VISA Interview Waiver Programs, VISA Waiver Programs, INA Sec 222, What?

So hey, how about these last 7 days, eh? Have we figured out how to stop this ride? No? Not yet? Cuz we really, really need to – our tangerine toddler can’t write worth a damn, and it’s starting to cause some problems.

Buried in the orange anger ifrit’s latest assault on civil rights and human decency is a section that boils down to a lot of head-scratching and confusion. Section 8 of the vile executive action that violates US immigration laws while consigning Syrian refugees to death reads:

Sec. 8. Visa Interview Security. (a) The Secretary of State shall immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program and ensure compliance with section 222 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1222, which requires that all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa undergo an in-person interview, subject to specific statutory exceptions.

Waitwhat – suspend, immediately, the Visa Waiver Program? The VWP is an agreement between the US and 35-odd other countries that lets their citizens travel to the USA for 90 days or less without first securing a VISA, provided they meet a list of requirements. This facilitates travel and tourism, minimizes US costs in other countries, and is generally a nice thing – especially for those of us who have ex-pat spouses and family we adore in other countries.

Suspending this would be catastrophic, and Section 8 seems pretty clear – all nonimmigrants must undergo an in-person interview, pursuant to section 222 of the INA, 8 USC 1222, unless that’s waived by something like the VISA Waiver Program. The language seems pretty clear that “all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa undergo an in-person interview” – those statutory exceptions are listed in section 222 of the INA, but are your basic consular/diplomatic type things. Certainly, they’re not “travel tourists!”

Yeah, I know. Click to embiggen.

Except, there’s also an Interview Waiver Program, which has been completely scrubbed from the main State Department website, but you can still see (as of 3am Saturday the 28th of January – oh hey, gong xi fa cai) on the State Department’s Indonesian website. They talk about an interview waiver program, which is essentially the VISA Waiver Program, but for countries who are not officially designated VWP countries:

Many Indonesians who wish to renew their visas may qualify for the interview waiver program which allows for visa renewal without an interview. If qualified, applicants only need to pay the visa application fee, fill out the visa application form, print out a Drop-Box Confirmation Letter, and drop off documents at the RPX Document Drop-off Location any weekday between 10am and 3pm. Qualified applicants do not need to appear at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta or the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya for an interview.

Okay, that maybe clears – hang on. The “additional resources” page (see picture) is just redirecting folks to the VWP page. So basically, the IWP is just the VWP (and note that if you can find any US government web page that talks about an interview waiver program separate from the VISA Waiver Program, they refer to it as a IWP; the “VISA” bit isn’t included, perhaps in an effort to eliminate the confusion going on right now.)

Australian and New Zealand newspapers are running with two stories: that this does and does not affect their citizens (as both countries are designated VWP participants). So what does this mean? Does the VWP still exist? Is this VISA Interview Waiver Program different?

I think the answer to all is “…who knows.”

Given that search results still pull up an Interview Waiver Program, and there are still results live on country-specific State Department websites, it seems safe to say that, cloudy and awful language aside, the intent of Section 8 of the horrid human rights fail of an executive order is attempting to stop interview-free travel for trustworthy citizens of non-VWP designated countries. But as we all know, the problem with “intent” is that you can have Intent A and still end up with Effect B; in this instance, I see nothing in Section 8 that says by “ensuring compliance with INA,” they mean “ensuring compliance by nonimmigrants from all countries except VWP participants.” Do you?

Now, add to that and keep in mind that admission into the USA – even if you’re from a VWP-participating country – is completely up to the customs and immigration agent you’re talking to, and their understanding of the law, and you can see why people are freaking out. The executive order is unclear, appears to be smooshing together two separate VISA-waiving programs, and reiterates that all nonimmigrants must have valid VISAs to enter the USA.

So what’s going to happen when someone tries to enter the US with a VWP, now?

I’d like to say business as usual, they’ll be admitted, no problems – but I can’t. All I can say is, if you’re from a VWP-participating country and have plans to visit America, call your consular office first thing Monday morning and see what they say. Follow their advice, ask if they have an updates email service, and check back with them frequently. Make sure your documents are all on the up-and-up for travel, be polite to agents you’re dealing with when entering the USA, and hope that clarification comes sooner rather than later (or that the entire thing is just dropped – the order itself is illegal seven ways to Sunday, not that that’s stopped our tiny-handed kleptocrat).

With thanks to Jeremy Youde for pointing out the second SBS tourism article and helping me think through the issue.

the worst kind of “pussy policing” from the Washington Post

Ah, women. You know how it is: if we’d just tone it down a little, be more respectful, less emotional, less colorful, less pink, then men would take us seriously. If we just didn’t wear that short skirt, if we wore that longer skirt – but not that long a skirt – we wouldn’t be raped. If we just wore enough makeup to not be wearing makeup, if we just were clear about our interests in guys but not so clear to be sluts…

If we just lived under a constant set of rules that are ever-shifting the target, but boil down to the same thing: if we just twisted ourselves into the way men see other men, they’d treat us with respect.

Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak is the latest accuser in this salvo of women-not-doing-it-right: c’mon, ladies, why are you wearing pink cat ear hats to a march? That’s so frivolous! How can you expect anyone to take you seriously like that! You want to be taken seriously, don’t you?

Dvorak’s afraid that pink pussy ears are too fun, too distracting – after all, media took a photo, once, of a mohawk’d family at a climate change protest, and now that’s what we all thing of when we think of climate change. What hockey sticks? Michael who?1

But this is the norm, right? Dvorak’s just reiterating a constant social message about what women need to do and take care of. We have to be careful that women’s bodies and what they do with those bodies don’t distract men from The Important Things. Women should be careful that their actions can’t be misinterpreted, at any time; we wouldn’t want a photographer taking a picture of a few women wearing pink pussy ear hats and think this was just some kind of fun get-together for knitting enthusiasts!

It’s not too many steps over from making sure you dress the right way so men don’t misunderstand your intent in a bar, is it?

Because ultimately, the messaging is being placed on women. It’s not up to men or journalists or historians to make sure they understand the message; nope, women must properly convey their intent and any error in inference is their fault, and no one else.

Hedwig Reicher as Columbia, and other suffrage pageant participants. Guess dressing up is okay if it’s called a pageant? (Picture via Library of Congress.)

Possibly the funniest thing about the whole piece, in that sort of “historical revisionism is funny when people try to use the past to guilt us in the present” kind of way, is Dvorak’s insistence that the suffragettes protested properly:

Protests are successful and effective when they have a clear message, a clear mission. That’s part of what made the 1913 march by the suffragettes seeking the right to vote so memorable

Yes. Those suffragettes. They never had any fun in their rallies.

They never did anything unseemly.

They were never, ack, violent.

Why, they just nicely asked for the right to vote, and since they were so rational and level-headed about it, they just got it! Isn’t that a nice historical fiction we can all learn from?

NNSA and the Art of Reading Political Spin

Gizmodo’s got an alarming story up, at least if you consider unattended nuclear stockpiles and a’splodey bomb photos alarming:

According to an official within the Department of Energy, this past Friday, the President-elect’s team instructed the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration and his deputy to clean out their desks when Trump takes office on January 20th.

Oh. Well. I mean, it’s just the National Nuclear Security Administration. Nothing to see here, they don’t do anything important like maintain national security through the military application of nuclear science. They’re not responsible for the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing. They don’t work to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction. They definitely don’t provide the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion or respond to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Nope.

(Hint: yes, they do all of that.)

Thankfully, Defense One has stepped up and gotten someone from the NNSA to deny that Trump’s team has asked both NNSA director Frank Klotz and his deputy, Madelyn Creedon, to step down on Jan 20! Why, not at all. In fact, the official assures us that

There have been no discussions between the president-elect’s transition team and any of NNSA’s political appointees on extending their public service past Jan. 20.

…oh.

See, here’s the thing. It might sound, on the surface, like Gizmodo and Defense One are saying two separate things, but they’re not. Oh sure, it’s possible that there were no literal marching orders given to Klotz, Creedon, and other appointed staff… but it’s just as likely someone did clarify that they needed to have their desks cleared and goodbyes said by noon, January 20th. See, Klotz, Creedon, and about 3,000 other government employees are appointed. They don’t have to be dismissed; by tradition (and in some cases law), all non-termed political appointees would have submitted their resignations some time after the election, effective immediately on swearing in of a new president.2 Now traditionally, what happens is that the sitting president tells all agencies that there is a hiring freeze and gives all appointees their resignation deadline; Obama’s was December 7th. The incoming presidential team then offers extensions to the majority of appointees, because it takes time to appoint and confirm some 850 high level/cabinet members of the government (not to mention the other 2,000+ lower level appointees), and it’s nice to have people around to, you know, run things.

That didn’t happen this time.

Gizmodo is taking it as active malice: Trump’s seeking out and firing people. The NNSA is downplaying this: no, no, they weren’t fired or removed…. it’s just that their service ends January 20th and unlike every other time ever, it’s not being extended, nor is the service of all the appointed folks under them!

It’s the same story, different spin, same result. Functionally speaking, right now, as of noon January 20th, the NNSA won’t have appointed leadership – which means that, as of noon January 20th, NNSA will be hamstrung. As Gizmodo explains, the career civil servants and scientists (that is, people hired rather than appointed) will continue doing their job, but they won’t have an advocate to secure a budget from Congress and they won’t be able to tackle any new directives because:

the legislation authorizing the NNSA specifically prohibits non-NNSA officials from managing NNSA employees—agency staffers are only allowed to take orders from Klotz and Creedon or their (nonexistent) replacements.

