Minnesota’s Challenges of Declining, Aging Population

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

Skilled Labor Shortages[2]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Care Shortages [3]

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

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

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

 Challenges of More Immigrants [4]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Impact of Lower Immigration Numbers [5]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Opening the U.N. Security Council’s Draperies Uncovers Forgotten History

This month Germany, serving as President of the United Nations Security Council, decided to open its curtains facing the East River of New York City. In so doing, Germany uncovered a forgotten piece of New York and U.N. history.

Opening the Curtains [1]

The German UN mission celebrated its month-long presidency with the symbolic step of calling for the heavy drapes covering the Council’s two-story high windows to be pulled aside to let the sunshine of a New York spring day flood into the Council chamber and on to its famous horseshoe-shaped table. Here is its photograph of the undraped chamber.

The mission’s purpose in so doing was expressed in its Twitter account. “Sunshine during today’s debate in the #UNSC–a rare occurrence throughout its 75-year history. #Transparency & openness to broader @UN membership & civil society are crucial not just symbolically, but also in practice for credibility & legitimacy.”

 The Previous Closing of the Curtains

The curtains had not been opened since their closing after a bazooka shell had been fired from the other side of the East River at the U.N. building on December 11, 1964, but had fallen 200 yards short of the target. A subsequent investigation concluded that if the bazooka had been properly aimed, it would have penetrated the building, especially if it had struck a window. Therefore, the curtains were drawn to protect diplomats and others in the Council’s chamber from flying shards of glass.

The Bazooka Attack on Che Guevara [2]

This bazooka attack happened while Cuba’s Che Guevara was addressing the U.N. General Assembly and while Cuban exiles in the U.S. were at the U.N. entrance on the west side of the building to protest the Cuban Revolution.

Although the blast was heard in the General Assembly, it did not interrupt Che’s speech denouncing the U.S. A subsequent post will discuss that speech.

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[1] Borger, Curtains opened on UN security council for first time since attack on Che Guevara, Guardian (April 4, 2019); German Mission to UN, Twitter Account (April 3, 2019).

[2] Bazooka Fired at U.N. as Cuban Speaks; Launched in Queens, Missile Explodes in East River, N.Y. Times (December 12, 1964).

 

U.S. Authorizes U.S. Litigation Against Entities on Cuba Restricted List

On January 16, 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo extended for 45 days the right to bring certain lawsuits in U.S. federal courts  by Americans who owned property in Cuba that was confiscated by its government. The stated reasons for this 45-day extension, instead of the long-standing practice of granting six-month extensions was to “permit us to conduct a careful review of the right to bring action under Title III [of the Helms-Burton or LIBERTAD Act] in light of the national interests of the United States and efforts to expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba and include factors such as the Cuban regime’s brutal oppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms and its indefensible support for increasingly authoritarian and corrupt regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua.”  [1]

Secretary Pompeo’s New Statement [2]

On March 3, Secretary Pompeo issued another statement on this subject with two parts.

The first part granted “an additional suspension for 30 days through April 17, 2019, of the right to bring an action under Title III [of this federal statute as] necessary to the national interests of the United States and will expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba.” with the below exception. Beginning March 19, suspension shall not apply to:

The second part of this statement, however, contained an exception to this further suspension. Beginning March 19, this suspension will not apply to the “right to bring an action against a Cuban entity or sub-entity identified by name on the State Department’s List of Restricted Entities and Sub-entities Associated with Cuba (known as the Cuba Restricted List), as may be updated from time to time.” This exception protects, for now any foreign firm from such U.S. litigation.

The Cuba Restricted List [3]

This statement explained that the “Cuba Restricted List identifies entities and sub-entities under the control of Cuban military, intelligence, or security services. These security services are directly responsible for the repression of the Cuban people. We encourage any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting the Cuban dictatorship.”

The first such Restricted List was promulgated by the State Department in November 2017,, with a list of 180 entities and subentities that the Department had determined were owned or controlled by “the large military-run corporations that dominate the Cuban economy. These include GAESA and CIMEX, the holding companies that control most retail business on the island; Gaviota, the largest tourism company; and Habaguanex, the firm that runs Old Havana.

This list was amplified on November 14,  2018, with the addition of 26 subentities. According to the State Department, “direct financial transactions [by U.S. nationals] with these entities are generally prohibited because they would disproportionately benefit those entities or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.”

Cuba’s Reaction  [4]

Also on March 4 the Cuba’s foreign Ministry issued the following lengthy rejection of this U.S. move:

  • “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejects in the strongest terms the new escalation in the US aggressive behavior against Cuba.”
  • “Since its entry into force in 1996, the Helms-Burton Act has sought to universalize the economic blockade through brutal and illegal pressures exerted by the United States against third countries, their governments and companies.  It is intended to suffocate the Cuban economy and generate or increase shortages among the population with the purpose of imposing in Cuba a government that serves the interests of the US.”
  • “Given the illegitimate character of the goals they pursue, which are contrary to International Law, the Helms-Burton Act and the blockade arouse universal rejection, which has been reiterated for almost three decades at the most important regional and international fora.  The most recent example of that was the United Nations General Assembly meeting held on November 1, [2018] when said policy was rejected through 10 consecutive votes, thus leaving the US in complete isolation.”
  • “Title II of the Helms-Burton Act states that the overthrowing of the revolutionary government, the subsequent tutelage by a US intervenor and the ultimate establishment of a counterrevolutionary government subordinated to Washington would unequivocally pursue the return or compensation to former owners for all the properties they or their descendants might claim, regardless of whether or not they were US citizens at the moment when nationalizations took place or the fact that they abandoned them. During all that period, the economic blockade would continue to be fully implemented.”
  • “Consequently, Cubans would be forced to return, reimburse or pay to US claimants for the house where they live, the area on which their communities are built, the arable land  where they farm  their products, the school where their children are educated, the hospital or polyclinic where  they receive medical assistance, the place where their workplace is located or where they have a private business, and also for subsidized services such as electricity, water, and communications enjoyed by the population.”
  • “This is an aspiration that can only be conceived by the minds of those who identify Cuba s a colonial possession.  According to the Helms-Burton Act, the economic blockade would be lifted only when that ambition is fulfilled.”
  • “This law relies on two fundamental lies: the notion that nationalizations carried out soon after the triumph of the Revolutionary were illegitimate or inappropriate and that Cuba is a threat to the US national security.”
  • “Cuban nationalizations were carried out in accordance with the law, strictly abiding by the Constitution and in conformity with International Law. All nationalizations included processes of fair and appropriate compensation, something that the US government refused to consider.  Cuba reached and honored global compensation agreements with other nations which are today investing in Cuba, such as Spain, Switzerland, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and France.”
  • The real threat against regional peace and security are the irresponsible declarations and actions of the US government as well as the destabilizing plans against Latin America and the Caribbean aimed at pursuing the stated purpose of imposing the Monroe Doctrine.”
  • [Cuba’s] Reaffirmation of   Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty Act of December 24, 1996, states that the Helms-Burton Act is illegal, inapplicable and has no legal value or effect whatsoever. It considers null and void any claim under that law by any natural or juridical person.”
  • “According to that [Cuban] law, claims for compensation for nationalized properties could be part of a process of negotiation on the based on equality, mutual respect between the governments of Cuba and the United States, and be “reviewed together with the indemnifications the Cuban State and people are entitled to as a result of the damages caused by the blockade and   aggressions of every sort, of which the US government is responsible”. It also makes it clear that those who resort to procedures or mechanisms under the Helms-Burton Act to the detriment of others shall be excluded from possible future negotiations.”
  • “The Cuban Government reiterates to all economic partners and foreign companies operating in Cuba that full guarantees will be granted to foreign investments and joint projects. Article 28 of the Cuban Constitution, which was ratified by an overwhelming majority on February 24, 2019, also recognizes those guarantees, which are also included in [Cuban] Law No. 118 on Foreign Investments of March 29, 2014.”
  • “Today’s [U.S.] decision imposes additional obstacles to our economic development and progress goals, but the United States will keep on failing to achieve its main purpose of submitting by force the sovereign will of Cubans and our determination to build socialism. The majority feelings of the peoples of Cuba and the United States in favor of improving relations and establishing a civilized and respectful coexistence shall prevail.”

Other Reactions

John Bolton, U.S. National Security Advisor commented the same day in the following tweet: “Cuba’s role in usurping democracy and fomenting repression in Venezuela is clear. That’s why the U.S. will continue to tighten financial restrictions on Cuba’s military and intel services. The region’s democracies should condemn the Cuba regime.”

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) had a similar tweet: “Today expect the United States to take the first in a series of steps to hold the regime in #Cuba accountable for its 60 years of crimes & illegality which includes its support for the murderous #MaduroCrimeFamily. Justice is coming. And more to come.”

Rubio also joined with U.S. Senator Rick Scott (Rep., FL) and U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL) in issuing the following lengthier statement supporting this Trump Administration move. [5]

Senator Rubio made the initial comments of the Press Release,“‘President Trump is sending a strong message that the United States will not sit idly by while the Cuban regime continues to support the Maduro crime family at the expense of the Venezuelan people,’ Rubio said. ‘For 60 years, the Cuban regime has forced millions into exile, destabilized neighboring countries, given safe harbor to fugitives from justice and to international terrorists, and made millions trafficking in stolen property. By beginning the process of implementing Title III of the Helms-Burton Libertad Act, the United States is holding the Cuban regime accountable for its crimes, including its support for the murderous Maduro crime family. Justice is coming — and it is just getting started.’”

Senator Scott added, “The Administration’s plan to fully and immediately implement Title III and IV of the Libertad Act signals to the international community that the United States is serious about its commitment to freedom and democracy in Cuba. Allowing American citizens to sue for stolen property in Cuba and denying foreign nationals involved in trafficking stolen property entry into the United States is a huge step toward cutting off the money supply to the Castro Regime. It is clear that where we see instability, chaos and violence in Latin America, we also see the fingerprints of the Castro regime and their money – and this action by the administration is an important step in stabilizing the entire region. President Trump’s strong action on the Libertad Act will further hold the Cuban regime accountable. I urge him to continue with the planned implementation this month so we can help begin a new day of freedom and democracy for Cuba and its people.”

Representative Diaz-Balart stated, “Today, the Trump Administration took another important step toward righting some of the wrongs perpetrated by a dictatorship that brutally oppresses its people and opposes U.S. interests at every opportunity. Shamefully, for nearly twenty-two years since the LIBERTAD Act’s enactment, unscrupulous businesses have ignored this important provision in U.S. law and have chosen to partner with tyrants. This is just the first action of many regarding the Administration’s actions on Title III. Justice for the victims of the Castro regime’s confiscations is long overdue. Years of consecutive extensions may have lulled some into a false sense of impunity. Yet now companies which willingly entangle themselves in partnerships with the anti-American, illegitimate, and oppressive regime in Cuba are on notice that they will be held responsible for their part in callously benefiting from the extensive losses suffered by victims of the regime. I will continue to work with the Administration, Senator Rubio, and my congressional colleagues to ensure the United States continues to pressure the Castro regime and move forward with the full implementation of Title III.”

 Conclusion

This U.S. announcement may have only symbolic significance.

