Lebanese-American Alex Azar Nominated By Donald Trump To Become Next U.S. Secretary of Healthy and Human Services

The Lebanese diaspora’s affinity to the Trump regime strikes again with Alex Azar, of Lebanese origins, being nominated by American president Donald Trump to head the U.S. Health and Human Services department, which is essentially the equivalent of health ministries elsewhere around the world.

The healthcare sector in the United States corresponds to one of the top expenditures of the American economy, and of citizens. When I first came here, having the way insurance works here be explained to me was more complicated than some of the things I studied during medical school. And, after practicing medicine here for the last several months, I’ve come to realize how much their healthcare system, Obamacare or not, needs fixing in order to further better the health of their people. For being the world’s top superpower, their indices as well as the overall health of their people is nowhere near where it could be because of how the system has been built for years, to put Americans at a disadvantage when it comes to access and affordability.

Up until recently, the U.S. HHS secretary was Tom Price. He resigned after a scandal of him using taxpayer money to fund private travels. At more than $1 million, and multiple Politico articles exposing him, Price had the shortest tenure as HHS secretary. The department, with everything that the Republicans are doing to change healthcare to what suits them, is still dealing with his resignation.

Enter Alex Azar.

A descendant of Lebanese immigrants, Alex Azar was born in 1967 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. His father, also named Alex Azar, was an ophthalmologist and teacher at John Hopkins. He holds a law degree from  Yale Law School, and was a clerk for  Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court in the early 1990s. He also worked for Kenneth W. Starr, the counsel who investigated Bill Clinton leading up to his impeachment in the 1990s as well.

Apart from his law background, Azar is also a health care expert being a former president of the American division of Eli Lilly and a health official in the George W. Bush administration, as per the New York Times. His allies, as does Trump, believe that Azar will be using his legal and health expertise to advance the Republican agenda of reforming Obamacare, which Azar believes to be a broken system, as well as to lead to lower price of drugs.

As a comparison to Lebanese readers, medications in the U.S. – even though they are mostly created and often produced here – are exorbitantly expensive. An antibiotic that you can get for $7 at a pharmacy in Lebanon would cost you north of $200 here, unless you have a good insurance plan. I’ve had patients come to the hospital nearing death because they can’t afford the medications they were prescribed.

The irony of asking someone who was the head of a pharmaceutical company to contribute to cheaper prices of drugs should not escape you. Democrats will probably grill Azar about his background in the pharmaceutical business, as well as his record in his role at the HHS previously, as they should. For a president, like Donald Trump, who wants to “drain the swamp,” he sure keeps finding a way to bring lobbyists and people of that swamp right into the heart of power. He’s also extremely conservative – as are the majority of Lebanese Americans by the looks of it.

Nonetheless, Azar’s expertise should come in handy for a Trump administration scrambling for legislative victories in the American political scene. What those victories mean to Americans and those living here (raises hand) remain to be seen.

On the Lebanese side of things, I hope that this appointment adds to Lebanon’s lobbying powers with the Americans, further tilting the Trump administration from negative actions towards my home country, and – maybe – guiding the quagmire of the Middle East, and the Saudi Arabian debacle – to a healthy conclusion.

Good luck to Mr. Azar in his confirmation hearing. He will need it. I just hope he’s more reasonable than Waleed Phares (I still don’t know why he spells his last name that way).

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The Very Scandalous Things On Our Middle Eastern Laptops and Tablets: A List To Help The U.S. and U.K. Governments

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The American and British governments have decided overnight to not allow passengers boarding airlines flying directly to their countries from Middle Eastern and some African countries from carrying on them ANY electronic that isn’t a phone or medical equipment.

The countries affected are: Lebanon, KSA, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia, among others.

So to make the work of those countries easier, I figured I’d compile a (non-comprehensive) list of all the very scandalous things they will find on our laptops and iPads.

1. A poorly deleted porn browsing history.

2. 23 different google searches for “is this mole on my chest cancer?”

