The Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family

On October 22, the U.S. hosted a ceremony at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)  for the signing of the Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family.[1]

Contents of the Declaration[2]

The Declaration was prepared because COVID-19 prevented the signatories from meeting in Geneva, Switzerland for the 2020 World Health Assembly “to review progress made and challenges to uphold the right to the highest attainable standards of health for women; to promote women’s essential contribution to health, and strength of the family and of a successful and flourishing society; and to express the essential priority of protecting the right to life, committing to coordinated efforts in multilateral fora.”

The signatories, therefore:

“1. Reaffirm ‘all are equal before the law,’  and ‘human rights of women are an inalienable, integral, and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms’;”

“2. Emphasize ‘the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights,’  as well as economic, social, and cultural rights; and the ‘equal rights, opportunities and access to resources and equal sharing of responsibilities for the family by men and women and a harmonious partnership between them are critical to their well-being and that of their families’ ; and that ‘women and girls must enjoy equal access to quality education, economic resources, and political participation as well as equal opportunities with men and boys for employment, leadership and decision-making at all levels;’”

“3. Reaffirm the inherent ‘dignity and worth of the human person,’ that ‘every human being has the inherent right to life,’ and the commitment ‘to enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant;’”

“4. Emphasize that ‘in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning’ and that ‘any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process’; Reaffirm that ‘the child… needs special safeguards and care… before as well as after birth’ and ‘special measures of protection and assistance should be taken on behalf of all children,’ based on the principle of the best interest of the child;”

” 5. Reaffirm that ‘the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State’; that ‘motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance,’ that ‘women play a critical role in the family’ and women’s ‘contribution to the welfare of the family and to the development of society’;”

“6. Recognize that ‘universal health coverage is fundamental for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals related not only to health and well-being,’ with further recognition that ‘health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ that ‘the predominant focus of health-care systems on treating illness rather than maintaining optimal health also prevents a holistic approach’; and that there are ‘needs that exist at different stages in an individual’s lifespan, which together support optimal health across the life course, entailing the provision of the necessary information, skills, and care for achieving the best possible health outcomes and reaching full human potential; and”

“7. Reaffirm ‘the importance of national ownership and the primary role and responsibility of governments at all levels to determine their own path towards achieving universal health coverage, in accordance with national contexts and priorities’, preserving human dignity and all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Furthermore, the signatories ”hereby declare in mutual friendship and respect, our commitment to work together to:

  • Ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and equal opportunity for women at all levels of political, economic, and public life;
  • Improve and secure access to health and development gains for women, including sexual and reproductive health, which must always promote optimal health, the highest attainable standard of health, without including abortion;
  • Reaffirm that there is no international right to abortion, nor any international obligation on the part of States to finance or facilitate abortion, consistent with the long-standing international consensus that each nation has the sovereign right to implement programs and activities consistent with their laws and policies;
  • Build our health system capacity and mobilize resources to implement health and development programs that address the needs of women and children in situations of vulnerability and advance universal health coverage;
  • Advance supportive public health policies for women and girls as well as families, including building our healthcare capacity and mobilizing resources within our own countries, bilaterally, and in multilateral fora;
  • Support the role of the family as foundational to society and as a source of health, support, and care; and
  • Engage across the UN system to realize these universal values, recognizing that individually we are strong, but together we are stronger.”

The Declaration’s Signatories[3]

The co-sponsors and signatories of this Declaration were the U.S., Indonesia, Brazil, Egypt, Hungary and Uganda. The other 26 signatories included Poland, the Belarus (where security forces are currently trying to suppress a women-led protest movement), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan and Libya.

According to the Women, Peace and Security Index that was established by Georgetown University, most of the signatories are among the worst countries for women’s rights, and none of the top twenty countries on that index—except for the U.S. which ranked 19th—signed the declaration.

At the ceremony, Alex Azar, the Secretary of DHHS, said, “too many wealthy nations and international institutions put a myopic focus on a radical agenda that is offensive to many cultures and derails agreement on women’s health priorities. Today, we put down a clear marker: No longer can U.N. agencies reinterpret and misinterpret agreed-upon language without accountability. Member States set the policy for the U.N. to pursue. Not the other way around.”

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo added that this document aims to “protect women’s health, defends the unborn and reiterates the vital importance of the family as the foundation of society.” He also stressed, “There is no international right to abortion.”

The document does not directly address same-sex marriage, but its statement that the family is “the natural and fundamental group unit of society” has clear meaning for those signatories that restrict LGBT rights like Egypt.

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

[1] Health & Human Services Dep’t, Trump Administration Marks the Signing of the Geneva Consensus Declaration (Oct. 22, 2020); Berger, U.S. signs international declaration challenging right to abortion and upholding ‘role of the family,’ Wash. Post (Oct. 22, 2020); Borger, U.S. signs anti-abortion declaration with group of largely authoritarian governments, Guardian (Oct. 22, 2020).

[2] Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family.

[3]  See n. 1; Azar, Remarks at the Geneva Consensus Declaration Signing Ceremony, DHHS (Oct. 22, 2020); State Dep’t, Secretary Pompeo Participates in the Geneva Consensus Declaration Signing Ceremony (Oct. 21, 2020).

 

Pandemic Travel-Trailer Trip: Minneapolis to Los Angeles  

Minneapolis friends, John and Linda, provided the following account of their recent  travel-trailer trip to Los Angeles, September 22 – October 18, 2020.

“Our daughter, her spouse and their 22 month-old little girl live 2,000 miles away, in Los Angeles, a Coronavirus hotspot. The pandemic had precluded our seeing them since early this year, but at our vulnerable ages (mid-70’s), we were not about to use air travel. In fact, we’ve reached the age where our grown kids sometimes dictate to us, and our daughter told us no way she would let us get on an airplane. So what to do?”

“They were equally opposed to flying themselves in the midst of a pandemic, unwilling to manage a 22-month old in an airport and on an airplane, where they (especially their daughter, who likely would show no symptoms) could pick up the virus, then infect us during their visit. We were equally unwilling to drive out there using motels, restaurants and gas station bathrooms. Our answer to this dilemma was to use our travel trailer to make the trip.”

“Our travel trailer is quite basic — 21 feet, one room with a bed, small kitchen with propane stove and refrigerator, and a tiny bathroom. We bought it in 2013 so we could travel to and stay in the ‘back country’ more comfortably than in a tent, and that’s how it’s been used — trips up the Alaska Highway to remote parts of Alaska and the Yukon, trips out to the remote reaches of Newfoundland and Labrador, trips into some of the more remote regions of the American southwest, etc. But we now realized that our trailer could serve as a mobile “shelter in place” bubble if we towed it out to Los Angeles.  With advance campground reservations, we could even pull into and out of campgrounds without ever being indoors or even within 6 feet of another person outdoors.”

“We took the southern route, down through Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas to Oklahoma, then west through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, in order to avoid serious wildfires raging along the shorter northern route through Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. Sticking to 2-lane roads and state parks whenever possible, we were able to relax with our ‘bubble,’ untroubled by any evidence of the virus as we worked our way through iconic rural and small-town America.   We had stocked up on groceries before we left, with bacon & eggs for breakfast and meat and veggies for dinner, cooked on a propane grill that attaches to the side of the trailer.  During the day, we’d look for a nice pull-off where we’d make sandwiches for lunch.”

“Our driving days also provided some respite from the emotional intensity of the election.  The campgrounds where we stayed had no TV hookups (thankfully!), but we subscribed to Sirius radio so that we could occasionally tune in to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and other news stations while we were driving.

“Political signage dominated the roads of rural Minnesota and Iowa (Trump signs vastly outnumbering Biden signs), but we saw surprisingly few political signs for either candidate during the rest of the trip, which was through mostly ‘Red’ states.   However, the ‘Red’ states were clearly not requiring or even encouraging protective masks.

Although we never had to go inside of gas stations (we had our own bathroom), they were very busy, and we could see that virtually no one was wearing a mask.  Restaurants and bars in the small towns also appeared to be open, busy, and mask-less, including one boasting the unforgettable (and unappetizing) name ‘Bucksnort Bar & Grill.’  On the other hand, we could see that the national chains in the small towns — McDonalds, Dairy Queen, etc. — had signs on their doors requiring masks and were allowing only drive-up orders.”

“And while RV enthusiasts are usually stereotyped as conservatives, the handful of RV’s we saw with political bumper stickers only slightly favored Trump. One monster truck pulling a 5th- wheel travel trailer with South Dakota plates — which we assumed would be a Trump supporter — boasted this bumper sticker: ‘Republicans against Trump — You can’t fix stupid, but you can vote it out.’”

