Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Suffer little children to come unto me. . . .
—Gospel according to St. Luke

In Brazil it is caused by the mosquito. In Flint it is caused by the politician. The one is not completely understood. The other is understood all too well. Both have inflicted untold harm on their victims and brought great sadness to them and their families. The victims are the children and parents whose lives have been altered in profound ways and no amount of science or money can compensate the children and parents for what they have lost. The effect on the children in Brazil is apparent as soon as they are born. The effect on children in Flint may not be known for years to come.

In Brazil it is believed that there may be as many as 1.5 million residents infected with the Zika virus. In Flint it is an untold number of children who may have their development impaired because of lead poisoning.

Brazilian babies with microcephaly from the Zika virus may have, among other things, abnormally small heads and their brains may have failed to develop properly. The difficulties these children may face include developmental delays, intellectual deficits or hearing loss. Birth defects suffered by Brazilian children are apparent for all to see as their parents are shown on the evening news holding their tiny malformed infants tenderly, not knowing what the future holds for them, their pitifully deformed infants and other members of their families. Zika families do not wonder what they or anyone else could have done to prevent the tragedy that has befallen them. It is just one of those things. Flint is very different but the affected population is the same.

Young children living in Flint are not in danger of suffering microcephaly nor any of the other consequences of the innocently malevolent mosquito. They are, instead, in danger of other developmental issues that may not manifest themselves for years to come. According to reports, as many as 8,000 Flint children under age 6 may have been exposed to lead in Flint’s water. That exposure may have done irreparable damage to some of their nervous systems and brains. The children who have suffered the effects of exposure to lead may require extra help in school because of learning disabilities and may require treatment for medical problems that can go on for years. Fetuses and young children are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead in the water. No one could have done anything about the mosquito. Lots of people could have done something about the water.

In 2014 when Flint’s emergency manager began providing water to residents from Flint River to save money, residents detected changes in the taste, smell and color of the water. High levels of bacteria were discovered and city officials told residents to boil their water before drinking it. When residents complained about water quality to state officials, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s people and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ignored their complaints. Even after state officials knew there was a problem they did nothing. Lynna Kaucheck, a Food and Water Watch organizer said: “It’s hard to believe that in 2016 people in the United States have to contend with poisoned drinking water, but that’s the sad situation that many Flint residents are contending with. . . . [S]ome residents continue to receive water that is undrinkable, due to lead contamination.” It has now been reported that in January 2015 fresh bottled water was provided for state employees working in office buildings in Flint even though residents had been told Flint tap water was safe to drink. A spokesman for the agency that manages state buildings said the bottled water was introduced after Flint failed to pass tests of water standards having nothing to do with lead in the water. In Michigan some Flint residents have begun a class action law suit against the government alleging that the “City has failed to provide drinkable water to Plaintiffs from April 2014 to present.” No one knows how that suit will end many years from now.

In Brazil the sadness brought to the families was brought by the mosquito. In Flint it was brought by the politicians. The one is not completely understood. The other is understood all too well. Both have inflicted untold harm on their victims. The mosquito has not apologized. Michigan’s governor has. Neither the apology nor the lack of an apology makes the tiniest bit of difference to those affected. They are the children and parents whose lives have been altered in profound ways and no amount of science or money can compensate the children and parents for what they have lost.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Perfect Friendships

America was promises to whom? Archibald McLeish, America Was Promises

It was a good day for those who had served as Iraqi translators/interpreters, although it passed largely unnoticed. The day was October 4, 2013. That was the day President Obama signed an extension of the special immigrant visa program for them. It extended the program until the end of 2013. The Act provided for what were called “Special Immigrant Visas.” They were for Iraqi nationals who had served as translators or interpreters for or on behalf of the United States government. When Congress initiated the fast-track immigrant visa program in 2008 in order to permit translators and interpreters to enter the U.S., the visa applications were supposed to be turned around within 9 months. It has not turned out that way. According to Katherine Reisner of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center, as of March 15, 2015, more than 1,800 Iraqis’ applications remain in limbo and many of these have been waiting 5 ½ years. Captain Doug Vossen who served two tours in Iraq said his translator, who is awaiting a visa, served as his protector and adviser, but now that the promised visa has not appeared, he is in hiding in Iraq with his family fearing for his life. “He was there, risking his life when the United States Government came calling. And now, when he is at the end of his rope, completely desperate for him and his family, we’re not returning the favor? Just not right.” Captain Vossen is right and things may be getting worse. That’s because on November 19, 2015, the House passed an anti-refugee bill that, if it becomes law, will increase the difficulties already faced by Iraqi personnel who were promised visas at the conclusion of the part of the Iraq conflict that ended in 2008. Although the intent of the bill is to slow down the almost non-existent admission of Syrian refugees into this country, as drafted it would further delay the admission of those Iraqis who helped the United States during the war. When the bill passed the House, there was uncertainty as to whether or not it would be considered by the Senate. The uncertainty is gone.

On January 18, 2016, it was announced that the Senate would take up the legislation during one of the rare times in 2016 that it will find the time to act as a legislative body. Although Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate, has stated that the legislation has no chance of attracting sufficient democratic support in the senate to be passed, if he is wrong and it becomes law, those Iraqis who were promised visas will be able to quietly wait to see if ever the United States will honor the commitment it made to them at the end of the war. (Nine Iraqi interpreters sued the U.S. Government in March 2015 order to get their visa status resolved. That suit is pending.)