3. The discography of some pop diva we would never admit listening to unless waterboarded.

4. Game of Thrones and everything related to it.

5. Bookmarked BuzzFeed quizzes in order to determine how our life will be.

6. Compromising photographs we thought we had deleted but which have never truly disappeared.

7. The entirety of F.R.I.E.N.D.S, Will & Grace, and Seinfeld.

8. Two hundred and ninety four cat doing cute things videos.

9. Thirteen cat doing extremely cute things videos.

10. The occasional video about puppies.

11. A folder for memes.

12. A folder for gifs.

13. Entire convo threads about how bitchy our boss or our colleagues are.

14. Family WhatsApp groups filled with “jokes” in Arabic. PS: those are not religious verses.

15. A ton of screenshots of Instagram posts of people we hate/are jealous of.

16. A ton of screenshots from conversation with friends that we sent to other friends for gossiping
purposes.

17. Selfies. A lot of selfies.

18. Plenty of blocked Facebook games.

19. 12 Facebook friend lists to sort our messy social presence.

20. More muted people on Twitter than we’d like to admit.

21. Google searches about how screwed we are now that Trump has happened.

22. Google searches about whether those Google searches might get us in trouble.

23. Saved restaurants on Zomato we’ve always intended to try but will probably never do.

24. Wikipedia search results about almost everything pertaining to our university degrees.

25. Motivational posters we’ve saved that we share among close friends, but never to the masses.

26. Plenty of tweets about how said motivational posters are silly. #HypocrisyWho?

27. Subscriptions to the YouTube channels of John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, James Corden, Ellen, and Trevor Noah.

28. Plenty of LebanonFiles (or other news websites visits) to ascertain how messed up our countries are,
and how to adjust our “don’t-give-a-shit”-meter accordingly.

29. WebMd queries about whether one could die from some random thing we felt once upon a time.

30. More selfies.

31. Essays about the plastic surgeries that Lebanese female singers have underwent.

32. Rants about how messed up things are to share with our people.

33. Magnum Opuses about how wonderful things are here for others.

34. Saved images of places we think are here but are probably not.

35. Series we will never admit to have or would watch. That’s one secret I’ll never tell.

36. Dissertations about the series finale of LOST.

37. More than enough to last a lifetime for Harry Potter fan theories.

38. Pinterest boards for ideas we will never see to fruition.

39. Searches of how to become rich?

40. Searches of how to make do with $2 till the rest of the month when it’s still the tenth.

41. A lot of wondering about immigration possibilities.

42. Pirated software because who’d wanna pay $200 for Microsoft Office? WTF?

43. A lot of subscriptions to Western publications that utterly mess up our social media networks’
algorithm.

44. Searches about which countries we can go to without visas.

45. Textbooks we’ve never read and PDF lecture presentations with heavy annotations that helped us get
our degrees.

46. A porn stash we think no one will find.

47. “Lyrics of….”

48. Plenty of “forgot password” links.

49. Photos we took that we think make us photographers.

50. A lot of wondering about why you hate us this much and how further you wanna walk all over us for the fun of it.

Arabs Should Look In The Mirror Before Criticizing Trump’s Travel Ban


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Over the past few days, I watched Americans old and young protest against their president’s travel ban. It was a sight to behold – those people who were taught all their lives to fear Arabs, Muslims and to have all kinds of negative connotations with them were standing up for human decency.

The protests haven’t been exclusive to the United States. London and other European cities have had their own share, culminating in an fiery discussion between British PMs about Trump and his policies.

Meanwhile in the Arab world, crickets.

Not a single Arab country had anything to say about the ban. They couldn’t even muster the guts to stand up with their own. I guess that whole “Arabism” theme is only nice when used from Arab Idol and The Voice podiums.

What some countries did was the exact opposite: Kuwait fortified travel bans against 5 Muslim countries, including Syria. The top Emirati diplomat came out in support of the travel ban. And these moves are not without context.

The two Arab countries that have taken the most refugees are Jordan and Lebanon with 1 million and 1.5 million officially registered refugees, respectively. Gulf counties, all of which are not affected by Trump’s ban despite them being the biggest exporters of Islamic terrorism, have taken in a total of zero.

