Pandemic Journal (# 1): Kristof and Osterholm Analyses

Sunday morning’s news outlets reported that worldwide there now are over 300,000 persons who have contracted the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)  and at least 12,944 have died of this infection while the U.S. statistics are more than 24,300 cases and more than 370 deaths. My State of Minnesota has 169 confirmed cases and its first death while the state’s most populous county (Hennepin with the City of Minneapolis), where I live, has  57 confirmed cases and no deaths.

This blogger has decided to periodically post his reactions to living through this pandemic.

This first post will focus on some of today’s overall perspectives from those who know about what is happening: Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, who has talked with a lot of experts, and Michael Osterholm, now at the University of Minnesota as Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health, the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, a professor in the Technological Leadership Institute, College of Science and Engineering, and an adjunct professor in the Medical School.[1]

Other posts will discuss other important developments in the crisis as well as his personal reactions to these problems.

Kristof’s Analysis[2]

One of the most disturbing Sunday articles was by Nicholas Kristof, who set forth what experts are seeing as the “worst case” and “best case” for the U.S. in March 2021, one year from now.

Worst Case

“More than two million Americans have died from the new coronavirus, almost all mourned without funerals. Countless others have died because hospitals are too overwhelmed to deal adequately with heart attacks, asthma and diabetic crises. The economy has cratered into a depression, for fiscal and monetary policy are ineffective when people fear going out, businesses are closed and tens of millions of people are unemployed. A vaccine still seems far off, immunity among those who have recovered proves fleeting and the coronavirus has joined the seasonal flu as a recurring peril.”

The U.S. “badly bungled testing, and President Trump repeatedly dismissed the coronavirus, saying it was ‘totally under control’ and ‘will disappear,’ and insisting he wasn’t ‘concerned at all.’ . . .The United States has still done only a bit more than 10 percent as many tests per capita as Canada, Austria and Denmark.”

“By some counts, the United States is just eight days behind Italy on a similar trajectory, and it’s difficult to see how America can pirouette from the path of Italy to that of South Korea. The United States may already have 100,000 infected citizens — nobody knows. That’s too many to trace. Indeed, one can argue that the U.S. is not only on the same path as Italy but is also less prepared, for America has fewer doctors and hospital beds per capita than Italy does — and a shorter life expectancy even in the best of times.”

“Mitre, a nonprofit that does work on health care, calculated that coronavirus cases are doubling more quickly in the United States than in any other country it examined, including Italy and Iran.” Two experts’ models suggest “that up to 366,000 I.C.U. beds might be needed in the United States for coronavirus patients at one time, more than 10 times the number available.”

Therefore, the U.S. “should be urgently ramping up investment in vaccines and therapies, addressing the severe shortages of medical supplies and equipment, and giving retired physicians and military medics legal authority to practice in a crisis.” But that is not happening. Moreover, the U.S. “isn’t protecting health workers with the same determination” as China did after its initial failure to do so.“In the worst-case scenario, will social services collapse in some areas? Will order fray? Gun sales are increasing, because some people expect chaos and crime.” The U.S. “is in a weaker position than some other countries to confront the virus because it is the only advanced country that doesn’t have universal health coverage, and the only one that does not guarantee paid sick leave. With chronic diseases, the burden of these gaps is felt primarily by the poor; with infectious diseases, the burden will be shared by all Americans.”

Best Case

“Life largely returned to normal by the late summer of 2020, and the economy has rebounded strongly. The United States used a sharp, short shock in the spring of 2020 to break the cycle of transmission; warm weather then reduced new infections and provided a summer respite for the Northern Hemisphere. By the second wave in the fall, mutations had attenuated the coronavirus, many people were immune and drugs were shown effective in treating it and even in reducing infection. Thousands of Americans died, mostly octogenarians and nonagenarians and some with respiratory conditions, but by February 2021, vaccinations were introduced worldwide and the virus was conquered.”

According to Dr. Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist, “The best case is that the virus mutates and actually dies out.” Another expert,  Dr. Charles G. Prober, a professor at Stanford Medical School, agreed. Two other lethal coronaviruses, SARS and MERS, both petered out, and that is possible here. “My hope is that Covid-19 will not survive.”