First, according to the Associated Press, “virtually none of the businesses [on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List has] . . . any links to the U.S. legal or financial systems, meaning the ability to sue [in the U.S.] is unlikely to have any effect on the Cuban economy or foreign businesses that work with the socialist government.” In lawyer’s language, any lawsuit in a U.S. court against an entity on the Cuba Restricted List should be subject to a very strong objection for lack of personal jurisdiction over the Cuban entity, meaning any such case very likely would be dismissed at the commencement of the case. [6]

Second, another potential defense to a U.S. lawsuit might be sovereign immunity.

Third, it would be insane for any U.S. claimant to sue any of the Cuban entities in a Cuban court, which would throw out any such case and perhaps impose some penalty on the claimant for bringing such a case.

Fourth, if any of the Cuban entities are present in other countries of the world, a lawsuit there by a U.S. claimant presumably would not be subject to a lack of personal jurisdiction defense, but other defenses might be available plus other countries’ possible hostility to the overall purposes of the Helms-Burton Act and U.S. policies towards Cuba.

Finally Cuba correctly observes that it recognizes that it has an international legal obligation to compensate foreign owners of expropriated property and that it has settled many (all?) such claims by non-U.S. persons. Moreover, under the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement in 2015-16 the two counties had discussions about the U.S. claims although the details have not been publicly released. A major impediment to such a negotiated settlement is Cuba’s lack of financial resources for such payments. Therefore, this blogger has suggested in another post that the only realistic result is for the two countries to reach an overall settlement, including Cuba’s claims against the U..S., which would have the net effect of the U.S. government’s paying the U.S. claims for expropriated property,   =================================

[1] Update on Trump Administration’s Threat To Allow U.S. Litigation Over Cuba’s Expropriated Property, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 30, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, Secretary Enacts 30-Day Suspension of Title III (LIBERTAD Act) With an Exception (Mar. 3, 2019); Reuters, Foreign Partners Excluded From U.S. Lawsuits Against Cuban Firms: Official, N.Y. times (Mar. 4, 2019). 

[3] New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 8, 2017);More Cuban Businesses Forbidden to U.S. Visitors, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 16, 2018).

[4] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Declaration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Cuba Strongly Rejects New Aggressive Escalation by the United States (Mar. 4, 2019).

[5] Press Release: Rubio, Scott, & Diaz-Balart Commend Trump Administration’s Decision to Hold the Communist Cuban Regime Accountable for Crimes (Mar. 4, 2019).

[6] Assoc. Press, Trump Symbolically Tightens Embargo on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Mar. 4, 2019). See The Personal Jurisdiction Requirement for Civil Lawsuits in U.S. Courts, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 8, 2011).

U.S. Urges U.N. Security Council To Reject Venezuela’s Maduro and Embrace Guaido

On January 26 the U.N. Security Council met to debate action on the crisis in Venezuela.[1]

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, after giving examples of the despair of ordinary Venezuelans, asserted that the U.S. was there “ to urge all nations to support the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people as they try to free themselves from former President Maduro’s illegitimate mafia state. . . .The humanitarian situation demands action now; it demands action today.”

As a result, the U.S. “ stands with the Venezuelan people. So far, many other nations have chosen to do the same and they too have recognized the legitimate government of interim President Guaidó. The United States stands proudly with you as we stand together in support of Venezuela. You knew the Venezuelan people did not have a moment to spare.”

After criticizing China and Russia for supporting Maduro, Pompeo said, “But no regime has done more to sustain the nightmarish condition of the Venezuelan people than the regime in Havana. For years, Cuban security and intelligence thugs, invited into Venezuela by Maduro himself and those around him, have sustained this illegitimate rule. They have trained Maduro’s security and intelligence henchmen in Cuba’s own worst practices. Cuba’s interior ministry even provides a former – provides former President Maduro’s personal security. Members of this body often use their microphones here to condemn foreign interference in internal affairs. Let’s be crystal clear: the foreign power meddling in Venezuela today is Cuba. Cuba has directly made matters worse and the United States and our partners are the true friends of the Venezuelan people.” (Emphasis added.)

Elliott Abrams, the new U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela, following Secretary Pompeo, noted that every criticism [of the U.S.] came from a country that is not democratic. And he accused Venezuela of being a “satellite” of Cuba and Russia. “This is not about foreign intervention in Venezuela,. It is not an attempt to impose a result on the Venezuelan people. Democracy never needs to be imposed. It is tyranny that has to be imposed.”

The ambassadors of Russia and China, both permanent members of the Security Council with veto power, said they considered the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela an internal matter and urged the United States to stop meddling. The Russian ambassador said, “If anything represents a threat to peace and security, it is the shameless and aggressive actions of the United States and their allies to oust a legitimately elected president of Venezuela.” The U.S., he said, was trying “to engineer a coup d’etat in Venezuela.”

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza then took a personal swipe at Abrams, noting that he had pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Reagan administration’s support for contra rebels fighting the government in Nicaragua,

UN Under Secretary-General of Political and Peacebuilding, Rosemary DiCarlo, made a logical, but unpersuasive suggestion: “We must try to help bring about a political solution that will allow the country’s citizens to enjoy peace, prosperity and all their human rights,”  This essentially reiterated the plea earlier in the week by U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres  urging all parties to “lower tensions and calling for all relevant actors to commit to inclusive and credible political dialogue. Concerned by reports of casualties in the context of demonstrations and unrest in and around the capital Caracas, the UN chief also called for a transparent and independent investigation of those incidents.

The Security Council, however, took no vote on the situation in Venezuela under the threat of vetoes by permanent members Russia and China. This was presaged by the vote to consider the Venezuela crisis: nine in favor (Belgium, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, United Kingdom, United States) to four against (China, Equatorial Guinea, Russian Federation, South Africa) with two abstentions (Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia).

