Using women’s instinct to protect African wildlife

Once you have seen animals in the wild, protecting them can become an obsession, as it did for Damien Mander, who came to talk and show photographs Oct. 29, 2019 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. It was the first event we have signed up for called “National Geographic Live.” I found out that I have fallen out of practice taking notes in the dark. So here’s from memory and the brochure handed out in the entry hall.

Damien

It seems that Mander is obsessed with more than saving wild animals. In fact, it looks as if he goes into all stages of his life in an obsessive fashion, out to do it all well, energetically and to the nth degree. Born in Australia, he was obsessed with water, could not stay out of the sea. He became a “clearance diver” in the Australian Navy.

Then on to Special Forces as a sniper and then a trainer in the Iraq War. He served three years there before abandoning it.

“The second mistake we made there, besides getting into it, was disbanding the Iraqi army,” Mander said. That took the jobs away from not just the soldiers, but also the income to the extended families depending on those jobs, alienating millions who probably were not sorry to see Saddam Hussein go and might have signed on to rebuild the nation.

Mander bounced around South America — photos of what looked like a good time in bars, but maybe not, as he also mentioned the statistics on Iraq War veterans’ suicides. Then to Africa where he was introduced to nature and had an epiphany — my word — when looking into the eyes of a buffalo that had ripped itself apart in a trap set by poachers. As his companion shot that animal, putting it out of its misery, Mander had found his next obsession.

In 2009, he founded the International Anti Poaching Foundation to preserve an ecosystem by “training and equipping rangers to fight the poaching crisis in Africa.” Given that a pound of ivory from an elephant’s tusk is worth $35,000 in Vietnam, it is no wonder that people in Zimbabwe, where 72 percent of the population is below the poverty line, would be attracted to poaching. So arresting poachers was taking the income from many families there, causing conflicts with local communities.

In 2017, the IAPF started “Akashinga,” which means Brave Ones in the Shona language. The idea was to empower “disadvantaged women to restore and manage a network of wilderness areas as an alternative economic model to trophy hunting” and poaching. As the brochure says:

“The women of Akashinga have built strong relationships with the locals, de-escalated conflict and invested into their communities. The community response to this was to work with us in conservation, rather than against us.”

Akashinga

A squad leader, Vimbai Kumire, who barely reaches up to the chest of Mander, also addressed us at Benaroya. Despite her diminutive size, she showed that passion could be more powerful than bullets. She told of the importance of animals to their culture and country and explained that it was not only an honor to protect them but was also providing income for her family and dignity for herself.

Many of the arrests made — “without firing a single shot” — are related to organized crime and the use of poisons.

“Syndicates have been broken open and we have been advised of an 80% reduction in elephant poaching across the region since 2016,” the brochure says.

The organization now has the responsibility for protecting wildlife in more than one million acres. The most asked question, Mander says, by those arrested is not “Why am I being arrested?” but “Why am I being arrested by a woman?”

“For so long, our vision has been clouded by ego from seeing the most powerful force in nature — a woman’s instinct to protect.”

It may take all of that and more to protect the wildlife in Africa. With more than two billion people living on that continent by 2040, the loss of wildlife habitat will continue to grow. According to an article in the Oct. 10, 2019  edition of The Times of London (picked up in Amsterdam on our way home from Africa), many countries have lost their rhinoceros populations because of habitat loss: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad.

Because of poaching, the rhino population in Botswana could be wiped out in two years, the article said. Rhino horns fetch $50,000 per kilogram in Asia, where they are used in traditional therapies. Botswana has fewer than 400 rhinos and has lost one a month in 2019, a rate that is still increasing. Conservationists blame part of that on President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who has disarmed the anti-poaching unit. His predecessor, Ian Khama, had an “unofficial shoot-to-kill” policy.

PlaqueThe rhinos we saw in Kenya were kept under armed guard. Not chained up or penned, but accompanied by the guards. Theirs is a dangerous way to make a living. A plaque on the overlook into the Ngorongoro Crater listed conservationists who have lost their lives, including six killed by poachers or bandits.

