Minnesota Counties’ Actions on Refugee Resettlement 

Of Minnesota’s 87 counties, 23 already have issued consents to future refugee resettlements while another 8 have indicated they will be considering the issue in the near future and only one has refused to so consent. There is little word from the other 56 counties in the state although there is no legal requirement for them to take a position on the issue since not voting is deemed to be a negative vote and although the state’s refugee resettlement agencies has not been soliciting those counties that have had little prior experience with such resettlements.

Here is a review of the 31 that so far have indicated some position on the issue of refugee resettlement.[1]

Counties Saying “Yes”

Blue Earth County. [2] On December 17 the board of south-central Blue Earth County (population 64,000 with its county seat in Mankato, population 39,300, and home of Minnesota State University Mankato) joined the consenting list. It did so unanimously with almost no discussion. One of the commissioners afterward said, “We’ve always accepted refugees. This is nothing new.”

Brown County.[3] In late December, County commissioners unanimously voted to consent to resettlement. Its virtually all white population of 25,890 live immediately west of  the just mentioned Blue Earth County and the later mentioned Nicollet County. Its county seat is New Ulm.

Clay County.[4] On December 17, County commissioners unanimously voted to resettlement. With a population of nearly 59,000 people, it abuts North Dakota with a county seat in Moorhead (population 38,000) and is home for four institutions of higher learning.

Cook County.[4a] On January 14, the County Board unanimously voted to accept more refugees. Its Chair, Myron Bursheim, said, “I see this as a symbolic thing. My intention is to be welcoming.”

Commissioner Dave Mills said he’d never received more email feedback on an issue in the North Shore county, all in support. “I see the issue from a practical and principled standpoint. I don’t think it’s going to directly affect our finances or operation. Out of principle, this is what our community values.” Commissioner Virginia Storlie added, “We would do the best we can with folks who need help.”

Cook is the northeastern tip of the state, colloquially called “the Arrowhead,” pointing at Canada on the beautiful North Shore of Lake Superior. Its population is 5,393 (White 85.0%; African American 1.0%; Native American 8.5%; Asian 0.9%; Latino 2.5%; other 2.1%),  and the county seat is charming Grand Marais.

Dakota County.[5]   An approval of consent on January 7 came from the board of  Dakota County, which has a population of 425,423  (77.7% white; 7.0% African-American; Latino 7.4%; Asian 5.2%; Native American 0.6%; and other 2.1%) in the south-eastern corner of the Twin Cities metro area with its county seat in Hastings.

Goodhue County.[6] On January 7, the Goodhue County Committee of the Whole, by a vote of 3-2, approved consenting to refugee resettlement. Although there was no time for public comment, there were many attendees, causing the meeting to be moved to the larger space of the courtroom. On the western banks of the Mississippi River, it has a population of 46,304 (White 91.8%; Latino 3.5%; Native American 1.5%, African-American 1.4%; Asian 0.7%; other 1.1% with its county seat in Red Wing.

Hennepin County.[7] On January 7, Hennepin with the city of Minneapolis is the state’s most populous county at 1.252 million (White 68.6%; African-American 13.6%; Asian 7.5%; Latino 7.0%; Native American 1.1%; Other 2.2%)in the central part of the state, by action of its County Board, approved consenting. Here are highlights of the “Whereas” paragraphs of its consent letter:

  • “Minnesota’s reputation for a strong economy and commitment to the social safety net has resulted in successful refugee resettlement since the 1800s.”
  • “Minnesota’s robust network of non-governmental resettlement agencies works with the federal government to resettle refugees, including resettlement in Hennepin County.”
  • “1,345 refugees have been resettled in Hennepin County over the last five years.”
  • “The breadth of countries and regions of origin resettling in Minnesota continues to expand and includes Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eastern Europe, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tanzania, and Vietnam.”
  • “The success of refugee resettlement in Hennepin County has helped affirm the county’s status as an urban center of international importance.”

Kandiyohi County. As noted in a prior post, on December 3, 2019, Kandiyohi County in western Minnesota was the first to consider this issue when it voted, 3-2 to consent to refugee resettlement.

Mower County.[8] In early January, the County commissioners unanimously voted to authorize consent. In the southeastern part of the state bordering Iowa, its county seat is Austin, famous as the headquarters for Hormel Foods. Its population is 40,011.

Murray County.[9] On January 7, the county commissioners authorized consent. Located in the southwest corner of the state with its county seat in Slayton, it has a population of 8,725 (93.8% white, 3.6% Latino. 1.1% Asian and 1.5% other.

Nicollet County.[10] This county is just north of the previously mentioned Blue Earth County and on the same date (December 17), also consented with a County Board vote of 4-1. One of the affirmative votes came from Commissioner Terry Morrow, who  said all refugees that arrive are thoroughly vetted by the federal government, confirming they are fleeing war, genocide or severe poverty while Commissioner Jack Kolars called refugees “‘new Americans,’ who follow in the footsteps of past groups of refugees and immigrants who often faced discrimination and persecution when they arrived and went on to be productive citizens. And he said current newcomers are working in the area in large dairy farms, shingling roofs and in food-processing plants. ‘In many cases they’re doing work others won’t do.’”

Nicollet County has a population of 34,200 (92.3% white; 3.7% African-American; 0.5% Native Americans and 3.5% other), and its county seat of St. Peter is the former capital of the state and the home of Gustavus Adolphus College.

Nobles County.[11] On January 7, the county commissioners authorized consent. Located in the southwest corner of the state and bordering Iowa and South Dakota, this county has a population of 21,900 (white 58.2%, Latino, 28.4%, Asian, 7.1%, , Other 0.1%)/African-American, 5.4%. Its county seat is Worthington, which recently has received a lot of attention due to its unusual ethnic diversity, as discussed on this blog.

Olmsted County.[12] On December 6, the County’s Administrative Committee unanimously approved a consent to resettlement. The County Board chair, Jim Bier said, “It’s stuff we are doing already.” A county official stated 30 new refugees already had been settled in the county in 2019 while an official for Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota said that in 2018, 26 individual refugees came to Olmsted County from other countries. The county in the southeastern part of the state has a population of 144,200 (white, 85.6%; Asian, 5.4%; African-American, 4.8%’ and Latino, 4.2%. Its county seat is Rochester, which is famous for the Mayo Clinic.

Otter Tail County.[13] On December 16, the Commissioners voted to consent to resettlement. It is located in the west central part of the state on the continental divide with a population of 58,300 (white 97.1%; Latino, 1.7%; and other 1.2%; the county seat is Fergus Falls.

Pipestone County.[14] On January 7, this county joined others in consenting to resettlement. The county seat has the same name and the county’s population is 9,600 (white 96.7%; African-American 1.5%; Latino 0.7%; Native American 0.5%; other 0.6%. It borders South Dakota in the southwestern part of Minnesota.

Pope County.[15] On January 7, the County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved to consenting to resettle refugees. “While all board members agreed that they would be surprised if they were asked to host refugees, all of them were more than willing to approve an affirmative letter saying the county would accept refugees. ‘We should be ready to help,’ said Commissioner Larry Lindor.” After the item passed, Chair Gordy Wagner told his fellow board members, “I am proud of you all. Thank you.”

