Friday, July 29, 2011

Why worry about Al Qaeda when Congress is controlled by saboteurs?

Joseph McCarthy had this country in terror in the 1950s claiming that a Soviet funded fifth column had infiltrated the highest levels of government. Little did he know. Now our country is under the control of ideologues whose first commitment is to an ideal with no concern for what it will do to the people they are responsible for. Have they no conscience about what they have already been doing to their own people? And they are confidently ready to do even more, with virtually no cost to themselves.

The Republicans formerly signed off on the profligate spending of the GW Bush administration, coupled with the liberal handout to all the rich in the “Bush Tax Cuts”, (remember the surplus that Bush inherited from Clinton?), but now have returned the old Republican religion of fiscal restraint. They are now in the process of disemboweling our government. The Democrats, who were pussy cats during the Bush administration are now pussy cats under Obama.

The result is a government committed to wrecking the whole fabric of our economy in one fell swoop. No one knows what the implications will be of what they are doing, but what seems clear is that Congress has virtually no interest is dealing with the most urgent and fundamental issue this moment: A depressed economy that is likely to languish for years on end. It seems certain that one way or another this Congress will abandon the poor and vulnerable to their own devices at a time when there are no other sources of help than the government.

I can’t find words for my own feelings about this government. We are all despairing of where this country is going. Aren't these leaders vulnerable to the criticism of the greatest social critic of all time?
“You load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reflections on a note in Science about a Central Asian astronomer

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the most prestigious scholarly organization in this country. But the June 17 issue of the society’s journal Science has a brief note [p 1365] that veils a useful distinction that to some of us is important.

The note is about the esteemed Central Asian astronomer Ulugh Beg. The note refers to a tribute made to Ulugh Beg by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1687. Hevelius asked for help in finding Beg’s map of the heavens and asked for it to be translated from the Persian.

The resultant map produced by Hevelius is being displayed in a show called Arabick Roots in London. The article refers to the “flow of knowledge from the Arab world to Europe in the 17th century.”
Technically the statement is OK but it masks a certain historical reality. That is, Ulugh Beg was not Arab; he was Turko-Persian, the grandson of Tamer lane, and the son of the famed ruler of Herat Shah Rukh who sponsored an elaborate Turko-Persian culture. Ulugh Beg wrote in Persian even though he may have known Arabic as well as Persian and Turkish. So the “Arabic world” in Ulugh Beg’s time was very Persian as well as Arabic. Much of the scholarly knowledge that came to Europe from the “Arab world” was very Persian as well as Arabic. In fact, some of the most scientific gains in those centuries were made by Central Asians – that is, Turko-Persians. So the flow of knowledge to Europe came from the Turko-Persian societies in Central Asia.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The ugly side of power in the capitalistic world

I can’t remember a time when the ways capital exerts its influence on social affairs has been so evident in the news.

We are in fact seeing the ugly side of power being displayed in lots of places these days. Usually power masks its ugly side. Syria, for example. Syria has been a stable country for many years, so that a careless observer traveling through would easily suppose that the people are content and all is well. What one only occasionally could see was how the regime in power – composed of a relatively small cadre of relatives and co-sectarians – could remain in control. We are seeing that mechanism of control now: their army has been shooting unarmed demonstrators on the streets. The number of dead is now more than 1400 (not 14,000 as NYTimes says in 7/20/11 issue). All of them were peaceful demonstrators, as far as we know – Of course what we know is limited to what the regime wants us to know. They are trying to control all the news coming out of the country -- fortunately unsuccessfully.

But in the capitalistic world power works differently. The mechanisms of influence exerted by large capitalistic interests are more subtle, usually. But they seem blatant these days, and evident in so many contexts, and many of them seem to be in the foreground of the news lately. Here are some articles that provide examples.

> ProPublica reports on how the donors to the campaign of Louisiana’s President of St Bernard Parish benefitted from the BP oil spill cleanup. “Spillionaires Revisited: Gov’t Official’s Associates Got Big Contracts After the BP Oil Spill.”

> The no-holds-barred way Rupert Murdock’s newspaper did its business is now coming out in the open. There are many good articles but one that summarizes all that is known can be found at the Telegraph web site:
Phone hacking: timeline of the scandal
It’s worth noting that Fox news and the Wall Street Journal, both owned by Murdock have made very little of it. The difference between what his papers have to say about it and what other papers have to say illustrates how much it matters that news ownership be as dispersed as possible.