“In truth, there are really only a few things that matter: character and spirit,” Mander writes in the brochure. “If you don’t have those things, you don’t have a chance. CV’s, references, qualifications and fitness levels mean nothing here. We don’t want perfect. We want scrappers. someone that knows what it’s like to have to fight for survival. The rest will be learned.”

 

 

Uncomfortable, grateful or perplexed about U.S. secret war?

Turse

Is knowing that the U.S. military is fighting a war in Africa, unknown to most Americans, enough to make you uncomfortable, grateful or perplexed?

Kathy fell into the latter camp after hearing Nick Turse speak at the University of Washington graduate school on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Turse is an investigative journalist who has written or contributed to seven books. He is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com, a contributing writer at The Intercept and the co-founder of Dispatch Books. He has a Ph.D in Sociomedical Sciences from Columbia University.

He told the filled Kane Hall auditorium about the 36 operations directed by AFRICOM, which runs the U.S. military in that part of the world. More operations there than anywhere else in the world, he said. More troops in the Mideast, but more operations going on in Africa.

He told us much more, but Kathy came away from the talk unsatisfied. What’s it all mean? How am I supposed to take the information he gave us? A good thing for America, keeping Russia, China and fundamental Islamic terrorists from taking over there? Or the beginning of another endless war with little in it for the United States except for loss of treasure and lives?

In the editing world, we used to call that putting the bow on the story, wrapping it up with facts and what they might lead to. Or, another editor might say, give the readers the facts and let them decide what they think it means.

Here are some of the facts Turse gave us: Mostly AFRICOM will say they are there for humanitarian reasons and are training troops for some nations. However, the battle that brought Americans’ attention to Africa was a counterinsurgency operation in Niger in October 2017. Four U.S. soldiers were killed when Islamic militants attacked their convoy. The Islamic State (ISIS) leader who instigated the Niger attack, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, is still at large despite a $5 million reward.

Turse said that there are many more military missions than humanitarian ones. Several are against the Boko Haram, a terrorist group that wants to establish an Islamic state that will practice Sharia law. Some support French troops in Africa. One is a Naval surveillance operation to support drone strikes.

Another reason for African missions is to set up other places to launch drones, including an air base in Niger. So far in 2019, Turse reported, there have been 55 drone strikes in Somalia alone, mostly against al-Shabaab, a jihadist group aligned with al Qaeda and possibly Boko Haram. AFRICOM’s claims of few civilian deaths “fly in the face” of human-rights organizations, local reports and foreign journalists, says Turse.

Most of these operations are carried out by U.S. Special Forces, Navy SEALs and other commandos. And that, says Turse, should be no surprise, according to retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, who served as commander of Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA) from April 2015 to June 2017. Bolduc, who is running for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire, says the U.S. military has operations in more than 30 African countries.

Turse says the number of active militant Islamic terrorist groups has doubled in Africa since 2010 and violent events across the continent have gone from just under 300 a decade ago to more than 2,000 now. But the U.S. operations and the reaction to them might not be the cause — or the only cause — of the increase in violence. In countries where more than half the population is under 30, the big question is: Will there be jobs for these young people, especially men? If no jobs, more instability, more attraction to radical groups. Turse cites “back channel” communications between AFRICOM and Congress mentioning climate change, which could lead to “resource wars” over water, food and other materials.

During the time left for audience questions, one man brought up another reason for the increase in violence and terrorist groups in Africa: ISIS and other terrorists are being driven out of the Mideast and heading to Africa. Turse cited one example of that with the “Libyan debacle.” It looked like an easy win for the U.S., but after Muammar Gaddafi was killed, his arms and supporters spread out across Africa.

Is this anything the United States wants to stick around for, or should Trump “bring our troops home,” as he likes to say?