As a side note, that is also the exact same number of Americans that have been killed by terrorist attacks from the countries Trump has banned, while the number is 2500+ from the Gulf countries that he has not banned and who haven’t taken in any refugees.

In fact, Gulf countries have made their visa requirements for other Arabs so disgusting that no one dares speak up against it. I personally have no intention to ever work or live there, so I suppose I can speak up.

KSA has increased its visa price to $1200 for Lebanese nationals in an attempt to curb the number of Lebanese coming in for work, and as a political retaliation at the country not giving it the blowjobs it always needs.

The UAE has made it near impossible to obtain work visas for it as well, and depending on the Emirate you’re applying to work in, you could be rejected entirely despite having proper paperwork. Moreover, the UAE has made it near impossible for Syrians whose families are in the country to get visas to visit; case in point: a Syrian friend of mine who was born and raised there couldn’t go see her family since moving to Lebanon for university studies, but was able to get a 2 year US visa (prior to the ban).

The UAE’s situation doesn’t stop there. They’ve been systematically targeting people for deportation based on their religious affiliation. If the Lebanese state had any decency, they’d publish the list of Shiite nationals who were deported just for being Shiites.

As mentioned above, Kuwait has enforced a visa ban on 5 Muslim countries, including Syria. But this isn’t new for Kuwait. In fact, the country is known for its derision of foreigners coming in, however they are, except if they are Westerners of course.

As a Lebanese, I need a visa to enter every single Arab country even if for a visit except Jordan and Syria. The rest of those countries don’t have a straightforward process either and for some of them, I have to provide the same papers demanded by the US or Schengen visas. And my country isn’t better either. Yes, we have 1.5 million to 2 million refugees, which is probably more than what the country can handle granted, but few are those who are happy with having the refugees here and see them as anything more than a burden in the best of cases or treat them with all the xenophobia they could muster on average.

In fact, it might be hard to believe but Lebanon has strict visa requirements toward certain countries as well. For starters, the criteria we’ve enforced towards accepting Syrians in are hell. Many are turned away at our borders because they can’t tick off the checklist from hell we’ve started to enforce a few years ago. We also enforce inhumane visa requirements on countries we deem as “lesser.” Refer to how Deepa Dermasiri, Malek Maktabi’s New Year Eve gut-wrenching story, couldn’t get a visa to come see her daughter in Lebanon and passed away before she was able to.

What’s worse, the story doesn’t just stop with visas. While Americans protested against a ban that doesn’t even affect most of them, has there been any protests in the places we come from? In the grander scheme of things, has there been protests against the horrendous visa requirements we have for each other to begin with?

Do Lebanese dare to speak up against the rules the Emirati government humiliated them with? Or Saudi visas? Or any Arab visa?

Do we even stand up for minorities in our countries? When was the last time we had protests for some parts of our societies that were oppressed? When did Muslims have mass protests for the persecuted Christians in some Arab countries? When did we have mass protests for women rights? LGBT rights? KSA has Muslim only roads. Just saying.

Yes, those of us who stand up are courageous because it’s so difficult to do so in the first place, but the rest are complacent and satisfied. With what? Religion, money, lack of education… you name it.

Yes, Trump’s ban is all kinds of messed up. But then again, aren’t we all kinds of messed up too? Let’s take a hard look in the mirror at how we treat each other before panicking about how others are treating us, because the fact of the matter is: we treat other Arabs worse than Trump could ever do.

So thanks to the Americans protesting for us. You’re greater than even I thought you were.

The Humiliation of Entering The United States As Arab

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters as he takes the stage for a campaign event in Dallas, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters as he takes the stage for a campaign event in Dallas, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

I was rejected the US visa for the first time when I was fifteen. I remember standing there, in front of the Embassy Consulate, unsure as to why I was being shut away, as just a young boy, from spending a summer abroad with his family. I was told I didn’t have an “extended enough travel history,” because as you know most 15 year olds have probably been around the world.