The next day, January 27, U.S. National Security Advisor, John Bolton, tweeted, “ “Any violence and intimidation against U.S. diplomatic personnel, Venezuela’s democratic leader, Juan Guiado (sic), or the National Assembly itself would represent a grave assault on the rule of law and will be met with a significant response,” Bolton also noted Cuba’s support for Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro’s paramilitary forces.

Other Commentary[2]

After the Council’s meeting, Cuba Foreign Secretary, Bruno Rodriguez, tweeted, “”I categorically reject slanderous accusations against #Cuba from the US Secretary of State in the Security Council of @ONU_es. His assault on #Venezuela constitutionality, orchestrated from Washington, will fail despite the lies.” Another of his tweets stated, “Secretary of State slanders Cuba to justify a coup against the constitutional power in #Venezuela. Washington designed, financed and managed the alleged usurpation of the Venezuelan Presidency,” The U.S. was doing so “”on the basis of unfounded accusations, false data and masking role of his Government in orchestrating that assault on regional peace. ”

In addition to the above developments,  the U.K. joined the U.S., Germany, France and Spain in backing  Guaidó. The U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, said, ““After banning opposition candidates, ballot box stuffing and counting irregularities in a deeply-flawed election it is clear Nicolás Maduro is not the legitimate leader of Venezuela.”  Therefore, the U.K. would recognize Guaidó as the legitimate president unless Maduro within the next eight days called for a new election. [3]

Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, claims that “every sensible observer agrees that Latin America’s once-richest country, sitting atop the world’s largest proven oil reserves, is an economic basket case, a humanitarian disaster, and a dictatorship whose demise cannot come soon enough.” Moreover, he argues, “Twenty years of socialism . . . led to the ruin of a nation.” In short, according to Stephens, “Why does socialism never work? Because, as Margaret Thatcher explained, ‘eventually you run out of other people’s money.’”[4]

All of these developments pose many questions to ponder as we go forward or backward.

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

 

 

[1]  Brokaw, Pompeo confronts U.N. Security Council on Venezuela, UPI (Jan. 26, 20190; State Dep’t, [{Pompeo] Remarks at United Nations Security Council Meeting on Venezuela (Jan. 26, 2019); U.N., UN political chief  calls for dialogue to ease tensions in Venezuela; Security Council divided over path to end crisis (Jan. 26, 209); Reuters, White House Promises “Significant Response’ to Any Venezuelan Violence, N.Y. Times (Jan. 27, 2019).

[2]  Cuban Foreign Minister rejects accusation by the United States against Cuba, Granma (Jan. 26, 2019); Semple, With Spies and Other Operatives, A Nation Looms Over Venezuela’s Crisis: Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan. 26, 2019); Baker & Wong, On Venezuela, Rubio Assumes U.S. Role of Ouster in Chief, N.Y. Times (Jan. 26, 2019); Morelio, Pompeo presses U.N. Security Council to ‘pick a side’ in Venezuela’s crisis, Wash. Post (Jan. 26, 2019).

[3] Doward, UK tells Venezuelan president: call fair election or stand down, Guardian (Jan. 26, 2019).

[4] Stephens, Yes, Venezuela Ia a Socialist Catastrophe, N.Y. Times (Jan. 25, 2019).

Beschloss Discusses “Presidents of War” at Westminster Town Hall Forum

On November 13, only one week after the U.S. mid-term election, Michael Beschloss appeared before an overflow crowd at Minneapolis’ Westminster Town Hall Forum to discuss his  recent book, Presidents of War: 1807 to Modern Times.[1] Below are photographs of Beschloss and the Westminster Sanctuary before the arrival of the crowd.

 

 

 

 

The Presidents of War

He made the following brief comments about the eight presidents of war who are covered in his book.

President James Madison and the War of 1812. This was the first and the most unpopular war in U.S. history, climaxed by the British burning of the White House and Madison’s  escaping to Virginia in August 1814. (The book covers this in the Prologue and Chapters Two and Three.)

President James Polk and the Mexican-American War (1846 1848). This war was started by the U.S. on the U.S.false assertion that Mexico had ambushed and killed an American soldier in the new state of Texas. The U.S. won the war and acquired more than 500,000 square miles of Mexican territory extending  west of the Rio Grande River to the Pacific Ocean.(This is covered in Chapters Four and Five.)

President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War (1860-1865). Lincoln was the best president of war. Initially he was not a crusader and instead an enforcer of the  constitutional ban on secession, which was not a popular message. Later with the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address he made it a moral crusade against slavery and the people began to follow Lincoln. (This is covered in Chapters Six and Seven.)

President William McKinley and the Spanish-American War, 1898.  This was another war started on a false assertion: Spain had blown up the USS Maine in the Havana Harbor, when in fact it was caused by an exploding boiler in the ship. This war resulted in the U.S.’ acquiring the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam from Spain and de facto control of Cuba. (This is covered in Chapters Eight and Nine of the book.)[2]

President Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917-1918. In his re-election campaign of 1916, Wilson’s slogan was “He kept us out of war,” but in April 2017 he had Congress declare war after German attacks on U.S. ships. In his well-meaning campaign for the League of Nations, Wilson made a lot of mistakes. (This is covered in Chapters Ten and Eleven.)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and World War II, 1941-1945. Before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, FDR gave very few speeches about the war in Europe, and there was strong U.S. public opinion against entering the war on the belief that World War I had been a mistake. Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, however, the Congress declared war against Japan, the last time the U.S. declared war under the Constitution. FDR learned from the war with the exception of treatment of Japanese-Americans.  (this is covered in Chapters Twelve and Thirteen.)