Located in the west-central part of the state with Glenwood as its county seat, Pope County’s population is 11,097 (White 95.9%; African-American 0.5%; Native American 0.4%; Asian 0.6%; Latino 1.5%; Other 1.1%).

Ramsey County.[15a] On January 14, the County’s Board unanimously approved consenting to refugee resettlement. The Board Chair, Toni Carter, said, “We recognize that refugees and foreign-born residents are an important part of Ramsey County. It’s important we honor and respect all who are among us.” Similar words came from Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo: “For me this is a celebration of our good work and the good work of our refugee communities. We have all benefited from having refugees in our community.” Another Commissioner, Victoria Reinhardt, said that, aside from Native Americans, nearly all Americans can trace their roots to immigration. “I am glad this country welcomed my German and Irish ancestors. That is what makes this place rich.”

The county, which includes the state’s capitol in St. Paul, accepted 4,215 refugees from 2015 to 2019. In the past year, the county accepted 71% of all refugees who initially settled in Minnesota. Moreover, avout 16% of its overall population of 508,639 is foreign-born.The composition of itsl population is White 61.4%; African American 12.6%; Native American 1.0%; Asian 15.3%; Latino 7.6%; Other 2.1%..

Rice County.[16] In early January, the County’s commissioners voted to authorize consent. Located in the southeastern part of the state with a county seat in Faribault, it has a population of 66,523 (White 89.0%; African-American 5.4%; Asian 2.1%; Native American 0.4%; Other 5.1%).

Sherburne County.[17] In December, the Commissioners for this County voted to issue consent. Located only – miles northwest of Minneapolis in the central part of the state, it has a population of 96,036  (white 90.9%; African-American 2.9%; Latino 2.9%; Asian 1.3%; Native American 0.6%; other 1.4%). The county seat is Elk River.

Steele County.[18] A consent letter was authorized by the County Board. Located in the southeastern part of the state, just south of Rice County, its county seat is Owatonna. Its population is 36,887 (White 90.9%; African-American 2.9%; Latino 2.7%; Asian 1.3%; Native American 0.6%; Other 1.6%.

Washington County. [18a] On January 14, the County’s Board unanimously approved consenting to resettlement at its meeting in the county seat of Stillwater. This county sits on the west bank of the St. Croix River across from the State of Wisconsin and east of Ramsey County and the City of St. Paul. Its population is 236,114 (White 82.2%; African American 4.9%; Native American 0.5%; Asian 6.2%; Latino 4.3%; other 1.9%).

Watonwan County.[19] On January 7, the County Board, apparently unanimously, approved a letter of consent to refugee resettlement. This county is located in the south central part of the state and south of the previously mentioned Brown County and west of Blue Earth County, and its county seat is St. James.  Its population is 10,980 (White 71.0%; African-American 1.3%; Native American 1.3%; Asian 1.2%; Latino 25.2%).

Future Consideration by Other Counties

 Lyon County.[20] On January 7, the Lyon County Board, after discussion, voted to postpone the vote on the merits.

Stearns County.[21] On January 7, the Board of Stearns County,  with its county seat of St. Cloud, 66 miles northwest of Minneapolis. But their vote was to postpone consideration of the merits.

Commissioner Steve Notch said he still had too many unanswered questions and wanted to hear from the public and other experts. He lamented equating humanitarian concerns with economic ones. Commissioner Joe Perske, on the other hand, said it was “imperative” that the county decide the issue immediately. “The question I hear today is, are we a welcoming community or not?”

It should also be noted that St. Cloud, the county seat and largest city in the country, over the last several years has had major controversies over the large number of Somali refugees and immigrants who have resettled there.

St. Louis County.[22] Also voting to postpone consideration of the merits on January 7 was the Board of St. Louis County, population 200,200 (white, 94.9%; Native American 2.0%; Black, 0.9%; and Other, 2.2%) in the northeastern part of the state with its county seat in Duluth (population 85,900 on the southwest tip of Lake Superior).

After a heated debate for 1.5 hours with a standing-room only crowd, the county board voted, 4-3, to postpone a vote on the merits until May 26.

The majority commissioners on that vote represented people on the Iron Range and more rural areas who said they wanted more time to consider the implications of allowing such resettlement while the minority represented Duluth and other cities in the county. The minority on that vote included religious and social justice leaders, local Northland politicians, former sponsors of refugees, and one Northland refugee whose family was from Serbia and who had lived his early life in an Austrian refugee camp.

Another commissioner representing the city of Hibbing (population 16,400) said refugees were still welcome in the county. “We closed no doors.”

Five Other Counties.[23] Becker, Dodge, Ramsey, Scott and Winona counties are expected to consider the resettlement issue in the near future.

County Saying “No”

Beltrami County.[24] So far this is the only county to reject such resettlements. It occurred on January 7, when the County Board In the north-central part of the state voted 3-2 to refuse to provide its consent. This county has a population of 44,442 (2010 census), 76.9 % of whom are white, 20.4% Native American, 0.4% black and 2.3% other. Its county seat is Bemidji (population 12,431).

One of the speakers favoring consent was a member of the Red Lake Nation, who said, “If you’re not a Native American from this area, we all have origin stories. I think most of the people here today are re-settlers. It just seems un-American to me to say that “You’re not welcome.” [25]

This vote was largely symbolic: This county has not resettled refugees for years and is not being targeted by refugee agencies for resettlement anytime soon. In addition, its low population and far northern location make it an unlikely destination. In any event, its rejection of resettlement received national news attention and may have motivated some of the previously mentioned 19 counties to say “Yes.”

Subsequently, a Bemidji business owner/operator and the daughter of World War II refugees, Monika Schneider, lamented the bad publicity the county has received. She said, “We should be so lucky to have a few young, energetic [refugee] families choosing to rebuild their futures in our tundra-adjacent paradise.” She concluded, “Bemidji is loaded with beautiful, loving, open-minded people of all backgrounds. I relocated here from a big city and there is no place I’d rather be. We who live, work and raise our families here are kind, generous, creative, hardworking, dedicated and resourceful people, committed to supporting our community in many lovely ways. We all value our sense of place and our great outdoors. Our downtown is vibrant and growing. We’re eager to offer our expertise for your enjoyment. As this story evolves, the entrepreneurs of Bemidji are here at work, ready to welcome and serve you, whoever you are.” [26]

 

 

 

Conclusion

 Although there is no requirement for any county to consider this issue, we will wait to see whether any of the other 59 counties in Minnesota take any action in this regard.

A broader analysis of this situation was provided in a Washington Post article.[27]

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[1] The most comprehensive analysis of the positions on this issue of the Minnesota counties are by Greta Kaul: As Minnesota counties vote on accepting refugees, here are the counties where refugees have actually moved in the last decade, MINNPOST (Jan. 9, 2020) and by Ferguson, Minnesota County votes ‘No’ to refugees as more than a dozen others say ‘Welcome,’ Brainerd Dispatch (Jan. 8, 2020)   Thanks to these journalists for their contributions. Population data (July 1, 2018 estimates) for the counties is available on the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Quick Facts” website; any corrections to the ethnic percentages would be greatly appreciated.

