here are a few things you might want to keep an eye on.

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Immigration:

We still have to watch what will happen to those children we have stolen, the ones we now don’t have enough information to give back to their parents. Will we find a way to reunite these families. These children have disappeared into the foster care system or into centers run by charitable organizations who have been taking care of immigrant children for some time now. There is also a private business called MVM which is being paid $750/day for each child in their program.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/intelligence-contractor-makes-millions-flying-immigrant-kids-to-shelters

https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2016/09/15/nearly-500-immigrant-children-call-fort-bliss-home-temporarily/

We also have to keep an eye on Congress in the matter of immigration. Trump is very angry at Democrats and is saying some pretty terrible things about them, such as calling them child traffickers because they will not vote for the hardline Goodlatte immigration bill favored by Trump and the extremists on the right-wing in the House – The Freedom Caucus. Goodlatte version 1 failed to pass the US House vote – today, 6/19/2018. Is there a bill that can pass and what will it mandate at our southern border?

http://thehill.com/homenews/house/393460-hardline-immigration-bill-fails-in-the-house/

Leaving Our Allies

leaving un human rights Getty images

Human Rights Council of UN – We left the Council.

“After more than a year of complaints and warnings — some subtle and others a little less so — the Trump administration has announced that the United States is withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced the decision in a joint statement Tuesday.”

“’I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from human rights commitments,” Haley told the media. “On the contrary, we take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.’”

https://www.npr.org/2018/06/19/621435225/u-s-announces-its-withdrawal-from-u-n-s-human-rights-council

Are you feeling the isolation yet?

China and Plastics

plastic waste big nyt.com

China will no longer collect the world’s plastics.

“An estimated 111 million metric tons of plastic waste will be displaced by 2030 as a result of China’s recent ban on the import of most plastic waste, according to new research.”

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/06/21/china-ban-plastic-waste-recycling/721879002/

Climate Change and Immigration:

draught in Honduras, etc big

Apparently climate change is making matters worse in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, which may be a partial explanation for the tensions and gang activities in those nations and in the number of immigrants we are seeing. The Northern Triangle, the dry corridor, consisting of these three nations, has been experiencing long draughts and then long periods of torrential rains which has caused crops to fail and raised prices on food and made choices scarcer.

“One factor causing migrants to risk everything—even potentially losing their children—to travel through the heat of summer in the dangerous desert and towards the barbed wire fences and tent cities springing up just south of the United States border: climate change.

Many of the migrants being detained here now hail from what’s referred variously as the Dry Corridor or the Northern Triangle, which consists of the three countries immediately south of Mexico: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.”

https://www.thedailybeast.com/climate-change-sparked-the-border-migration-crisis

Reorganizing Government

Mick Mulvaney nyt big

There is plan afoot to combine some government departments to help make government smaller, supposedly. Mick Mulvaney would like to combine the Departments of Education and Labor. (Do we see how this might lead to an emphasis on vocational training, over a more college bound approach to education, in order to remake the goals students will tend to pursue after leaving high school.) This reorganization includes changes in our social safety net. Read all about it.

http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/393479-white-house-releases-sweeping-proposal-to-reorganize-government/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/congress/white-house-to-propose-merging-education-labor/2018/06/21/8f5e8e54-7561-11e8-bda1-18e53a448a14_story.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/20/us/politics/trump-welfare-department-reorganization.html

Will An Authoritarian Leader Be Unseated

Muharrem Ince big Turkey

Erdogan is the leader of Turkey and, if you have been paying attention, he has grown more and more authoritarian in his approach to governing Turkey. There was a coup, which many think Erdogan may have engineered. When Erdogan ended the coup he got to do some pretty brutal purging.

On June 24ththere is an election in Turkey. Mr. Ince is running against Erdogan and he is attracting crowds, surprisingly. The world is kind of waiting with some hope that Ince can unseat Erdogan on June 24th. That’s pretty close to now. Keep an ear bent.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/19/opinion/ince-erdogan-turkey-election.html

 

Separating Children from Parents: Small Crime, Big Punishment

separation big NDTV.com

So one week ago our biggest problem here in the heart of America centered around Trump’s treatment of allies and dictators. Now all holy hell has broken loose and we are an angry and grieving nation, sent into chaos by an old man with too much power surrounded by too many sycophants, an old man who wants his way at all cost. He may be our president but he also is a paranoid old coot. He thinks he is being cheated all the time. He thinks the families at the border are pretending to be families and that they are actually gang members coming to wreak havoc in Trump’s America so he is separating families. (He hugged a flag – apparently he has hugged multiple flags.) (I love America but I don’t go around hugging flags. America’s people should be the true recipient of our President’s love.)