President Truman and  the Korean War (Conflict), 1950-1953.  According to Beschloss, Truman had read and written some history and had said one “could not be president without knowing history” and “every leader must be a reader.”(This is covered in Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen.)

President Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War, 1963-1969. This is another war started on a false U.S. assertion: the Vietnamese had attacked a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, which lead to a congressional resolution supporting military action. The White House audio tapes of LBJ’s conversations revealed important information: (a) Senator Richard Russell urged LBJ to get out of the war; (b) Secretary of Defense McNamara urged LBJ to get involved, thereby disproving McNamara’s later denials of same; (c) LBJ came to believe that this was a war the U.S. could not win and could not lose; and (d) LBJ rejected the advice of General Westmoreland to use nuclear weapons in the war.  (This was discussed in Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen of the book.)

Commonalities of the Presidents of War

Beschloss identified two common characterizes of these presidents.

First, they all became more religious during their wars. Lincoln before the Civil War was a sceptic or agnostic, but during the war regularly read the Bible and talked about wars being “oceans of blood” that prompted his  seeking biblical guidance for sending young men to their death. Lyndon Johnson before the war was not a regular church-goer, but during the war, his daughter Lucy Baines Johnson Turpin, who had become a Roman Catholic, regularly and confidentially took LBJ to mass , and Lady Bird Johnson was heard to say he might convert to Catholicism.

Second, they all were married to strong women who gave good advice. In 1942 FDR  was considering internment of Japanese-Americans, and Eleanor warned him strongly not to do so. The subsequent internment caused a major rupture in their marriage.

In response to a question about whether any of the war presidents had military experience, he did not state the obvious: they had not except for Truman in World War I. Instead, he said that President Eisenhower, who is not covered in the book even though he presided over the end of the Korean War, had the “perfect” military experience resulting from his military education and training and command responsibility during World War Ii that provided him with the knowledge of the ends and means, the costs and the unpredictability of war.[3]

 The President of Peace

In response to a question, Beschloss identified only one president of peace:. President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 resisted public pressure to go to war with Great Britain over an attack by its ship (The Leopard) against a U.S. frigate (The Chesapeake) in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia that killed three U.S. sailors and wounded eight others. (This is discussed in Chapter One of the book.)

 Advice to U.S. Citizens

All presidents need wisdom, courage and judgment. They need to be moral leaders.

Citizens, Senators and representatives need to evaluate and criticize presidents on important issues, especially those of war and peace.

In his book’s Epilogue, Beschloss says “the framers of the Constitution had dreamt that war would be a last resort under the political system they had invented. Unlike in Great Britain and other monarchies and dictatorships of old, it would be declared by Congress, not the chief of State.” Yet “the notion of presidential war took hold step by step.” We as citizens need to insist on obeying the Constitution and requiring congressional declarations of war.

Beschloss Biography

Beschloss is an award-winning author of nine books on presidential history. He is the presidential historian for NBC News and a contributor to PBS NewsHour. A graduate of Williams College and Harvard Business School, he has served as a historian for the Smithsonian Institution, as a Senior Associate Member at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and as a Senior Fellow of the Annenberg Foundation. His books on the presidency include, among others, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963; The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany; and Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989. His latest book, Presidents of War, was published in October. He is the recipient of the Harry S. Truman Public Service Award, the New York State Archives Award, and the Rutgers University Living History Award. He is a trustee of the White House Historical Association and the National Archives Foundation and a former trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

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

[1] Westminster Town Hall Forum, Michael Beschloss, Presidents of War: 1807 to Modern Times (Nov. 13, 2018) (the website also includes a livestream of the lecture and Q & A); Black, ‘Presidents of War’: Historian Michael Beschloss on leaders who’ve taken U.S. into battle, MinnPost (Nov. 14, 2018); Barnes & Noble, Presidents of War (2018).

[2] Before 1898, the U.S. had a desire to own or control Cuba that was promoted by by U.S. slaveholders desiring support of Cuban slaveholders, and after U.S. entry in 1898 into the Second Cuban War of Independence (what we call the Spanish-American War) and the U.S. defeat of the Spanish, the U.S. made Cuba a de facto protectorate that lasted until 1934. Since the 1959 overthrow of Batista by the Cuban Revolution, of course, the two countries have had a contentious relationship, including the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion of  1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 that nearly erupted into war. (See posts listed in the “ U.S.-Cuba History, 1989-2010” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] Another U.S. president with wartime experience, including injuries, was John F. Kennedy, who during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 helped to steer the U.S. out of a possible nuclear war with the USSR over its missiles in Cuba. (See posts listed in the “ U.S.-Cuba History, 1989-2010” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

“Who Is Jesus for Us Today?”  

This was the title of the sermon on September 9, 2018, by Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Senior Pastor, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. (A photograph of the church with its new addition is below.)

Biblical Texts for the Day

 Psalm 8 (NRSV):

“O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”

“O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

 John 1: 45-51 (NRSV):

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you get to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’”

 The Sermon[1]

 “The work of the Church is fundamentally a teaching task: asking questions, seeking answers, exploring possibilities – and then translating all of that into life between Sundays. . . .”

“Christianity is never settled for any of us, no matter our age or the extent of our involvement in church. The world is always changing. If our faith is not similarly dynamic, not living, not rising to the challenges we see all around us, not attuned to the context in which we live, it will slowly wither away. . . .”

“Actually there’s something appealing to the notion that what happens in churches can be hazardous to the status quo. Powerful worship is subversive; it wants to upend the dominant ethos. A church ought to be considered a place the world enters at its own risk. After all, we follow a Savior perceived to be such a serious threat that he was crucified.”