“Several countries have shown that decisive action can turn the tide on Covid-19, at least for a time.” This especially is true for Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong that “responded with the standard epidemiological tool kit: vigilance and rapid response, testing, isolating the sick, tracing contacts, quarantining those exposed, ensuring social distancing and providing reliable information. They did not shut down their entire countries.”

It is possible that the U.S. and other Northern Hemisphere nations soon will experience warmer weather that will dampen the coronavirus as was true with two of the four other coronaviruses.

“There is hope that some antiviral medicines currently in clinical trials will be successful.”

Finally there is hope that “the coronavirus may be less lethal than was originally feared, so long as health care systems are not overwhelmed.”

Yet another expert, “Dr. Tara C. Smith, an epidemiologist at Kent State University, summed up all of these considerations: ‘I’m not pessimistic. I think this can work.’ She thinks it will take eight weeks of social distancing to have a chance to slow the virus, and success will depend on people changing behaviors and on hospitals not being overrun. ‘If warm weather helps, if we can get these drugs, if we can get companies to produce more ventilators, we have a window to tamp this down.’”

Our Responses

“This crisis should be a wake-up call to address long-term vulnerabilities. That means providing universal health coverage and paid sick leave.”  The coronavirus legislation adopted last week does not do that. “It guarantees sick leave to only about one-fifth of private-sector workers. It’s a symbol of the inadequacy of America’s preparedness.”

“More broadly, the United States must remedy its health priorities: We pour resources into clinical medicine but neglect public health. . . . The United States has a decentralized and spotty public health system, and it has endured painful budget cuts, yet historically public health has saved more lives than clinical medicine.”

Osterholm’s Perspective[3]

U.S. Difficulty in Appreciating Risk of Pandemics

First, the U.S. government and citizens “had almost this sense of invincibility that we had a border that would not allow such infectious-disease agents to penetrate … . We, of course, know that is folly. A microbe anywhere in the world today can be anywhere in the world tomorrow.”

Second, “we tend to lack creative imagination. {Yet those ]who knew health care knew that health care [had been] carved down to the bone for which there was no resiliency of any substantial nature, no excess capacity, no monies to stockpile large volumes of protective equipment.”  In addition, there has been “no real understanding of the vulnerability of this country outsourcing all of its drug supply manufacturing to places like China.”

Third, “I think it’s human nature to not want to believe this” risk.

This January Osterholm wrote a notification for the CIDRAP leadership forum, saying, “ “I now am absolutely convinced this is going to be a pandemic. This will be a worldwide epidemic. We will see major transmission around the world. And what has happened in Wuhan [China] will happen in other places.” But this warning had no impact on U.S. policies.

 U.S. Needs ‘New Normal’

 U.S. and others need to find a new normal, a way to live with COVID-19. We “can’t shelter in place for 18 months. This isn’t going to work.” Instead, we need a national goal.

We must “make every effort to … protect those most vulnerable. And we [need to] continue to emphasize social distancing, … [and] keep the hospitals from being overrun. We [must] keep doing that until we get a vaccine. . . . It won’t be perfect. Some people will get sick, some may die.”

“People are really concerned. They’re scared … but they’re not panicking. They want straight talk.” They want the truth, and they are not getting it from the Trump administration.

“[A recent British scientific paper] said crowd size really makes no difference. We really have no data on crowd size. Their modeling says we have to have contact … that if you shook hands with all 50,000 people in an arena, you got a problem. But if you didn’t, the risk of transmission is not nearly as great as people think it is. We also don’t have good data that we have major transmission in schools from kids to kids and that they take it home to Mom and Dad.”

“Singapore did not close schools. Hong Kong did. We saw no difference. . . . {On the other hand,] I do know it makes a difference in saving lives in a hospital when you take out 20% of nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists who can’t work because they’re at home [to watch their kids]. I know that is a risk in putting grandparents in so that some can keep working.”

He is hopeful about some new potential treatments for COVID-19, such as chloroquine, that are being studied, but that, he says, is not a strategy.