The troops going home are “only those who have homes in western Iraq,” says Turse. Actually many of those troops Trump sent home from Syria will stay in Syria. The U.S. Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, announced Oct. 25, 2019, that troops — and mechanized equipment — would stay to secure the oil in Syria. And other troops were being assigned to Saudi Arabia at the same time Trump was announcing the withdrawal of troops from Syria.

The Pentagon may be “slow rolling” Trump on reducing forces overseas, as if they don’t want to do that. Maybe they don’t like abandoning allies like the Kurds. Or maybe they wanted to wait around long enough to complete their plans to assassinate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader in Syria, which happened over the weekend. Or maybe they realize that if Trump stops the United States’ “endless wars,” their jobs will end.

So there are the facts, says this editor, who will let you decide.

 

 

 

 

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Wish he had a chance to say more

Water 1Let’s start with the complaints and then get to the good stuff. Kathy and I arrived early — or so we thought — to get into Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates speak on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. But we spent the hour between 7 and 8 p.m. in a line that wound around the outside of the hall, waiting to go through security.

I can’t blame Coates for asking for the extra security. In “Between the World and Me,” a book Coates wrote as a letter to his son, he said: “And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction springs from a foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without the proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Turn into a dark stairwell and your body can be destroyed. The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.”Between world

There are American who don’t like to hear that. They are the ones who, as Coates says, have succumbed to the “apparatus urging us to accept American innocence at face value and not inquire too much. And it is so easy to look away, to live with the fruits of our history and to ignore the great evil done in all of our names.”

Death threats against journalists are not uncommon, especially for columnists, especially for those of color who write about the “great evil done in all of our names.”

But I wish Benaroya Hall and Seattle Arts and Lectures would have planned better for getting us in out of the rain. There are five interior entries into Benaroya Hall, and the security points were set up there, wanding each member of the audience as they entered and checking through what they had emptied from their pockets and handbags. The staffers could have moved checkpoints to the row of exterior doors across the front of the building. It would have pushed the crowd out into the weather, but we were there anyway.

Coates 2The event was supposed to start at 7:30; we weren’t led to separate seats until 8 o’clock (only singles remained). Things finally got started at 8:15 but were halted 15 minutes later to take the buzz out of the microphones. By 9:20, it was over.

They are also trying out a new technology to display on your cell phone captions on what is being said. Great idea for someone like me with hearing problems. But I could not get it to work.

Charles Johnson, professor emeritus at the University of Washington and author of 24 books, including “Middle Passage,” a National Book Award winner in 1990, interviewed Coates. Too much Johnson; not enough Coates.

And now for the good. Our ticket included a copy of Coates’ new book, “The Water Dancer,” and I can’t wait to start reading it. It’s Coates’ fourth book and his first venture into fiction, about Hiram, born into slavery, fathered by the plantation owner who sells the mother when Hiram is still a child. He can’t remember his mother, but he is endowed with magical powers. That’s how it starts, and Coates said: “At the end, there is still slavery.”

He spent 10 years writing it and doing research, reading slave narratives, going to Civil War battlefields and plantations. He said his book agent got him interested in writing fiction, but Coates had other reasons.

“After the Bible, the second biggest seller of fiction is ‘Gone with the Wind,'” he said. Why is there such a romantic view of Civil War participants? Why is Robert E. Lee always gallant and heroic in his struggle to maintain slavery?

So there is a need for “inversion,” some way of creating another kind of hero. That could be putting a black man on a horse and giving him a gun, which sounded a lot like the movie “Django Unchained.” Taking the white man’s image and painting it black.

It sounds to me like Coates wanted to make the slave the hero, in a more quiet way than Jamie Foxx blazing away with a six-shooter. When I read the book, I’ll be interested in seeing if he did that.

Coates also touched on teaching writing: “Think of the writer as the forest ranger. People come to be guided through the national park. They don’t want the ranger to get lost.”

On Trump: “I wrote a column when he was elected, and anything I said now would be redundant.”

And about reconstructing the understanding of race in America: “Listen as much as I can and talk as little as I can.”

Wish he had been given a chance to say more last night.