Trump does not actually tempt families to break the law at the border. But the lines at the border are long and the lines that go through customs do not represent a way in, because people are being turned away. So people decide to jump the line, to come in where there is no customs presence. Usually I find line jumpers maddening but in this case this behavior could be seen as “thinking outside the box”. These people paid money to travel, they may have been traveling uncomfortably for weeks. They find themselves, at the end of their journey, sitting under a brutal sun, with no shade available, no food, no facilities, waiting for a chance to get in a line to enter the “promised land”. We can attest to their good intentions because after their illegal crossing they turn themselves in to border guards.

But once they leave that legal line and find an unauthorized place to cross the border they have come to a crucial moment that leads to repercussions that they have never dreamt of. As soon as they do this Trump knows that they can be charged with a misdemeanor and arrested. Since they have been charged with a crime, however small, they have insured that the system will now treat them without mercy. Now they will not go to court to argue for asylum; they will now go to court to decide if they are guilty of a crime, and since they clearly are, they will be deported. Since they have been arrested they can and will, under Trump’s zero tolerance policy, be separated from any children who came with them.

What happens to the parents is bad and seems all out of proportion to their “crime”. What happens to the children is even worse. They lose their parent/s and they may never be reunited with their family again. There is no plan for how these families, once separated, will ever be able to locate each other again. No useful records are being kept at the border. All is chaos. Shelters are hurriedly located and stocked. Meanwhile children are held in cages with no adults to comfort them and no activities to occupy them. They loll on mats on the floor in freezing cold warehouses until they can be moved to a new warehouse, but one that at least has beds. Some children are kept this way for days before they can be placed. Children cannot understand their changed circumstances. What are they thinking in their small heads? What will they remember about this as they grow up? Parents who would die for their children are dumbfounded by this. They have no way to help their child. They are left with either deep and abiding sadness, or anger, and a determination to fight a huge and impenetrable bureaucracy to have their child returned to them.

This old misguided fool of ours has gone over the line – he has turned humane America into something monstrous, something cold and inhuman. America wants to wall them out. America thinks they are animals. America is what its leaders say it is. That is the face we present to the world. Our President is acting as if America is being overrun with cockroaches and he has to physically brush them off, push them back through the open door and then slam and lock it. If they were cockroaches this would not work. They are not bugs, they are people, and it still will not work.

Actions have consequences, the world will soon give up on America, accept that the America they knew, such a short time ago, is gone. We will get the isolation we’re asking for but it will feel more like shunning. Trump’s cruelty to families from our neighbors in South America will affect how these people feel about America for generations.

It is no consolation that this all proves that Trump’s “overkill” immigration plan has no merit. Trump is the one who needs to be convinced and he is, according to himself, never wrong. He fears that if he is not adamant about “the wall” he will lose all credibility. He can hug our flag all he wants but he is breaking hearts all over America.

There are now four centers to hold babies, “tender age” children, who have been separated from their parents. These parents, we are told, may never be reunited with their children again. Why are we just going ballistic now when this has been the policy for more than a month? Because last week this reached critical mass. And because now we are also told that there was no plan for reuniting these separated families at some point in the future. There is no system to keep track of each child and to be aware of where each child ends up. Once a parent is deported and their child remains in America being reunited is an extremely remote possibility.

We cannot have a nation unless we have borders is what we are always told. That’s true by definition I guess. But we can have porous borders, or strict borders, or closed borders, our choice. We can issue temporary visas for anyone who enters. We could require passports to enter. We certainly need to have much clearer laws about asylum. We could have a border at Mexico like the border we have with Canada. We could have the same laws at both borders. If you build a wall people will try to get over the wall. Then we will have to decide whether we will shoot them or not.

If we let people come and go with minimal documents we do run the risk that everyone will want to come and few will want to go. Not all South American nations are as peaceful and well-regulated as Canada is and people will bring their issues with them. But they can also be sent back across the border. That certainly would not be any more expensive than housing children with all the proper attendant services.

There is not any perfect solution to our border with Mexico if we open America up to all South Americans and any other person who comes in through South American. We have not created a foolproof system for tracing long-term guests when they enter our country and getting rid of them when they commit mayhem. We probably cannot create a foolproof system unless we can keep track of both citizens and noncitizens. Do citizens lose too much freedom in such a system? Is watching children being torn from their parents and sent into exile in a strange land better? Wouldn’t it be easier to give up another piece of our rather illusive freedom rather than to turn children with parents into parentless clients of our social services system. Wouldn’t it be easier than building a tall and useless wall along our southern border? There is unlikely to be a consensus on either plan. Whatever we do, we need to stop doing this.

(There was a screen shot on Facebook yesterday of a conversation between some Americans. This scum, motivated by a President who encourages hate, suggested that these children could be kept as an organ donor bank for real Americans. It was taken down later in the day. This is shameful behavior. Sick.)