> Paul Krugman and Robin Wells describe how the same sets of investment/ banking companies keep on bilking the system by over-reaching and then demanding bailouts: “The Busts Keep Getting Bigger: Why?” It's about economic downturns.

> Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) is now for incandescent light bulbs whereas he used to be against them. Try to guess why. Have a look at what drives this bizarre political boondoggle.

> Capital works on the side of contraband behavior also, of course, manifest in the brutality of the Mexican drug war: Here is the Los Angeles Times’ summary of what has been going on.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sober reflections on the contraries that led to Bastille Day

[slightly revised 7/15/11 @3:11}
Sometimes a situation becomes so complicated, disputes become so irresolvable, and adversaries so irreconcilable, that a great deal comes to bear on what happens in a single moment. The outcome of a high-stakes situation can be revolutionary change, when the system in place gets upended. I keep hoping that the disputes in our Congress have not reached such a state. But as today is Bastille Day it might be worth noting some circumstances that led up to the French Revolution, in case you notice parallels.

The whole story is too complicated to try to tell here, but I quote William Sewell, Jr’s summary of the issues that set the clash of interests in motion, to create a huge societal convolution in France. I quote from Chapter 8 of his book “The Logics Of History”. I arrange his statement in stages, in order to emphasize how as the situation developed the problems became all the more dire and irresolvable so that the underlying premises that held the French Crown in power were being undermined before it was completely overturned.
> “In 1786 the comptroller general informed the king that the state was nearly bankrupt.

> By the summer of 1789, the crisis of the state’s funding had become a crisis of the system of social stratification (because fiscal reform would mean stripping the clergy and nobility of one of their major privileges, their immunity from taxation);

> it had become a crisis of the privileged corporate institutions that were the integument of the social order of old regime France (because their privileges were linked to particular fiscal arrangements);

> it had become a deep constitutional crisis (because it was unclear which governmental body had the authority to change the system of taxation)

> and it had also become a crisis of the very principles of the social and political order (because proponents of natural rights, national sovereignty, and civic equality had managed to dominate political discourse and gain a sizeable foothold among the deputies to the Estates General.)"

That is to say, the fundamental assumptions that held the King in place were now crumbling at just the time when a contrary and irreconcilable concept of authority was being widely discussed, namely, that sovereignty should belong to the nation and the populace should have a voice in determinations of how (and possibly by whom) they should be governed. The events that took place in a cascade of miscommunications and conflicting agendas as the problems became more acute could never have been predicted, but in retrospect it is possible to notice that the ambiguities and contraraties of the situation were destabilizing the system in place, that is, the monarchy. Nothing required that the events that took place should take place that way, but much in the way of a collapse was potential in the situation. And as events took place a series of errors of understanding and communication added to the possibilities that the old order might be swept away. A spark was all that was needed.

It’s hard to think about the irreconcilable contraries in France in late eighteenth century without wondering if our own country, and perhaps even the capitalistic world as we know it, might be careering toward a point when powerful contrary interests could become, as in the French Revolution, an uncontrollable societal convolution.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Insurance Institution of Last Resort

The insurance protection of last resort

Societies hold together by more or less agreeing on a common myth. By myth I mean broad formulations of common interest and of how the world works, what the future looks like. They are broad and general formulations too abstract to be proven by empirical evidence. Rather, they are useful conventions of public discourse that enable people to make plans together and come to an understanding of how they share common interests. I say “more or less” because some people believe these myths while others are willing to work with them even if they aren’t sure about them, and maybe others work with them simply to get along because in fact they don’t really believe them; to disagree openly creates too much trouble. That’s how societies work, how collectivities of self-interested, self-oriented human beings work together.

The common myth of the Republican Party for some time has been that business – private industry – is more efficient than government. Bureaucracy costs too much, they suppose. Whatever has to be done can be done better, more efficiently, and cheaper than government. So they promote the idea that whenever possible government should be replaced by private industry. This is a proposition too abstract to prove even though a few scholars claim to have gotten results that make this view plausible.

So many people believe it. I even remember hearing Mark Shields on the News Hour a couple of years ago say that the Republican Party doesn’t believe in government. He has never hinted such an accusation since that I know of; I suspect he got some flack for saying it. But even if it is unfairly broad, the charge may be almost true for the most extreme elements on the Far-Far Right.

I don’t know for sure but I believe there were similar opinions among the Wall Street and Banking barons in the 1920s. What seems to have been true, in any case, was the belief that the market could solve most of the problems of the world. In any case, it was flourishing.