P.S. Got this as an email today: “We’re so grateful you could join us for an evening with Ta-Nehisi Coates. We are dedicated to producing the best events possible, and we know that last night both the long security lines and delayed start were enormously frustrating. We are currently working with the venue to ensure these issues do not happen again.

“If you would like a refund, please email the SAL Box Office at boxoffice@lectures.org, or give us a call at 206-621-2230 x10, and we will be happy to refund your order.

“We are so sorry for the frustrations you experienced. I want you to know that we learn from each and every event and mistake, and I promise you that we will strive to make future events better.”

No need for a refund, but I hope they get things straight by our next event.

 

Take me back to Theroux’s plain of snakes

Theroux book 2I’d read half of Paul Theroux’s new book, “On the Plain of Snakes,” when I went to hear the author speak Wednesday night, Oct. 16, 2019, at Seattle’s Town Hall. That was probably a mistake.

The night before, I had heard Tim Egan speak on his new book, “A Pilgrimage to Eternity.” Since it was published on that very day, I had obviously not read it.

So Egan’s speech was an introduction to the book. Theroux’s talk was probably an effective intro to his book, but for me, I wanted an expansion on what he had written and I had read.

What was behind President Clinton’s Operation Gatekeeper in 1994 that changed the U.S.-Mexico border from a simple line that Mexicans crossed every day to work, shop and visit to a place of “fences, patrol cars, security technology and massive deportations”?

Why was President Obama’s Fast and Furious program to sell high-caliber guns across the border so that they could be traced when cartel members committed crimes with them, such a failure?

Tell me more about Trump’s insults to Mexicans, the effects of NAFTA on Mexico’s poor and why Mexico’s government is so corrupt that Mexicans have little time to complain about the corruption in Trump’s administration.

More about the violence in Mexico and how the police and drug cartels are often the same.

Theroux 1But he did expand on some things he had written in the book, like his reaction to what he calls “the fence.” In the book, he wrote:

“An ugly steel fence you might associate with a prison perimeter, twenty-five feet high, like nothing I had seen in any other country. A Texas congressman had called it ‘an inefficient fourteenth-century solution to a twenty-first century problem,’ which was accurate because, like a medieval wall, it was merely a symbol of exclusion rather than anything practical, and easily climbed over or tunneled under. In an age of aerial surveillance and high-security technology, it was a blacksmith’s barrier of antiquated ironmongery: old rusty ramparts running for miles, a visible example of national paranoia.”

Theroux has written more than 50 books, many of them from his travels around the world. He says the southern border is the oddest one in the world, like a Christo environmental art project. He describes walking through the door in the fence at the end of a Nogales street as an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole experience. “Open the door, and suddenly you are in Mexico.”

Despite this oddness, the border is a back-and-forth flow, with most of it nowadays going north. Mexicans still come across, although now they have to stand in long lines with their legal documents to get to their jobs, etc.

One surprise for Theroux was the large number of what U.S. officials call “Special Interest Aliens,” people caught trying to cross the border from India, China, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and from African nations, mostly from Nigeria. In some Southwest U.S. detention facilities, fewer than half are from Mexico.

So why do they leave, Theroux asked. They are at home surrounded with their culture, family, religion and places they know. But they pay a coyote thousands of dollars to take them to the border and maybe across it. They have everything except that “they ain’t got no dinero.” Annual income for people living in the southern Mexico states of Chiapas or Oaxaca is similar to those in rural Kenya or Bangladesh: $3,400. People living in Eritrea fought for years to win independence and freedom from Ethiopia and are now the top group trying to get into Europe. After fighting like that, why would you leave?

“On the Plain of Snakes” tells the stories of some of these people. It’s not a travel book that will “tell you where the best tacos are in Merida,” but a book that will “see things as they are,” Theroux’s stock in trade.