“That said, RV campers have enough in common outside of politics to make for interesting conversations even in the middle of a heated election and a politicized pandemic, and it’s easy to enjoy safe outside ‘social distance’ chats in a campground.  The guys talk about ‘tow vehicle’ capabilities, tricks for managing the ‘black water’ tank, and maintenance challenges (which are never-ending with a travel trailer), while the wives trade stories about the travails of trying to guide their tone-deaf husbands in backing their trailers into campsites.  Of course, we also share tips about where else to travel and camp all over North America.

A special treat on this trip was meeting three other couples who, like us, were on journeys to visit their children and grandchildren.  In fact, reports in the media about the explosion in RV activity are accurate, as we saw a lot more of them on the road than usual for this time of year, and the campgrounds were always near capacity.”

“Our campground outside of Los Angeles — where we spent two weeks — was surprisingly open and rustic. We had feared the worst, given LA’s density, but this campground was near the foothills some 30 miles east of downtown, with spacious ‘full hook-up’ sites overlooking a large regional park with mountain views.  Unfortunately, this view was obscured off and on — especially later in the day — by smoke from one of the many wildfires raging through California, the nearest one only 20 miles away, but reportedly fully contained.”

“After seeing so many news reports before we left that showed raging fires, evacuations, and homes consumed by flames, we were surprised at what seemed to be a lack of concern about the fires on the part of our daughter’s family and campground neighbors.  There had been an evacuation just 10 miles north of our daughter’s home, but she said there was no concern that the fire would spread that far south, and the awful air quality seemed to be a nuisance to be endured by just staying indoors.  Our campground neighbors said pretty much the same thing.  They expressed the same concern we did about the unusual extent of the fires and the urgent need to deal with the root causes — global warming and inadequate resources.  But they felt no sense of personal danger, nor did they express any desire to move out of California.”

“We were glad that we had brought along an air purifier. We were also happy that our trailer had an air conditioner, as the daytime temperatures every day during that first week topped 100 degrees! Our days were simple: coffee, of course, together with breakfast cooked outdoors over a camp stove and enjoyed with our lovely mountain view, then drive 30 miles on the LA freeway to our daughter’s house — sometimes congested and stop & go, but mostly open, with six lanes of traffic impatiently roaring around us at 70 to 80 miles an hour.”

“Our daughter and spouse have both been extremely careful and have been working at home during the pandemic, so we had no concerns about catching the virus from them. Dinner with them was all take-out, with the grandparents (of course) picking up the tab.  The restaurants they used seemed quite busy when we stopped to pick up our orders — and absolutely everyone was wearing a mask.  On several days during the second week, which was cooler and less hazy, our daughter’s family came to spend the day with us. We picnicked at the trailer site, then enjoyed the nearby park playground, where no other children were playing. Our granddaughter hit it off with us right away, despite having not seen us for 8 months or so, and it was idyllic having nothing to do every day but hang out with her, enjoying her antics and totally unfiltered efforts to talk to us.”

“Our two weeks went by much too quickly, but this turned out to be a perfect way to minimize the risk of the pandemic, spend some quality time with our little granddaughter at a very precious age, and enjoy a nice camping trip — a true ‘three-fer.’”

“In fact, at the end, we decided we wanted to come back in February for a much longer stay, using the trailer for a winter get-away, both to visit our daughter’s family and just enjoy the warm weather.

This decision required leaving the trailer out there, since we had no interest in braving winter storms across the Great Plains to tow a travel trailer from Minnesota to California in February.   Fortunately, we discovered that acres of huge warehouse buildings are available out there to accommodate all of the RV’s that people own in such a densely populated area.  Some of them even offer valet service, delivering the RV to your door when you want it, cleaned and ready to go, then picking it up when you’re done.  They’ll even take it to and from one of the regional campgrounds for you.  We didn’t opt for that extra bit of luxury, but we had no trouble finding a place to store our little trailer until March.”

“So now the challenge was to drive home with minimal pandemic risk.   The solution was to limit ourselves to 3 motel nights (4 driving days of 500+ miles), obsessively sanitize our motel rooms upon arrival, and avoid restaurants and gas station bathrooms.  We wore our masks whenever we were outside the car, and we found that the interstate rest stops and truck stops not only had large and well-ventilated bathrooms, but required their patrons also to wear masks.  We even carried in and ran a HEPA air purifier in our motel room for several hours after we checked in, and we had pizza delivered.”

 

 

 

 

 

Election Message from James H. Lowry

James H. Lowry, a Grinnell College classmate (1961), friend, and accomplished social activist and business executive, has written the following inspiring election message which he asked me to share. (Here is his biography in The History Makers (the nation’s largest African-American video oral history collection).

“As we near Election Day 2020, I’ve been reflecting on my own relationship with politics and the importance of exercising perhaps our most sacred civic duty, voting. In my new book, Change Agent: A Life Dedicated to Creating Wealth for Minorities, I recount how early on in my life and career I was inspired by politics. From kitchen table talks with my mother, Camille, and big brother Bill about who she wanted to vote for, witnessing the passing of Civil Rights legislation and policy under the Kennedy Administration, and working closely with Senator Robert Kennedy to implement the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in 1967, I saw the benefits and possibilities of politics from the very beginning. But even then, I knew the fight was just beginning.”

“Under the Obama administration, I felt immense pride in the Claims Resolution Act, granting payouts to BIPOC farmers, and the Fair Sentencing Act that served to reduce incarceration disparities. But still I knew, the fight was just beginning.”

“In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that mandated states to secure federal permission before changing voting laws or practices. Now, in 2020, as our country continues to grapples with a global pandemic thats requiring most Americans to vote from home, we’ve seen states refuse mail in ballots to their electorates, our national postal service gutted under political motivations, false ballot dropboxes in California, and a president that uses every platform he has to sow division while simultaneously undermining our democracy by questioning the legitimacy of our electoral process.”

“As we draw nearer to potentially the most consequential election of our lifetimes, I implore you to make a plan! Whether it be taking your mail-in ballot to a ballot drop box today, going in person early between now and Nov 2nd, or taking the necessary precautions to keep you and your family safe on Election Day, make sure you use your ballot and voice are heard! The fight isn’t over, it is just beginning!”

“If you’re unsure what steps you need to make your voting plan, go to www.vote.org and begin the process of making your voice heard! We’re all counting on us to win this fight!”

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 33): More Thoughts on the New Normal

Victor Davis Hanson, the Martin and Lile Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and an avowed Trump supporter, [1] has commented on whether changes we already are seeing in the U.S. reaction to the COVVID-19 Pandemic will be part of the new normal after we hopefully survive that pandemic. First, we will look at Hanson’s commentary, and then examine a Minneapolis perspective.

Hanson’s Commentary[2]

Initially Hanson notes, “Rents, home prices and office occupancy rates in major cities, especially on the two coasts, are dropping fast. Techies and young professionals have discovered that they can work from home without paying sky-high housing costs in order to be close to the office.”

Moreover, “Those more fortunate wonder why they should get bogged down with commutes and urban traffic — or navigate city sidewalks amid homelessness, crime, racial tensions and urban unrest — when they can make as much money while staying distant in quieter landscapes. Some react by moving to quieter, low-tax states such as Idaho, Tennessee or Utah. Others flee New York City or the Bay Area/Silicon Valley corridor to upstate New York or California’s Central Valley. Who would have ever believed that housing prices in picturesque San Francisco would be falling while housing prices in pedestrian Sacramento and Fresno are soaring?”

“Worries about COVID-19 in high-density cities, and unreliable city services add to the unhappiness. Residents want less dependence on mass transit and elevator living. Constant human contact is seen more as risky than desirous.” In addition, “gun sales are at record highs. When some cities take steps to defund police and some soften bail laws, citizens quietly go to the local gun store and stock up on ammunition. Many of the people who have never before owned firearms are no longer clamoring for gun control. A ‘man’s home’ is now becoming his armed castle.”

“As a general rule, any business or activity that does not bother, judge or lecture Americans and instead allows them to work or relax in peace is preferred. That may explain why Zoom and Skype use is soaring while TV ratings for the woke NBA and NFL are down.”

“Why are Amazon and Walmart booming while smaller businesses are going broke? Largely because home delivery better serves those who are barricaded at home, terrified both of the virus and government reaction to it. Family businesses [on the other hand] are not vertically integrated. They have few cash reserves and no special insider exemptions from government officials. How ironic that in our quest to become safe and in control of our own destinies, we empower the anonymity of huge conglomerates and erode the viability of reliable, service-friendly, mom-and-pop stores.”