Given Trump’s bombastic and erratic statements regarding the US nuclear arsenal, this situation should concern everyone. It is not, as is so commonly said right now, normal.

Latkes and a Bit of Light

It’s been a rough week. I have been able to type that almost every day this year, and have it be accurate – more on that in another post – but nonetheless it’s true. Migraines, swollen hands, skin fitting not right, irritations to the touch, lack of sleep; it’s been the entire gauntlet of everything. So on Thursday night, pretty much the last thing I wanted to do was go to a latke party. I didn’t feel well, it was going to weather, there would be not only people but strangers. I finally ended up dragging myself out of the house, naturally compounding everything by guaranteeing we’d be late.

Not the most perfect set-up in the world for an introvert, but it was and I’d committed.

One of the weirder things about my current life is just how much time I spend around people in bioethics – either because I’ve gone to a conference or I’m judging something or I’m at a meeting or, yes, even just because I’m at a latke party. I’ve been struggling to deal with that now, for years. Who am I? How do I introduce myself? Do I share The Story? How do I explain what I know and why I know it, but also why I’m not “using it” in any way most folks would consider measurable or meaningful?

For the last few years, I’ve stuck with enigma – the sort of half smile and promise to tell the details later, over a drink, bribe me with chocolate – or taking a deep breath and dumping it all out and making sure it’s clear I don’t want to talk about it, thanks. A few people have gotten the full measured story over a conversation, but not many.

It’s weird. It’s so defining. It was almost a decade ago, but it still looms large over life. It always will, as long as I’m tangental to the field, working in or near it, married to a rising star.

For whatever reason, Thursday’s latke party was different. When it came up – who am I again, why do I know all this? I was able to address the situation conversationally, even cheekily. It ended up creating a lot of laughter, a lot of sympathy, and I think at least a small measure of respect. And it got me thinking about how we define ourselves, for ourself and for others.

I read an interview today with Mara Wilson; it was published back in April but for some reason landed in front of my eyes today. It might have been the best day, because I was already mulling similar things – how do you define yourself when it feels like everyone knows who you were, even if it’s not who you are? 2 Mara left acting for writing, and she talks a bit in this interviews (and others) about her long effort at distancing herself from acting, of asserting herself, not wanting to be associated with that image.

Well. I can relate to that.

I can also relate to this:

I’m always going to be associated with that image, and I might not want to be reduced to that image, but I’m always going to be associated with it. So I’m working on embracing it.


Ends of years are arbitrary times, picked out on calendars for reasons that don’t have a lot of meaning any more. I don’t tend to place much faith in them, or superstition, but it’s hard not to think that those words landed in front of me now, just when I needed to contemplate them in front of the blank slate of a new year.

I don’t know much, and the path isn’t terribly clear – on days when one foot in front of the other is hard physically, that doesn’t make things any easier – but I do know that I can embrace the things that define me, I can be witty and charming, I can catalogue beneficial things I learned. I can laugh. And that’s a start.

Another Kind of Fake News: Covert Marketing As Academic Research

Fake news and bad reporting (faithless journalism, perhaps) have been in the news pretty extensively since the election, and folks are trying to detangle trust, knowledge, and facts from fake news and click-bait headlines. One topic I haven’t seen addressed much is news around science articles – oh, I see the discussion of click-bait headlines and the flipflops of EGGS GOOD/BAD/WHO KNOWS. But what I don’t see so much of is a discussion of author affiliation.

For example, the Washington Post published a Wellness article about choline last week that caught my eye. There were an awful lot of claims being made about this supposed wonder-nutrient we don’t get enough of, and reading the original article seemed like a good idea. So I did.

Now, something that might not occur to folks is a normal part of reading academic articles for me: looking at author affiliations and disclosures for conflicts-of-interest. And in this case, it didn’t take long to find one. Sure, the first and corresponding author seemed okay on the surface (a professor of nutrition at George Mason), but the second author? Oh that second author.

That second author, a Victor Fulgoni the Third, is employed by Nutrition Impact, LLC. Who are they, you ask? Well hell, I didn’t know until I looked – but that’s the point. I looked. And I found:

Based in Battle Creek, Mich., USA, Nutrition Impact has helped one client successfully complete a new health claim petition (plant sterol esters and heart disease), helped another client successfully complete a Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act (FDAMA) notification authorizing another new health claim (potassium and blood pressure/stroke), and helped a third client obtain a new nutrient content claim (choline).

Emphasis mine.

This, of course, calls the entire research paper regarding choline into question, because the job of the second of two authors was to make choline a noted and noticeable health claim (almost certainly a supplement company looking to goad consumers into purchases), and the Washington Post fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

Is this fake news? Certainly not of the Facebook-style fake news generators, but it is a kind of fake news: it’s hiding a company agenda in the veneer of academic research, and thus eroding trust in both academic research and science/medical journalism.