America and Syria – the backstory

President Trump has decided, unilaterally apparently, to pull all America troops out of Syria, both surprising his Chiefs of Staff and allies.

The American story with Syria is intertwined with almost everything the west has done in the Middle East since the end of the 2nd World War.  American was the prime enabler of the Assad family rise to to power, and as everything post war seemed to be, all about fighting the rise of Communism and installing “democracy”.

Syria gained its independence in 1946 and in 1948 engaged in the Arab-Israeli war. Later in 1949, the Americans were party, or if you believe many, responsible via the emergent CIA, for the coup d’état that replaced the Syrian democracy with Husni al-Za’im, who was executed later the same year.

The Syrian story since the 2nd World War is complicated, wars, Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah. Assad senior played key roles in much of the 1980’s terrorism, before the US and especially the UK decided that their actual target in the Middle East was Gaddafi, and that they needed Assad’s Syria as an ally their upcoming war.

So, you can be surprised by President Trump’s actions, you can blame it on his trying to appease Russian leader Putin, or you can just believe that this is yet another of President Trump’s rollbacks of President Obama’s actions. Whatever you do though, don’t think American involvement in Syria is just about the defeat of ISIS.

serveimageA great read is Wilfords 2013 America’s Great Game. You can purchase the book from Amazon, you can read a book review on the Boston Globe, or this review, “Playing Both Sides” on the New York Times. better still, you can watch/listen to Wilford, here on C-Span.

The State of American Immigration

The state of American immigration is misunderstood, misapplied and subject to a lot of hysteria.

To me it continues to amaze that a country where you can drive for hours east and south in Colorado, west in Texas, and pass nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’m sure there are other US States where you can do this, I’ve just not driven through them.

America, with a number of Western countries, not least mine, the UK, have created massive disturbances and in some cases, wars persist as a direct result of our actions. Yet we have largely uninhabited geographic areas as big as some of these countries.

TAL covers a number of the key areas of Immigration, how it works, who is doing what, and what has been changing. It’s worth an hour of your life, if you don’t have that, Act 2 is especially worth it.

TAL
Let me count the ways

Why do some States have more Representatives?

As a quick follow-on from yesterdays post, thanks for the emails and messages on linked-in. I was listening to the USCIS MP3 for the 100 Interview questions last night and found this answer, among others pretty imprecise. This is a single question extract from the actual USCIS MP3.

The question this raises is, which States have more representatives but a smaller population, and why? Obviouly this also hightlights the importance of the U.S. Census which measures the population.

Also, google searching for the questions is a great way to find the confusing litany of websites out there to help immigrants learn and practice for exams, most being for profit. ESLbasics being a good example. Here is the same question.

The delivery isn’t quite as monotone, and the answers are EXACTLY the same, the speaker, Andrea Giordano, even looks down to ensure she is reading it correctly.

Andrea sells a complete pack to prepare for the test for $59.99. She also has most of the questions on youtube for free.

The US Citizenship conundrum

It’s become a constant, “why aren’t they citizens?”

Questions over immigration eventually always end up with a debate, almost always unproductive, sometimes angry about why people who live in the US have not become US Citizens.

It’s my view, that people who pose these questions, do so mostly because they’ve never had to apply themselves. They have no idea how expensive the process is, how long it takes, and for many how difficult it is.

I get a weekly email, it contains a 1-byte GIF, which is used for tracking. When the mail reader loads the .gif file via http, I presume the USCIS keep a record rather than depend on email “read/open receipts”. Other than this the email always says:

USCIS

In my “case” (pun intended), it’s not an application for citizenship, it’s a road block to that application. Turns out sometime late last year while sorting out all my medical billing related issues, I physically lost my green card.

The application for a replacement, cost circa $725. Not a new one, not one that is extended, not a renewal of an expired one, just a replacement/duplicate card. When I applied in the Denver office, and had my bio-metrics done again, I was told to expect a 9 to 11 month delay before I received the card.

I’m waiting for the replacement, so I can legally surrender it during my citizenship process. I wasn’t able to apply until at least May 12th, 2017 as per this very helpful and positive info-graphic. Since I married Kate in October, strictly that would normally mean a 3-year wait, but my 5-year wait was already up.

What does it take to become a US Citizen?

As is often the way, the US Government provides a very helpful and mostly simple set of web pages. The forms can be confusing and intimidating, purely due to the cost of  failed application.

The process is initiated through the completion and submission of form N-400. The filing fee is currently $725 including the bio-metrics fee. After that you have to wait for an appointment, depending on state, this can take up-to a year. You also have to respond as fast as possible to any  requests for information about your application.

Next up you’ll get you interview. At the Interview apparently the process includes

  • you will answer questions about your application
  • take the civics and English tests as required. In a quick vox-pop survey, most of the natural born citizens I’ve asked fail some of the less obvious ones.
  • You also have to prove a level of proficiency with spoken and written English.