“For the first time in their careers, many teachers and professors are careful not to go off-topic and rant to their high school and college students. Their video streams are not only seen by captive classroom audiences but occasionally peeked in on by the parents and taxpayers who pay their salaries.”

“This is the first autumn in memory that a huge percentage of college students are staying home. And no one is sure of the ensuing consequences. Will students revolt over borrowing money simply to watch lectures on their basement computers? Will they be less likely to vote in November when they are isolated at home, rather than congregating on campus near polling places and subject to constant peer pressures to vote — and to do so in predictable ways?”

“With college revenues dropping, will ambitious promises to hire more diversity administrators, build more self-segregated racial theme houses and increase campus social services be seen as just more costly overhead that shorts classroom teaching?”

“During the pandemic, government has become more intrusive and yet seemingly more impotent and incompetent. Pick a month and some government official issues yet more contradictory orders on mask wearing, social distancing and lockdowns — all to be soon reversed. Taxes stayed high and yet urban services got worse. Increasingly, American city dwellers don’t always count on the power going on when they flip the switch, or the bus or train always showing up, or the police always answering 911 calls.”

Hanson concludes, “We still do not know the full consequences of these radical changes in American life, especially whether they will continue after the COVID-19 virus abates and quarantines end. The cultural currents are often contradictory. They defy easy political analysis and seem at times counterintuitive.”

“But there is one historical constant. When institutions and politicians cannot accommodate radically changed circumstances, people will no longer value institutions and politicians. In their place, citizens will seek to ensure their own livelihoods, leisure and safety in ways that are more reliable and affordable — with their circumstances in their own hands rather than in those of distant others.”

“And their adjustments won’t always be calm or polite.”

Comments

I agree with Hanson that “We still do not know the full consequences of these radical changes in American life, especially whether they will continue after the COVID-19 virus abates and quarantines end.”

Here is a perspective on this issue from downtown Minneapolis, which is seeing positive developments despite current difficulties. First, the business news. Then, a look at residential real estate.

Local Business Developments[3]

Our local newspaper, the StarTribune, reports, “Creating that feeling of safety is job one for Minnesota employers hoping to woo back thousands of virus-leery staffers after months of working from home. It’s been slow going. To date only one in 10 workers in Minneapolis and St. Paul office towers have returned to the office hub. Most businesses expect more to follow sometime next year.”

One of the major downtown employers, Target Corporation’s headquarters, is essentially closed with virtually all of its personnel working remotely and currently not scheduled to return to their offices until next June.

Another downtown employer is the headquarters for Delta Dental of Minnesota, one of the largest providers of dental benefits in the Upper Midwest, serving more than 8,800 Minnesota- and North Dakota-based purchasing groups and 4.1 million members. It recently completed a remodeling of its Minneapolis offices: installation of an automated temperature and face-scanning station that reminds . . . [everyone]  to ‘wear a mask,’ . . . portable air filters, . . . automatic doors that open with the wave of an ID badge or hand, and . . . 180 workstations encased in 6-foot-tall plexiglass.” Now there are only three employees working on one of its floors.” https://www.deltadentalmn.org/about-us

“Commercial tenants inside [downtown Minneapolis] office venues such as the IDS Center, City Center, . . . Capella Tower and the SPS Tower. . .— each home to more than 2,000 workers — are laboring to keep people distanced from one another in elevators, cubicles and conference rooms and adopting motion sensors and software so workers can keep germs to themselves and stagger their attendance.”

When the pandemic hit earlier this year, Buhl Investors, was in the process of “converting a former 1883 railroad warehouse and soap factory” in the downtown (renamed Switch House). To respond to enhanced concerns over virus transmission it installed a ”needlepoint bipolar ionization system,” which produces “electrically charges ions in the air that cling to viruses, allergens, mold and other particles, rendering them inert.”

The 10-story Nordic building, also downtown, installed a different Covid-19 inspired technology. This will allow  the Chicago-based technology consulting firm, West Monroe, to move its 120 Minneapolis employees into its 42,000 square-feet second and third floor offices with 40 phone and meeting rooms.

Other positive news for downtown Minneapolis are the recent announcements by Deluxe Corp., which has expanded its business to include more than its initial check-printing, has decided to move its headquarters to downtown Minneapolis and by Principal Financial’s decision to lease 45,500 square feet of space in a downtown tower.

The most significant and flashy downtown development is the completion of the construction of the $125 million project for the headquarters of Thrivent Corporation, a nonprofit financial services organization (formerly known as Lutheran Brotherhood) with more than $16 billion in assets under management. With 264,000 square feet of open work spaces in a “new, airy , eight-story glass-and-stone building,” it features open work-spaces, sprawling breakrooms, credit union, library, chapel, art gallery (with works from the 13th century to the modern day), coffee shop, gym and underground parking. I look forward to walking around this new building.

John Breitinger of Cushman & Wakefield’s Minneapolis Real Estate Development Advisory practice is in charge of selling Thrivent’s new building with a 20-year leaseback as a means for Thrivent to recoup its investment in constructing this new building and redeploying the capital to grow and serve more clients. According to Breitinger, “Downtown Minneapolis is still seen as a safe bet by institutional real estate investors, given the diversity of our [institutions] and the quality of our workforce.”

These “efforts suggest that reports of the death of the American office may be premature. Many businesses ‘had this notion that we can do [remote work] forever,’ said Jim Montez, Minnesota leasing vice president at Transwestern. ‘But increasingly, what I’m hearing from business leaders is ‘We can’t do that forever because I am losing the bond that I have with my team. I am losing the culture [and] the brand identity of my enterprise. To maintain that, we need our people back together.’ ”

Local Residential Real Estate Developments[4]

 Jim Buchta of the StarTribune, starts, “As in many U.S. metro areas, the suburbs of the Twin Cities have enjoyed surging interest from home buyers as the global pandemic has upended how and where people work. Amid rising crime and lingering unease following spring riots, many suburban buyers have relocated from the urban core of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where the number of homes for sale has swelled.”

But “this doesn’t mean a new urban exodus is underway. Also on the rise in both of those cities: home sales, driven in part by record low mortgage rates that have enticed entry level buyers despite a grim economy. ‘If there is an exodus’ of buyers exiting urban neighborhoods, says sales agent Pat Paulson, ‘there’s an inflow as well.’

“In Minneapolis, there’s been an 11% increase in listings through the first nine months of this year, buoyed in part by a recent rise in condos for sale. Pending sales, or signed purchase agreements, are also up 3% . . . . In the suburbs, where listings are off 2%, pending sales have increased 7%. In both areas, houses are selling at a record clip and median prices are at an all-time high.”

Conclusion

As a Minneapolis downtown citizen and resident. I hope that these positive developments will continue.

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[1] Victor Davis Hanson, Hoover Institution; Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers, Hoover Institution.

[2] Hanson, Will changes to American life after pandemic become permanent, Washington Times (Oct. 21, 2020); Hanson, Let’s count the ways 2020 will change our lives, StarTribune (Oct. 26, 2020).

[3] DePass, Workers return warily to the office, as employers embrace slew of safety measures,  StarTribune (Oct. 24, 2020); DePass, All Thrivent’s new Minneapolis headquarters needs now is employees, StarTribune (Oct. 26, 2020); Kennedy, Deluxe moving its headquarters from Shoreview to downtown Minneapolis, StarTribune (Sept. 14, 2020); DePass, Safety issues just add to uncertainty facing Minneapolis commercial real estate, StarTribune (Oct. 4, 2020).

[4] Buchta, Minneapolis, St. Paul housing exodus more myth than reality, StarTribune (Oct. 24, 2020).

Objections to Proposed U.S. Rule Changing Asylum Procedures

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has proposed a rule that would significantly shorten the time for asylum seekers to file their paperwork for asylum and to amend that paperwork.[1] Given my experience as a pro bono attorney for such individuals, I filed with the EOIR a comment objecting to that proposed rule. Here is that comment followed by another objection by a Minnesota lawyer and friend, Steven Thal.

My Objection to the Proposed Rule[2]

“I am writing to oppose EOIR’s proposed rule to curtail human rights of asylum seekers by limiting timelines for applications and unlawfully restricting the type of evidence presented. The rule represents yet another attempt to restrict the right of people to obtain protection from persecution and torture—rights that the U.S. has agreed to meaningfully implement. By putting up nearly-insurmountable obstacles in that process, this proposed rule violates the rights of asylum seekers and, therefore, U.S. and international law. For the following reasons, I request that this rule be withdrawn in its entirety.”

I.“The 15-day filing deadline for asylum- and withholding-only removal proceedings will contravene our international and domestic laws.”