Conclusion

As a retired lawyer in his 80’s with no experience or expertise on these global health issues, I concur in Professor Osterholm’s assertion that others and I want the truth from our government and national and local leaders. That truth will include admissions that they do not yet know certain important factors, that they are investigating those issues in a focused, disciplined, scientific manner and that the rest of us need to follow developments in the pandemic and follow the straightforward instructions: wash your hands frequently and carefully, maintain at least six-feet social distancing with other people and do not join groups of (10?) or more people. As noted above, other posts will explore my personal reactions to all of this situation.

=============================

[1] Osterholm also currently holds, and has held, other important positions in this field and is the co-author of “the 2017 book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, in which he not only details the most pressing infectious disease threats of our day but lays out a nine-point strategy on how to address them.” (CiDRAP, Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH.)

[2] Kristof, The Best-Case Outcome for the Coronavirus, and the Worst, N.Y. Times (Mar. 20, 2020).

[3] Burcum, Coronavirus pandemic: What’s ‘normal’ now? What’s next? An interview with Michael Osterholm, StarTribune (Mar. 22, 2020). /

 

Two Other Minnesota Cities Celebrate Diversity

Previous posts have discussed the positive impacts of immigrants on the southwestern Minnesota city of Worthington (Micropolitan Pop. 20,500 (2018)).  Now two other Minnesota outstate cities (southeastern Austin and northwestern Roseau) have joined the chorus.

Austin, Minnesota[1]

The city of Austin, population 25,190 (2018 est.) is the county seat of southeastern Mower County bordering Iowa to the south. It is the corporate headquarters of Hormel Foods Corp., a Fortune 500 company that grew out of the town’s small late 19th century butcher shop owned by George A. Hormel. In early January this year the county board gave its unanimous consent to resettlement of refugees.

“From 1% minority population in 1980 to 31% today, . . . [Austin’s] transformation has been profound. Immigrants from six continents call Austin home. Schools count more minority students than white students, with 48 different languages being spoken in classrooms. A medley of ethnic dining options and food markets surround the Spam Museum along Main Street downtown.”

The city’s high school basketball team, the Packers, has helped draw this diverse community together. For example, the winning last-second basket in a recent game was scored by Agwa Nywesh, an Ethiopian-American born in Austin.  “Hundreds of students storm the court and took “turns hugging him. White kids, and African kids, and Asian kids, and Hispanic kids. Rich kids, poor kids. All celebrating. The big victories, they bring people together.”

The high school’s soccer program is also successful, becoming a state-tournament regular. “Hold up a mirror to this team and Austin’s diversity stares back. The roster includes a mix of white, Hispanic, Karenni and African players, and one teammate from Poland.”

In its “swelling school district, 37% of students speak a primary language other than English, double the statewide average. One in 12 children here was born outside of the United States, and many more were raised speaking their parents’ native language.” In response , “cultural liaisons were hired to be ‘success coaches’ for students of different ethnic communities. Santino Deng, the success coach for the African community, describes his job as ‘like 9-1-1.’”

Adjusting to these changes was not easy. According to the city’s mayor, Tom Stiehm, at first “you have that big blank space in your head and we just have a tendency to fill it with negative things. Once I got to learn the community and learn the people,” he changed. “It’s the wave of the future. You can either ride that wave or you can drown. I tell people, it doesn’t matter what you like. This is going to happen, and you better acclimate yourself to it.”

“A Welcome Center opened on Main Street, and Taste of the Nations events offered foods from different cultures, including hot dish from the ladies at the Lutheran church. The Hormel Foundation, which pours more than $9 million annually into Mower County with many initiatives, partnered with the YMCA to create a kid-friendly membership: $1 per year, per kid. One night, more than 700 kids — many of them Sudanese — checked into the Y within a four-hour period.”

“City leaders have begun including new voices in high-profile settings. The City Council established a rotating, honorary seat that goes to a leader from an immigrant community. That person doesn’t vote but serves for three months sitting alongside the city attorney and police chief at meetings.”

“Over time, immigrant families found their footing, becoming permanent citizens, taxpayers, homeowners, neighbors. Their kids filled schools, and immigrants opened businesses downtown.”

