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.”

 

 

 

 

 

Court Orders Public Release of Bodycam Footage of George Floyd Arrest and Killing   

On August 7, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill ordered the public release of the bodycam footages of the arrest and killing of George Floyd that were made by criminal defendants and former police officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng.[1]

The Judge’s order said, “Members of the Media Coalition, as well as other media and members of the public, may obtain copies” of the footage. The order, however, did not elaborate on the rationale for his ruling, nor on how or when the footage would be released.

On July 13, the so called Media Coalition of local and national media companies had filed with the court a motion for the immediate release of this footage. The Coalition argued that the court’s allowing these videos to be viewed only at the courthouse by appointment violated state laws, court rules and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.[2]

The Media Coalition consists of the StarTribune; American Public Media, which owns Minnesota Public Radio; the Associated Press; CBS Broadcasting Inc.; Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal; Hubbard Broadcasting; Hubbard Broadcasting, which owns a Minnesota television broadcaster (KSTP-TV); and the New York Times Co., among others.

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[1] Simons, Judge orders release of Minneapolis police body camera video from the night George Floyd was killed, StarTribune (Aug. 7, 2020); Judge orders release of body camera video showing Floyd killing, MPRnews (Aug. 7, 2020).

[2] Media Coalition Asks Court To Release BodyCam Footage of George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (July 14, 2020).

 

Minnesota Orchestra’s Trip to Cuba Garners National Recognition

The Minnesota Orchestra’s May 2015 visit to Cuba was ranked as one of the Best Classical Music Events of 2015 by the New York Times. [1]

According to the Times’ Michael Cooper, “It was not just the mojitos or the Beethoven and Prokofiev, or the fact that an American orchestra was at the vanguard of the nation’s rapprochement with Cuba that made the Minnesota Orchestra’s tour of Havana in May a high point of the year. It was also the way the quickly-put-together tour signaled that the orchestra, which had been brought to the brink of death during a bitter 16-month lockout that ended in 2014, was back and was thinking big. . . . The Havana tour was one of those hopeful moments [for classical music] this year.”

This accolade reminded me of my listening to the Orchestra’s two concerts live from Havana on Minnesota Public Radio with tears of joy in my eyes. Arranging those live broadcasts itself was an amazing technological accomplishment by MPR and many others.

Havana audience

One of the pieces at the Friday concert was Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy with Cuban pianist Frank Fernandez. Later I learned that there was tension between Fernandez and the Orchestra’s Music Director, Osmo Vanska. In rehearsals Fernandez had his own sound technicians, who made the piano sound louder than the orchestra. Naturally Vanska did not like this and had his sound technicians manipulate the pianist’s system so that it would not sound louder than the Orchestra’s. (To the right is a photograph of the audience at Friday’s concert.)

The Saturday concert, to my surprise, opened with the Cuban and U.S. national anthems. Subsequently a violinist in the Orchestra told me that minutes before that concert he looked again at his music for the Cuban National Anthem and noticed it said, “Copyright 1952, U.S. Army.” He panicked, thinking they might not be playing the correct national anthem, and immediately took the sheet music to the Spanish-English interpreter assigned to the Orchestra. Fortunately she could read music and confirmed it was the right one.

Cuban anthem

A few minutes later at the start of the concert, the violinist said, Vanska had all the musicians stand and face the audience while motioning for the audience to do likewise. The audience did not know what was happening and only gradually rose to their feet. When the music started, the Cubans in the audience initially did not recognize their own anthem, but soon started singing with tears in their eyes. After it was finished, they were even more surprised to hear the Orchestra play “The Start-Spangled Banner” with the Americans in the audience lustily singing the words. (To the left is a photograph by Travis Anderson of the Orchestra playing the Cuban national anthem.)