Photo Credit: NDTV.com

This is a view from the cheap seats.

Authoritarian League: Baby Boomers

Dumbledores against trump big Grist.com

Those of us who were born just after WWII and who went to college in the Baby Boom generation were trained by the fiction and even the nonfiction of those times to constantly be on guard against all of the trends that gave rise to Hitler in Germany. We were trained to be a sort of informal Authoritarian League. People were traumatized by the evidence of Hitler which suggested that our minds are not as strong as we believe them to be. We examined in depth why the Germans let this mad man take over their bodies and their minds so completely that they led 6 millions other human beings to their death, or to torture so extreme and alien that the emaciated remnants of the concentration camps could barely walk out at the end of the war. How did something as abstract as nationalism and pride of nation lead to horror? How did ordinary German citizens, not necessarily Nazis, let this happen?

We heard the speeches Hitler made, the rousing appeals to Germanic hegemony and the injustice of the current treatment of the German people. We saw the sway he held over his audiences, the thrill people felt at being part of those patriotic crowds. Yes, Germany would take its proper place among the pantheon of nations. It was the Jews and others who were usurping the wealth that properly belonged to the German people. Antisemitism was forged into a weapon to unleash the beast which I guess lies drowsing in all of us.

We swore that we would learn how Hitler hypnotized his followers and we would teach people how to never be susceptible to these techniques again. And so in our colleges and lecture halls our professors assigned books, not texts, but paperbacks that exposed the tools of authoritarians. These professors did not necessarily have a conscious plan; they were also reacting to what we learned about the depths of possible human behavior in that war. They taught us not to be sheep. They taught us to recognize propaganda. They taught us the hubris of extreme nationalism. They tried to teach us to have strong minds and to resist regimentation. They taught us so well that they led us right into the cultural revolution of the sixties. But wasn’t that whole exercise in humanism, that celebration of freedom and equality, just a backlash reaction to all of the things that allowed the rise of Hitler in Germany.

I cannot think of a book which was more seminal in teaching us what to look out for than 1984 by George Orwell, except, perhaps Animal Farm  on a more rudimentary level, also by George Orwell. In 1984  we are led into the authoritarian government of Oceania (Great Britain). Oceania is ruled by the “Party” which is led by “Big Brother.” People are controlled through their televisions screens which operate like one-way mirrors. The government can see what you are doing. There is no privacy. The television must be kept on. Citizens are subject to “doublespeak” constantly as all media is state media. Citizens can be convicted of a “thoughtcrime”, as in the government knows what you are thinking. Even language is controlled and people speak in “Newspeak”. This began a long trend in literature of dystopian science fiction, and even downright silly fiction to anaesthetize us to “others”, to find humor in space, so to speak (Vonnegut, Star Wars). Many people mention The Manchurian Candidate  as an important influence in their thinking about Communism and, therefore, authoritarianism. Even the superhero comics, experiencing such an enormous renaissance in the 21stcentury were analogies about criminals, fascists, and dictators of all stripes.

It is clear that not all of us were influenced by antitotalitarian literature or nonfiction. Boomers who did not go to college were not necessarily taught to think so critically about these matters. The Conservatives had their own favorite books, although not all of the right wingers so affected were baby boomers. Paul Ryan is certainly not a boomer. He decided to throw his lot in with Ayn Rand and his passion for the author and her books has led others in the GOP to read and adopt ideas from this elitist; ideas that are driving Republican policy and putting the right at loggerheads with those on the left who were trained to seek out exactly these tendencies, and trained intensively through their most impressionable years. It offers insight into why Conservatives are on a tear against higher education and critical thinking and even political correctness.

We humans may not know exactly what we want but we have been educated for this moment. We know what we don’t want. When our president says, “When Kim Jong Un speaks and his people sit up in attention; I want my people to do the same,” we are preprogrammed to think OMG. We are preprogrammed to remember that every act by the “dear leader” is intended to make his people afraid to step out of line, and that the lines they must stay within are very narrow indeed. Stepping over the line does not just lead to a slap on the wrist; it leads to prison camp and hard labor for you, and possible starvation or imprisonment for your family. People have been taught to color within these lines (only crayon gray) for three generations. Trump seems to give no weight at all to the human toll that absolute obedience has taken on the North Korean people. While it is true that it is easier to govern when you don’t have to consult anyone but yourself, and when all tendencies to individual action have been oppressed in your people, this is not a place that any of we the people should want to go.

What we did not learn in our schools or our reading is what tactics would work to fight off the next strong man who decided to try for totalitarian rule. We did not meet on the quad for swordfights. We did not learn to handle weaponry. We did not form any secret militias that would automatically be empowered should someone try to destroy our autonomy, our democracy, and our freedoms. We did not learn how to act tough. We did not think it could really happen.