The prosperity of the 1920s however masked another rarely stated myth that lies behind most publics in the modern age: When things go wrong people demand that the government do something. When the market crashed and the banks failed the American people demanded that the government do something. And in fact Hoover’s administration started programs for the public that did help, but they came too slowly and too late. FDR became President by running against Hoover for the next four terms. He claimed to be representing the common man and boasted that the fat cats hated him. That was because whatever the myth was in the 1920s, in the 1930s the American people demanded that something be done. By the government.

The government is the insurance institution of last resort.

I fear the Republicans have forgotten that. If things turn bad they may have to pay for it as the Republicans did in the 1930s.

Ahmed Wali Karzai is dead

Reports of the assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai, younger brother of Hamed Karzai, President of Afghanistan, indicate that he was shot several times by a former bodyguard of their older brother Qayyoum. Stratfor says this is a serious blow to the President. This is what they say:
“His death comes as a major blow to President Karzai who depended on Ahmed Wali for creating a social support base for the president in Kandahar province, the homeland of the Taliban. Ahmed Wali’s official position was head of the legislative council in Kandahar, but he wielded a disproportionate amount of influence in the province and the country at large, claiming close relations with a wide array of players including the CIA, local Taliban elements and even drug lords. Despite his close dealings with U.S. intelligence, American officials openly criticized Ahmed Wali in 2009, accusing him of corruption and being involved in the drug trade.”

Monday, July 11, 2011

Joseph Stiglitz on how severe the economic crisis is

The Nobel Prize Winner in Economics Joseph Stiglitz has explained in much more elegant terms than I could express in an earlier statement how dire the situation is for our country. Dire doubly: Dire because of the urgency that wise decisions be made soon and dire because the leadership of Congress continue to demonstrate an inability to get beyond their respective ideologies. RLC

From Project Syndicate 2011-07-06
Joseph Stiglitz: The Ideological Crisis of Western Capitalism

NEW YORK – Just a few years ago, a powerful ideology – the belief in free and unfettered markets – brought the world to the brink of ruin. Even in its hey-day, from the early 1980’s until 2007, American-style deregulated capitalism brought greater material well-being only to the very richest in the richest country of the world. Indeed, over the course of this ideology’s 30-year ascendance, most Americans saw their incomes decline or stagnate year after year.

Moreover, output growth in the United States was not economically sustainable. With so much of US national income going to so few, growth could continue only through consumption financed by a mounting pile of debt.

I was among those who hoped that, somehow, the financial crisis would teach Americans (and others) a lesson about the need for greater equality, stronger regulation, and a better balance between the market and government. Alas, that has not been the case. On the contrary, a resurgence of right-wing economics, driven, as always, by ideology and special interests, once again threatens the global economy – or at least the economies of Europe and America, where these ideas continue to flourish.

In the US, this right-wing resurgence, whose adherents evidently seek to repeal the basic laws of math and economics, is threatening to force a default on the national debt. If Congress mandates expenditures that exceed revenues, there will be a deficit, and that deficit has to be financed. Rather than carefully balancing the benefits of each government expenditure program with the costs of raising taxes to finance those benefits, the right seeks to use a sledgehammer – not allowing the national debt to increase forces expenditures to be limited to taxes.
. . . [Some of this is deleted. For a link to the full text of the article click on the title above]
. . .
Regrettably, the financial markets and right-wing economists have gotten the problem exactly backwards: they believe that austerity produces confidence, and that confidence will produce growth. But austerity undermines growth, worsening the government’s fiscal position, or at least yielding less improvement than austerity’s advocates promise. On both counts, confidence is undermined, and a downward spiral is set in motion.

Do we really need another costly experiment with ideas that have failed repeatedly? We shouldn’t, but increasingly it appears that we will have to endure another one nonetheless. A failure of either Europe or the US to return to robust growth would be bad for the global economy. A failure in both would be disastrous – even if the major emerging-market countries have attained self-sustaining growth. Unfortunately, unless wiser heads prevail, that is the way the world is heading.

Joseph E. Stiglitz is University Professor at Columbia University, a Nobel laureate in economics, and the author of Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.
For a podcast of this commentary in English, please use this link:

Friday, July 08, 2011

The strange economics of American politics; and a layman’s history of the Great Depression

I’m having trouble figuring out how the current plans for recovery are supposed to work. I’m not an economist but it seems to me that the plans in some general way should add up, and so far I can’t figure it out.