You can study up for the questions in many ways. Including this helpful MP3. According to this article in the Boulder Weekly of the 100 questions

Out of the 100 questions the group studies each week, only six are asked at the naturalization interview, at the most 10, as each person is allowed to miss four.

 After which, USCIS issues a written notice of decision. Your application is
  1. Granted—eligible for naturalization.
  2. Continued—you need to provide additional evidence/documentation; or retake the test(s).
  3. Denied—Ineligible for naturalization.

Assuming you are eligible, all you have left is the Oath of Allegiance ceremony.

Why am I waiting?

us gov chatIf you read the webpage details, you can in principle apply, and use the receipt given when I applied for my replacement green card, form I-90. However, when I asked at the office I was told you must have your green card. I asked again today (see left, yes the USCIS uses Salesforce for chat) and was told the same thing.

If I was still working, I could refer the whole thing through to an immigration attorney, but as a stay-at-home Dad, right now I’d like to avoid paying an immigration attorney. Equally, I don’t want to complete and submit my form N-400 and have it rejected, at $725 that’s another expense I don’t want to risk.

I’ve completed the application, minus the final section which lists time outside the country in the last 5-years, only because I have to set aside time to be factually accurate. Until I have my green card that can wait.

So, aside from the expense, it takes a year for most people, which assumes they’ve already been in the country for a minimum of 5-years as a legal green card holder. For most people, that means you’ve been in the country on a visa program before that, add another 2-5 years. Unless of course you’ve can apply for fast-path to green card.

I was an O-1 visa recipient, that didn’t qualify me to be fast-pathed.

Next time you meet someone who isn’t a US Citizen, instead of assuming they are lazy, or don’t want to, have some empathy, it’s an intimidating and fraught process.

 

Privacy: Europe vs the USA

On a day when the likelihood is you’ve been bombarded with GDPR emails from companies you’ve done business with, or just whose websites you’ve registered with, there is no better comparison of the difference between how the European Commision and the USA are dealing with our privacy.

While the new General Data Protection Regulation comes into force tomorrow (May 25th), which isn’t as many think, a reaction to the Facebook privacy scandal, the regulation which took seven years of negotiation, and will force changes in a braod range of industries, including, but not limited to technology, advertising, medicine and banking.

Here in America, we learned this month that a company called LocationSmart is buying the real time cell phone location data obtained from the country’s largest cell giants, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint.

We only learned, because Securus, a prison technology company, who use the data from LocationSmart, had their website tested by a researcher who was able to access the cell phone location of anyone, without consent. Apparently, while the explicit selling of cell phone location data to the Government is banned/illegal, selling it otherwise is not. We don’t even know who they are selling it to, or what it is used for.

Big business is just about making a buck. In the same way as Facebook mostly didn’t care who got your data, and what they did with it, provided facebook got their money, that made it OK. The same has been true for decades for the cable and telephone, cell phone companies.

There is no British history without the history of empire

Off the back of the British government “Winrush” scandal, The right honorable, David Lammy MP, made the following speech. It exposes the myth of immigration for many, many millions of people.

The same is true for the racial divide here in the USA. They had no choice, they didn’t want to go somewhere, they are all here, because “we” were all there. While it’s not an identical situation here in America, as much of the current immigration furore is about immigrants in the last 5o-years.

The same is essentially true for the USA and Europe since 9/11, “we” went “there”, and often disrupted their governments, bombed their countries, killed their family, friends and destroyed their homes.

In The Heart Of Colorado’s Opioid Crisis, This Rural Doctor Is An Army Of One

Overdose deaths in Colorado in general have grown in the last decade, according to the Colorado Health Institute. In 2014, San Luis Valley-area healthcare providers began limiting how opioid drugs are prescribed. But, as High Country News reported, the resulting decline in how often painkillers were prescribed was followed by a surge in heroin use.

Here is a 3rd post in 2-days on the state of Rural America, I listened to this on Colorado Public Radio (CPR) on station KCFR to which I’m an evergreen subscriber.

It is worth stating the obvious, that since rural counties as much more sparsely populated, the numbers per 100,000 can be illustrated much more starkly. A rural county may have only 100,000 or fewer people. It is also worth noting that Colorado is a recreational Cannabis legal state, and this is allegedly under threat from new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. While it’s pretty impossible to die from direct overdose of cannabis, it does cause indirect death through accidents, but the total number of cannabis related deaths is miniscule compared to opioid overdose alone.

The three post illustrate the real problem with rural America, and this one for me explained one way HOW the opioid epidemic has come about.

BBC Radio 4 – Faking It: Trump and the Media

Time to take a step back from the precipice or increase the pressure?

In this BBC Radio 4 audio program, Alan Rusbridger, former Editor of The Guardian, talks to journalists and news consumers across America in dispatches from President Trump’s ‘running war’ with the US media Alan asks why the media has been cast as Trump’s ‘opposition party’, how they are responding to the dilemmas and opportunities the new administration brings and whether the President is right to claim that the ‘mainstream media’ has lost the trust of the American people.