”The proposed rule will violate our obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and U.S. law by impinging on the ability for people in asylum- and withholding-only proceedings to adequately prepare their case. The rule proposes to require filing within 15 days of the person’s first hearing. For most in asylum- and withholding-only proceedings, this will be an impossible task as many are recently-arrived in the U.S., lack sufficient language skills to prepare a filing that must be in English, lack the resources to pay the now-required $50 fee, and are unlikely to secure reliable counsel on that timeline. Asylum seekers are entitled to present their case and be represented by counsel. This new rule infringes on those rights and must be withdrawn. Moreover, the rule will unduly impact attorneys and service providers—particularly nonprofit providers—who will be overburdened and unable to find pro bono counsel willing to complete applications on such a timeline”

II.“The proposed restrictions on evidence are a blatant attempt to deny asylum protections and improperly restrict due process.”

“The proposed changes to evidence are unlawful and blatantly targeted to discourage asylum applications. This violates our obligations under the UN Refugee Convention as well as U.S. law.”

“The proposed rule proposes to make all evidence other than U.S. government reports presumptively unreliable. Such change would allow immigration judges to discount local and international news sources, reports by both local and international nongovernmental organizations and even United Nations reports. The only evidence under the new rule that would be presumed credible would be reports prepared by the U.S. Government, i.e., opposing counsel in an asylum case.”

“This rule is unjustified and must be withdrawn as local and international sources provide nuanced and expert analysis that the U.S Government reports often lack due to capacity, know-how and diplomatic pressures. Moreover, because U.S. Government reports will be prepared by the same branch as the opposing counsel in asylum cases, the rule violates basic understandings of due process rights by presumptively finding one side credible. And, the rule allows immigration judges to introduce their own evidence into the record, further violating due process by eliminating their role as a neutral arbiter.”

III. “The proposed 30-day timeframe for correcting errors will deny asylum to those who need protection, thereby contravening international and domestic law on nonrefoulment.”

“The proposed rule further violates asylum seekers’ rights by restricting their ability to file an application. The proposed rule, though espousing efficient processing of applications, removes the requirement that EOIR return an application within 30 days of filing or presume it properly filed. Yet, it then gives the asylum seeker only 30 days to correct any deficiencies and will deem abandoned and deny any application not corrected in that time. This rule is a clear attempt to allow the Government to deny bona fide asylum claims under the guise of procedural efficiencies. Moreover, it will violate our international nonrefoulment obligations by denying asylum applications due to procedural defects rather than substance and, therefore, returning people to countries in which they will be persecuted or tortured.”

IV. “The proposed 180-day case completion timeline and restrictions on continuances improperly penalizes asylum applicants for the court’s inefficiencies.”

 “The proposed rule passes-on to the applicant the inefficiencies and failure of EOIR to provide sufficient resources—while eliminating case management techniques such as administrative closure—by requiring applications be adjudicated within 180 days absent a very limited set of exceptional circumstances. The rule will mean in practice that bona fide asylum applicants are denied and removed to countries in which they will face persecution or torture because they will be foreclosed from requesting continuances to sufficiently prepare their case. By essentially barring continuances and demanding immigration judges adjudicate cases on impossible timelines given backlog and complexity of asylum cases—as well as the myriad new restrictions and processing requirements created over the past four years— the proposed rule will result in improperly decided cases, increasing the rate of appeals and threatening to deny those who truly need our protection. Such a timeline will also present immense challenges to attorneys and pro bono service providers who will be challenged to represent clients to the best of their abilities without the ability to request time to prepare. This infringes on the due process rights of asylum clients and should be withdrawn.”

V. “My Personal Experience As a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer Demonstrates the Utter Insanity of this Proposed Regulation.”

“In the mid-1980s I was a partner in a major Minneapolis law firm with 20 years of experience representing fee-paying clients in business litigation. I had not studied immigration law in law school or thereafter and had no knowledge of that field in general or refugee and asylum law in particular. But for various professional and personal reasons, I decided that I wanted to be a pro bono lawyer for an asylum seeker from Central America.”

“Fortunately for me and many other Minnesota lawyers, then and now, a Minnesota non-profit organization—[Minnesota] Advocates for Human Rights—provided a course in refugee and asylum law for lawyers like me and the support of experienced immigration lawyers that enabled me and others, then and now, to become pro bono asylum lawyers.”

“With that support from this system and my law firm, I thus embarked in the mid-1980’s on my first pro bono case for a Salvadoran asylum seeker and tried the case in the Immigration Court with the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney. We lost the case, but filed an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals, and under the laws at that time our client maintained his work permit and continued to live and work in the Twin Cities.”

“Thereafter with the assistance of [Minnesota] Advocates for Human Rights I was a pro bono attorney for another Salvadoran asylum seeker, whose case prompted me in April 1989 to go to that country, at my own expense, to do some investigations in his case and learn more about that country more generally. This trip was during the Salvadoran Civil War and on the day that I arrived her attorney general was assassinated with a car bomb. That subsequent week, therefore, was tense and dangerous, but to my surprise turned out to be the most important religious experience of my life as I started to learn about the courageous work of Archbishop (now Saint) Oscar Romero, the Jesuit priests at the University of Central America (six of whom were murdered by the Salvadoran military later that same year), Bishop Menardo Gomez of the Lutheran Church of El Salvador and many others. Afterwards my second Salvadoran client was granted protection by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.”

“In the 1990s I was a successful pro bono lawyer for an Afghan’s affirmative application for asylum and later for U.S. citizenship. Thereafter until my retirement in 2001 I also had success as a pro bono attorney for asylum seekers from Colombia, Somalia and Burma. All of this was made possible by the assistance of Advocates for Human Rights and experienced immigration lawyers and by the support of my law firm.”

“As a result of this experience, I can testify that asylum seekers in the U.S. desperately need the assistance and guidance of able pro bono attorneys since almost all such individuals do not have the financial resources to retain fee-based attorneys.”

“Moreover, I can testify to the time constraints associated with such pro bono representation.”

“First, organizations like Advocates have procedures to screen potential asylum applicants and identify those who appear to have credible claims and then seek to find an a competent attorney who is willing to represent, pro bono, such applicants. These organizations also have to develop and produce at least annual programs to educate potential pro bono attorneys about refugee and asylum law and develop other ways to recruit such lawyers to volunteer their services to asylum seekers. That takes time and effort and financial support by charitable contributions from the community. Advocates for Human Rights continues to be successful in these efforts.”

“Second, once an attorney agrees to take such a case, pro bono, he or she needs to fit that case into his or her caseload and obligations to existing clients, especially fee-paying clients. Once the attorney starts working on the pro bono asylum case, he or she may identify documents that need to be obtained from another place in the U.S. or foreign country and/or need to be translated from a foreign language into English. An interpreter may be needed for conferences with the client or other witnesses. Eventually the attorney must prepare documents for the asylum application and appear with the client in Immigration Court or at interviews on affirmative claims. In addition, the case may require the attorney to travel to another location. All of these actions by an attorney are necessary to provide competent advice and service to the pro bono client and all have their time requirements.”

“Third, these time pressures on the relevant non-profit organizations and pro bono asylum attorneys are even more intense now in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic disruptions and complications.”

“In short, it would be impossible under the proposed regulation for asylum seekers to obtain the competent pro bono representation they so desperately need. The proposed regulation is utter insanity.”

Steven Thal’s Objection to the Proposed Rule[3]

“I have been practicing immigration law since 1982 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I also am a past Chair of the Immigration Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association. I have served as a past Chair of the Minnesota/Dakotas American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Chapter and previously served as its Vice Chair and Secretary/Treasurer. I have served on the AILA Essential Workers Committee, AILA Immigration Works Committee. The law firm I established currently has three full-time associate attorneys involved in our practice. (www.thalvisa.com.)”

“First, I endorse the comments on this proposed rule made by my friend and fellow Minnesota attorney, Duane W. Krohnke (Comment Tracking Number: kgl-2g3o-0vel.) “

“Second, although my two associates and I along with other full-time Minnesota immigration attorneys represent some asylum seekers on a pro bono basis, the demand for such services exceeds our collective ability to do so. Therefore, we need the assistance of non-immigration attorneys to be pro bono lawyers for other asylum seekers after these lawyers have obained education about asylum law from Advocates for Human Rights. In short, the only way that asylum applicants in the Twin Cities and Minnesota can obtain a pro bono attorney is through organizations like Advocates.”