“But the Church is not only what happens inside these walls for a few hours each week. . . . Church mostly happens the rest of the week, out there. We – you and I – are the Church when we leave here and go out into the world. . . . “

“The faith we practice has always felt compelled to move out into the streets and ask, ‘What is God up to in this place and in this time?’ because we want to join that work. Call it public theology, or our witness in the world, or the pursuit of biblical justice – our faith has never wanted to sequester Jesus in the sanctuary, as if he might – we might – be sullied by the messy reality of what’s going on in the world around us.”

“We Come Together not to be sheltered in this sacred space, but, rather, to hear the call of God to go forth and be the Church. To do that, however, means we need to understand whom we follow out into those streets. . . .”

“The decision to follow Jesus, Professor Gail O’Day says, ‘Is inseparable from the decision one makes about Jesus’ identity.’ [New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995) p. 534] . . . .”

“Who we think he is will determine the kind of Christians we become.”

“In the 1930s in Germany, the young pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer found himself growing skeptical about the Jesus being preached in the churches of that land. As political rhetoric became more overtly racist and the culture increasingly supportive of extreme Aryan nationalism, most German Christian churches rolled over and acquiesced to all of that. They gave their Jesus over to the rising ideology of the times. It was expedient for them, convenient for them, to go along with the predominant and popular spirit of the land.”

“Bonhoeffer and his colleagues – Karl Barth, Martin Niemoller, and others – resisted, and some of them eventually paid for it with their lives. They wrote an affirmation of faith rejecting the distorted theology used to underpin racism and nationalism. They started an alternative church, called the Confessing Church, as opposed to the German Christian Church, which supported the ideology of the times.. They founded an underground seminary, as over against the schools of the German Christian Church, which taught theology that supported the direction the nation was moving. They preached and worked against the tide.”

“And behind all that work, according to Bonhoeffer, was a single, driving question: Who is Jesus Christ for us today? . . . .”

“Who is Jesus Christ for us today? That question will inform our worship at Westminster this fall, even as it informs our life as we move from this place out into the world . . . “

 “Eighty years ago in Germany was not the only time when Christians have resisted the prevailing winds. Forty years ago in South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Mission Church wrote and adopted what became known as the Confession of Belhar. The Dutch Reformed Mission Church was the segregated denomination created for “mixed race” persons in the 19th century by the white Dutch Reformed Church, the denomination that eventually – by the mid-20th century – would develop a theological justification for apartheid, a theological basis for apartheid.”

 “The Confession of Belhar is a theological denunciation of the racist political system of South Africa of that time. It rejects the notion that God would accept the dividing of the human family on the basis of race or color. The Confession answers Bonhoeffer’s question, ‘Who is Jesus Christ for us today,’ by portraying Jesus as the one standing with those on the receiving end of the cruelties of history, those excluded from places of privilege and power by virtue of who they are or where they live or what language they speak or whom they love or the circumstances of their lives.” (Emphasis added.)

“Who Jesus is for us determines what it means for us to pursue his way – to be Christian in our time.”

.“Like the Germans of the Confessing Church, and like many in our land today, the ‘mixed race’ South Africans stood their ground . . .against those who would corrupt Christianity to make it supportive of the politics of exclusion and racial superiority. They declared that one could not be a follower of Jesus and, at the same time, a supporter of apartheid. Think of that in our time: it is not possible to a follower of Jesus and supporter of racism at the same time.” (Emphasis added.)

“Our denomination adopted the Confession of Belhar two years ago. . . .  We chose to adopt it to speak to our own historic and current racism in America, a system that has been in place for so many centuries.”

“Westminster has embarked on a pilgrimage to join the great effort in our nation finally, finally now wanting to come to terms with the original sin of this land, the enslavement – the buying and selling of human beings, the thinking of people as less than human – the enslavement of Africans to build up our nation. The legacy of that terrible time yet endures today. That journey for us, as followers of Jesus, starts with the question: Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” (Emphasis added.)

“Following Jesus is costly. The South Africans found that out. The Confessing Church in Germany discovered that. We will learn that, as well. The challenge to love in the way of Jesus should not be undertaken lightly. It will change each one of us and, hopefully, the world in which we live.”

“That’s why it matters what we do here in worship week after week. That’s why it matters that our children and youth are engaged in nurturing their faith. That’s why it matters who we are as a congregation in this city.”

The Confession of Belhar[2]

After the  sermon, the congregation read in unison the following extracts from the Confession of Belhar:

  • “We believe: that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ; that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world; that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker; that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells;
  • That the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation hatred and enmity;
  • Therefore, we reject any doctrine which, in such a situation, sanctions in the name of the gospel or the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.” (Emphasis added.)

Conclusion

This sermon provided at least a partial answer to the question, ‘Who is Jesus for us today?’ It d did so by referencing the creation of the Confessing Church in Germany and the Confession of Belhar in stating, “Jesus stood “with those on the receiving end of the cruelties of history, those excluded from places of privilege and power by virtue of who they are or where they live or what language they speak or whom they love or the circumstances of their lives.” [3](Emphasis added.) ==================================

[1] Sermon: Who Is Jesus for Us Today? (Sept. 9, 2018).

[2]  See The Confession of Belhar Is Adopted by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), dwkcommentaries.com (July 21, 2016).

[3] The sermon went on to say that further answers to this question will be provided in future sermons and other discussions at Westminster.

 

 

Continuing Controversy Over Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba (and China)

Since late 2016 some U.S. diplomats (now 26 in number) have complained about various medical problems that surfaced while they were serving in Cuba.[1]

The U.S., however, continues to assert publicly that despite subsequent investigations the U.S. does not know what or who caused the problems. Most recently, on September 6, 2018, at a House hearing, Kenneth H. Merten, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, stated that the “Department does not currently know the mechanism for the cause of the injuries, the motive behind these attacks in Cuba, when they actually commenced, or who is responsible.” At the same hearing, Charles Rosenfarb, the State Department’s Medical Director, testified, “We’re seeing a unique syndrome. I can’t even call it a syndrome. It’s a unique constellation of symptoms and findings, but with no obvious cause.”[2] (Emphases added.)