All of this prompted the state’s main newspaper, the StarTribune, to salute Austin in an editorial. “At a time when so much public discussion about immigrants and immigration is negative — with overblown, fear-inducing narratives about criminal activity, building walls and keeping people out — a Minnesota town is demonstrating how new Americans can strengthen a community.”

 Roseau, Minnesota[2]

The city of Roseau, population 2,660 (2018 est.), is the county seat of Roseau County bordering Canada. A predecessor of Polaris Industries started its history there in 1954 with a prototype of a snowmobile, and the town still has the company’s main manufacturing plant for snowmobiles, all-terrain-vehicles (“ATVs”) and other products along with the company’s R&D.

Roseau, however, has an aging, declining population like most other small communities in the state and as a result has a major challenge in meeting Polaris’ demand for workers. Steve Hine, a research economist for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, said,  “There aren’t enough young people being born in Roseau County and staying in Roseau County to meet the needs of an expanding company like Polaris.”

A year ago Polaris hired a Puerto Rican recruiting firm to find a partial solution for a plant that consistently has about 70 job openings — and could add 70 more jobs if it could find the workers. In so doing, the company recognized that Puerto Rico might be a ready source of workers as it was suffering from hurricanes and more recently earthquakes and as its residents were U.S. citizens.

This recruiting effort has been successful. “On a recent weeknight, some 150 people crowded into Polaris’ fancy new lobby to celebrate the newcomers. A Puerto Rican made 80 pounds of pork butt. The manager of Roseau’s town ball team recruited Puerto Rican ballplayers. One Puerto Rican couple danced merengue. It was the biggest turnout Roseau’s Civic and Commerce Association has ever had.”

One of the newcomers, Ricardo Rojas, had been “a successful network systems engineer for a health insurer in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the mortgage on his $345,000 house was paid off, and his daughter was attending private school. Then he got laid off, . . . [and he] struggled to find steady work. . . . [His] home value plummeted. Jobs became even more scarce.” Now the job at Polaris “was a lifeline: double the pay of a manufacturing job back home, with full benefits, plus a better education for his 14-year-old daughter, who wants to be a doctor.”

Another Puerto Rican newcomer, Edwin Colón Pérez, “had worked at a medical manufacturing company in Puerto Rico, where he made $10.81 an hour. But production plummeted after the hurricane. Colleagues were laid off. Pérez has two children, 5 and 10, so he jumped at the opportunity to work 12-hour night shifts on Polaris’ manufacturing line, where he bends pipes in tube fabrication. He was excited to live in a place the high school principal describes as ‘Mayberry in the ’60s.’”

More generally, the Puerto Ricans “have filled the town’s housing — in apartments, in rental houses, in converted church basements — and brought diversity to this generations-long Scandinavian outpost.” They also “work at the AmericInn and at the bakery at Super One Foods. One Polaris employee hopes to open a restaurant featuring island specialties like mofongo and alcapurria. The wife of another hopes to start a school dance team. They worship at churches and drink beers at Legends Sports Pub and Grill. At a high school lip-sync competition, a new student rapped in Spanish a song he’d written. The 500 students erupted in applause.”

Rev. Steve Hoffer, pastor at Roseau Evangelical Covenant Church, welcomes the Puerto Ricans to the town. Along with six other churches, his church collected donated furniture and bedding, winter coats and used cars for the newcomers and bought plane tickets for families while Polaris paid for travel and temporary lodging for each worker. Said Pastor Hoffer,  “This is a win-win-win for everyone. This is a win for Polaris because companies up here in the northwest corner of Minnesota have a hard time finding employees. It’s a win for our community because it helps broaden the overall perspective of our town. There’s a world of people out there with very different experiences than people who have been here their entire lives. And it’s a win for the folks who are moving here, because this is an economic opportunity they simply didn’t have in Puerto Rico.”

Comments

These two towns remind one of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s recent consent to resettlement of refugees. In his letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, the Governor said, “Minnesota has a strong moral tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge. Our state has always stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home.” Moreover, he said, “Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy. Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. They are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers. They are our neighbors.” (Emphasis in original.)[3]

===================================

[1] Austin, Minnesota, Wikipedia; Mower County, Minnesota, Wikipedia; Mower County Online; Hormel Foods Corp.;Minnesota Counties’ Actions on Refugee Resettlement, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 15, 2020); Scoggins, Austin’s True Colors, StarTribune (Feb. 23, 2020); Editorial, A salute to Austin—a welcoming Minnesota town, StarTribune (Mar. 2, 2020).