Our antiwar activities taught us to resist and this knowledge is now being passed down to a new generation; the children of the boomers. But we did not steel ourselves to do anything beyond resistance. We did not study or learn to recognize when the threat level was getting too high for resistance to be successful. We did not learn how to live as long-term resisters. We keep wanting to go home to our jobs and our homes and our families. We want it to have the ambience of a hippie picnic/concert. This is not the sixties. The foes we face are citizens like us and they look like they would not avoid brutality should we defy them.

We do still have some faith in the power of the vote. We can vote. We must vote. We have been trained, and rightly so, to stop authoritarian tendencies when we are confronted with them, before they take hold of us so strongly that all of the will to resist is gone. 2018 will be a test. It will tell us if the vote still has any power to turn things around without having to turn ourselves into Dumbledore’s army.

Here are three more voices of Americans who are worried about where we are headed:

https://www.thedailybeast.com/donald-trump-the-insecure-pledge-in-the-dictatorship-fraternity

https://www.salon.com/2018/06/15/how-trump-does-regime-change-at-home_partner/

https://www.thedailybeast.com/former-cia-chief-compares-trumps-border-policies-to-nazi-germany

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search, Grist.com

Path to Dictatorship: Things That Have Happened, Things That Haven’t

Trump-Dictator-big global research

Are we on a path to dictatorship? Things that have happened that make us worry about the state of our democracy.

Media/Facts v Lies

The campaign by our president to confuse fact and lies is similar to the ways all  leaders in a dictatorshipweaken the media.

The campaign to denigrate journalists.

There is a campaign to choke media outlets with right-wing news – by buying out local news channels and pushing right-wing messaging –  which enhances all the other propaganda outlets that already present viewpoints and brain manipulating materials that once came from the right, but now come from the right on behalf of the president. (For example: Sinclair Broadcasting provides local backup for the international Fox News – which is not news.)

Immigration

Our president is rounding up immigrants more aggressively than we have seen in our lifetimes and is separating children from parents.

He has harangued his faithful followers to stoke hate for people who do not conform to their image of a “real” American.

Even citizens who were naturalized are being deported.

Workers who come into the country to help farmers with time sensitive tasks like planting and harvesting are not as available as they once were.

Praise for Dictators

Our president admires dictators.

A dictator like Kim Jung Un who put his people in prison camps doing hard labor if they try to listen to an unapproved radio station or sell something on the black market to feed their family. Our leader thinks that it is amazing that Kim held on to power in N. Korea when he was so young, but it really only shows how well his father and grandfather prepared the ground for him and how well he learned his lessons. He learned to kill to stay in power. Kim Jung Un may be young but he knows how to use fear to stay in power. Why is this admirable?

Our president likes the Duterte solution for drug users, just shoot them.

He likes that Xi in China is now dictator for life, sees that as a strong move, when it is actually backed up by the threat of the loss of freedom (imprisonment) if permission is not given.

He insists that Putin should be readmitted to the G7 to make it once again the G8, despite the obvious aggressive moves Putin makes against Europe, his interference in US and other elections, his backing of the Assad beast in Syria.

He insults our allies.

We worry that he will adopt more of the strongarm methods used by the strong men he admires.

Lying to America

He lies to the American people. He lies with a smile on his face. We can’t always tell whether he is lying or not and that is exactly how he wants us to feel. Confusion is his friend.

Changes Role of America in the World

He does not react to crises around the world caused by extreme weather, geologic events, or wars by offering American aid to those who suffer.

He has no humanitarian urges.

It is all about America’s bottom line.

Even in the case of Puerto Rico, practically an American state, his reactions were cold and accusative.

He does not admire people who live in a weak economy. As a white supremacist he feels no compunction to assist people with darker skin or who practice a religion other than Christianity.

This all represents a change in how America interacts with the world. This takes away a source of succor for people who are less fortunate.

Isolationist Stances

This isolates America.

We recall our isolationist position before World War II which may have emboldened Hitler and assisted his rise.

We have been anything but isolationist since World War II, in fact we have been so interactive we have been accused of meddling.

There is no World Council of Dictators, so admiring these supposedly strong men is just another isolating factor.

He rules alone, by decree

He circumvents any part of our Constitutional government that he can find a way to circumvent.

He surrounds himself with sycophants.

He requires loyalty oaths from his aides and advisors.

He operates on his own, leaving Congress swinging in the wind, a broken limb of a once-rule-based standard for making laws.

He turned a House investigative committee into a farce.

He defies all checks or balances.

He demands that Congress do his bidding.

Stuffing the Courts

Dictators often change the composition of the courts as one of their first concerns.