The other reason I like this book is because it covers a place and a way of travel that I did with my friend Jeff in 1974 and 1975, traveling in the back of trucks that stopped for hitch hikers, in second-class buses and crowded train cars. Not sure if we saw things as they are, but we had a lot of fun traveling through Saltillo, Torreon, Durango, Mazatlan and Tepic, with a few “near death experiences” that Theroux calls the essence of travel books. And Theroux is 78-years-old; it’s not too late to do it again.

Jeff

John

 

Can Trump change the human species? If not impeached

While living in Oxford, England, in 2015 to attend the Rugby World Cup, we did more than attend rugby games. We also took advantage of cultural events in that university city. Museums, art exhibits, musical events and lectures, including the best Kathy and I have heard on Shakespeare. The question that came up then was: “Why don’t we do this at home?”

University dons and students don’t go around in black academic robes as in Oxford, but Seattle is no intellectual desert. But it seems we’re “too busy” to find our way to those events that would exercise our minds here at home. We have season theater tickets, attend an opera here and there, once in a while a symphony and visit museums when friends and family come to visit.

Kathy takes advantage of classes and lectures put on by Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. John? Rarely.

Well, that’s changing. Spurred by the memory of all we did in Oxford, we have loaded up on season tickets to plays, lectures, photo exhibits and book readings. By spring, we may start wearing black robes.

That means, as it did four years ago, the rugby reporter may get interrupted by off-field activities; scrums, rucks and mauls interspersed with things like:

Fenner

“Stories of Human Migrations,” an hour-long talk given by David Fenner from the University of Washington’s Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. Sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the UW and held at the University House in Issaquah, WA, the talk was one of many lectures and classes for those of us over 50. Kathy and I are well qualified.

Fenner’s talk made me realize that Trump is trying to change the human species. (Ed. notes: Fenner never mentioned Trump. I’m to blame for the spin here. Fenner supplied facts, and if they are wrong in this piece, it is because of my faulty note taking and should not reflect on Fenner, an excellent lecturer.)

Trump is going against the tide of humanity, which started migrating some 150,000 to 200,000 years ago from the Great Rift Valley in Africa – and it has never stopped no matter how many walls, borders and prejudices it ran up against. About 50,000 years ago, homo sapiens reached Northern Europe, where they found another species, the Neanderthal, which they interbred with (Did Fenner say that’s what accounts for rugby players?). About 12,000 to 15,000 years ago humans reached the Americas. Not until 1,500 years ago did they get to New Zealand, the last of the Rift Valley migration.

But it didn’t stop there. The Jewish Diaspora spread the Hebrew people across Africa, Asia and Europe, and the height of the Arab Wars took conquering Muslims from Spain to India in the years from 660 to 750 A.D. Four hundred years ago, slavery emptied 12.5 million souls from Africa and sent them to the Americas with two million of them dying along the way. Of eight million people in Ireland in the 1840s, two million of them left during the Potato Famine. One million of the six million who stayed behind died.

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 moved those who first got to what would become the United States farther West and further along the newcomers’ genocidal path.

Others came to the United States on their own, attracted by self-governing and democracy spelled out in the Declaration of Independence in 1776. And they were welcomed:

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent & respectable Stranger, but the oppressed & persecuted of all Nations & Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights & previleges, if by decency & propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.” — George Washington in letter to Joshua Holmes, 2 December 1783.

With the world’s population now at seven billion, one billion of them are migrants – 250 million trying to move from one country to another and 750 million “internal” migrants moving to better circumstances within their nations.

It’s what the human species does; moving to where the grass is greener. The International Conference on Global Trends predicts an increase in human migration over the next 25 years, no matter what Trump says or does. Some will pick up on their own, like the 250 million (three-fourths of the population of the U.S.) on the road in China, once considered “economic” migrants but now also “climate” migrants as desertification affects parts of that nation.

Others will be forced. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that in 2018, there were 70.8 million forcibly displaced, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan. Closer to home, those coming north from Central America are being “kept in a pressure cooker” by U.S. actions that will only make the situation there get worse with more people fleeing unstable governments, gang violence and poverty. I take that to mean: Increasing aid there, helping those nations keep their people. Trump’s idea is to keep asylum seekers there among those who have threatened them with harm. One more incentive to start north and take your chances at the U.S. border.