[2] Forgrave, Puerto Rican connection brings workers, diversity to Roseau, StarTribune (Mar. 7, 2020); Flores, Photography: Puerto Rican families make their home in Roseau, StarTribune (Mar. 8, 2020); Roseau, Minnesota, Wikipedia; Roseau County, Minnesota, Wikipedia; Roseau County, Welcome; Polaris Inc., Wikipedia; Polaris Industries, Inc.

[3]  Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 14, 2019).

 

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]

=====================================

[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.)

====================================

[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.

==================================

[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.

================================

[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.

=====================================

[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.

========================================

[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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

T

 

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]

=====================================================

[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).

 

U.S. Reactions to New U.S. Anti-Cuba Policies 

U.S. objections to the new U.S. policies regarding Cuba (and Venezuela and Nicaragua) have been registered by a Bloomberg News editorial; by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; by Representative Eliot Engel, the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and other representatives and by groups and individuals outside the government. They will be discussed first.[1]

Then we will look at support for the policies from three Cuban-American legislators (Sen. Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), Sen. Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Rep.Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL); from Sen. Rick Scott (Rep., FL); and from Walter Russell Mead of the Wall Street Journal.

Given the legitimate current U.S.  preoccupation with the Mueller Report and its implications, there have been no editorials (to date) on these Cuba policy changes in other leading newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal) or by the sponsors of the pending Senate bill to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba (Senators Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Mike Enzi (Rep., WY)) or by the Chair of the House ‘s Cuba Working Group Steering Committee (Tom Emmer (Rep., MN).

Critics of the New Policies[2]

  1. The Bloomberg Editorial.

Although it was worthy for the U.S. to seek to persuade Cuba to stop helping Venezuela’s Maduro, Bloomberg says the new policies are “the wrong way to get results.”

In fact, says Bloomberg, the new U.S. policies and actions will “inflict real damage on Cuba,” and  “that’s unlikely to make the country’s rulers budge. Instead, opening the [U.S.] floodgates for litigation against Canadian and European companies doing business in Cuba will fracture the international front against Maduro — not to mention swamping U.S. courts with troublesome lawsuits.” In fact, such litigation is “more an attack on America’s friends than on Cuba or Venezuela.”

Moreover, according to Bloomberg, “Aside from dividing what could have been a U.S.-led coalition [against Venezuela’s Maduro], the new escalation will play into the hands of aging hardliners, encouraging Cuba to seek help from Russia and China, and weaken potent internal forces for change.”

  1. Engage Cuba

Engage Cuba, the leading bipartisan coalition of businesses and others who support U.S.-Cuba normalization, issued the following critical comments:

(Statement by James Williams, President of Engage Cuba)

  • “President Trump is doing this for one reason, and one reason only: to appease fringe hardliners in South Florida ahead of the 2020 election. The only way to get property claimants what they deserve is through diplomatic negotiations, which President Trump just threw off the table. . . This lets the Cuban government off the hook and shifts the burden to American, European and Canadian companies. American companies and our closest allies will now be paying instead of the Cuban government.”
  • “The hypocrisy of the Trump administration cozying up to the most brutal dictatorships in the world in Saudi Arabia, Russia and North Korea, but claiming to care about democracy and human rights in Cuba, is like living in a parallel universe. President Trump himself tried for years to open up a Trump Hotel and golf resort in Cuba.”
  • “U.S. travel and remittances are the lifeblood of the private sector entrepreneurs in Cuba. These restrictions are a cruel betrayal and a knife in the back of Cuban civil society and the prospects for a growing independent private sector in Cuba. The Cuban people are already struggling under tremendous difficulties, and these actions only make it worse. We need a policy that focuses on empowering the Cuban people and advancing American interests, not continuing a 60-year failed policy that only serves fringe domestic politics in South Florida.”