Republicans were already trying to ensure that our Supreme Court and our Federal courts were stuffed with Conservatives. They would not even consider letting Obama chose a new judge to fill Judge Alito’s seat. That allowed Trump to fill that seat with a rather moderate Conservative. If another seat opens up it will most likely be filled with a Trump loyalist.

Our president has Congress at work stuffing the federal courts with Trump loyalists, often without any experience in the law.

Fixing Elections

Between claiming loudly and often that others are fixing elections it is easy to imagine that Trump has people who are busily fixing elections. He often accuses the Democrats of doing what he or the Republicans are actually doing. The Republicans also used this tactic before Trump was elected.

We are not sure, but we suspect that the Russians may be able to fix our elections and that they have already done so. While we wait for the report from the Mueller investigation, Trump threatens loudly and often (he likes this strategy) to end it.

Trump has made us question the value of our own founding documents which seem to have no teeth to defend our republic against a tyrant.

He boasts that he can pardon himself. He reminds us that a sitting president cannot be indicted. He tells us often that he can end the Mueller investigation if he wants to. Experts think that he can do all of these things.

Again, he loved it when Xi in China was declared president for life, as if his people had any choice in the matter.

Insults as Weapons

We now see insults used as weaponry to rob those who disagree with our leader of credibility.

We see how crass this is and we see how well it works. Apparently insults repeated loudly and often (again) work very well with his loyal followers who have meager knowledge of the character of those that are being insulted.

It is just a spectacle, as if these people are in the stands at the Coliseum in Rome watching a slave fight a lion while they cheer.

There is fascism afoot in these verbal attacks, thuggery, brutalism, especially when it comes from a man who is contending that he, as president, has unlimited powers.

The Economy

We suspect that the Tax Plan passed by the 115thCongress will eventually have negative effects on our economy but we have no proof for skeptical people because it was planned to postpone those negative effects until it can be claimed that other factors caused the economic fallout.

Our leader can lay claim in the present to an economy that is sort of thriving, although not for everyone and not to the standards of our boom economies.

Dictators often have less trouble dictating in strong economies. But they also often rip off the government and the nation to line their own pockets, which eventually ruins the once-healthy economics.

Ignoring the Emoluments Clause and Interdictions against Nepotism

Trump has been enriching himself and his family right before our eyes by acting as if any previous leaders who put their businesses in trusts and kept from favoring family members were wienies.

He continues to use his hotels and golf courses for personal gain even though he signed an agreement in the case of the hotel in DC that prohibited him from doing just that.

He won’t show us his taxes.

In a financial disclosure this week Ivanka and Jared admitted to profits of $147 million dollars during their tenure in the White House.

Once again Trump proves that our laws have no teeth and our documents cannot really rein in a president.

Destroying Faith in US Intelligence Apparatus

Questioning the Neutrality of the FBI

Firing Comey and McCabe from their positions at the FBI.

Making people believe that the FBI is biased.

Trying to test the loyalty of our intelligence agencies to the president.

Trying to turn intelligence agencies from being loyal to the country and the Constitution; to make them the president’s personal spies.

He asked every state to turn in every voter record to the federal government. Fortunately they refused to comply. This info could still be in the process of being collected in secret. We don’t know.

Destroying Faith in Social Media

The exposure of the Russian use of social media to skew the 2016 election has rocked the faith of the nation. We cannot trust that social media is actually a good source of news information or even of American cultural memes.

The Russia “Covfefe”

Representative Eric Swalwell said on MSNBC “Every time you shake a tree in this Trump forest, a Russian falls out.”

Just a coincidence?

Why, when you know everyone thinks you might have accepted help from our enemy to win the election, would you continue to praise the authoritarian leader of that nation so often and so loudly (a rather repetitive tactic) (annoying isn’t it).

Didn’t he ever hear what Shakespeare had one of his characters say, “Methinks [he] doth protest too much,” when he repeats the phrase “no collusion” over and over again.

(The odd thing is that when you think you have made a very comprehensive list of the danger signs we see daily in this Trump version of the United States, as soon as you wrap it up you begin to see all the symptoms you missed.)

King Trump bigCapital Hill Blue

There are some things that happen in a dictatorship that haven’t happened here yet.

Things we should watch for.

So far no one in the media has had their life threatened or been arrested and jailed.

The immigration tactics we see are bad, but so far only a difference of degrees from past administrations, except for the separating of mothers from their children. No mass roundups, no using fear to get people to tell on their neighbors, no railroad cars full of deportees headed for Mexico whether they came from Mexico or not. (Where else could we send them?)

So far citizens can still speak up to criticize our government and our president when they think it is appropriate. Our current president has such loyal followers that they fight back for him.

Demonstrators are not being jailed or beaten by policemen or sent home or to prison at the point of a gun.