The International Organization on Migration holds that migration is inevitable and desirable – if well-governed. That is not the case in the United States, and getting an immigration policy that goes beyond the wall seems impossible with who’s in the White House and this Congress. Right now, Fenner says, we are a long way from that George Washington quote.

We’re all refugees from the Rift Valley, and we have “moving” stories to tell about how we got here. That’s the story of the human species, and we should be telling them to remind ourselves that we are a nation of immigrants and that our species probably won’t change before Trump is gone.

Fenner books

Fenner agencies 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling in the land of long-sticked squeegee poles

Long stick

Traveling in the past couple weeks in the land of long poled squeegees where you can mop the suds off your truck windshield without standing on your tire or reaching through your opened front door. Out of the short-sticked cities like Seattle, Denver, Wichita, Omaha and Kansas City, and out into the Midwest countryside to visit Huntington, OR; Flagler, CO; Fall River, KS; Iola, KS; and Chadron, NE, in a two week drive to a float trip on the Buffalo River in northern Arkansas.

Flagler
Camping near Flagler, CO.

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.”

Thank you, Walt, and I’m sure you would appreciate a trip across America to look at the country and “check on the crops,” as my parents and grandparents used to say before starting out on each evening’s drive.

From driveway to driveway clocked 4,047 miles across 13 states, listened to all my songs from “Nada de Nada” by Braho to Paul Robeson’s version of the “Song of the Volga Boatmen.” Became a fan of Michael Smerconish on Sirius Radio and wondered how long a stick Mark Levin was sitting on. That yelp, that nasty attitude.

Farmers just poking their heads out to prepare grounds for planting. Past fields of green wheat, corn stubble and one large field of uncut soybeans, perhaps not worth the harvest expense when penciled against the crop prices undercut by tariffs.

Fall River
Sunrise at Fall River State Park, KS.

Oil wells starting in Russell, KS, which led to the question: What are they pumping into? Never anything there that looks like it could hold as much as a 55-gallon barrel. Underground?

Also went against the advice of the President and took a big risk of cancer by driving through the wind turbines near Sylvan Grove, KS. But worth it to get out of southern Wyoming. Every land has something of value, something worth looking at, but southern Wyoming from Evanston to Cheyenne may come the closest to that know-nothing description used by transportation planners and realtors: “vacant land.” All I can say for this trip is that it wasn’t snowing and Interstate 80 was open.

But enough of criticism:

“Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,

Strong and content I travel the open road.”

Because of a late rain on our river trip (more in a later post), I was on the road a day early for my return trip but not early enough to reach my favorite Indian casino in Sloan, IA, the WinnaVegas Casino Resort, before dark. (How can you see America in the dark?) A large casino in a large field where patrons the last time I was there were talking about harvesting corn while a short lady threw tens from arms that barely cleared the rail around the dice table. They bet hard tens, I stayed on the pass line.

MapsWithout the planned trip to WinnaVegas, that meant I could strike out anywhere on my path back to short-sticked Seattle. Getting out the maps, I noticed that U.S. Highway 24 goes all the way across the state of Kansas.

Route 24 was a big deal in my childhood and an even bigger one later when its expansion looked like it would go through our farmland. My bumper sticker showing a highway sign of Hwy. 24 with a prohibited mark over it perplexed many in Seattle. But that battle is over and done with, and there will be no remorse, no hard feelings here.

“They pass, I also pass, any thing passes, none can be interdicted,

None but are accepted, none but shall be dear to me.”

 Compared to one-lane rural roads in Northwest Ohio, 24 could handle barreling semis, brook no stop signs and travel on to Toledo in one direction and who knew where in the other. Turns out it may be the only thing that connects Toledo, OH, with Vail, CO. Hard to imagine someone in Vail building a road to Toledo. More likely the other way around.

“Don’t ride your bikes on 24,” my folks said.