These concerts were not the only activities for the Orchestra’s musicians in Cuba. They “played with students in a number of settings . . . [and] marveled at the high quality of their play in spite of poor instruments. The Minnesotans brought small gifts for the students, who have trouble obtaining basic items: rosin for the string players, who rarely get to change the horsehair on their bows, and mouthpieces for the brass players.”[2]

Ross

In one of those sessions with Cuban students, for example, Anthony Ross, Minnesota’s principal cellist, played the students a Mark Summer piece that he said was popular with cello students in America. Then they broke up into small groups, and Ross had a young Cuban cellist use Ross’ beautiful cello. (To the right is a photograph of Ross and the Cuban student.) At a class on conducting, Vanska told one student that his hands were “very natural” and fielded questions from a recent graduate who wanted advice on how to conduct Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring.”[3]

Vanska clarient

After Saturday night’s concert, Vanska and some of the Orchestra members went out to Habana Café, where Orquesta Aragón, a Cuban charanga group, was playing. The Cuban group soon was joined by some of the Minnesotans to play “Dos Gardenias,” the bolero that Ibrahim Ferrer sang with the Buena Vista Social Club. Charles Lazarus, a Minnesota trumpeter, told the crowd that there was “a very iconic trumpet solo at the beginning,” of the piece, but that tonight it would be played on the clarinet by Vanska..“By early Sunday morning he was playing clarinet in a decidedly more tropical vein as members of his orchestra and the Orquesta Aragón — think of them as El Conjunto de Minneapolis, perhaps — played a mixture of jazz and Cuban music.” (To the left is a photograph of Vanska on clarinet with some of the Minnesota musicians and the Orquesta )[4]

Thanks, New York Times, for reminding us of this wonderful event for the Minnesota Orchestra. Bravo! Bravo!

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[1] The Best Classical Music of 2015, N.Y. Times (Dec. 9, 2015). The Orchestra’s trip was discussed in previous posts: Minnesota Orchestra To Go to Cuba (Feb. 13, 2015); Minnesota Orchestra Goes to Cuba This Week (May 11, 2015). See also Minnesota Orchestra, Cuba Tour Press and Broadcast InformationPhotos: A look back at the orchestra’s trip to Cuba, MPR (May 19, 2015).

[2] Cooper, Minnesota Orchestra, in Groundbreaking Cuba Tour, Sells Out House, N.Y. Times (May 16, 2015).

[3] Cooper, Minnesota Orchestra’s Cuba Trip Puts It in the Cultural Vanguard, N.Y. Times (May 14, 2015)

[4] Cooper, Fire and Ice: Minnesotans Join Orquesta Aragón in Havana, N.Y. Times (May 17, 2015)

 

 

 

 

Minnesota Orchestra Goes to Cuba This Week!

MN OrchestraAs discussed in a prior post, this February the Minnesota Orchestra announced that it would be playing two concerts in Havana, Cuba on May 15 and 16. At the invitation of the Cuban Ministry of Culture, Music Director Osmo Vänskä and the Orchestra will play Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy with the Cuban National Choir and Cuban pianist Frank Fernandez as well as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Eroica. In addition, on the 15th they will play Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture,” and on the 16th Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances” from West Side Story and Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

According to a recent article in Minnesota’s StarTribune newspaper, [1] this past January the Orchestra’s president, Kevin Smith, thought it would be great if the Orchestra could be the first U.S. ensemble to go to Cuba after the December 17th announcement of rapprochement between the U.S. and the island nation. Smith immediately called Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and asked for help in pursing this idea. She, of course, said yes with this comment: “This trip is an example of the type of relationship we want to continue building between our people. Cubans are looking forward to more opportunities to interact with Americans.” [2]

Smith then asked the Orchestra’s musicians if they would give up a scheduled week of vacation in May in order to go to Cuba. They too said yes with enthusiasm. An Orchestra violinist, Aaron Janse, who was in a small advance group that went to Cuba in April, said, “We absolutely feel that we represent the state, the United States. We have a responsibility to be a bridge between the two countries. For us, as a community, to get this all together speaks volumes to where the Minnesota Orchestra is.”

Both concerts will be broadcast live by Minnesota Public Radio’s classical music stations (99.5 FM in the Twin Cities) on May 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. (CDT). Tune in.

The Orchestra also will visit a musical school and arts university and hold a joint rehearsal with a Cuban youth orchestra. The Minnesota Orchestra members will give small “Minnesota Orchestra” pins to people they meet. Presumably they will be wearing “Minnesota Twins” baseball caps as they travel around Havana. As former Minnesota Twins Cuban-American baseball player, Tony Oliva, has said, Cubans know about the Twins and their cap.