Our Congress hasn’t been disbanded, just annexed.

We almost still believe we can hold a fair election in 2018.

Some of the people still have faith in the president’s ability to boost the economy.

We haven’t lost our health care yet.

We haven’t lost our social security yet.

We haven’t lost the safety net programs yet, although they have been cut.

Our schools still function.

We do not have to teach our children secretly at home.

Although the president does not shut down his private businesses or keep his children from profiting from proximity to power, he does not seem to have stolen outright from our tax dollars, except to try to bribe businesses to come back to America so he can get credit for that with that outrageous tax plan that gave money to all the people who already had too much money and none of the people who had too little money.

Although the president stokes our fear of attack by gangs and terrorists and lone wolves, he does not seem to stage attacks to keep our fears at their peak.

I think we will all know if we are in imminent danger of becoming the next dictatorship if it takes any of the forms we already recognize, but I also think we could slow-walk our way to a society that appears to resemble the America our founders designed, but is, in actuality not a free and democratic society at all. For some we are already there. Some don’t see the danger at all. For most of us we wait breathlessly to see if we will need to act and when.

This is a view from the cheap seats. Here was a meme that generated lots of discussion on Facebook this week:

Why aren't we marching in the streets - Kenny DeLong on Facebook

Graphic from the Other 98%

 

Losses, Memories, Joys, Tears and a Japanese Maple

IMG_20180610_162932

I introduced my mom, Velma Augusta Hatch Brisson to my readers in July because we were getting ready to help her celebrate her 100thbirthday. She was born in 1917. This kind of milestone is not considered as great a thing as it used to be since many people live beyond the age of 100 these days, but it is not really a contest or an accomplishment. It is just a fact.

We were a lucky family. Who gets to enjoy their mom’s company well into their own senior years? It has its down sides because mom needed more care and she was still bossy. She would still look over your outfit and say, “are you wearing that?” But we were not orphans like most of our friends. Now we are. In November of 2017 mom died and it has now been six months since she passed. We, her children, have spent the last six months getting the family home ready to sell. It is a poignant labor of love to sift through all the memories collected in each possession, each room, each corner of the yard that surrounds the house.

Yesterday I sat out on mom’s back deck for lunch with two of my sisters, perhaps the last time we will meet, as we did so many times, on that back deck. You can almost see the family coming and going as we sit around that patio table. Sometimes, in the pictures in my mind, the family members who live in Florida come by and the level of talk gets loud and tangled with lots of individual conversations ebbing and flowing throughout a sunny afternoon. Sometimes the great grandchildren are there, visiting, playing on the back lawn, hauling out all the toys and games stored in the shed. Sometimes it is just the few sisters who live near mom, and mom, hanging out on a rare warm, dry day.

For me the years passed before me as I sat looking at the lovely Japanese maple tree that we all bought for mom. It will now belong to some other family, or perhaps, because the house is old and in bad condition, it will all belong to some flipper, who might even rip out that tree. You can’t have something and not have it. Does that fit the Schrödinger conundrum? I don’t know. You can’t have the tree and not have the tree. But you can have the memories. You can have the firefly evenings, the homework around the dining table, the brother shimmying down his sheets from the upstairs bedroom window only to be faced with a table full of his family (and dad) sitting down to dinner. You can have the ice skating rink in the backyard, and the ball games and the games of Tag and Red Rover. You can have the memory of mom having to stuff a crying child on to a school bus, and mom putting together a countertop full of sandwiches for all our school lunches (8 of us).

You can have all the day old bread, and the trips to the dairy to buy milk, all the tar-heeled walks to church in our high heels to sing in the choir or meet with the Youth fellowship. All the shopping trips with dad to the Midstate, the movies for 50 cents at the Hollywood Theater. Elvis had us dancing in the aisles. All the school days and instruments rented and discarded and all the books read. (People gave us boxes and boxes of books.) All the second-hand boxes of clothes we sorted through to find outfits that were suitably stylish. It all seems so wonderful now. But our feelings at the time were all over the place.

You can keep all the Christmases and the Easters, even the one when everyone had measles (awful). You can have all the graduations, the birthday cakes, the smiles, the songs, the friends, the broken hearts, the tears, the grief (my sister was killed in car accident at 29),the joy, the weddings, the babies, the toddlers, the tweens and the teens. You can keep them all because they are imbedded in your mind.

So why is it so hard to let go of that well-used house. I don’t want to buy it. It needs too many repairs. But I think the grief over the house gets magnified by the loss of our mom and the end of it all, the end of our childhood, even though we are ridiculously old. Our lives have lost their center.