What I hear from both parties is that the real issue is “Jobs, jobs, jobs”. We all expect we will be hearing about that in the forthcoming election. Also, we are told that for this reason the government must reduce spending. The deficit ceiling plans are not settled but we are getting a sense of some of the way they plan to work it out, and what appears to be happening is that both parties are going to agree to cutting back government spending. Maybe they will ask the super-rich to pay a few more taxes but as we all know the Republicans have been fighting that prospect tooth and nail; they don't even bother to conceal whose side they are on. For me, a non-economist on the sidelines, it’s hard to make sense of all this.

Here is the plan, as I understand it.
• The government will cut back: that is, it will reduce the number of government employees and also reduce the number of contracts with private industry.
• The government will cut back on Medicare and Medicaid, thus reducing the safety net for the most financially vulnerable sector of the economy.
• Also, the plan is to bring our troops home; the sooner the better. So, our troops will be brought back to join the labor force.

Now, lets add this up: fewer government jobs, less money to employ the lower income segment of our society, more unemployed veterans: That means, voila!, More Jobs! If there is a logic here I don't get it. How do we add layoffs, starving the poor, bringing in more unemployed from the military and get a bump in the economy?

These policies sound much like the policies that got this country into trouble during the Great Depression – that’s the way I remember it (but remember I’m not an economist). At a time when the stock market tanked and the banks failed the government cut back on expenditures. And as the world economy collapsed other countries did the same. To me that sounds like what has been going on in our time: Britain has cut back, the US is cutting back, the EU is struggling to right itself owing to the debt in several countries.

So how do we know we are not on the verge of another Great Depression? That is a terrifying prospect.

To emphasize the point, I will rehearse what the Depression meant for my family. My father grew up in a wealthy Oklahoma family. Six sons. All went to college in the 1920s. But my grandfather lost everything in 1930. Everything; he was a pauper for the rest of his life. My father and mother had married just before the collapse, and although a graduate in Chemical Engineering he could not find work, although my mother got some income by teaching music in a small town. During the day my father carried ice for an ice factory (few people had refrigerators then) and at night he worked on a correspondence course in accounting. When he finally qualified as an accountant he looked for jobs keeping books for small companies. All of the companies were struggling to survive, and a couple times, when he finally got a company's books in order, he found out it was broke; there was no money even for him to be paid. He moved from job to job. We moved from town to town. When he got a job in Wichita he was able to take in one of our cousins, a teenager whose parents had no money. But that job disappeared and we had to live with a distant relative on an oil reservation, a man who was a gruffy old geezer who didn’t like kids (like me).

It was the war that brought the country out of depression. Roosevelt had started a number of national work projects in order to put people to work – Work Projects Administration, the CCC (I don’t remember what that stood for, but they built many of the facilities in national parks that are still in use). The government didn’t have much income so FDR had to borrow by issuing government bonds – all the while wondering whether it was a good idea to borrow from ourselves. Anyway, his administration started many of the safety-net programs like Social Security that the Republicans, who hated them then, are now trying to dismantle. And when war started in Europe Roosevelt borrowed more so that our country could support the Allies in Europe. When we entered the war the American government went into full press mode, mostly with borrowed money. And when the war was over the US Congress invented an amazing new idea – can anyone imagine a congress that would do this now?: they would pay the veterans to go to college. The GI Bill was opposed by the major universities of America. They thought it would bring the ordinary riff-raff into our institutions of higher learning, which saw them selves as serving the upper class (which of course no one wanted to admit existed in this country). It didn’t take even those universities long to discover there was money in this program for them so they finally went along with it -- and discovered that the veterans were better students than the usual college students.

All this took place because the government borrowed money. The more they spent on national projects the stronger the middle class got and were able to pay the taxes that kept the country going.

So much for what a non-economist remembers about how the world works. That’s why I at least can’t figure out how the plans being talked about in Congress today could add up to anything but disaster.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Another formulation of the issues in Central Asia

I'm glad to see any signs of interest in the growing investment of the Chinese in Central Asia, as is indicated in this opinion piece by Pepe Escobar, even if it seems a bit jargonistic ("Great Game", "pipelinestan", angel of history). In geopolitical terms we can speculate whether the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan is mere the current expression of what augurs to be a century-long power struggle over access and control over the mineral resources of Inner Asia. On that issue China is winning, as Escobar suggests. From Al Jazeera. RLC

High stakes in Eurasia's 'New Great Game'
China and Russia will benefit from US mistakes in Afghanistan, and the operation in Libya, gaining influence and energy.