There are other potential immigrants who are anxiously waiting to learn if their ability to obtain visas is in jeopardy. The answer for them is not to worry. These people are the beneficiaries of the EB-5 visa program. Under the EB-5 program foreign investors who invest $500,000 in a new U.S. commercial enterprise in a “targeted employment area “ are able to obtain green cards for themselves and visas for two family members. As an alternative to investing $500,000 in a “targeted employment area”, investors may invest $1 million in any new U.S. commercial enterprise irrespective of where it is located. Because of the way the program is structured, an investor may build a luxury project but nonetheless qualify for the benefits with only a $500,000 investment by building it adjacent to a “targeted Employment Area”. What we learn from the foregoing is that money talks-courage doesn’t, at least when it comes to getting visas.

Senator Charles Grassley and others have long urged that the program be overhauled because of abuses in how it operates. That didn’t happen. Instead, towards the end of December, before Congress went on vacation for the holidays, it acted to extend the EB-5 program until September 30, 2016. That will give Congress a chance to see how the program can be improved. It also gives foreign investors additional time to get their EB-5 visas. Meanwhile, the Iraqi translators in Iraq who live in fear for their lives because of the assistance they gave the United States during the war and the subsequent failure of the United States to honor its promises, can wait an indeterminate time for admission to the country they helped. Go figure.

Christopher Brauchli

For political commentary see my website

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Crime (?) and Punishment-A Comparative Study

Avoid self righteousness like the devil-nothing so self blinding.
— Basil Henry Liddell Hart, Advice to Statesmen

When we see how uncivilized the behavior of some of our closest allies in the world can be, it is good to reflect how fortunate we are to live where we live, the words of most of the Republican candidates for the presidency notwithstanding. It all came to mind when reading the descriptions of how Saudi Arabia, one of our closest allies in the Middle East, celebrated the advent of 2016 by conducting the mass execution of 47 people, including the popular Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimir al-Nimr. It was a good way for the Saudis to welcome in 2016 since 2015 had proved to be a banner year for the executioners in Saudi Arabia. In that year Saudi Arabia executed 158 people forcing the Saudi government to begin running ads seeking 8 additional executioners. The ads said applicants needed no special qualifications. For a country with a population of only 28.3 million the execution of 158 people was quite an achievement. (To put this in some context, the United States with a population of 320 million people only executed 27 people in 2015.)

The world was understandably outraged at the Saudi executions and no country more so than the United States since Saudi Arabia is one of our best friends in that part of the world even if it doesn’t let women drive or do lots of other things women in the United States get to do. We are appalled when Saudi actions suggest a total disregard of what we take to be basic human rights. We are appalled, but reassured, because we know that what happened in Saudi Arabia could never happen under the United States form of government because of all the Constitutional protections that are in place to protect those who fall under the jurisdiction of our government. Of course, the comfort we take in knowing that has to be somewhat tempered by what is taking place in Guantánamo, the military prison camp in Cuba run by the United States government. Not that that has anything to do with Saudi Arabia or with the execution of 47 people in Saudi Arabia with what some would describe as the complete absence of due process of law.

Guantánamo offers a stark contrast to how we deal with people believed to have engaged in activities perceived, if not proved, to be against the best interests of the United States. It would not occur to us to summarily execute them as Saudi Arabia did the unfortunate 47. Instead we permit them to live happily ever after in facilities furnished by the U.S. Government without charging them (a) for room and board or (b) with any acts of misconduct. As of the first of the year the United States has magnanimously spent, without hope of reimbursement, $5.2 billion in order to enable the people at Guantánamo to reside there. Many of the residents of Guantánamo continue to live there even though they have been cleared for release. As of this writing there are men in confinement, 44 of whom have been cleared for release. Fifty-two of the men confined have never been charged with any crimes and some of them have been in residence since 2002. They have been given the cutesy names of “forever prisoners” since they have no prospect of being charged with any criminal conduct nor of ever being released. Being one of the “forever prisoners” at Guantánamo is, of course, better than being one of the 47 former prisoners in Saudi Arabia because a “forever prisoner” is still alive whereas the former prisoners are all dead. Some of the “forever prisoners” may not, however, continue to enjoy the benefits of this distinction. One of them is Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemini prisoner. He has been cleared for release for 7 years but is still imprisoned. He has been on a hunger strike for 9 years and is now severely malnourished. He is at death’s, but not the prison’s, door. That is because a country that has tentatively agreed to accept him wants to review his medical records before doing so. The Pentagon has reportedly been slow to hand them over on the grounds that it is protecting Mr. Odah’s right to privacy. The Pentagon places the right to privacy above the right to life and liberty. Mr. Odah probably doesn’t get the difference. He probably never will. That is because he may be dead before it is explained to him. Other “forever prisoners” may also find it hard to understand why they are better off in Guantánamo than dead. Someone in Congress, the Department of Defense, or the White House can explain it to them. They are the ones responsible for the fact that the “forever prisoners” continue to enjoy their privileged status.