(Property Claim Lawsuits)

  • “The Trump administration has chosen to break precedent with every administration since President Clinton by failing to waive Titles III and IV of the the LIBERTAD Act, commonly referred to as the Helms-Burton Act after its sponsors. When Title III takes effect on May 2, American companies and foreign firms will be subject to lawsuits in U.S. courts over the use of properties that were nationalized by the Cuban government following the 1959 revolution. Title IV will also take effect, requiring the denial of U.S. visas for anyone “trafficking” in confiscated Cuban properties, as well as their relatives.”
  • “In opposition to international law, Title III affords claimant rights to Cuban Americans who were Cuban citizens at the time their property was confiscated. Currently, there are 5,913 certified claims of seized American property in Cuba, but the State Department has estimated there could be a flood of up to 200,000 claims with the full activation of Title III.”
  • “Due to Title III’s potential to jeopardize U.S. trade interests, every U.S. administration since the law’s enactment in 1996 has suspended its implementation, typically for a period of six months. Today’s announcement marks the first time Title III has been fully activated and U.S. firms will be subject to lawsuits.”
  • “Companies from the biggest U.S. trade partners, including the European Union, Canada, and Mexico, will also be subject to property claim lawsuits under Title III, though most countries will protect their companies from having to pay damages to U.S. property claimants. The EU and Canada have threatened retaliation in the World Trade Organization.”
  • “Meanwhile, U.S. adversaries like Russia and China are unlikely to comply with Title III lawsuits and will instead align themselves with Cuba against this extraterritorial U.S. policy. By maintaining a trade embargo, the U.S. has already left a vacuum in Cuba for adversarial influence. As Cuba continues to be isolated by the Trump administration, it will increasingly turn to Russia and China, who offer them favorable credit terms and invest in high-profile projects.”

(New Restrictions on Remittances,Travel, and Financial Transactions)

  • “Bolton also announced there will be new limits on non-family travel to Cuba and U.S. remittances to the island, a heavy blow to Cuba’s nascent private sector (roughly one-third of the workforce) which greatly depends on remittances and U.S. travelers to keep their small businesses alive. Remittances will now be capped at $1,000 per quarter, a dramatic departure from the $4 billion that flowed to the Cuban people after the Obama administration lifted all limits on remittances in 2015.”
  • “Five Cuban government-run businesses will be added to the list of entities with which direct financial transactions are barred. New Department of Treasury regulations will prohibit U.S. banks from processing “U-Turn transactions,” Cuba-related funds transfers from a bank outside the U.S. that pass through U.S. financial institutions before being transferred to banks abroad where neither the originator nor the beneficiary is a U.S. national.”
  1. U.S. Chamber of Commerce

“Six decades of trying to isolate Cuba has failed to bring change to the island, and today’s move only doubles down on this strategy. The U.S. Chamber’s support for a new approach to Cuba is founded in our profound conviction that more engagement with the Cuban people — on the basis of free enterprise and free markets — is essential to democratic change and improvements in the Cuban people’s lives.”

“We strongly support U.S. government efforts to protect the property rights of U.S. citizens abroad, but full implementation of Title III is unlikely to achieve those aims and is instead more likely to result in a protracted legal and diplomatic morass that ensnares U.S. courts, companies and partners. . . . Furthermore, it is difficult to see how this action squares with the administration’s earlier commitment to hold harmless U.S. companies legally authorized and previously encouraged to do business in Cuba.”

“Many American companies will now be subjected to countersuits in Europe, Canada, Latin America, and elsewhere. Today’s announcement threatens to disrupt our trade ties to these countries, which are among our closest allies and best customers. Instead, we should be working with them to make the case for democratic change in Cuba.”

  1. Center for Democracy in the Americas

Another U.S. group that supports U.S.-Cuba normalization, the Center for Democracy in the Americas, said through its executive director (and former Obama National Security Advisor) Emily Mendrala, “Capping remittances is mean-spirited, and can only be understood as the U.S. government’s attempt to create economic hardship among the Cuban people. Ambassador Bolton’s speech conflated Cuba with Venezuela, and he announced a policy approach that does the same. The two countries are different, living through very different moments, and to exploit events in Venezuela to settle Cold War scores with Cuba is a distraction from real needs in Venezuela.”