Pepe Escobar Last Modified: 04 Jul 2011 14:39

China is investing on a land-based Central Asian energy strategy - a pipeline-driven New Silk Road from the Caspian Sea to China's Far West in Xinjiang [GALLO/GETTY]
Antonio Gramsci once mused that the old order has died but the new one has not yet been born.

While Washington's geopolitical/energy focus was on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran, and to a lesser extent on Central Asia, international politics was already in transition from a unipolar world towards a new, polycentric system.

And then the 2011 Arab Revolt irrupted all across the MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa) chessboard, turning all calculations upside down and reconfiguring the relationship between the US, the main Eurasian nations, and Northern Africa.

Time to recall an ultimate Cold Warrior, Dr Zbigniew Brzezinski, who in 1997, in the article "A Geostrategy for Eurasia", published by Foreign Affairs, conceptualised that: "Eurasia is the world's axial supercontinent. A power that dominated Eurasia would exercise decisive influence over two of the world's three most economically productive regions, Western Europe and East Asia. A glance at the map also suggests that a country dominant in Eurasia would almost automatically control the Middle East and Africa. With Eurasia now serving as the decisive geopolitical chessboard, it no longer suffices to fashion one policy for Europe and another for Asia. What happens with the distribution of power on the Eurasian landmass will be of decisive importance to America's global primacy and historical legacy."

US power waning

Fast forward to the first decade of the 2000s. The George W Bush administration devised a strategy for a Great Central Asia according to which the US would roll back Russia's traditional and China's growing influence.

Washington would have New Delhi as the partner of choice in Afghanistan and Central Asia - laying the foundations of a new Silk Road.

And Washington would establish itself not far from Xinjiang, in Western China, and close to Russia's underbelly. Essentially, that's how the US would win the New Great Game in Eurasia.

This strategy was inbuilt in the Pentagon's Long War - codename for the Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine - and its far more important, if half-hidden, twin: the global energy war.

In my 2007 book Globalistan, I branded this process as Liquid War; here we would find "liquidity" not only in terms of fast-flowing capital and information shaping liquid modernity (a hat tip to Zygmunt Bauman), but also as in oil/gas pipelines crisscrossing an enormous battlefield, what I have called Pipelineistan.

The problems with the Bush administration strategy may have already started way back in 2003, when Turkey - the bridge par excellence between Central Asia and the Mediterranean - decided not to support the war in Iraq.

Since then, Turkey has gotten closer to Russia and, following Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's concept, in fact all its neighbors, especially Iran - performing what could be called an "escape from the US" - and thus denting its role as a NATO base for penetration into Eurasia.

It's in this context that an Ankara-Tehran-Damascus alliance was solidified (and, incidentally, may now be unraveling). Meanwhile Eurasia as a whole changed at breakneck speed.

Russia was "back" on a continental and also global scale; China and India emerged geo-economically; the US got bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq. Soon the US was not the "indispensable nation" anymore.

China and Russia

Very few former Soviet states were annexed to the US sphere of influence - as it was expected after 9/11. Moreover, Washington's dream of a line of control stretching from the Mediterranean all the way towards Central Asia, aimed at cutting in two the Eurasian landmass, did not happen.

China and Russia developed a joint Eurasia policy - organised, among other channels, by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Eurasian Economic Community and now increased military cooperation.

In Pipelineistan terms, China didn't have to send a single soldier (to Iraq) or get bogged down in an infinite quagmire (in Afghanistan); instead it will get plenty of oil from Iraq and much of the natural gas it needs from Turkmenistan.

China is massively investing in a land-based Central Asian energy strategy - a pipeline-driven New Silk Road from the Caspian Sea to China's Far West in Xinjiang.

The US's geopolitical perspective is characteristic of a sea power - framing its relationship with other nations from the position of an "island"; the Mediterranean basin and Central Asia are viewed as placed in a so-called "arc of instability", as defined by Dr Brzezinski.

Over these past few years, in a constantly evolving context, much more than Great Central Asia, what became paramount for Washington was the geopolitical concept of a Great Middle East - expanding on Brzezinski's "arc of instability" and running from the Maghreb all the way to Central Asia.

So as much as Brzezinski conceptualised Central Asia as a volatile and unpredictable "Eurasian Balkans", we had the Bush administration forcefully dreaming of the "birth pangs" of the Great Middle East. The aim was unmistakable; to cause a lot of trouble to the increasing geopolitical union between China and Russia.

Botched operations

In these past few years, up to the - largely botched - Africom/NATO operation in Libya, the US strategy has been aimed at the militarisation of the entire arc between the Mediterranean and Central Asia.