[2] Krohn, Blue Earth, Nicollet counties vote to continue accepting refugees, Mankato Free Press (Dec.17, 2019).

[3] Ferguson, Minnesota County votes ‘No’ to refugees as more than a dozen others say ‘Welcome,’ Brainerd Dispatch (Jan. 8, 2020).

[4] See n.3.

[4a] Slater, Cook County opens door with refugee consent, Duluth News Tribune (Jan. 14, 2020); Slater, North Shore county gives unanimous consent to future refugee resettlement, TwinCities Pioneer Press (Jan. 14, 2020).

[5] See n.3.

[6] Fergus, Goodhue County approves refugee resettlement, RiverTowns.net (Jan. 7, 2020);

[7] Hennepin County Board Minutes (Jan.7, 2020); Hennepin County, Letter of Consent for Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 7, 2020).

[8] See n.3.

[9] See n.3..

[10] See n.3.

[11] See n.3.

[12] Petersen, Olmsted County will remain open to refugees, Post Bulletin (Dec. 7, 2019)

[13] See n.3.

[14] See n.3.

[15] Rapp, County to accept refugees if asked, Pope County Tribune (Jan. 13, 2019)

[15a] Vezner, Ramsey County votes to accept more refugees. It already accepts most in MN, TwinCities Pioneer Press (Jan. 14, 2020).

[16] See n.3.

[17] See n.3.

[18] See n.3.

[18a] Washington County votes to continue accepting refugees, RiverTowns.net (Jan. 14, 2020).

[19]  Anaya, Watonwan County provides consent to federal government for refugee resettlement, St. James Plaindealer (Jan. 10, 2010); Watonwan County Board, Agenda (Jan. 7, 2019).

[20]  See n.3.

[21] Rao, Minnesota counties continue to weigh refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 7, 2020); Rao & Galioto, Minnesota county votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 7, 2020).

[22] See n. 21; Slater, St. Louis County delays refugee resettlement vote to May, Duluth Tribune (Jan. 7, 2020).

[23] See n.3.

[24] Liedke, UPDATED: Beltrami County votes no to accepting refugees, Bemidji Pioneer (Jan. 7, 2020); Assoc. Press, Northern Minnesota County Bans Refugee Resettlement, N.Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2020); What people are saying about Beltrami County’s vote to refuse refugees, StarTribune (Jan. 8, 2020); Rao, Minnesota’s Beltrami County votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 8. 2020); Kelly, What people are saying about Beltrami County’s vote to refuse refugees, StarTribune (Jan. 8, 2020); Some residents say refugees would just make Beltrami County’s struggles worse, StarTribune (Jan. 11, 2020).

[25] Apparently Appomattox County in Virginia also has voted against such resettlement. See Rao, Minnesota’s Beltrami County votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 8. 2020).

[26] Schneider, Reflections from a Beltrami County businessperson, StarTribune (Jan. 15, 2020).

[27] Sacchetti & Morrison, North Dakota county accepted refugees, but the debate is far from over, Wash. Post (Jan. 8, 2020).

 

Switzerland’s Mediation of Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis

This past June Switzerland’s Federal Department of  Foreign Affairs  (FDFA) announced that it was “concerned about the continuing violence in the north-western and south-western regions of Cameroon, which is taking a heavy toll on the civilian population. Switzerland has long been committed, both at bilateral and multilateral level, to finding a peaceful solution to the crisis and to promoting respect for human rights in Cameroon. Switzerland is also committed to providing humanitarian aid to the affected local population and has supported Cameroon in dealing with multilingualism.”[1]

In this effort FDFA was “working in close partnership with the [Geneva-based] Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD Centre), which says it “enjoys access to decision makers, influential actors and conflict parties, and draws on a global network of experts to support mediation and dialogue processes. Conflict parties trust us for our discretion. . . . In some cases, we mediate directly between the main protagonists. . . . At other times, we facilitate dialogue with a wide range of actors, such as civil society representatives, national and community leaders, and others.”[2]

FDFA added that it “is committed to finding a peaceful, lasting negotiated solution to the crisis for ‘a majority of the parties.’” A second preparatory meeting to that end was held in Switzerland, June 25-27, 2019. (Emphasis added.)

The FDFA statement that it and the HD Centre were working for a negotiated solution for “a majority of the parties” presumably reflects that some of the separatist or secessionist movements have doubts about the neutrality of FDFA and the HD Centre because of possible “collusion between Geneva [where those two organizations are located] and Youndé [the capital of Cameroon].” In early July  Lucas Ayaba Cho, the secessionist leader of the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC), denounced what he called the “too close” relationship between the Cameroon government and the FDFA and the HD Centre.African

Criticism of the FDFA and HD Centre also came from a security expert, Joseph Léa Ngoula, who said “the Swiss approach is not sufficiently inclusive to allow all parties to express themselves” and was “insufficient to stop the spiral of violence that is spreading to the different regions of Cameroon. It includes only a limited number of actors, leaving aside all the social and political forces that have a very important role to play in stabilizing crisis zones in Cameroon.”

Related Developments

On September 22, leaders and representatives of 10 separatist movements announced the creation of the Ambazonia Coalition Team (ACT), or Team Ambazonia and a “joint platform for negotiations” with the Cameroon government. One of those leaders, Ebenezer Akwanga, who chairs the separatist African People’s Liberation Movement and heads its armed wing, said, “We are ready for the pre-negotiation phase.” Now, the question is whether “the state party is ready.” [3]

Nkongho Felix Agbor Balla, the founder and director of the Cameroon-based Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA), offered the following suggestions for a successful mediation:[4]

  • First, “the conflict’s underlying causes will only be addressed and redressed by an all-inclusive dialogue that represents the various shades of opinion in Anglophone Cameroon. The Swiss mediators should ensure that they invite a variety of Anglophone voices, certainly not just those who have taken up arms.”
  • Second, “Switzerland should also invite other bodies to participate as mediators, particularly the African Union which recently mediated a power-sharing agreement between military and civilian leaders in Sudan. Canada is also an ideal candidate to lead the process, given its bijural, bilingual character and long-standing bilateral relations with Cameroon.”
  • Third, “the UN Security Council should add Cameroon to its agenda as a regular stand-alone item, as nine different human rights organizations have recommended in an open letter.”
  • Fourth, “the African Union should establish a panel of independent international experts to investigate evidence of crimes against humanity in Cameroon.”
  • Fifth, “states should increase funding for the UN’s Cameroon Humanitarian Response Plan. As it stands, the Response Plan is severely underfunded. Key frontline humanitarian organizations will be forced to withdraw if additional funding does not reach them soon, according to the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.”
  • Sixth, “individuals and collectives must continue to shine a protective spotlight on the victims of the Cameroon crisis, whose pain and plight can no longer go unheard, unnoticed or unaddressed. The children of Cameroon at the mercy of this raging violence, including the more than 600,000 currently prevented from going to school, deserve no less.”