Accompanying the Orchestra on a chartered direct flight from the Twin Cities to Havana will be a group of board members and community supporters as “cultural ambassadors.” They will be led by board member, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, and her husband, Glen Nelson, who are paying for the trip. As a co-owner and former chairman of Carlson Companies, a global hotel company, Carlson Nelson is interested in business opportunities in Cuba for her company.

On a historical note, the Orchestra (then called the Minneapolis Symphony) in 1929 and 1930 performed in Havana, and one of its pieces on the first trip was Beethoven’s “Third Symphony,” which will be played again this weekend by the Orchestra. MPR News has a 1929 photograph of some of the Symphony members getting ready to board a ship in Havana after their first trip.

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[1] In addition to the StarTribune article, check out information about the trip on the Orchestra’s website and in a MPR News article.

[2] As discussed in prior posts, Senator Klobuchar is a strong advocate for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. She is the author of the pending Senate bill to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba. She was a member of a U.S. Senate delegation that visited Cuba this February. She endorsed the formation of the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba that is being lead by Minnesota’s Cargill Incorporated.

Additional Reactions to Ezekiel Emmanuel’s Desire To Die at 75

A prior post discussed Ezekiel Emanuel’s article “Why I Want To Die at 75” and my reaching the opposite conclusion. Many other reactions to the article have been registered in the online version of The Atlantic Magazine, where the article first appeared; in Minnesota Public Radio’s “Friday Roundtable” program; and in various other places. Here are four of those additional reactions that deserve attention. They are from Ruth Marcus, Harold PollackVictor Davis Hanson and John O. McGinnis.

Reactions to Emanuel’s Essay

Ruth Marcus, a Washington Post columnist and a friend of Emmanuel, says his essay arrives during Rosh Hashanah when “Jews [like Marcus and Emmanuel] begin a period of repentance during which, we are told, God decides who shall live and who shall die. One of the Torah portions read during this time reminds us that Sarah gave birth at age 90, an event so unlikely she named her son Isaac, derived from the Hebrew “to laugh.”

Marcus also recalls “the traditional Jewish birthday greeting . . . [of wishing] that the celebrant live 120 years — the lifespan of Moses” while the Torah relates that, while Moses’s years were advanced, his eyes remained undimmed and his vigor unabated.” In addition, Sarah’s having a baby at age 90 reminds us that “we cannot know what surprises, and joys, our later years may hold.”

Marcus agrees with my criticism of Emmanuel’s finding creativity as the sole or deciding criterion on determining when he wants to die. She says, “there is no sin in slowing down. There is satisfaction in completing the crossword. You don’t always have to bike past the roses on your way up the mountain. In high gear.”

Another critic of Emmanuel is Harold Pollack, the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration and co-director of the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago and a nonresident fellow of the Century Foundation. He says his “experiences over the past few years have left me optimistic about what the future holds. Much of my most satisfying research and journalism entails talking to interesting people and relating their stories, applying historical knowledge and interpersonal skills, mentoring others on a team. I hope to do these things well for a long time.”

His father, now 85, has survived various medical problems, but Pollack’s helping to care for him with his sister serendipitously enabled them to recall and share the many ways their father had helped them over the years. Recently Pollack visited his father (and now grandfather) with his wife and daughters, and Pollack treasures the conversations and activities his daughters were able to have with their grandfather.

Pollack adds, “My life, my children’s lives, are tangibly better because our elders avail themselves of valuable, sometimes-costly medical care well past the threshold of 75.” Pollock’s father may not be as creative in some ways that he was when he was younger, but “creativity comes in many domains and forms. He’s finding new ways to be joyful and useful, to cast warm light rather than sad shadows on surrounding lives.”

Victor Davis Hanson reminds us that our present lives would be poorer had we taken away history’s 75-year-olds with these six examples:

  • The great Athenian playwright Sophocles (who wrote until his death in his 90s) would never have crafted some of Greece’s greatest tragedies.
  • The Founding Fathers would not have had the sober wisdom of Benjamin Franklin in his later years.
  • The late Jacques Barzun, the greatest contemporary student of Western values and history, published his masterpiece, “From Dawn to Decadence,” when he was 93.
  • Henry Kissinger, at 91, just published a magnum opus, “World Order.”
  • “Some of the most gripping volumes about World War II would never been written by a supposedly too old Winston Churchill.”
  • Had Ronald Reagan refused medical care and hoped to die at 75, the world would never have heard at Berlin, “Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev.”