Cuba, on the other hand, continues to assert that it did not cause the problems and indeed that there is no scientific basis for any contention that the diplomats suffered any kind of medical issues. For example, in June 2018, a Cuban diplomatic official said that Cuba had “challenged the U.S. on the use of the word ‘attack.’ “There is no evidence of a weapon, there is no evidence of a source, nobody can point to motivation and yet they continue to use the word ‘attack.’ We see it as politically motivated.’” He also noted that neither American nor Cuban experts had been able to determine what caused the symptoms. He renewed concerns that the Trump administration is using the incidents as an excuse to roll back U.S.-Cuba rapprochement started under the Obama administration.[3]

In the meantime, at least the following four theories about causation of the medical problems have emerged.

University of Pennsylvania Theory[4]

Physicians at the University of Pennsylvania examined the affected diplomats and in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) asserted the following key findings:

  1. The patients “appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks.”
  2. The patients have experienced “persisting disability of a significant nature” involving “hearing, vision, balance and brain symptoms similar to the brain dysfunction seen with concussions, but without histories of head trauma.”
  3. In most cases, the affected diplomats reported hearing a loud, painful noise that they later associated with their symptoms, but the physicians concluded, “There is no known mechanism for audible sound to injure the brain” and “it is currently unclear if or how the noise is related to the reported symptoms.”
  4. “Viruses or chemical exposures are unlikely,” but could not be “systematically excluded.”
  5. “Advanced MRI scans spotted a few changes in some patients in what are called white matter tracts,” but these might be attributed to previous events.
  6. “Several of the objective manifestations consistently found in this cohort,” including vision and balance abnormalities, “could not have been consciously or unconsciously manipulated.”

In August 2018 JAMA published letters from 10 neurologists and doctors from the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany that questioned the conclusions of the University of Pennsylvania report. They said it could have misinterpreted the result of medical tests or ignored disorders that cause symptoms among a large group of people, as psychological factors.

Smith and two colleagues published a response that said they are performing “advanced neuroimaging studies” of the patients and are “hoping to identify structural brain changes that may underlie the neurological manifestations.”

University of Michigan Theory[5]

A team of computer scientists from the University of Michigan’s Security and Privacy Research Group in March 2018 concluded that “if ultrasound played a role in harming diplomats in Cuba, then a plausible cause is intermodulation distortion between ultrasonic signals that unintentionally synthesize audible tones. In other words, acoustic interference without malicious intent to cause harm could have led to the audible sensations in Cuba.” The conclusion of the research paper itself also states, “our experiments do not eliminate the possibility of malicious intent to harm diplomats.” (Emphasis added.)

If I correctly understand this theory, the audible sound similar to that heard in Cuba requires at least two ultrasound sources that interfere with each other and this suggests that the audible sound was accidental and not intended. This supports Cuba’s consistent assertion that it did not intend to do anything to harm the American diplomats, an assertion that makes obvious sense from Cuba’s own self-interest of avoiding antagonizing the U.S.

Microwave Theory[6]

The lead physician and author of the University of Pennsylvania report, Dr. Douglas H. Smith, recently told the New York Times that “microwaves were now considered a main suspect and that the team was increasingly sure the diplomats had suffered brain injury.” He added, ““Everybody was relatively skeptical at first [but] everyone now agrees there’s something there.”

According to the Times, “Strikes with microwaves, some experts now argue, more plausibly explain reports of painful sounds, ills and traumas than do other possible culprits — sonic attacks, viral infections and contagious anxiety. In particular, a growing number of analysts cite an eerie phenomenon known as the Frey effect, named after Allan H. Frey, an American scientist. Long ago, he found that microwaves can trick the brain into perceiving what seem to be ordinary sounds.” Moreover, “scientists have known for decades that the brain can perceive some microwaves as sound.” Indeed, “The false sensations, the experts say, may account for a defining symptom of the diplomatic incidents — the perception of loud noises, including ringing, buzzing and grinding. Initially, experts cited those symptoms as evidence of stealthy attacks with sonic weapons.”

Beatrice Golomb, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Diego, is a leading proponent of the theory that pulsed microwaves could explain the symptoms. She has authored a paper that will be published in coming days in the journal Neural Computation.  The symptoms experienced by the Cuba patients match symptoms in other people who are “electrosensitive,” according to her analysis, which relies on the JAMA study and news reports.

Asked about the microwave theory, the State Department said the investigation had yet to identify the cause or source of the attacks. And the F.B.I. declined to comment on the status of the investigation or any theories. In addition, In addition, members of Jason, a secretive group of elite scientists that helps the federal government assess new threats to national security, say it has been scrutinizing the diplomatic mystery this summer and weighing possible explanations, including microwaves.

James C. Lin of the University of Illinois, a leading investigator of the Frey effect, described the diplomatic ills as plausibly arising from microwave beams. Dr. Lin is the editor-in-chief of Bio Electro Magnetics, a peer-reviewed journal that explores the effects of radio waves and electromagnetic fields on living things. In his paper, Dr. Lin said high-intensity beams of microwaves could have caused the diplomats to experience not just loud noises but nausea, headaches and vertigo, as well as possible brain-tissue injury. The beams, he added, could be fired covertly, hitting “only the intended target.”

In February, ProPublica in a lengthy investigation mentioned that federal investigators were weighing the microwave theory. This article also mentioned that a wife of a member of the embassy staff had looked outside her home after hearing the disturbing sounds and had seen a van speeding away.