Conclusion

On December 18, 2019, Africa Intelligence, a leading website  for African news, published an article titled, “Switzerland abandons mediation in anglophone west,” but its contents are available only to subscribers. (Anyone with details on this important topic and others in this post, please share them in comments to this post.)

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[1] Swiss government to mediate Cameroon peace talks, Reuters (June 27, 2019); Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, HD supports Switzerland in the Establishment of Talks Between the Republic of Cameroon and the Pro-Independence Groups of Southern Cameroons, hdcentre.org (June 27, 2019); FDFA, Swiss facilitation process in Cameroon, Swiss Federal Council (June 29, 2019); Kindzeka, Swiss government mediating in Cameroon’s separatist crisis, APNews (July 21, 2019); Foute, Cameroon: Anglophone secessionists split on Swiss mediation, Africareport (July 15, 2019); Switzerland mediates in Cameroon crisis, swissinfo.ch (July 28, 2019).

[2] Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Mediation and Dialogue.

[3] Larson, Swiss initiative hopes to ease Cameroon crisis, YahooNews (Oct. 5, 2019); Switzerland Begins Consultation with Some Ambazonian Movements for the Cameroon National Dialogue, AmbaNews24 (Sept. 18,2019).

[4] Agbor Balla, Opinion: Key steps needed for Cameroon peace talks, DW.com (July 17, 2019).

 

Minnesota’s Challenges of Declining, Aging Population

Minnesota has an aging, declining population coupled with shortages of skilled and other labor, as discussed in prior posts.[1] Here is additional information on that subject along with words about the problems of shortages of medical care in rural parts of the nation and the challenges of having more immigrants.

Skilled Labor Shortages[2]

As of September 30, 2019, “the number of job vacancies in Minnesota continues to climb and is now at the highest total on record — which state officials said continues to be of concern because it could slow economic growth. . . . More than half of the job vacancies were in the seven-county Twin Cities area. . . . While most of the openings statewide are in the health care and social assistance field, nearly 8% are in manufacturing.”

These shortages have led to employers expanding “job candidate lists to include older workers, people with disabilities, people of color and other groups sometimes marginalized from good-paying jobs.”

Other responses to these shortages include employers busing metro-area residents to companies in smaller nearby cities, buying houses to rent to new employees, investing in apartment buildings for renting to the newcomers, engaging in social media campaigns about the companies and their towns, designing high school courses for needed job skills, and sponsoring social activities for newcomers.

Warning signs of a downturn in the U.S. and Minnesota economy, however, threaten this demand for more skilled and other labor. On October 1, a report showed that nationwide factory activity in September fell to the lowest level since 2009, the last month of the Great Recession. As a result, some economists now consider the manufacturing sector to be in a recession. This  follows months of worrying earnings and other economic reports that signaled slowing economies around the world and heightened pressures as U.S. factories scrambled to deal with the shortage of skilled workers and the fallout from a volatile trade war with China.

Creighton University’s Economic Forecasting Group, which measures activity in Minnesota and eight other states including the Dakota, said through its Director, Ernie Goss, “Based on the last two months of surveys of manufacturing supply managers, both the U.S. and Mid-America economies are likely to move even lower in the months ahead.”  The probability of a recession during the first half of 2020 has “risen significantly” over the past few months.

Another expert, Thomas Simons, senior money market economist at Jefferies LLC, said that the Mid-America economy has been expanding in 2019 at a pace well below that of the nation and that  recent reports were “troubling,” “weaker than expected” and dragged down by “non-organic forces” such as the trade war and Boeing’s grounding of its entire fleet of 737 Max Jets. . .  Manufacturing itself is in a recession, but it does not mean that the overall economy is in a recession.” These thoughts were echoed by Tom Hainlin, national investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis: “Easily the biggest issue that [manufacturing executives] talk about is trade. . . . The manufacturers are not just worried about the trade war between the Trump administration and China, but also unresolved trade agreements with Canada and Mexico, Germany’s weak economy and unfinished U.S. trade policies that affect Europe’s auto industry.”

Another bit of negative news came on October 1 when the World Trade Organization slashed its forecast for trade growth for this year and next. World trade in merchandise is now expected to expand by only 1.2 percent during 2019, in what would be the weakest year since 2009, when it plunged by nearly 13 percent in the midst of the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression. The W.T.O. warned that intensifying trade conflicts posed a direct threat to jobs and livelihoods, while discouraging companies from expanding and innovating.

In response to this new negative news, global stock markets declined on October 1 and 2.

Medical Care Shortages [3]

Rural areas in Minnesota and other states also are facing shortages of primary-care physicians and other doctors. “In the medical desert that has become rural America, nothing is more basic or more essential than access to doctors, but they are increasingly difficult to find. The federal government now designates nearly 80 percent of rural America as ‘medically underserved.’ It is home to 20 percent of the U.S. population but fewer than 10 percent of its doctors, and that ratio is worsening each year because of what health experts refer to as “the gray wave.” Rural doctors are three years older than urban doctors on average, with half over 50 and more than a quarter beyond 60. Health officials predict the number of rural doctors will decline by 23 percent over the next decade as the number of urban doctors remains flat.”

One example of this shortage is the State of Texas, where “159 of the state’s 254 counties have no general surgeons, 121 counties have no medical specialists, and 35 counties have no doctors at all. Thirty more counties are each forced to rely on just a single doctor.”

A related problem is the closure of at least 113 rural hospitals in the U.S. since 2010. It, therefore, should not be surprising that “elderly patients are more likely to die when the nearest rural hospital closes and they have to travel farther for treatment of time-sensitive conditions such as heart attacks and strokes, according to a study by a new University of Minnesota health economist.” This study also invalidates  the theory that rural patients might do better after a hospital closes because they would travel farther for higher-quality care.

 Challenges of More Immigrants [4]

The Minnesota city of Worthington has been cited in this blog as an example of a city that has successfully welcomed and integrated immigrants. Its “population has surged from fewer than 10,000 in 1990 to more than 13,000 today and its residents expect it to exceed 14,000 in the near future with immigrants constituting roughly one-third of the population.  And the median age is under 36.”

“Some of the [Worthington] immigrants are entrepreneurs, who described the difficulties they had in getting their businesses started and frustration over lack of stores with their favorite foods and police forces still almost exclusively locally born white people. But they still expressed optimism about their future in this community.”

Worthington had recently been visited by “Neel Kashkari, the president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. At a community meeting in the town he said, “If you do the math, there are three choices we have as a society. One choice is just accept slower growth. A second choice is to subsidize [human] fertility. Or number three, you can embrace immigration. Now the advantage we have in the U.S. is that, while we are not perfect, we are better than just about any other country at embracing immigrants and integrating them in our society.”

More recently, the Washington Post published a critical article about this small city as it struggles to meet the educational needs of the children of these immigrants and the costs of doing so.

This article reports that in the past six years, more than 400 unaccompanied minors have been placed in Worthington’s . . .[county]— the second most per capita in the country. . . . Their arrival has helped swell Worthington’s student population by almost one-third, forcing administrators to convert storage space into classrooms and teachers to sprint between periods, book carts in tow.” As a consequence, “the number of ELL [English language learner] students in Worthington has nearly doubled since 2013, to 35 percent of students. In the high school, where most unaccompanied minors are placed, it has almost tripled.”