Moreover, Hanson says, if Emanuel’s point is that living beyond 75 is unwise given the odds that society will reap less achievement per unit of resources invested, then that frightening anti-humanist argument can be extended to almost any category.

For example, should we do away with health care for those with chronic debilitating diseases on the theory that society inordinately gives them too much time and capital and gets very little in return?

Similarly Emanuel’s argument could be used to eliminate life sentences for convicted criminals and instead increase use of the death penalty because they would be unlikely to produce anything significant behind bars. So too we could just as easily choose not to treat severely wounded veterans, given that they are unlikely to return to the battlefield.

John O. McGinnis, the George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law at Northwestern University, asserts, “Youth and good health do not measure humanity. Millions in diminished health enjoy life, being with their relatives, laughing at old movies, even just sitting in the breeze and sunshine. And their relatives and friends enjoy being with them. Indeed, they may find in the elderly’s struggle with aging an inspiration and a reaffirmation of life. In caring for the frail, weak and sometimes woebegone, they may also expand their own sympathies and express some small measure of gratitude for the debt of a good upbringing that can never be fully repaid.”

Other Thoughts

Perhaps Emmanuel’s desire to die at 75 grows out of his advocacy for physicians having an ethical obligation to work for the greater good of society in addition to the obligation to meet the patient’s needs. According to a Wall Street Journal article, Dr. Emanuel and others have presented a “complete lives system” for the allocation of very scarce resources, such as kidneys, vaccines, dialysis machines, intensive care beds, and others. “The appropriate maximizing strategy for Emanuel involves saving the most individual lives,. . . . Other things being equal, we should always save five lives rather than one.” Although Emmanuel says the focus for medical care cannot be only on the worth of the individual, such care for individuals who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens like those with dementia, he has argued, should not be guaranteed.

Underlying this focus on any individual’s desire to die or to seek to prolong life are important public policy questions regarding what health care costs should be covered by the government or by private insurance, especially for those near death. A recent report by the federally funded Institute of Medicine—“Dying in America”—observed that the current system’s financial incentives reward harmful transitions among homes, hospitals and nursing homes and make it difficult for someone to be released to his or her home in order to die there and that fundamental changes to the system need to be made. This problem was made personal in a New York Times article about the inability of a frail 91-year old man aided by his loving adult daughter to get released from a nursing home to go to his own home to die in peace.

These policy issues, in my opinion, should challenge our current laws about voting. In the U.S. it is common knowledge that older citizens, who are increasing in numbers, tend to vote in higher percentages than younger voters. As a result there are legitimate concerns about this leading to inadequate resources for children and young adults. One response is to lower the age for voting. Scotland’s allowing citizens 16 or older to vote in their recent referendum has raised the issue of whether the U.K. and the U.S. should do likewise. I am in favor of such a change although I do not think it goes far enough. In my opinion, all citizens from birth or from a very early age (say one year old), should be permitted to vote. Such a system would require careful thought and development of procedures for such younger citizens to vote. But each citizen, regardless of age, has an interest in what happens in our society, and there needs to be a counterweight to voting by senior citizens like myself.

An assumption of many, and perhaps Emmanuel, is an aging population like ours is a net drag on the economy. A Washington Post article, however, calls our attention to a report by a group of international researchers who assert that an aging population for an industrialized democracy might be an advantage. First, an aging population could lead to productivity gains throughout the economy due to expected increases in workers’ educational levels. Second, leisure time will increase which might lead to increased tinkering and innovation. Third, older people consume less and thus reduce their contributions to carbon emissions. Fourth, longer lives should mean postponing intergenerational wealth transfers and thereby increasing financial benefits to grandchildren. Wow, these assertions need pondering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Protecting Foreign Diplomats and Diplomatic Missions

People who are the full-time representatives of their home countries in foreign countries fulfill important responsibilities. They represent the policies and interests of their own governments and peoples to the governments and peoples of the foreign countries. They gather information about the policies and interests of the foreign governments and peoples and report that information to the diplomats’ own governments. They also make recommendations on policies to their own governments. They do all of this on foreign soil without the protections of their own governments.[1]

International Law Regarding Protection of Foreign Diplomats and Missions

All states need such diplomatic presences in other countries and hence have a common interest in having their diplomats and diplomatic premises protected by the foreign governments. Indeed, as preamble to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations state, having a treaty setting forth such protections “contribute[s] to the development of friendly relations among nations, irrespective of their differing constitutional and social systems” and hence to “the maintenance of international peace and security” under the U.N. Charter.