“Third, I would add that it would be nearly impossible to meet the proposed deadlines in this proposed rule given the difficulty in reaching clients who are in detention in remotely held jail facilities, especially since ICE can move these individuals without prior notification. Just getting a G-28 Notice of Appearance of Attorney signed is a logistical nightmare. Gathering evidence, locating witnesses, obtaining supporting evidence cannot be accomplished effectively within the short times in the proposed rule.”

Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, we call on the Department to withdraw the proposed rule in its entirety.

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[1] Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal (Sept. 23, 2020).

[2] Comment on FR Doc # 2020-2107, EOIR Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal (by Duane Krohnke) (Oct. 22, 2020), Comment ID: EOIR-2020-0005-1113;Tracking Number kgl-2g3o-Ovel.

[3] Comment on FR Doc # 2020-2107, EOIR Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal (by Steven Thal) (Oct. 22, 2020) Comment ID: EOIR-2020-0005-????; Tracking Number: 1K4-0jny-mh2v.

 

Pandemic Journal (# 32): Another Vision of the New Normal  

Whenever we in the U.S. and elsewhere are able safely to leave the restrictions of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we, in my opinion, will not return to what we regarded as “normal” before this pandemic. Nor do we know what the “new normal” will be. A previous post discussed noted commentator Fareed Zakaria’s opinion on this subject.[1]

Now we look at another vision of the new normal from Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, author and native Minnesotan.[2]

He opens with this blockbuster, “When we emerge from this corona crisis, we’re going to be greeted with one of the most profound eras of Schumpeterian creative destruction ever — which this pandemic is both accelerating and disguising.” Indeed, “No job, no K-12 school, no university, no factory, no office will be spared. And it will touch both white-collar and blue-collar workers, which is why this election matters so much. How we provide more Americans with portable health care, portable pensions and opportunities for lifelong learning to get the most out of this moment and cushion the worst is what politics needs to be about after Nov. 3 — or we’re really headed for instability.”[3]

“The reason the post-pandemic era will be so destructive and creative is that never have more people had access to so many cheap tools of innovation, never have more people had access to high-powered, inexpensive computing, never have more people had access to such cheap credit — virtually free money — to invent new products and services, all as so many big health, social, environmental and economic problems need solving.”

Friedman gains support for these startling predictions from Ravi Kumar, the president of Infosys, an Indian tech services company with his office in New York City and corporate headquarters in Bangalore.

According to Kumar, “the Industrial Revolution produced a world in which there were sharp distinctions between employers and employees, between educators and employers and between governments and employers and educators, ‘but now you’re going to see a blurring of all these lines.’”

“Because the pace of technological change, digitization and globalization just keeps accelerating, two things are happening at once: the world is being knit together more tightly than ever . . . and ‘the half-life of skills is steadily shrinking.’ As a result, whatever skill you possess today is being made obsolete faster and faster.”

Therefore, “the most critical role for K-12 educators . . . will be to equip young people with the curiosity and passion to be lifelong learners who feel ownership over their education. . . . self-motivation to be a lifelong learner will be paramount.”

Moreover, “explained Kumar, accelerations in digitization and globalization are steadily making more work ‘modular,’’ broken up into small packets that are farmed out by companies. Companies, he argues, will increasingly become platforms that synthesize and orchestrate these modular packets to make products and services.”

“Kumar added, ‘work will increasingly get disconnected from companies, and jobs and work will increasingly get disconnected from each other.’’ Some work will be done by machines; some will require your physical proximity in an office or a factory; some will be done remotely; and some will be just a piece of a task that can also be farmed out to anyone, anywhere.”

These changes will enable “many more diverse groups of people — those living in rural areas, minorities, stay-at-home moms and dads and those with disabilities — . . . to compete for it from their homes.”

All of these changes are “already having a big impact on education. ‘We have started hiring many people with no degrees,’’ explained Kumar. ‘If you know stuff and can demonstrate that you know stuff and have been upskilling yourself with online training to do the task that we need, you’re hired. We think this structural shift — from degrees to skills — could bridge the digital divide as the cost of undergraduate education has increased by 150 percent over the last 20 years.’’’

Today Kumar’s company, Infosys, “is not looking just for ‘problem solvers,’ he says, but ‘problem-finders,’  people with diverse interests — art, literature, science, anthropology — who can identify things that people want before people even know they want them.”

Kumar also claims, ‘We’re seeing the democratization of software — the consumers can now be the creators.’ It shows you how AI will take away jobs of the past, while it creates jobs of the future.”

Significant changes are in store for postsecondary education. According to Kumar, it “will be a hybrid ecosystem of company platforms, colleges and local schools, whose goal will be to create the opportunity for lifelong ‘radical reskilling.’” Already some companies like Infosys, IBM and AT&T are “creating cutting-edge in-house universities that partner with traditional universities and even high schools.

Conclusion

 Wow! What a lot of thoughts to ponder and evaluate! Comments with informed reactions to this Friedman column are encouraged.

As a retired, older individual, I have mixed reactions. On the one hand, I am glad that I will not have to face these changes in my own life. On the other hand, I regret not being able to be around for many more years to help in some small ways society, my sons and grandchildren cope with these challenges.

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

[1] Pandemic Journal (#31): What Will Be the New Normal?, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 6, 2020).

[2] Friedman, After the Pandemic, a Revolution in Education and Work Awaits, N.Y. Times (Oct. 20, 2020)

[3] This Friedman passage refers to the famous concept of “creative destruction” by Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950), an Austrian political economist, who emigrated to the U.S. to become a professor at Harvard University. His 1942 book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, argued that capitalistic economies proceeded by creative new processes, products and structures that destroyed the preceding ones. (See Joseph Schumpeter, Wikipedia; Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Wikipedia; Creative destruction, Wikipedia.

Pandemic Journal (# 31): What Will Be the New Normal?

The COVID-19 Pandemic has been so long and so thoroughly disruptive to what used to be our “normal” lives, we wonder what life will be like after the pandemic is over. Will it be a return to what we thought was “normal.”? I think not. We will start to engage in a new way of life with details to be negotiated among all people and institutions.

This was the point recently made by Fareed Zakaria.[1]

Zakaria’s Vision for the New World

The world that is being ushered in as a consequence of the covid-19 pandemic is new and scary. The health crisis has accelerated a number of forces that were already gathering steam. Most fundamentally, it is now blindingly clear that human development as it is happening now is creating ever-greater risks. The backlash from nature is all around us, from wildfires to hurricanes to pandemics, of which covid-19 may simply be the first in a series. The pandemic has intensified other trends, too. For demographic and other reasons, countries will likely see more sluggish economic growth. Inequality will get worse, as the big get bigger in every sphere. Machine learning is moving so fast that, for the first time in history, human beings might lose control over their own creations. Nations are becoming more parochial, their domestic politics more isolationist. The United States and China are headed toward a bitter and prolonged confrontation.” (Emphases added.)

“It is a dangerous moment. But it is also in times like these that we can shape and alter such trends. To complete the story of our future, we must add in human agency. People can choose which direction they want to push themselves, their societies and their world. In fact, we have more leeway now. In most eras, history proceeds along a set path and change is difficult. But the novel coronavirus has upended society. People are disoriented. Things are already changing and, in that atmosphere, further change becomes easier than ever. . . .” (Emphases added.)

“We could continue with business as usual and risk cascading crises from climate change and new pandemics. Or we could get serious about a more sustainable strategy for growth. We could turn inward and embrace nationalism and self-interest, or we could view these challenges — which cross all borders — as a spur to global cooperation and action. We have many futures in front of us. . . .” (Emphases added.)

The current pandemic presents . . . choices. We could settle into a world of slow growth, increasing natural dangers and rising inequality — and continue with business as usual. Or we could choose to act forcefully, using the vast capacity of government to make massive new investments to equip people with the skills and security they need in an age of bewildering change. We could build a 21st-century infrastructure, putting to work many of those most threatened by new technologies. We could curb carbon emissions simply by placing a price on them that reflects their true cost. And we could recognize that, along with dynamism and growth, we need resilience and security — or else the next crisis could be the last. . . .” (Emphasis added.)

The . . . tension between integration and isolation can be seen throughout the world. The pandemic is leading countries to look inward. But enlightened leaders will recognize that the only real solution to problems such as pandemics — and climate change and cyberwar — is to look outward, toward better cooperation. The solution to a badly funded and weak World Health Organization is not to withdraw from it in the hope that it withers away, but rather to fund it better and give it more autonomy so that it could stand up to China — or the United States — if a health emergency requires it. No single country can organize the entire world anymore. None wants to. That leaves only the possibilities of chaos, cold war, or cooperation.” (Emphasis added.)