Kenneth R. Foster, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied microwave phenomena while working at the Naval Medical Research Center in Bethesda. Foster, who was not involved in examining the diplomatic personnel, said that the reported illnesses remain mysterious and that he doesn’t have an explanation.

Nevertheless, Foster said, “But it’s sure as heck not microwaves.” Such a theory is “wildly impossible.” According to Dr. Foster, “to actually damage the brain, the microwaves would have to be so intense they would actually burn the subject, which has never happened in any of these incidents.” Foster added that there is no technology capable of using microwaves to produce the kinds of symptoms that the U.S. diplomats have experienced — and not for lack of trying. “Actually the Navy was interested in seeing whether this could be used as a weapon, and we spent a lot of time thinking about it, but the phenomenon was simply too weak to be of any conceivable use.”

A rejection of this theory also was voiced by University of Cincinnati neurologist Alberto J. Espay, who said, “Microwave weapons is the closest equivalent in science to fake news.”

A Cuban diplomat, Fernández de Cossío, Director for United States at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, insisted that the microwave theory cannot explain the symptoms suffered by the U.S. diplomats in Havana. Mr. Fernández de Cossío accused the U.S. of carrying a deliberate political manipulation. On Monday, CNN reported that Dr. Mitchell Valdés-Sosa, a neurologist investigating on behalf of the Cuban government, also dismissed this theory.

The strangest reaction to the microwave theory came in  a Washington Post editorial. After reviewing the pros and cons of the theory, it concluded, “the microwave explanation has again raised a question about whether the United States has discovered more than is being said about the perpetrators. If there are known culprits, they should be identified and held to account.”

Neuro-Weapon Theory[7]

A team put together by the State Department to investigate this problem consisted of Dr. Michael Hoffer of the University of Miami and an expert in brain trauma and otolaryngology; Dr. Carey Balaban, professor of otolaryngology, bioengineering and neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh; and Dr. James Giordano, professor in the departments of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, and an expert in “neurotechnology” and its use in the military.

This team independently studied the first tests taken of  those affected. And  this team believes that the patients likely were hit by  a weapon that uses directed energy and is capable of causing a “cavitation” effect or air pockets, in fluids near the inner ear. The bubbles can travel quickly through two pathways that carry blood to the brain from the inner ear — the cochlear and the vestibular — and “function as a stroke,” Giordano said.

Such “neuro-weapons” can be biological, chemical, or in the case of the incidents in Havana, “directed energy weapons.”  The team was unable to conclude exactly what method the perpetrators of the attacks used but reduced it to the following possibilities:

▪ Ultrasonic (acoustic) exposures were considered “very possible and probable.”

▪ Electromagnetic pulsing was also described as “very possible and probable.”

▪ The team reported that the use of microwave energy was possible, but “unlikely.”

Conclusion

I am not a scientist or medical doctor and am unable to evaluate the merits and demerits of the above theories. I, therefore, specifically invite comments with additional information or thoughts.

But I also confess that I am amazed that after nearly two years the official U.S. public position is an inability to identify the cause or perpetrator.

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[1]  Previous posts about these issues are listed in the “U.S. Diplomats’ Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of Lists of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[2] U.S. House Foreign Affairs Comm., Western Affairs Subcomm., U.S. Policy Toward Cuba  (Sept. 6, 2018); Kaplan & Ashenbach, Scientists and doctors zap theory that microwave weapon injured Cuban diplomats, Wash. Post (Sept. 6, 2018).

[3] Recent U.S.-Cuba Developments, dwkcommentaries.com (June 15, 2018), Cuba Still Baffled by Illness of U.S. Diplomats, dwkcommentaries.com (June 11, 2018).

[4] Swanson, et al., Neurological Manifestations Among US Government Personnel  Reporting Directional Audible and Sensory Phenomena in Havana, Cuba, JAMA (Mar. 20, 2018); Medical Report on U.S. Diplomats with Health Problems Occurring in Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 16, 2018); What affected the US diplomats in Cuba? Ten scientists question the ‘attacks,’ Diario de Cuba (Aug. 15, 2018); Gianoli, et al., Neurological Symptoms in US  Government Personnel in Cuba, JAMA (Aug. 14, 2018); Mojena, The truth is that they do not want to listen, Granma (Aug. 17, 2018); Do ‘Sonic Weapons’ Adequately Explain ‘Health Attacks’ on Diplomats in Cuba?  Snopes (updated Sept. 4, 2018); Rasenick, et al., Letter: Cuba ‘sonic attack’ conspiracy theories and flawed science, Guardian (June 1, 2018); Sample, Cuban ‘acoustic attack’ report on US diplomats flawed, say neurologists, Guardian (Aug. 14, 2018).

[5] Possible Solution to Mystery of “Sonic Attacks” on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 4, 2018).

[6] Broad, Microwave Weapons Are Prime Suspect in Ills of U.S. Embassy Workers, N.Y. Times (Sept. 1, 2018); Kaplan & Achenbach, Scientists and doctors zap theory that microwave weapon injured Cuba diplomats, Wash. Post (Sept. 6, 2018); Could ‘Microwave Weapon Really Have Caused US Embassy Workers’ ‘Bizarre Symptoms? LiveScience (Sept/ 5, 2018); Foster, Cuba’s “Sonic Attack” on the U.S. Embassy Could Have Been Merely Sounds Emitted by a Listening Device, Scientific American (Sept. 7, 2018); Editorial, A literal secret weapon is hurting U.S. diplomats abroad. What is it? Wash. Post (Sept. 7, 2018).

[7] Gámez, Doctors reveal possible ‘neuro-weapon’ used in alleged attacks in Cuba, Miami Herald (Sept. 7, 2018).