In response, the Worthington school district has “scrambled to hire Spanish-speaking teachers, who are part educators, part parents, part therapists. Many unaccompanied minors live with unfamiliar relatives who offer little support. Teachers often fill the void, arriving early, staying late, even buying their students groceries.”

To meet this challenge, the school district over the last five years has “asked residents to approve an expansion of its schools to handle the surge in enrollment. Five times, the voters have refused” with another scheduled this Fall. According to this article, “The driving force [in this Trump-supporting county]behind the defeats has been a handful of white farmers,’ who provide a major portion of its tax base. One activist said, ““White people here don’t want to pay for people of color and undocumented children to go to school.”

The Executive Director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, Veena Iyer, disagreed  with the Washington Post article. She said, “Immigrants keep Worthington strong, growing, and working — and many residents welcome them. The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota has worked in Worthington for more than a decade. We have seen many residents respond with welcome arms and generosity as one wave of immigrants after another arrived. This century’s immigrants reversed a decline in population and prosperity that threatened Worthington and that still characterizes too many rural communities. . . . These immigrants come from Guatemala and Mexico, and also from Laos, Myanmar and Ethiopia. In all, they come from 80 different countries and speak more than 40 languages. They are young — with an average age of 36 — and hardworking. Immigrants make large contributions to the local economy and help make Worthington a vibrant and dynamic community. . . . Immigrants remain a crucial part of Worthington’s past, its present and its hope for the future.”

The Washington Post article, however, spurred Michele Bachmann, the former Republican member of the House of Representatives from a district north of the Twin Cities and far away from Worthington, to write an article in the leading newspaper of the State, lamenting the “ideological civil war” in the town created by the immigrants’ causing “significant social disruption and severely strain[ing] local resources.”

Bachmann’s article prompted a letter to the editor from a former senior vice president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, who voiced three criticisms of Bachmann. First, she failed to recognize that immigrants pay state and federal income and payroll taxes, sales taxes when they shop and real estate taxes whether they are homeowners or renters. Second, she also failed to recognize that immigrants “are significant contributors to the development and growth of our economy.” They “start businesses and help existing ones to grow” and replace “our retiring baby boomer workforce.” Third, she failed to suggest “ways to redesign [our broken immigration system] to support 21st century community growth and the development of our economy.”

 Impact of Lower Immigration Numbers [5]

The latest data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Service indicates that the net increase of immigrants in the U.S. population “dropped to almost 200,000 people in 2018, a decline of more than 70 percent from the prior year.” According to the Chief Demographer at the Brookings Institution, William Frey, said this “was likely caused to a more restrictive approach by the Trump administration.”

Mr. Frey also pointed out that of the 14 states with the lowest concentrations of foreign-born people, 12 voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. In half of those 12 states, Asians dominated recent immigrant gains and in 10 of those states, immigrants are more likely than native-born residents to hold bachelor’s degrees.

Another expert, David Bier of the Cato Institute, observed, “It’s remarkable. This is something that really hasn’t happened since the Great Recession. This should be very concerning to the administration that its policies are scaring people away.”

Also favoring more U.S. immigration was the Chair of the Latino Donor Collaborative, Sol Trujillo, who said if  “the U.S. Latino population were an independent economy, its gross domestic product would be the fastest-growing among the world’s developed economies. U.S. Latino GDP is now $2.3 trillion, as detailed in a new report that estimates the group’s economic output by measuring their share across 71 industries.” Continued growth of the U.S. economy requires the continued growth of Latino immigration to counteract the decline in U.S. labor-force growth.

In addition, Trujillo says, “Latinos also strengthen the economy by creating jobs. Latino entrepreneurs produce more than $700 billion annually. And as Latinos in the U.S. have become wealthier, they increasingly contribute to the economy as consumers. They account for nearly 30% of America’s growth in real income. With that comes purchasing power, and from 2010-17 real consumption by Latinos in the U.S. grew 72% faster than the rest of the population.”

Trujillo continues. “The U.S. needs an immigration policy focused on recruiting people who are ready to work in every sort of job, who have demonstrated an exemplary work ethic, and who have become essential workers in many industries.” This requires “comprehensive reform of immigration laws and policies.”

Conclusion

Once again, Minnesota and other states with aging, declining population need more immigrants. The Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions are contrary to the U.S. national interest and need to be abolished as soon as possible.

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[1] E.g., Minnesota Facing Slowdown in Labor Force Growth, dwkcommentaries.com (September 3, 2019); Rural Minnesota Endeavoring To Attract Younger People, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 2, 2019).

[2] DePass, Job vacancies in Minnesota rise again, StarTribune (September 30, 2019); Forgrave, Worker shortage sparks Minnesota businesses to think outside the box, StarTribune (Sept. 29, 2019); DePass, Manufacturing in Minnesota slumps but faring better than nation as a whole, StarTribune (Oct. 1, 2019); Goodman, Global Trade Is Deteriorating Fast, Sapping the World’s Economy, N.Y. Times (Oct. 1, 2019); Tsang, Stocks Slide as Investors Face New Evidence of a Slowdown, N.Y. Times (Oct. 2, 2019); Bernhard & Vigna, U.S. Stocks Drop on Worries About Growth, W.S.J. (Oct. 2, 2019) .

[3]  Saslow, ‘Out here, it’s just me;’ In the medical desert of rural America, one doctor for 11,000 miles, Wash. Post (Sept. 28, 2019); Olson, Deaths rise after hospitals close, StarTribune (Sept. 29, 2019).

[4]  Outstate Minnesota City Aided by Immigrants, dwkcommentaries (Aug. 5, 2018); Miller, Immigrant kids fill this town’s schools. Their bus driver is leading the backlash, Wash. Post (Sept. 22, 2019); Iyer, Immigrants make our community stronger, StarTribune (Sept. 26, 2019); Bachmann, Washington Post article shows that open borders rip our towns apart, StarTribune (Sept. 26, 2019); Letters re Bachmann, Star Tribune (Sept. 30, 2019);

 

[5] Tavernise, Immigrant Population Growth in the U.S. Slows to a Trickle, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2019); Trujillo, Latino Workers Save America From Stagnation, W.S>J. (Sept. 25, 2019).

 

 

Canadian Analysis of Medical Problems of Its Diplomats in Cuba

A new study commissioned by the Canadian government concluded that fumigation against mosquitoes in Cuba and not “sonic attacks” may have caused about 40 U.S. and Canadian diplomats and family members in Havana to fall ill.[1]

The researchers for this study said that they had detected different levels of brain damage in an area responsible for memory, concentration and sleep-and-wake cycle and that “there are very specific types of toxins that affect these kinds of nervous systems … and these are insecticides, pesticides, organophosphates — specific neurotoxins.” They then concluded that cholinesterase, a key enzyme required for the proper functioning of the nervous system, was being blocked there.