“It is true, as the critics charge, that real international collaboration requires some element of collective decision-making. While it sounds sinister to some ears, it is, in fact, what countries do all the time. It is the mechanism by which we regulate everything from international telephone calls to air travel to trade and intellectual property to the emission of chlorofluorocarbons. There is no global “one world government,” and there never will be — it is just a phrase designed to scare people into imagining a secret army descending on them in black helicopters. What actually exists, and what we need more of, is global governance, agreements among sovereign nations to work together to solve common problems. It shouldn’t be so hard. Cooperation is one of the most fundamental traits in human beings, one that many biologists believe is at the root of our survival over the millennia. If we are to survive well into the future, cooperation will surely help us more than conflict.” (Emphases added.)

The imperative for cooperation is nowhere more evident than in the relationship between the world’s two greatest powers, the United States and China. We are entering a bipolar world — characterized by a reality in which two countries are simply head-and-shoulders above the rest in hard power. . . .” (Emphasis added.)

“The pandemic has made so many — nations and individuals — turn inward and become selfish. But an even larger crisis had the opposite effect on the greatest statesmen of the age. Twenty years after D-Day, CBS News invited the former supreme commander of the Allied operations, Dwight D. Eisenhower, to revisit the beaches of Normandy with Walter Cronkite and reflect. Eisenhower had seen the worst of humanity — the German Wehrmacht’s brutal fight to the finish — and yet, he had come out of that experience determined to try cooperation. As they sat overlooking the rows of graves in Normandy, Eisenhower said to Cronkite, “These people gave us a chance, and they bought time for us, so that we can do better than we have before. So every time I come back to these beaches, or any day when I think about that day 20 years ago now, I say once more, we must find some way to work to peace, and really to gain an eternal peace for this world.” (Emphasis added.)

“So, too, in our times, this ugly pandemic has created the possibility for optimism, change and reform. It has opened a path to a new world. It’s ours to take that opportunity or to squander it. Nothing is written [beforehand about what we should do].” (Emphasis added.)

Reactions

I concur in the need for more international cooperation on a multitude of issues.

In addition, the pandemic has shown the many deficiencies in the U.S. Everyone needs basic health insurance that is not tied to a specific employer which means if an individual is fired or laid off due to an economic downturn or another pandemic, the individual loses health insurance. We need a huge revision of the federal income tax laws to eliminate loopholes and other provisions that benefit only the super wealthy. We need to do something about income and wealth inequality. We need to have one federal election system that guarantees and enforces the right to vote for every U.S. citizen who is over 18 years of age, stops gerrymandering, and eliminates the electoral college and the equal representation of states regardless of population in the U.S. Senate. We need to eliminate racism and sexism in our institutions and society. Those are starters for a new normal.

An invitation is extended to readers of this blog to express their desires for a “new normal” after we get through this pandemic.

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

[1] Zakaria, The pandemic upended the present. But it’s given us the chance to remake the future, Wash. Post (Oct. 6, 2020). This article is adapted from Zakaria’s new book, Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World (W.W. Norton & Co. 2020).

Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter “Fratelli Tutti” (Brothers All)

On October 3, in Assisi (Italy) at the tomb of Saint  Francis, Pope Francis released his lengthy (287 paragraphs) Encyclical Letter, “Fratelli Tutti” (Brothers All).”[1]

Here are this lay person’s overview of this important document and summary of the instantaneous reactions thereto from E.J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post columnist on U.S. national politics and a Roman Catholic, and from other journalists.

Overview of the Letter

The title of the Encyclical– “Fratelli Tutti”—was used by Saint Francis to address “his brothers and sisters” and to propose “a way of life marked by the flavor of the Gospel.” The Letter’s guiding light is Saint Francis’ call “for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother ‘as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him.’”

The Letter has an introduction “Without Borders” before exploring the following eight chapters:

  • One: Dark Clouds Over a Closed World;
  • Two: A Stranger on the Road;
  • Three: Envisaging and Engendering an Open World;
  • Four: A Heart Open to the Whole World;
  • Five: A Better Kind of Politics;
  • Six: Dialogue and Friendship in Society;
  • Seven: Paths of Renewed Encounter; and
  • Eight: Religions at the Service of Fraternity in Our World.

The Letter concludes with the following two prayers:

A Prayer to the Creator:

  • “Lord, Father of our human family,
    you created all human beings equal in dignity:
    pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit
    and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter,
    dialogue, justice and peace.
    Move us to create healthier societies
    and a more dignified world,
    a world without hunger, poverty, violence and war.”
  • “May our hearts be open
    to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
    May we recognize the goodness and beauty
    that you have sown in each of us,
    and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects,
    and shared dreams. Amen.”

An Ecumenical Christian Prayer:

  • “O God, Trinity of love,
    from the profound communion of your divine life,
    pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love.
    Grant us the love reflected in the actions of Jesus,
    in his family of Nazareth,
    and in the early Christian community.”
  • “Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel,
    discovering Christ in each human being,
    recognizing him crucified
    in the sufferings of the abandoned
    and forgotten of our world,
    and risen in each brother or sister
    who makes a new start.”
  • “Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty,
    reflected in all the peoples of the earth,
    so that we may discover anew
    that all are important and all are necessary,
    different faces of the one humanity
    that God so loves. Amen.”

E.J. Dionne, Jr.’s Reactions [2]

E.J. Dionne Jr. published an intriguing column about this lengthy Papal Encyclical Letter, only one day after it was published.[2] Here is a summary of what Dionne had to say, which will probably spark this blogger’s comments after he carefully and prayerfully studies the Encyclical Letter.

According to Dionne, this Letter only a month before the U.S. presidential election criticizes many aspects of current politics that are found in the U.S. and other countries:

  • It criticizes persons who advocate “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” and cast immigrants as “less worthy, less important, less human.”
  • It criticizes advocates of an ““every man for himself” worldview that “will rapidly degenerate into a free-for-all that would prove worse than any pandemic.”
  • “The marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith. Whatever the challenge, this impoverished and repetitive school of thought always offers the same recipes … the magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’ — without using the name.”
  • It denounces those who speak of “empty individualism,” a “narrow and violent nationalism, xenophobia and contempt, and even the mistreatment of those who are different,” and “a cool, comfortable and globalized indifference.”
  • The Pope “cited his earlier condemnations of “a ‘throwaway’ world” that lacks respect for the “poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’ — like the unborn — or ‘no longer needed’ — like the elderly.” And he denounced human trafficking as a “perversion that exceeds all limits when it subjugates women and then forces them to abort.”
  • The Pope had 12 references to capital punishment as “inadequate from a moral standpoint and no longer necessary from that of penal justice.”
  • The Pope criticized the world’s inability “to resolve problems that affect us all” like the COVID-19 pandemic and  “Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.” Moreover, ““God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’, but only ‘us’. … If only we might keep in mind all those elderly persons who died for lack of respirators, partly as a result of the dismantling, year after year, of healthcare systems.”
  • “Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others. In this craven exchange of charges and counter-charges, debate degenerates into a permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.” This is “a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism.”

Other Reactions [3]

Chico Harlan, the Washington Post’s Rome Bureau Chief, and Stefano Pitrelli of that Bureau who covers Italy and the Vatican, lead with this statement, “Humankind, Pope Francis says, is in the midst of a worrying regression. People are intensely polarized. Their debates, absent real listening, seem to have devolved into a ‘permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.’ In some countries, leaders are using a ‘strategy of ridicule’ and relentless criticism, spreading despair as a way to ‘dominate and gain control.’”

Harlan and Pitrelli believe that the encyclical “amounts to a papal stand against tribalism, xenophobia, and the dangers of the social media age.” They also point out that this is only the third encyclical by Pope Francis. The first was “Lumen Fidei” (the Light of Faith) which was issued in 2013 soon after he became pope and was written mostly by Benedict XVI. The second, “Laudarto Si” (On Care for Our Common Home) in 2015 addressed responsibility for the environment, climate change and development.

The New York Times’ Rome Bureau Chief, Jason Horowitz, opened with Pope Francis’ criticism of the world’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic as “exposing our false securities” and “inability to work together.” This was accerbated by the forces of “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism.” The document also “calls for closeness to the marginalized, support for migrants, resistance of nationalist and tribal populism, and the abolition of the death penalty.” Hindering “the development of universal fraternity” were economic inequality, sexism and racism.

The Wall Street Journal’s article on the encyclical is by Francis X. Rocca, who is its Vatican correspondent based in Rome. He says the document offered the Pope’s “prescription for a host of ills plaguing societies around the world, including poverty, terrorism and racism, and “echoes some of the major themes of his social teaching, including the rights of migrants and the poor, with a special urgency inspired by Covid-19.” He also notes for non-Catholics that papal encyclicals are “one of the most authoritative genres of papal writing.”