Ten years later, after months of back and forth with the Embassy and papers flowing in and out, I was finally given a visitor’s visa for 5 years on my third try, routine for Lebanese citizens who were granted the document as far as I know. A few months later, I visited the United States of America for the first time ever.

On my second visit, the border control officer said his system “couldn’t process” me, so I was taken into another room where, an hour and another interrogation later, I was permitted entry to come into the US to do my medical residency interviews. This happened again on my third entry, with longer waiting times. Entering the US has been the most invasive thing to my being, and I’ve survived medical school.

It’s also what has been happening to many of my colleagues and friends: doctors, scientists, researchers, humans. Just because they were unfortunate enough to be born in countries that are not worthy of enough of having their citizens treated with the minimum of human decency. I can tell you stories about physicians who were kept in those rooms for four hours, waiting for who knows what. It’s never easy to sit there and not know what’s going to happen to you, just because you dared seek entry of a foreign country that you’ve already been thoroughly vetted to be given a visa to.

This process that we go through every time we want to come here, that we know we have to willingly subject ourselves to in order for us to visit New York or some monument or even see some extended family is, apparently, not “rigorous” enough.

Today, on my third visit, with the news of president Donald Trump stopping visas and entries from countries he doesn’t like and even though my country isn’t on the list, I’m the most scared and the most unwelcome I’ve felt in a country whose history celebrates its diversity and its enabling of people from all kinds by giving them a chance at making it.

Not if your kind is Arab.

You’ll read plenty about illegal immigrants, but the fact of the matter is the United States scares me too much for me not to abide by its laws. It’s not about how it cracks down on illegals or how it’s managed to change the course of my region for centuries to come. It’s about how humiliated I’ve felt every single time I’ve applied for that visa.

Many of you wouldn’t think twice about the notion of a “tourist visa.” To most of you, the term is as foreign as that of the person demanding it, but every single time we apply for one – be it for the United States or any other country – we have to subject ourselves to the most rigorous of checks, be ready to provide every form of documentation imaginable. Just for a visit.

And this isn’t rigorous enough.

For a refugee to be granted entry to the United States, they must first apply through the UNHCR, which conducts its own interviews and documentation collection process. Those selected for re-settlement in the United States have their files referred to the State Department which puts the refugee through screening by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI and DHS. More anti-fraud agencies come into play later as well as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services (USCIS), which interviews the refugees, fingerprints them, and runs those fingerprints through the FBI, DHS and Department of Defense.

If a refugee passes through all of that, they are given health screenings to make sure they’re not bringing in any diseases to the US, while being enrolled in cultural orientation classes as they wait, while their information is checked constantly against terrorist databases. On September 15th, 2016, the US House of Representatives also voted to add further screening steps that require the FBI director to sign off on every single refugee.

Over the past 15 years, the United States, also the world’s third largest country in size and population, has re-settled only around 780,000 refugees.

And this isn’t rigorous enough either.

The fact that my friends have to be told by their employers not to go home for fear of their visas not getting renewed, and have their families not be able to visit them because someone out there is so afraid of them existing is 2017’s reality for many. But we can’t say anything about it, because it’s their country and we’re just parasites in it.

Growing up, America was always a place of hope for me. It was from where, as a kid, my relatives visited with gifts. It was the place from which, growing up, my favorite musicians, series and movies emanated. It is the place, today, that I’m working diligently as a graduated physician to come train in. Today, that place gives me anxiety, just for coming from a certain country in a region whose entirety is on a blacklist, knowing that the most illegal thing I’ve done in my life was break speeding limits.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that selective targeting is never a good thing nor does it build better societies nor does it contribute to the betterment of countries. After all, isn’t one of the most shameful events in American history were the Japanese internment camps around World War II?

With every passing day of Trump’s presidency, and at this rate it is daily, America’s image is getting distorted. Perhaps that is what those who voted for him want: for it not to remain a country of inclusiveness, and become a walled – literally? – state. But it’s also my belief that no country can ever truly be great through hate, fear, the refusal of anything that is different and the denigration of a people. A few decades ago, Anne Frank and her family were denied American visas. How many Anne Franks will be refused away because of fear today?