These common interests have existed for a long time and were the motivation for the well established international practice and custom of providing special protection and immunity from criminal jurisdiction for ambassadors. By the time of the Congress of Westphalia in 1648, permanent legations were accepted as the normal way of conducting international business among sovereign States, and over the next century detailed rules emerged in relation to the immunity of ambassadors and their accompanying families and staff from civil as well as criminal proceedings, the inviolability of their embassy premises and their exemption from customs duties and from taxes. These rules of customary international law were described in detail by early writers such as Grotius (1625), Bynkershoek (1721) and Vattel (1758).

The first international treaty or other instrument codifying any aspect of diplomatic law was the Regulation adopted by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Codification among States of immunities and privileges of diplomatic agents did not begin until the Havana Convention of 1928 drawn up among the States of the Pan-American Union and the Draft Convention drawn up in 1932 by the Harvard Research in International Law.

After the establishment of the United Nations in 1945, efforts to develop a comprehensive multilateral treaty on diplomatic relations began. The initial draft of such a treaty was produced in 1957, and its 1958 revision was the basis for the U.N. Conference on Diplomatic Intercourse and Immunities in Vienna, Austria in March and April of 1961. On April 18, 1961, this Conference concluded with the signing of the Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which entered into force on April 24, 1964, after 22 states had ratified the treaty.

Now 187 of the 193 members of the U.N. are parties to this treaty. Its success may be ascribed first to the fact that the central rules regulating diplomatic relations had been stable for over 200 years. An embassy’s basic functions of representing the sending State and protecting its interests and those of its nationals, negotiation with the receiving State, observing and reporting on conditions and developments there remained and still remain unaltered. In addition, because the establishment of diplomatic relations and of permanent missions takes place by mutual consent, every State is both a sending and receiving State. Its own representatives abroad are in a sense hostages who may on a basis of reciprocity suffer if it violates the rules of diplomatic immunity, or may be penalized even for minor restrictions regarding privileges or protocol.

Article 22(2) of the Vienna Convention states, “The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.” In addition, Article 29 provides, “The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving State shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity.”

Recent Breaches of International Law Regarding Protection of Diplomats and Diplomatic Missions

The recent horrific attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts throughout the world, especially the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the murder of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher (“Chris”) Stevens and three other U.S. citizens, are stark examples of the dangers facing all diplomats throughout history.

These attacks also represent breaches by many states of their important international legal obligation “to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission” and “to prevent any attack on [“the head of the mission or a member of the diplomatic staff of the mission”‘s ] . . . person, freedom or dignity.”

Ecuador’s Specious Allegation of the U.K.’s Breach of These Legal Obligations

These deplorable breaches also, in my opinion, show the utter speciousness of Ecuador’s complaint about the alleged failure of the United Kingdom to honor its important obligation with respect to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after Ecuador had granted temporary lodgings, and subsequent diplomatic asylum, to Julian Assange.

Dispassionate analysis of the U.K.’s alleged written threat to invade the Embassy shows this not to be the case, as discussed in a prior post.

In addition, there were British police outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, but they were there to protect the Embassy and to arrest Assange if he tried to leave the Embassy. After all Assange had violated the terms of his bail by a British court by leaving a specific place west of London and surreptitiously entering the Embassy in order to avoid being arrested pursuant to a European Arrest Warrant to be sent to Sweden for investigations for his alleged criminal sexual conduct. In short, Assange was a fugitive from justice. Moreover, British police or other authorities never came close to entering the Ecuadorian Embassy. And no Ecuadorian diplomatic personnel were injured or even threatened.

By the way, negotiations between Ecuador and the U.K. to resolve their disputes over Assange apparently are deadlocked.


[1]  The many duties of diplomatic personnel and the dangers they face were well stated on Minnesota Public Radio’s “The Daily Circuit” by Ronald E. Neuman, President of the American Academy of Diplomacy and a former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Algeria, and Bahrain.