“We drove on 24 in drivers’ training class today,” we said after scaring Mr. Bard half to death as we traveled further to getting our licenses.

So from Rossville, KS, to just past Menlo, KS, where I turned north to head into Nebraska, I drove on 24, a two-lane blacktop except where planners decided to take some vacant land from some farmer and add two more rows of concrete (Oops, I forgot. No more whimpering). With Mrs. Mabel Apple in the GPS forever telling me to turn left and get on Interstate 70, it was just like Mom saying, “Don’t ride on 24.”

But I did.

“Allons! the road is before us!

It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well—be not detain’d!”

(“Song of the Open Road,” Walt Whitman)

Route 24

Trump’s aid cut can add millions more to the caravan

Our guide in Quito identified this puppeteer as someone who had fled the bad conditions in Venezuela. He might have been a street vendor there until no one had money to give him. What if he played outside the White House all day long?

The United States should pay more attention to Central and South America – and not just as the source of people in caravans headed for the southern border. We need to pay attention in a way that will provide them a safe home in their own countries.

Stopping aid to Central American countries is no way to do that. The Greedy Old Peckers controlling our nation ought to take a good hard look at giving more aid to those countries or the few thousands in a caravan headed north will be a tiny village compared to what is on the move in South America.

I picked up a La Hora, a daily newspaper in Quito, for my weekly Spanish reading as we headed toward the Galapagos Islands. As one article said, the newspaper was “venezolanizaron,” completely taken over by talk about Venezuela and the millions of people fleeing the bad conditions there.

One article reported on how France had affirmed its support for investigating in international court “crimes committed in Venezuela,” saying they threatened the development of South American countries and areas outside the region because of “en particular el deterioro de la situacion economica que oblige a cientos de miles de cuidadanos venezolanos a exiliarse y buscar refugio” (in particular the deterioration of the economic situation that obliged hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan citizens to go into exile and seek refuge).

France joined Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Canada (what happened to the United States and Mexico?)

What if the caravan started in Venezuela and headed this way? Wait, the Darien Gap might stop them.

An opinion in the paper noted that the president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, had addressed the General Assembly of the United Nation the day before, speaking for 40 minutes before an almost empty hall and “no dijo nada” (said nothing). He talked of “la migracion” but mostly denied it, as he always does. Blamed it on the United States and other South American presidents and got support where it could be expected – Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia.

No need for humanitarian aid. Said the exodus of 2.3 million from his country was a “fabrication,” apparently the Spanish word for “fake news.”

He left the hall without answering uncomfortable questions from the press, including this one the editorial asked: “Why is his country’s economy on the edge of collapse, why is it that his nation with the largest oil reserves can’t provide food and medicine and pushes millions into exile?”

Another editorial ticked off the conditions of life in Venezuela: Basic services scare, health services “castrados,” insecurity equal to a state of war, corruption and crime institutionalized and public resources converted to the booty of pirates.

Maduro is a dictator, no doubt, with nothing to control his power, with judicial or financial means coopted. No free elections. The ability to confront his power abolished and guarantees of humanity and life annulled.

Yet the man responsible for all this can stand before the world stage and give an “outdated” talk on sovereignty, socialism, the equality of people, democracy, anti-imperialism and his state officials listen and applaud.

How can this happen? the editorial asks. And how can the diplomatic corps make space for him without degrading itself.

That’s a long way of saying that things could get a lot worse for the United States, if aid is cut to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Trying to keep out desperate people with a wall or anything else goes against the history of humankind. We’re a migratory beast that flees from places where we can’t survive. One way or another, the caravan will arrive someday.

Which should not be taken as an argument for open borders. What we should do is something that will make Central America and Mexico better places to live. That doesn’t mean making them into states, as a Seattle Times printer once suggested to me (we tried that in 1855 to no avail). But cutting off aid right now is going in the wrong direction. More trade, work permits here to fill open jobs, help to eliminate gangs. Something that keeps the caravan of a few thousands from turning into millions.