Some pesticides work by inhibiting that enzyme, the report said, and during the 2016-2018 period when diplomats became ill, normal fumigation in Cuba was stepped up due to the Zika epidemic in the Caribbean. That increased fumigation in and around residences where they lived in Cuba was conducted by both Cuban and Canadian authorities.

The Canadian (and U.S.?) embassies actively sprayed in offices, as well as inside and outside diplomatic residences — sometimes five times more frequently than usual. Many times, spraying operations were carried out every two weeks, according to [Canadian?] embassy records. Toxicological analysis of the Canadian victims confirmed the presence of pyrethroid and organophosphate — two compounds found in fumigation products. There also was a correlation between the individuals most affected by the symptoms and the number of fumigations that were performed at their residence.

The Canadian researchers will now collaborate with Cuban officials to determine whether any Cubans suffered similar brain injuries.

The Canadian study was conducted by a team of researchers affiliated with the Brain Repair Centre at Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Health Authority. In charge was Dr. Alon Friedman, from the Department of Neurosciences and Medical Pediatrics, Dalhousie University, Canada.

Reactions

Cuban experts consider that the hypothesis presented by the Canadian team is a serious attempt to explain the symptoms reported through scientific research, “although it is premature to reach conclusions,” says Doctor of Science Mitchell Joseph Valdés-Sosa, General director of the Neurosciences Center of Cuba.

So far no U.S. reactions to this study have been found.

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[1] Friedman, Calkin & Bowen, Havana Syndrome: Neuroanatomical and Neurofunctional Assessment in Acquired Brain Injury Due to Unknown Etiology (May 24, 2019); Reuters, Exposure to neurotoxin may have caused Canadian, U.S. diplomats’ ailments in Cuba, Globe & Mail (Sept. 19, 2019); Havana syndrome: Exposure to neurotoxin may have been cause, CBS News (Sept. 19, 2019); Confirmed: “There is no Havana syndrome caused by mysterious weapons,” Cubadebate (Sept. 16, 2019); Cuban authorities endorse the new theory on the health conditions of diplomats, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 20, 2019). The medical problems of U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba have been discussed in many posts in this blog. (See “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” and “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2019” sections in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

 

 

Declining U.S. Rankings in Important International Socio-Political Indices

There are many international rankings of socio-political characteristics of the countries of the world. Here are at least six in which the U.S. ranking is declining.[1]

Freedom of the Press Index. The U.S. ranking has declined from 41 in 2016 to 48 in 2019in this index by Reporters Without Borders. Despite the importance of freedom of press in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. this year is behind all of Europe, Australia, Canada and New Zealand as well as far below Papua New Guinea and right below Romania.

This Index is “determined by pooling the responses of experts to a questionnaire devised by RSF [Reporters Sans Borders]. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated. The criteria evaluated in the questionnaire are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.”

Human Development Index. This index from the U.N. measures life expectancy, education and per capita income. For the most recent year (2018), the U.S. is 13th behind most of our European friends, Australia and Canada.

Level of Corruption Index. Compiled by Transparency International, this Index for 2018 (the most recent year) has the U.S. as 22nd in 2018 with a score of 71/100 versus 18th in 2016. The U.S. is far below Denmark, Sweden, Australia and Canada as well as below Estonia and just a little less corrupt than the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

The U.S. along with Brazil and the Czech Republic was listed as a “country to watch” in 2019. According to Transparency International, “With a score of 71, the United States lost four points since last year, dropping out of the top 20 countries on the CPI for the first time since 2011. The low score comes at a time when the US is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balances as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power.”

Income Inequality Index.  The Gini Coefficient measures perfect equality as 0 and perfect inequality as 1. In the mid-1970s the U.S. had a coefficient of 0.406 and in the mid-2000s as 0.486. Other reports of this Index by the CIA had the U.S. at 39th with a score of 0.450 (2017) while the World Bank said 59th with 0.410 (2013).

Global Peace Index. This Index is produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) as the world’s leading measure of global peacefulness. This report presents the most comprehensive data-driven analysis to date on peace, its economic value, trends, and how to develop peaceful societies.” From a ranking of 124th in 2018, the U.S. has declined to 128th out of 163 in 2019.

Social Progress Index. This ranks countries by their average score for scores for three broad dimensions: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. For 2019 the U.S. had a score of 84.78 for a ranking of 25 out of 146 countries after declining since 2014. All of the G7 countries are ahead of the U.S. in health and education.

Conclusion

These indices are examples of contemporary efforts to reduce complex socio-political phenomena to digital numbers and thereby enable the construction of tables and rankings. Theoretically one could make a detailed analysis of the assumptions and sources of the data used to make these tables and rankings in order to make an informed conclusion about the validity of the indices. But the overall conclusion of these indices that the U.S. is not Number One would be shocking to many Americans.

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[1] Kennedy, The U.S. Is Falling, World View (Summer 2019) ;Reporters without Borders, World Press Freedom 2019; UN Development Programme, Human Development Indices and Indicators (2018) Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 ;World Bank, GINI Index (World Bank Estimate)–Country Rankings; CIA, Distribution of Family Income—GINI Index ;Institute for Economic and Peace, Peace Index 2019; Social Progress Imperative, Social Progress Index (2018); Kristof, Keynote Address, American Oxonian (Winter/Spring 2018).

 

Continued Disagreements Over What Happened to U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

Many previous posts have discussed the disagreements between the U.S. and Cuba over what, if anything, happened to U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba starting in late 2016. [1] That disagreement continues.

U.S. Medical Report [2]

The latest report on these issues by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair was published in the July 23/30 issue of the medical journal, JAMA. Its abstract of the study said the following:

  • “Importance. United States government personnel experienced potential exposures to uncharacterized directional phenomena while serving in Havana, Cuba, from late 2016 through May 2018. The underlying neuroanatomical findings have not been described.”
  • “Objective. To examine potential differences in brain tissue volume, microstructure, and functional connectivity in government personnel compared with individuals not exposed to directional phenomena.”
  • “Design, Setting, and Participants. Forty government personnel (patients) who were potentially exposed and experienced neurological symptoms underwent evaluation at a US academic medical center from August 21, 2017, to June 8, 2018, including advanced structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging analytics. Findings were compared with imaging findings of 48 demographically similar healthy controls.”
  • “Exposures. Potential exposure to uncharacterized directional phenomena of unknown etiology, manifesting as pressure, vibration, or sound.”
  • “Main Outcomes and Measures. Potential imaging-based differences between patients and controls with regard to (1) white matter and gray matter total and regional brain volumes, (2) cerebellar tissue microstructure metrics (mean diffusivity), and (3) functional connectivity in the visuospatial, auditory, and executive control subnetworks.”
  • “Results. Imaging studies were completed for 40 patients (mean age, 40.4 years; 23 [57.5%] men; imaging performed a median of 188 [range, 4-403] days after initial exposure) and 48 controls (mean age, 37.6 years; 33 [68.8%] men). Mean whole brain white matter volume was significantly smaller in patients compared with controls (patients: 542.22 cm3; controls: 569.61 cm3; difference, −27.39 [95% CI, −37.93 to −16.84] cm3P < .001), with no significant difference in the whole brain gray matter volume (patients: 698.55 cm3; controls: 691.83 cm3; difference, 6.72 [95% CI, −4.83 to 18.27] cm3P = .25). Among patients compared with controls, there were significantly greater ventral diencephalon and cerebellar gray matter volumes and significantly smaller frontal, occipital, and parietal lobe white matter volumes; significantly lower mean diffusivity in the inferior vermis of the cerebellum (patients: 7.71 × 10−4 mm2/s; controls: 8.98 × 10−4 mm2/s; difference, −1.27 × 10−4 [95% CI, −1.93 × 10−4 to −6.17 × 10−5] mm2/s; P < .001); and significantly lower mean functional connectivity in the auditory subnetwork (patients: 0.45; controls: 0.61; difference, −0.16 [95% CI, −0.26 to −0.05]; P = .003) and visuospatial subnetwork (patients: 0.30; controls: 0.40; difference, −0.10 [95% CI, −0.16 to −0.04]; P = .002) but not in the executive control subnetwork (patients: 0.24; controls: 0.25; difference: −0.016 [95% CI, −0.04 to 0.01]; P = .23).”
  • “Conclusions and Relevance. Among US government personnel in Havana, Cuba, with potential exposure to directional phenomena, compared with healthy controls, advanced brain magnetic resonance imaging revealed significant differences in whole brain white matter volume, regional gray and white matter volumes, cerebellar tissue microstructural integrity, and functional connectivity in the auditory and visuospatial subnetworks but not in the executive control subnetwork. The clinical importance of these differences is uncertain and may require further study.” (Emphases added.)

U.S. Commentary on the JAMA Report

JAMA Editorial [3]  In the same JAMA issue containing the University of Pennsylvania report, two medical doctors published an editorial that cautioned readers that the relevance of the neuroimaging findings was “uncertain” and that the exact nature of the affliction “remains unclear,” adding that more scientific evidence is needed.

Washington Post Editorial [4] “The authors of the study  acknowledge it had limitations: a small sample, a control group that was not ideal, and the methods could not offer any clues about what external event caused the trauma. A fair amount of mystery still shrouds the whole episode. The FBI was brought in to investigate, but its findings are not known. There has been speculation the U.S. diplomats, and some from Canada, were attacked by a weapon or device such as a microwave beam or sonic waves, but there is no confirmation.”

After conceding that the new study reported in JAMA “does not solve” the issues, the Post editorial asserts that study “does require that it be pursued. . . .The [U.S.] must continue to demand accountability for whoever did this, and the first step is to find out who, and why.”

According to the editorial, service in Cuba “clearly was not safe for the diplomats who suffered brain trauma. Cuba has a pervasive security service. Surely it knows what really happened. Instead of urging everyone to look the other way, Cuba’s government should get to the bottom of this and make public the findings. The [U.S.] must demand no less.”

New Yorker Article [5] Adam Entous, a staff writer for The New Yorker, interviewed Dr. Douglas Smith, the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair, about its study. Smith said that the study revealed tangible neurological changes that “are not like anything we’ve ever seen before.” But it “is clear that something structural in the brain was affected, but we don’t know what that is and what caused the effects.”  Nevertheless, Dr. Smith added, the “mass-hysteria hypothesis is debunked by very obvious neurological findings that you can’t imitate, you can’t mimic.” The study validated “that there are signs of brain damage.”

Dr. Smith also told Entous that the 40 patients also included CIA officers and that the study included imaging data for 36 of the 40 patients; the other four “were unreachable by any mode of communication,” presumably because they were CIA officers who are now operating under new covers in other countries.

According to Entous, although there still is no “hard scientific evidence about what caused the injuries, U.S. intelligence agencies still think the victims were attacked, most likely by Russia, which had ‘the means, motive, and opportunity,’ a second senior U.S. official told me. The official cautioned, however, that it was highly unlikely, at this late stage in the investigation, that U.S. spy agencies would uncover direct evidence, such as intercepted communications of Russian operatives admitting their culpability. The [unnamed] official said, ‘You almost never have it direct from the horse’s mouth, saying, ‘It was us. Great job, comrade!’ ”

Slate Article [6] After publication of the previously mentioned report, Slate published the following list of the suggested potential causes for the problems of these U.S. diplomats “ranked in highly unscientific order from least likely to most likely:” (1) noise; (2) microwaves; (3) viral infection; (4) previous trauma; (5) crickets or cicadas (partially); and (6) “it’s all in their heads.”

Cuba’s Reactions [7]

 At a July 30, 2019, press conference in Havana, Dr. Mitchell Joseph Valdés-Sosa, General Director of Cuba’s  Neurosciences Center, on behalf of the Cuba’s Expert Committee, presented reactions to the University of Pennsylvania’s report.

Dr. Valdés-Sosa said that this report does not allow clear scientific conclusions to be drawn. The medical results are confusing and contradictory, of special concern given the numerous questions already raised by the international scientific community, which have not been satisfactorily answered.

The article does not prove that the diplomats suffered brain damage during their stay in Cuba, contrary to speculation and what was raised in tan August 2018 article in JAMA. More specifically the Cuban expert asserted the following:

“1-The authors themselves acknowledge that the study is inconclusive and that they have no explanation for their findings.

2-The changes described are small, very diverse, inconsistent, and do not indicate a coherent pattern. This is not only the opinion of the Cuban medical group, but of recognized experts in the field of neuroimaging, who have stated that these results are not consistent.

3-It is common that in neuroimaging studies, as in other medical fields, there are effects noted in small samples, which are not replicable. They originate by chance. Some of the changes reflect a slight change toward the abnormal, but others are slightly hyper normal.

4-The degree of to which the two groups’ data overlap is not shown in the article.

5-The differences between diplomats and controls, if any, may be related to how the control group was selected. Any pre-existing illness in a group of diplomats, which is absent in the controls (and vice versa) could give rise to a difference in the images.

6-The measures of functional connectivity networks used are very nonspecific and are altered by the psychological state of the subject, as recognized in the article itself and by the scientific community.

7-There is no discernible relationship between the alterations detected in the neuroimages and the symptoms reported by diplomats.

8-There is no coherence between the findings reported in this article and those from the previous one. For example, in the previous piece, from the same research group at the University of Pennsylvania, alterations of executive functions in neuropsychological tests were described. In this work no functional connectivity alterations are found in the executive subnet.

9-Alterations noted in neuroimages, if any, may have originated before the subject’s stay in Cuba or due to a disease unrelated to the ‘directional’ phenomena of strange sounds and other sensations described by diplomats.

10-Although the article’s title refers to so-called ‘directional phenomena,’ the work does not show any relationship between the findings in the images and these alleged phenomena. This is important, given the scientific community’s widespread skepticism regarding theories of sonic or microwave attacks.”

Therefore, the Cuban experts believe “the only way to clarify the health status of those affected is through transparent scientific discussion and the exchange of open, unbiased information.”