These memories barely scratch the surface of a life lived in a simpler era which is probably gone forever. So I’ll throw that loss on the pile and mourn it too, because while it was happening I did not realize that these things would not be the memories of everyone. Now that I know the ravages of human hate, now that I know how poor we were and why that poverty has been difficult to leave behind, even knowing all I know, I still treasure those memories from our days of innocence and ignorance. I still am grateful for  how earnest my parents were, and how everyone around us pitched in to lift us up. I am sad right now, but we have all been there, all felt the sadness of loss. My mom’s life was a life well lived. Mom, you are missed.

Know Your Dictators 4

Freedom House 2018 big

I have been writing about dictators recently but I want to take some time out for an overview. In fact two of the nations that I looked into are not yet classified as dictatorships. They still hold marginally valid elections and maintain some order according to their founding documents. They still perceive themselves as free nations, but the world is beginning to see them as less free than they have been in the past. Poland and Hungary are making moves towards authoritarianism. There are a number of online articles on this topic. I summarized a few of them in my series called Know Your Dictators. It is fairly easy to judge for yourself what could happen in these two nations if they continue in their current direction. Venezuela has been on the list of dictatorships for two years.

If you go to the site “planet rulers” you can get a true graphic picture of which nations are still classified as free and which as less than free. The data for this year claims that 49 nations are dictatorships. https://planetrulers.com/current-dictators/

“As of today, there are 49 dictatorships in the world (19 in Sub-Saharan Africa, 12 in the Middle East and North Africa, 8 in Asia-Pacific, 7 in Eurasia 2 in Americas and 1 in Europe). “

There are currently 195 nations in the world. Do the math. Although 75% of nations still meet the Freedom House criteria for being mostly free, that means that 25% of nations are run by dictators. Some countries may move towards freedom and come off the list. The list is not static. Notice that two nations have been added to bring the number to 51.

NOT FREE Countries In 2018:

  1. Afghanistan – Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, President of Afghanistan
  2. Algeria – Abdelaziz Bouteflika, President of Algeria 
  3. Angola – João Lourenço, President of Angola (since Sept 26, 2017; replaced Jose Eduardo dos Santos)
  4. Azerbaijan – Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan
  5. Bahrain – King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King of Bahrain
  6. Belarus – Aleksandr Lukashenko, President of Belarus
  7. Brunei – Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah
  8. Burundi – Pierre Nkurunziza, President of Burundi
  9. Cambodia – Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia
  10. Cameroon – Paul Biya, President of Cameroon 
  11. Central African Republic – Faustin Archange Touadera
  12. Chad – Idriss Deby, President of Chad
  13. China – Xi Jinping, President of China 
  14. Congo, Dem. Rep. of – Joseph Kabila, President of Congo
  15. Congo, Rep of (Brazzaville) – Denis Sassou Nguesso, President
  16. Cuba – Raul Castro, President of Cuba 
  17. Djibouti – Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, President of Djibouti
  18. Egypt – Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, President of Egypt 
  19. Equatorial Guinea – OBIANG NGUEMA MBASOGO, President
  20. Eritrea – Isaias Afwerki, President of Eritrea 
  21. Ethiopia – Girme Wolde Giorgis, President of Ethiopia
  22. Gabon – Albert-Bernard Bongo, President of Gabon
  23. Gambia – Adama Barrow, President of Gambia
  24. Iran – Hassan Rouhan, President of Iran 
  25. Iraq – Muhammad Fuad Masum, President of Iraq 
  26. Kazakhstan – Nursultan Nazarbaev, President of Kazakhstan
  27. Laos – Bounnhang Vorachith, President (elected on Apr 19, 2016)
  28. Libya – Nouri Abusahmain, President
  29. Mauritania – Mohamed Ould Abd Aziz, President of Mauritania
  30. North Korea – Kim Jong-un, President of North Korea 
  31. Oman – Qaboos bin Said Al-Said, Prime Minister of Oman 
  32. Qatar – Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani
  33. Russia – Vladimir Putin, President of Russia 
  34. Rwanda – Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda 
  35. Saudi Arabia – King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, King of Saudi Arabia 
  36. Somalia – Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, President of Somalia
  37. South Sudan – Salva Kiir Mayardit, President
  38. Sudan – Omar H.A. Al-Bashier, President of Sudan 
  39. Swaziland – Mswati III, King of Swaziland 
  40. Syria – Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria
  41. Tajikistan – Emomalii Rahmon, President of Tadjikistan
  42. Thailand – Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of Thailand
  43. Turkey – Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey – ADDED
  44. Turkmenistan – Gurbanguly BERDIMUHAMEDOW, President of Turkmenistan 
  45. United Arab Emirates – Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
  46. Uzbekistan – Shavkat Mirziyoyev, President of Uzbekistan 
  47. Venezuela – Nicolás Maduro, President of Venezuela
  48. Vietnam – Tran Dai Quang, President of Vietnam
  49. Western Sahara – Brahim Ghali, President of Western Sahara – ADDED
  50. Yemen – Ali Abdallah Salih, President of Yemen
  51. Zimbabwe – Robert (Gabriel) Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe

This data is collected by an NGO called Freedom House which is described in this way in Wikipedia:

Freedom House is a U.S.-based 501(c)(3) U.S. government-funded non-governmental organization (NGO) that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights. Freedom House was founded in October 1941, and Wendell Willkie and Eleanor Roosevelt served as its first honorary chairpersons.