Listen here: BBC Radio 4 – Faking It: Trump and the Media

Sweden, Refugees and that Trump thing

Even before the Trump administration, America has taken pitifully few refugees and asylum seekers from the crisis it started in the post 9/11 era. This is especially true when you look at it’s geographical size, and financial strength.

At 20x the size of Sweden, and over 18x the GDP, America has taken just 10% of the refugees Sweden.

By now anyone paying attention will have heard about the debacle of Trumps speech where he attempted to justify his Executive Order on Immigration by pointing to “what happened in Sweden last night”. If you have not, you can read the whole thing here.

Lets do what we’ve been asked, and not take President Trump literally, and assume he was talking about a trend in crime caused by refugees. Trump himself said he was responding to a report on Fox News, forget about the voracity for getting information from Fox News if you are the US President. (See *1 for additional opinion).

I’ve been to Sweden a number of times, mostly to Stockholm, and Gotenburg but also had a fabulous speaking engagement in Malmo. It’s an amazing place. It’s worth though putting the refugee issue in some context though, irrespective of what may or may not have happened.

Sweden

Geography:
Size: 173,860 Square Miles, slightly larger than California. 65% of which is forest and approximately 30% lies north of the article circle. Which means the main inhabited part of Sweden is about the size of the US State of Georgia.
Population:
Population: 10,019,400 with approximately 5-million people employed, of which almost 70% are in Unions. Again, that makes it similar to the US State of Georgia in terms of population.
Economy:
6th most competitive economy in the world;
Tax:
One of the highest tax rates;
Welfare:
One of the most developed welfare states;
Unemployment:
Stands around 7.5% in January 2017;
Healthcare:
Medical coverage is universal and at only nominal fees; Infant mortality rate is half that of the USA;
Child Welfare:
Guaranteed kindergarten places for ALL 1-5 year olds; All school children receive free school lunch, many also get breakfast.

Immigration, Refugees and crime

Sweden provides a very attractive destination for refugees. And so they have come, in huge numbers. According to the CIA World Fact book,

Refugees (country of origin): 52,707 (Syria); 23,886 (Iraq); 21,501 (Somalia); 20,203 (Eritrea); 13,064 (Afghanistan) (2015)
Stateless people: 31,062 (2015); note – the majority are from the Middle East and Somalia

 

There have certainly been crimes by the refugees, and there have been a number of claims/articles on the scope and impact of crime, especially this, now infamous one.  The 2016 Swedish Crime Survey showed a small uptick in crime in 2015, with 13.3% of nearly 12,000 respondents reporting they had been exposed to one or more offenses, including assault, threats, sexual offenses, robbery, fraud, or harassment. But although the number is up from 11.3% in 2014, the survey says the numbers are around the same level as they were in 2005, well before Sweden’s refugee influx began.(*2)

There is no doubt that the number of refugees and asylum seekers will be having an impact in Sweden. Assimilation is hard in any new country, and Sweden is about as different from the middle east or North Africa as it gets. There is of course high unemployment among these immigrants, the Economist says three times higher than native born Swedes. Still, as a country Sweden has done a massive amount, and accept had a mass refugee intake.

AMERICA, FEAR UNCERTAINTY and doubt

By comparison, America, with a geographical size some of 20x that of Sweden even deducting the area accounted for by lakes and rivers, and with a GDP that is over 30x that of Sweden, has taken just 10% of the refugees.

While the Syrian crisis isn’t a direct result of the Bush Administration lead invasion and overthrow of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the humanitarian crisis that followed; there is a link to the Arab Spring that followed the influx of migrants all across north Africa. More than 11-million people in Syria have lost their homes, and more than 250,000 have been killed.

Yet, America, through it’s already extensive and tough vetting(apparently not extreme enough for President Trump), has taken the following refugees.

Refugees (country of origin): 16,370 (Democratic Republic of the Congo); the US admitted 84,995 refugees during FY2016 including: 12,587 (Syria); 12,347 (Burma); 9,880 (Iraq); 9,020 (Somalia); 5,817 (Bhutan); 3,750 (Iran)
Despite what President Trump claims, there is no empirical evidence that immigration increases crime in the United States. In fact, a majority of studies in the U.S. have found lower crime rates among immigrants than among non-immigrants.

Even if you believe the reports from the right wing, and nationalists about crime, that’s no reason to further stop immigration by desperate people, who’ve mostly lost everything, including members of their families. America has it’s own problems, but they are nothing like those of the refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, we can and must do more and at least as much as Sweden.

 

(*1) He almost certainly got this bee in his bonnet from Sebastian Gorka who at one time was a regular writer for the Gatestone Institute who a year ago, published the infamous Sweden: Rape Capital of the West. Even the Gatestone Institute has separated itself from the author.