These experts observations were previewed by Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. He tweeted, “There isn’t the least evidence or scientific explanation supporting deliberate actions against diplomats in [Havana]. The article published by JAMA corroborates that. The [US] government lies are targeted against [Cuba]. The manipulation of this issue should stop.”

Conclusion

It is totally amazing that after nearly three years after the first U.S. diplomats in Cuba reported various medical problems, there still is no definitive public verdict on whether and why some diplomats (and CIA personnel) have suffered medical problems.

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[1] This blog has published many posts about this situation. See the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” and “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2019” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA. 

[2] Verma, Swanson, Parker, et al., Neuroimaging Findings in US Government Personnel With Possible Exposure to Directional Phenomena in Havana, Cuba, JAMA (July 23/30, 2019); Lederman, Doctors find differences in brains of U.S. diplomats who alleged mystery attacks in Cuba, NBC News (July  23, 2019); Health incidents in Cuba and China; an explainer, Center Democracy in Americas (Mar. 15, 2019)

[3] Muth (MD) & Lewis (MD), Editorial: Neurological Symptoms Among US Diplomats in Cuba, JAMA (Mar. 20, 2019).

 [4]  Editorial, The U.S. must demand accountability for what happened to diplomats in Cuba, Wash. Post (July 28, 2019).

[5] Entous, Brain Scans Shed New Light on Mysterious Attacks on U.S. Diplomats and Spies in Cuba, New Yorker (July 29, 2019).

[6] Paulus, A Comprehensive List of All the Potential Causes of the Cuban “Sonic” Attacks, Slate (July 26, 2019).

[7] No clear scientific evidence exists on alleged sonic attacks against U.S. diplomats in Cuba, Granma (Aug. 5, 2019); Rodriguez, Tweet (July 24, 2019); Cuba dismisses findings of ‘sonic attack’ study, BBC (July 24, 2019).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

As has been noted in a post about the recent launching of the new U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the following favorable comments about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): “The Commission will focus on “human rights grounded in our nation’s founding principles and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An American commitment to uphold human rights played a major role in transforming the moral landscape of the international relations after World War II, something all Americans can rightly be proud of. Under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights ended forever the notion that nations could abuse their citizens without attracting notice or repercussions.” [1] (Emphasis added.)

In addition, the Commission’s chair, Mary Ann Glendon, has written a marvelous book about the UDHR: A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2001). [2] In her Preface, she says this Declaration “became a pillar of a new international system under which a nation’s treatment of its own citizens was no longer immune from outside scrutiny. . . . Today, the Declaration is the single most important reference point for cross-national discussions of how to order our future together on our increasingly conflict-ridden and interdependent planet.”  (Emphasis added.) Her book’s Epilogue emphatically states:

  • The Universal Declaration created a bold new course for human rights by presenting a vision of freedom as linked to social security, balanced by responsibilities, grounded in respect for equal human dignity, and grounded by the rule of law.”
  • The Declaration’s principles, moreover, have increasingly acquired legal force, mainly through their incorporation into national legal systems.”
  • One of the most basic assumptions of the founders of the UN and the framers of the Declaration was that the root causes of atrocities and armed conflict are frequently to be found in poverty and discrimination.” (Emphases added.)

Therefore, the following brief summary of the UDHR should assist in understanding the upcoming work of the Commission.

The History of the UDHR

The Charter of the United Nations entered into force on October 24, 1945. Its Preamble stated, in part, that the U.N. was created “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women” and “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” And one of its stated purposes was “To achieve international cooperation . . . in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” (Art. 1(3)) The Charter also established the Economic and Social Council (Ch. X), which was to “make recommendations for the purpose of promoting respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.” (Art. 62(2))

In June 1946, that  Economic and Social Council established the Commission on Human Rights, comprising 18 members from various nationalities and political backgrounds. The Commission then established a special Universal Declaration of Human Rights Drafting Committee, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, to write the Declaration. The Committee met in two sessions over the course of two years to consider that proposed instrument with Canadian John Peters Humphrey, Director of the Division of Human Rights within the U.N. United Nations Secretariat, as the principal drafter of the UDHR along with a committee that included René Cassin of France, Charles Malik of Lebanon, and P. C. Chang of the Republic of China. Once the Committee finished its drafting in May 1948, the draft was further discussed by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the U.N. Economic and Social Council, and the Third Committee of the General Assembly. During these discussions many amendments and propositions were made by UN Member States.

On December 10, 1948, the U.N. General Assembly at a meeting in Paris, France adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by a vote of 48-0. Eight other countries abstained: the Soviet Union, five members of the Soviet bloc (Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Yugoslavia), South Africa and Saudi Arabia. The other two U.N. members at the time were absent and not voting (Honduras and Yemen).[3]

Selected Provisions of the UDHR

Many of this Declaration’s words in its Preamble and 30 Articles are reminiscent of the language of the U.S. Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. Here are some of those words in the U.N. document:

  • “[R]ecognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” (Preamble)
  • “[H]uman rights should be protected by the rule of law.” (Preamble)
  • The “peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women.” (Preamble)
  • N. “Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” (Preamble)
  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” (Art. 1)
  • Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other s” (Art. 2)
  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” (Art.3)
  • All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.” (Art. 7)
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” (Art. 18) (Emphases added.)

Legal Status of the UDHR

As a resolution of the U.N. General Assembly, the UDHR is not legally binding on U.N. members. As Mr. Justice Souter stated in an opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court, “the [Universal] Declaration does not of its own force impose obligations as a matter of international law.”[4] Instead, like the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the UDHR was an inspiration and prelude to the subsequent preparation and adoption of various multilateral human rights treaties as well as national constitutions and laws.

Conclusion

 On December 10, 1978, the 30th anniversary of the UDHR’s adoption, President Jimmy Carter said this Declaration “and the human rights conventions [treaties] that derive from it . . . are a beacon, a guide to a future of personal security, political freedom, and social justice. . . . The Universal Declaration means that no nation can draw the cloak of sovereignty over torture, disappearances, officially sanctioned bigotry, or the destruction of freedom within its own borders. . . . Our pursuit of human rights is part of a broad effort to use our great power and our tremendous influence in the service of creating a better world, a world in which human beings can live in peace, in freedom, and with their basic needs adequately met.”[5]

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[1] Here are other posts about the Commission:  Is Trump Administration Attempting To Redefine International Human Rights? (June 15, 2019); Other Reactions to State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights (June 17, 2019); More Thoughts on Commission on Unalienable Rights (June 18, 2019); U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights: Developments (July 4, 2019); More Comments About the Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 9, 2019).

[2] The Glendon book discusses the history of the drafting of the Declaration and includes copies of the various drafts.

[3] U.N., Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec. 10, 1948), UN Gen. Assembly Res. 217A, Doc A/810 at 71;Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Wikipedia; Kentonspecial, Human Rights Declaration Adopted by U.N. General Assembly; U.N. VOTES ACCORD ON HUMAN RIGHTS, N.Y. Times (Dec. 11, 1948).

[4] Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain,  542 U.S. 692 (2004); Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, Wikipedia.

[5] Excerpts From Carter’s Speech on Anniversary of Human Rights Declaration, N.Y. Times (Dec. 10, 1978).