Conclusion

As a Protestant (Presbyterian) Christian, I plan to give this Encyclical Letter careful and prayerful study and then offer my reactions to the Letter and to the comments by Dionne and  other journalists.

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

[1] The Holy See, Encyclical Letter: FRATELLI TUTTI of the Holy Father Francis on the Fraternity and Social Friendship (Oct. 3, 2020).

[2] Dionne, The Pope’s unexpected election message, Wash. Post (Oct. 4, 2020).

[3] Harlan & Pitrelli, Pope Francis’s new encyclical is a papal warning about a world going bad, Wash. Post (Oct. 4, 2020); Horowitz, Pope Criticizes Lack of Unity in World’s Response to Coronovirus, N.Y. Times (Oct. 4, 2020); Rocca, Pope Francis Says Covid-19 Pandemic Shows Limits of Market Economics, W.S.J. (Oct. 4, 2020). See also Pepinster, How Pope Francis’s encyclical could shake up the US election, Guardian (Oct. 6, 2020).

 

 

 

Click to access papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si_en.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Reduces Refugee Admissions to 15,000 for Fiscal 2021

On September 30, 2020, the U.S. State Department announced that President Trump will be submitting to Congress a report that he has determined that the U.S. will reduce its refugee admissions for Fiscal 2021 (October 1, 2020—September 30, 2021) to 15,000. [1]

It must be understood that the individuals who will be admitted to the U.S. under this quota already have been vetted and determined by a U.N. agency to have met the international and U.S. legal definition of “refugee:” someone who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”[2]

The State Department attempted to reduce the adverse humanitarian consequences of this reduction by claiming, “The United States is committed to achieving the best humanitarian outcomes while advancing our foreign policy interests.  Given the dire situation of nearly 80 million displaced people around the world, the mission of American diplomacy is more important than ever.”

Other points of this attempt to reduce the adverse consequences of this decision are the following:

  • “In line with the U.S. National Security Strategy, we are working to assist refugees and other displaced people as close to their homes as possible until they can safely and voluntarily return to rebuild their lives, their communities, and their countries.  As part of our longstanding leadership in international humanitarian crisis response, the United States provided more than $9 billion in humanitarian assistance in Fiscal Year 2019 and nearly $70 billion in humanitarian assistance over the past decade.”
  • “The President’s proposal for refugee resettlement in Fiscal Year 2021 reflects the Administration’s continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  It accounts for the massive backlog in asylum cases – now more than 1.1 million individuals – by prioritizing those who are already in the country seeking humanitarian protection.  It also accounts for the arrival of refugees whose resettlement in the United States was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • “Refugee resettlement is only one aspect of U.S. humanitarian-based immigration efforts.  Since 1980, America has welcomed almost 3.8 million refugees and asylees, and our country hosts hundreds of thousands more people under other humanitarian immigration categories.  This year’s proposed refugee resettlement program continues that legacy with specific allocations for people who have suffered or fear persecution on the basis of religion; for Iraqis whose assistance to the United States has put them in danger; for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; and for refugees from Hong Kong, Cuba, and Venezuela.” (Emphasis added.)

The State Department continued, The President’s proposal for refugee resettlement in Fiscal Year 2021 reflects the Administration’s continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  It accounts for the massive backlog in asylum cases – now more than 1.1 million individuals – by prioritizing those who are already in the country seeking humanitarian protection.  It also accounts for the arrival of refugees whose resettlement in the United States was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” (Emphasis added.)

According to the State Department, the U.S. anticipates receiving 285,000 asylum requests in the upcoming fiscal year. Such applications must meet the previously mentioned international and U.S. definition of “refugee.” However, the Department’s statement admits the U.S. has a  “massive backlog in asylum cases – now more than 1.1 million individuals.”

After criticisms of this decision emerged from various groups that are discussed below, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo from Rome tried to defend this decision. He said, “We continue to be the single greatest contributor to the relief of humanitarian crisis all around the world, and we will continue to do so. Certainly so long as President Donald Trump is in office, I can promise you this administration is deeply committed to that.”

Reactions [3]

This establishment of a 15,000 quota for refugees is a 3,000 reduction from last year’s quota of 18,000, which was the lowest since the introduction of the U.S. refugee program in 1980. In contrast, in Fiscal 2017, the last full year of the Obama Administration, the quota was 85,000 while the Trump Administration’s first two years (Fiscal 2018 and 2019) set the quotas at 53,000 and 30,000.

This further reduction is seen as another point of President Trump’s “anti-immigrant themes in the closing month of his re-election campaign.” It was done as the President was “unleashing a xenophobic tirade against one of the nation’s most prominent refugees, Representative Ilhan Oma, on Wednesday night at a rally in her home state of Minnesota.”

According to a Washington Post columnist, Catherine Rampell, this presidential decision “in one fell swoop, . . .managed  to betray his country’s humanitarian interests, its national security interests, its economic interests and even his own narrow political interests to boot. . . . The only constituency helped by Trump’s latest cruelty are the bigots and knee-jerk nationalists crafting his policies. For the rest of us, it represents an incalculable loss.”

As anticipated, refugee advocacy groups condemned this decision.

  • Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, called the 15,000 cap an “abdication” of the nation’s humanitarian leadership role in the world. “This absurdly low number is based on nothing more than xenophobic political pandering, and it’s no surprise that this all-time low comes during an election year. We have shown as we have resettled thousands of refugees that there’s no evidence any of these arrivals have endangered Americans. Refugees come to this country after the most extreme vetting procedures, including medical-health checks.”
  • The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota’s Executive Director, Veena Iyer, said, “Slashing refugee numbers and refusing admission to desperate people whose lives are in danger, especially those whose lives are in danger because of their service to U.S. soldiers and peacekeepers, is appalling. Instead of leading the world in protecting the persecuted, the actions of this administration are an abdication of leadership.”
  • Oxfam America’s Isra Chaker said, “This inexcusable new admissions ceiling is a mere fraction of the number of refugees the United States can and should resettle in a year. During the final year of the previous administration, the U.S. safely and successfully resettled an average of 15,000 refugees every two months.”

The same reaction came from faith-based groups.

  • Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, a global Christian aid agency, said Trump has reneged on his promise to protect persecuted Christians in the world. “Instead, we’ve seen the resettlement of refugees from countries known for persecution drop about 90% in some cases over the last four years. This is unconscionable.”
  • Rev. John L. McCullough, head of the Church World Service, which helps resettle refugees in the United States, “described the shrinking of refugee admissions as immoral and urged Congress to . . . recommend changes or seek to influence the decision through budgeting, but is largely powerless to alter the determination. . . .Our values as a nation and as people of faith demand that we take action when people’s lives are in danger.”
  • “The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, denounced the chipping away of the refugee program as part of “the ongoing Trump administration effort to maintain systemic anti-Black racism and white supremacy.”
  • Isaiah, a Minnesota faith coalition stated, “We know that we are better off together and that all of us, no matter where we come from or how we pray, want our communities to thrive and our voices to be heard. Overcoming tremendous challenges, Somali Minnesotans bravely moved to Minnesota with their families and have helped make this state vibrant.”

Finally this Trump decision is impeached by recent praises of refugees for their contributions to the economy and culture of 29 states by their governors (both Democrat and Republican).

For example, Minnesota’s Governor Tim Walz’s letter to Secretary Pompeo stated, ““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. 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.”

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[1] State Dep’t, Transmission of the President’s Report to Congress on the Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021 (Sept. 30, 2020). 

[2] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Art. 1 (A)(2),189 U.N.T.S. 150, entered into force April 22, 1954; Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Art. I(2), 606 U.N.T.S. 267, entered into force Oct. 4,, 1967; Refugee Act of 1980, 8 U.S.C. sec. 1101(a)(42), Refugee and Asylum Law: The Modern Era, dwkcommentaries.com (July 9, 2010).

[3] U.S. Sets 18,000 Quota for New Refugee Admissions to U.S., dwkcommentareis.com (Nov. 4, 2019); Kanno-Youngs & Shear, Trump Virtually Cuts Off Refugees as He Unleashes a Tirade on Immigrants, N.Y. Times (Oct. 1, 2020); Rampell, Trump’s refugee ceiling is bad for everyone except bigots, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020);  Watson & Lee, Faith Groups decry Trump’s plans for record low refugee cap, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020); Miroff, Trump cuts off refugee cap to lowest level ever, depicts them on campaign trail as a threat and burden, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020);Smith, Trump administration again seeks to slash refugee numbers, StarTribune (Oct. 1, 2020); Rights groups appalled as Trump cuts US refugee admissions to record low, Guardian (Oct. 1, 2020); U.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugees’ Accomplishments, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 2, 2020). 