  1. Cuba Educational Travel

Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, added other critical comments. First, “the measures on remittances and travel threaten the economic survival of Cuban families and the viability of thousands of independent small businesses allowed to operate since 2010 under reforms implemented by former President Raúl Castro.” Second, “The only winners here are a handful of members of Congress and those stuck in the past that support them. The losers are millions of Cubans on and off the island and the overwhelming majority of Americans that support engagement with Cuba.”

  1. Current and Former Federal Government Officials

Representative Eliot Engel (Dem., NY), the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, stated, ““President Trump’s rejection of over two decades of bipartisan consensus on a key piece of U.S. policy toward Cuba will further isolate the United States from our Latin American and European allies and diminish our ability to promote democracy in Cuba and Venezuela. Sadly, this decision will do nothing to resolve U.S. property claims in Cuba—an important goal toward which we must continue to strive.”

Similar statements were issued by Representatives Kathy Castor (Dem., FL), James McGovern (Dem., MA), Barbara Lee (Dem., CA) and Donna Shalala (Dem., FL).

Benjamin Rhodes, a former Obama adviser who helped negotiate the December 2014 U.S.-Cuba normalization agreement, said, “Restricting remittances that can be sent to Cubans will directly hurt the Cuban people. This is a shameful and mean-spirited policy.”

Mark Feierstein, a former National Security Council’s Director for the Western Hemisphere, tweeted: “As Bolton delivers speech in Miami today on Cuba, it’s useful to keep in mind that according to public opinion polls, most Cuban-Americans approve the measures taken by the Obama Administration to support the Cuban people. The [National Security Council]. . . is out of step with majority opinion in Miami.” In another tweet  he stated, “What we’re leading the Cuban people toward is a darker day, where there will be less economic opportunity.”

  1. Other Americans

Tim Fernholz, who covers space, the economy and geopolitics for Quartz, has addressed the new policies’ adverse effects on the emrging Cuban private sector. He says, “The Trump administration is setting out to crush free markets in Cuba.” These policies “will damage Cuba’s nascent private sector far more than a ruling regime that has out-lasted six decades of US embargo. Trump is pulling the rug out from Cuba’s cuentrapropistas—literally, self-employed—eliminating their sources of capital and revenue and reducing their influence during the all-important transition to a post-Castro Cuban government. . . . US policy toward Cuba, meanwhile, is defined by a near-theological belief that isolating the Cuban people will lead them to abandon national self-determination.”

Supporters of the New Policies[3]

The two Cuban-American Senators and one of the Cuban-American U.S. Representatives, as expected, endorsed at least some of the new U.S. policies. So did Senator Rick Scott. So did Walter Russell Mead, who is the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities at Bard College, a Distinguished Fellow in American Strategy and Statesmanship at the Hudson Institute, and The Wall Street Journal’s Global View columnist.

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) said, “”By no longer suspending Title III of the Freedom Act, the Trump administration is the sixth of impunity by the Castro regime. The United States is opening the door to justice and enabling victims of the Cuban dictatorship to rightfully sue their perpetrators. Today, as we commemorate the value of the fallen heroes in the Bay of Pigs invasion, history is once again being written. ”

Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) offered a similar statement: “By fully implementing Title III of the LIBERTAD Act, the United States is rightly providing U.S. citizens with the means to hold the Cuban regime accountable through the U.S. justice system.”

Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL) issued a lengthier statement, which is extracted below:

  • “At long last, victims of confiscated properties will finally have the chance to pursue claims to recoup losses suffered at the hands of the Castro regime.”
  • “President Trump and his administration have demonstrated remarkable solidarity with the Cuban people and the regime’s other victims in tightening sanctions by prohibiting financial transactions with the Cuban military.
  • “Cutting off resources and investment to the regime in Cuba will benefit both U.S. national security interests and regional security interests for neighbors in our hemisphere.”

Senator Scott stated, “Americans can finally sue for property stolen by the Cuban regime. We must continue to do everything we can to cut off the money supply to the Castro Regime, which continues to prop up dangerous dictators like Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.”