Freedom House offers a more detailed look at freedom around the world in this graphic:

Freedom in the world Freedom HOuse

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2018

Expect to see me continue my researches into dictators, although with 49+ strong men around the planet my coverage will not try for any great depth. This is something that I want to keep an eye on because, at this moment, the trend towards authoritarianism is on the upswing; and because I am seeing signs that America, to my astonishment, is also making the kinds of moves that often foreshadow that one person may be insinuating his way into dominance, a dominance that could destroy democracy in our own nation.

You can also find my articles @Tremr.app

Know Your Dictators 3

Nicolas Maduro big Sky News

Venezuela

Nicolás Maduro

 

Hugo Chavez launched the “Bolivarian revolution” in 1998

The economy was good

High oil prices

There were social benefits for his constituents

He abused his electoral popularity

  1. Rewrote constitution in his favor
  2. Created paramilitary (“Bolivarian circles”)
  3. Stacked the courts with loyalists
  4. Stacked electoral council with loyalists
  5. Controlled state-owned oil firm
  6. Stifled free media
  7. Secured favorable loans from China
  8. New military equipment and energy deals from Russia

Chavez died  – March 2013 with an authoritarian model well in place.

Nicolás Maduro was his hand-picked successor and he won the election barely one month later.

He consolidated power.

He ran into trouble with

  1. Mounting foreign debt
  2. Failing oil productions
  3. Increased sanctions
  4. Diplomatically isolated
  5. Faced with spreading humanitarian crisis

How will he react to these threats: his tactics against his opponents will harden and there will be an intensified reliance on China and Russia.

What can anyone do about this?

“It’s tricky,” says Ted Piccone, senior fellow in foreign policy at Brookings Institution, who wrote this article.

“Venezuela’s latest electoral affair only worsened the country’s slide from a relatively stable middle-income democracy to a socialist authoritarian system stricken with hyperinflation, rising poverty, declining oil production and record levels of violent crime.”

Venezuela’s path to despotism and despair went something like this:

  1. Increasing executive control of the country’s democratic institutions
  2. Gross mismanagement of the oil-dominated economy
  3. Worsening conditions of the 30 million citizens
  4. Hundreds of thousands have left the country
  5. Food and medicine shortages
  6. Lack of decent jobs
  7. Terrible crime and political repression

Economic decline was directly proportional to increased authoritarianism

Washington can’t help because Trump favors military interventions, but after decades of regime change that won’t work.

Mr, Piccone suggests:

Expanding the list of targeted economic sanctions.

Try to force Maduro to come to the negotiating table

Mediation with Venezuela’s moderates assisted by the UN

Deliver humanitarian assistance to malnourished and sick

Provide economic incentives if Maduro is gone

https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2018/05/22/613116319/what-the-world-needs-to-do-after-venezuelas-vote

Nicolas Maduro.flag big Venezuela Analysis

Writing in The Guardian, Reynaldo Trombetta, a Venezuelan journalist says,

“It has never been clearer that Nicolás Maduro…is a dictator.”

“We are not dealing with an authoritarian government that, like Chavez’s, still managed to loosely colour between the lines of democracy and the rule of law. This is a textbook dictatorship, with assassinations, torture, and sexual abuse of political prisoners, violent censorship of the press, and a sociopathic strategy to use the hunger of its own citizens as a tool for political control. So, in the face of all this, what can we do to help restore democracy in Venezuela?”

His suggestions:

Give up on the idea of a popular uprising or a coup

Embrace the opposition

Avoid unilateral actions

Strengthen the ‘smart sanctions’ regime

Support international justice

Engage with China, Russia and Iran (oh, easy peasy?)

Use all this pressure to make free and fair elections possible

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/23/venezuela-dictator-democracy-nicolas-maduro-venezuelans

 

Cuba and Venezuela have developed some close ties but neither can help the other’s economy right now.

More sources:

https://www.thedailybeast.com/rumors-of-war-with-the-us-run-rampant-in-venezuela

https://nyti.ms/2Lk0WfI

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/02/opinion/cuba-venezuela-socialism.html

Photo credits: From a Google Image Search, first photo news.sky.com, second photo, Venezuela Analysis

You can also find my articles @Tremr.app