Pandemic Journal (# 30): More Days in the Pandemic

One of the objectives of this Journal is recording what it is like to live during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is another such report.[1]

First, here are the latest pandemic statistics as of September 27 (2:06 p.m. EDT). The world has 32,892,000 cases and 994,400  deaths. The U.S., 7,119,400 (the most in the world) and 204,400; and Minnesota, 96,786 and 6,938.[2]

Now to more positive news from my wife and me, both grateful to continuing to be healthy.

Last Wednesday (September 23) we started our first excursion outside the City of Minneapolis and nearby western suburbs during the pandemic by driving 237 miles from Minneapolis to Tofte on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Our initial drive on Interstate 35 from Minneapolis to Duluth was blessed by a beautiful sunny day and by listening to classical music on the Symphony Hall channel of SiriusXM on our car radio. I especially enjoyed the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with its joyous choral music. Although I do not know the German words that the choir was singing, I know the melody and enjoyed singing the melody along with the choir. Hearing this symphony again reminded me of its  thrilling performance  by the Minnesota Orchestra in Soweto, South Africa in August 2018.

We also listened to Mozart’s oboe concerto and a Haydn symphony. All of this music reminded me of the genius of these composers and their ability to continue to thrill us today.

Moreover, this music relieved my mind from obsessing about the many problems facing the U.S. and the world.

When we got to Duluth we stopped at a Dunn Brothers Coffee Shop on London Road to buy one delicious chicken sandwich on cranberry/wild-rice bread to share. Then we went up the hill in the city to the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve, where we have been many times, hoping to see migrating hawks and other birds. Unfortunately for that objective, it was very warm with little wind and hence no birds.

After Duluth it was northeast on State Highway 61 along the North Shore.

In the town of Silver Bay we stopped to buy a bottle of wine, but could not find the store. In a parking lot I asked two masked women where we could find such a store. They did not know. Although it is often difficult to recognize people who are wearing masks to protect against the pandemic, one of the women’s distinctive hair enabled me to recognize her as a friend from my Minneapolis church, so I called out her name, and I was correct. She said she thought she had recognized my voice. Another woman, whom I did not know, then directed us to the nearby store, and a bottle of wine was secured.

When we arrived at Tofte we drove north on County Road 2 (the Sawbill Trail) to go west on Range Road 166 (Heartbreak Ridge, which is named for early loggers’ broken hearts for their inability to haul logs up or down the ridge during the winter). After arriving at Range Road 343, we turned around and went back to the Sawbill Trail, seeing beautiful fall foliage both ways.

We then returned to Tofte and checked into the AmericInn in the town, where we have stayed before. Because of pandemic restrictions, there was a more limited free breakfast designed for take-out or eating in your room. There was no servicing of our room during our two-night stay so that the two of us would be the only ones in the room. The motel clerk said they had had an extremely busy Fall, which confirmed our earlier unsuccessful attempts this summer to go to the North Shore.

The first night we ordered take-out from the Bluefin Grill across Highway 61; the salmon and salad were acceptable.

On Thursday (September 24), after breakfast at the motel, we returned to the Sawbill Trail to drive north in order to go east on Range Road 164 (the Honeymoon Trail), which is famous for its colorful fall foliage. Indeed, the yellow leaves of the poplar trees and the red of the maple trees were gorgeous.

At the end of the Honeymoon Trail, we turned and went north a short distance on the Caribou Trail (County Road 4). Then we turned right and went east on Murmur Creek Road (Range Road 332) and Pike Lake Road (County Road 45) to see more beautiful fall foliage. Then it was south on County Road 7 to return to State Highway 61.

We then drove northeast on Highway 61 past many places we had seen before—Lutsen Resort, Cascade River State Park and Grand Marais—to Judge C.R. Magney State Park, where on a beautiful early afternoon we hiked uphill along the Brule River and the easier downhill hike back.

Afterwards we returned to Grand Marais and stopped at our favorite restaurant—The Angry Trout—for a wonderful meal sitting outside on its deck overlooking the Harbor on a beautiful (but breezy and cool 49 degree) day. My wife had a white fish dinner while I had a bison steak dinner.

Then it was back to the motel in Tofte. The next day was colder and rainy so we left to return home. We were glad we had been to the North Shore again, had seen the beautiful fall foliage and had excellent meals. Indeed, we did not recall the intensity of fall colors on previous trips to the North Shore, and we learned afterwards that the birch and poplars in their fall yellow finery were a week or so early. We were lucky.

We thus re-emerged in the turmoil of U.S. politics: Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett  to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court and Senator McConnell’s intent to orchestrate an immediate Senate confirmation of Barrett, even before the November 3 presidential election; Trump’s continued threats to not abide by the results of that election; and more. These issues will be discussed in future posts.

This morning I attended the virtual worship service at my Minneapolis church (Westminster Presbyterian). The sermon (“The Wonder Table”) by Rev.Tim Hart-Andersen, Senior Pastor, was based on Exodus 7:1-18 and Luke 13:10-21. He called for us to have a sense of wonder and curiosity to see what else there might be beyond the immediate situations of life. He also pointed out that people with hard hearts like the Pharaoh in the passage from Exodus will protect their power at all costs and that Jesus called out the hypocrisy of the synagogue leaders in the passage from Luke.(After the text of this sermon is available, another post will explore its message.)

This sermon also quoted from a recent New York Times column by David Brooks, who has spoken several times at our church’s Town Hall Forum.[3] Brooks said in  his column, “I came to faith in middle age after I’d been in public life for a while. I would say that coming to faith changed everything and yet didn’t alter my political opinions all that much. That’s because assenting to a religion is not like choosing to be a Republican or a Democrat. It happens on a different level of consciousness.”

Brooks continued, “During my decades as an atheist, I thought the stories were false but the values they implied were true. These values — welcome the stranger, humility against pride — became the moral framework I applied to think through my opinions, to support various causes. Like a lot of atheists, I found the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr very helpful.” He also added the following comments on his personal journey of faith:

  • “About seven years ago I realized that my secular understanding was not adequate to the amplitude of life as I experienced it. There were extremes of joy and pain, spiritual fullness and spiritual emptiness that were outside the normal material explanations of things.”
  • “I was gripped by the conviction that the people I encountered were not skin bags of DNA, but had souls; had essences with no size or shape, but that gave them infinite value and dignity. The conviction that people have souls led to the possibility that there was some spirit who breathed souls into them.”
  • “What finally did the trick was glimpses of infinite goodness. . . .Divine religions are primarily oriented to an image of pure goodness, pure loving kindness, holiness. In periodic glimpses of radical goodness — in other people, in sensations of the transcendent — I felt, as Wendell Berry put it, “knowledge crawl over my skin.” The biblical stories from Genesis all the way through Luke and John became living presences in my life.”
  • “These realizations transformed my spiritual life: awareness of God’s love, participation in grace, awareness that each person is made in God’s image. Faith offered an image of a way of being, an ultimate allegiance.”
  • “I spent more time listening, trying to discern how I was being called. I began to think with my heart as much as my head. . . . But my basic moral values — derived from the biblical metaphysic — were already in place and didn’t change that much now that the biblical stories had come alive.”
  • “My point is there is no neat relationship between the spiritual consciousness and the moral and prudential consciousnesses. When it comes to thinking and acting in the public square, we believers and nonbelievers are all in the same boat — trying to apply our moral frameworks to present realities. Faith itself doesn’t make you wiser or better.”
  • “In a society that is growing radically more secular every day, I’d say we have more to fear from political dogmatism than religious dogmatism. We have more to fear from those who let their politics determine their faith practices and who turn their religious communities into political armies. We have more to fear from people who look to politics as a substitute for faith.”
  • “And we have most to fear from the possibility that the biblical metaphysic, which has been a coherent value system for believers and nonbelievers for centuries, will fade from our culture, the stories will go untold, and young people will grow up in a society without any coherent moral ecology at all.”

I thank David Brooks for speaking so eloquently about his spiritual journey.

Here ends this report on several days of this individual’s life during the coronavirus pandemic.

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[1] See also List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: Pandemic Journal.

[2] Covid in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2020); Covid World Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2020).

[3] David Brooks Speaks on “The Role of Character in Creating an Excellent Life,” dwkcommentaries.com (May 16, 2015); Brooks, How Faith Shapes My Politics, N.Y.Times (Sept. 24, 2020).