Walter Russell Mead. He starts with the proposition that Venezuela presents the key challenge of Latin America. “Left to accelerate, the breakdown of governance and civilized life in Venezuela can only create more refugees, enrich arms smugglers and drug cartels, allow forces like Hezbollah to insinuate themselves more deeply in the region. On the other hand, a return to some kind of stability under a pro-business government would initiate an economic recovery that would help the people of Venezuela and their neighbors alike, and deprive the terror cartels of much of their arms and funding. Crucially, if Venezuelan oil production recovers, it would help stabilize world energy markets and significantly increase American leverage with both Russia and Iran.”

“The continued collapse of Venezuela’s economy means the Cuban regime is also facing disaster. From the Trump administration’s point of view, this is a historic opportunity. If Cuba . . . abandons socialism on Mr. Trump’s watch, the president’s prestige at home and abroad would soar.”

Therefore, says Mead, the Trump Administration hopes for “historic victories in Cuba and Venezuela.” That plus  “the fear of a costly defeat have combined to persuade the Trump administration to adopt some of the most far-reaching economic sanctions ever imposed.” In short, no previous U.S. president “has been willing to impose sanctions that alienate powerful allies to this degree over Caribbean policy. That Washington is pressing ahead suggests how high a priority Venezuela has become for the administration.”

Conclusion

There are so many reasons to oppose the new U.S. policies towards Cuba, as this blogger does. Just refer to the above section regarding such opposition and to the similar discussion in the previous posts cited in footnote 1.

As always, this blog invites reasoned comments, pro or con, or corrections from all readers of this post.

===================================

[1] Prior posts have discussed (a) the April 17 announcement of the U.S. allowance of litigation over alleged trafficking in American-owned Cuba property that was expropriated by the Cuban government, circa 1959-60; (b) National Security Advisor John Bolton’s April 17 announcement of additional Cuba sanctions; (c) Cuban reactions to these changes; and (d) European and other countries’ reactions to these changes. These changes take effect in the midst of Cuba’s current dire economic situation, which was the subject of another post.

[2] Editorial, Cuba Is a Problem That Trump Is Making Worse, Bloomberg (April 22, 2019); Press Release, Engage Cuba Statement on New Cuba Sanctions (April 17, 2019); Engage Cuba, Memorandum: New Sanctions on Cuba Announced April 17, 2019 (April 2019); U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Statement on Cuba and Title III of the LIBERTAD Act (April 17, 2019); Center for Democracy in the Americas, CDA STATEMENT:Cuba Sanctions announcement (April 17, 2019); Cuba Educational Travel, CET Statement on President Trump’s Cuba Policy Changes (April 17, 2019); Engel on Implementation of Article III of the Helms-Burton Act (April  17, 2019); U.S. Rep. Castor: The Trump Administration’s Announcement of New, Hardline Restrictions on Cuba Brings Pain to Families, Hurts Growing Cuban Private Sector (April 17, 2019); McGovern Statement on Trump Administration;’s Reckless Policy Change Toward Cuba (April 17, 2019); Congresswoman Barbara Lee Slams President Trump’s Backwards Policy Towards Cuba (April 17, 2019); Caputo, Trump crackdown on “3 stooges of socialism’ has 2020 thrust, Politico (April 17, 2019) (Rep. Shalala quotation); Reuters, Trump’s Cuba Hawks Try to Squeeze Havana Over Venezuela Role, N.Y Times  (April 18, 2019) (Rhodes quotation); Feierstein Twitter Account; Fernholz, Cuba’s entrepreneurs are under attack by Donald Trump, Quartz  (April 22, 2019).

[3] Press Release, Rubio Commends Trump Administration’s Move to Hold Cuba Accountable (April 17, 2019); Press Release, Rubio Highlights Importance of Trump Administration’s Commitment to Democracy in Latin America (April 17, 2019); Press Release, Menendez Statement on Announcement to Let Cuban Americans File Suit over Property Confiscated by Cuban Regime (April 17, 2019); Diaz-Balart: Trump Administration’s Full Implementation of Title III Is a Monumental Decision   (April 17, 2019); Press Release, Sen. Rick Scott Applauds President Trump For Fully Implementing Title III of the Libertad Act (April 17, 2019); Mead, Trump Takes Aim at Caracas and Havana, W.S.J. (April 22, 2019).