Africom, the US Africa command implemented in 2008 with a headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, has now engaged in its first African war, in Libya. Africom aims at rapid intervention all across Africa but also has its sights on the "New" Middle East and Central Asia.

So now the US strategy can finally be examined in detail as a militarisation of the Mediterranean-Central Asian arch.

That would assure the US a wedge between Southern Europe and Northern Africa; assure military control over Northern Africa and Southwest Asia, with particular emphasis on Turkey, Syria and Iran; and "cut" Eurasia in two. In sum: divide and rule.

So this geopolitical road map was bound from the start to target Syria (already happening); Iran (a perpetual neo-con dream); and even Erdogan's Turkey - all useful for a US advance in Eurasia.

Meanwhile Eurasian powers Russia, China and India - all BRICS member countries - not to mention Iran and Turkey themselves, are slowly calibrating their response.

In the midst of this ever-shifting accommodation of tectonic plates, Afghanistan assumes an even more crucial role. It could - and should - recover its status of crossroads/hub bringing Central Asia and South Asia together. Yet that may ultimately happen not under American sponsorship - but under Chinese and Russian partnership.

The Moscow/Beijing counterpunch is to organise the SCO as a rival to NATO in terms of providing security for Central Asia - and for Afghanistan. Wily Hamid Karzai has seen which way the wind is blowing - and he's all for it.

Moscow and Beijing have decided to enter into "tight cooperation" (their terminology) not only in Central Asia but in the Middle East and North Africa as well; Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao admitted as much in a recent op-ed piece for the Financial Times newspaper.

The wake-up call was the Western intervention in Libya. The Chinese economic/political/diplomatic push will be organised under the aegis of the BRICS group of emerging powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa).

The complex hidden agendas at play in Syria; the unraveling of the Ankara-Tehran-Damascus alliance; the West's double standards over Bahrain; Washington's determination to overstay its military presence in Iraq -these developments are all seen by Moscow and Beijing as part of a strategy to perpetuate Western dominance in the Middle East.

So expect even more feverish moves by the angel of history. Eurasian actors Turkey, Iran, Russia and China will be ever more active in the Mediterranean and Central Asia - the key geostrategic battleground in a 21st century New Great Game that might even be pitting Washington against Eurasia itself.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for the Asia Times. His latest book is Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera

Monday, July 04, 2011

Immigrant Young Maids of America, Watch Out!

This is addressed to immigrant women generally but in fact Rita and I know a number of them, and their stories are so similar to that of the Guinean maid who is about to lose her case against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn that it occurs to me to address a note to them generally.

What I know about you is that you left your home country out of desperation. You had good reasons to flee, but they were too complicated to make sense to Americans who have scarcely any sense of what it’s like out there, and certainly your problems were far different from anything the American legal system would recognize. So you had to lie. And you had to get help fabricating a story that would make sense to the American legal system. Once you figured out what might work you memorized it.

The truth was otherwise, of course; the reality was far too bizarre from the American point of view that even your friends in American now cannot understand it. In fact, many of the judges that have to decide on your story, whether to allow you to immigrate, have becomes so jaded, so frustrated by the ways they have been deceived that they can be scornful of anything you tell them. So you have to make your story really good.

But anyway the story you invented got you here. And then once on the ground, you discovered how hard life is here, especially for someone who comes with essentially no skills. And of course you had no money. And no language. Whatever English you thought you knew was little help. Everyone talked so fast and used so many colloquial idioms that you were overwhelmed from the beginning.

So you were lost and helpless, with hardly a friend, and virtually no one with means to help. Desperate, you had to do whatever to survive. You had children, and you needed to escape from the dive the immigration authorities put you in when you arrived. So what you were reduced to, you will never want to admit.

Thank God, somehow you survived. You lived through those horrible days, and now you are at least more or less ensconced in this country. Eventually you came to know – it’s among the various schemes that get passed around among the immigrant populations of this country -- that if you claimed to have more children than you actually had your taxes would be lower and maybe you could even get more financial aid from the government. So you claimed your neighbor’s children on your taxes as well as your own.

All of this seems to have paid off. You at least have been able to survive. At least you are holding on. What you have not realized is that the lies are now your history, and they have left you vulnerable. With this kind of history you have little chance of making any claim in a dispute over any issue without your history being brought up against you in court. So without knowing it you have placed yourself in a far more vulnerable position than you know. Besides being limited in your English and your skills and still desperately poor you are un-savvy, and in this country that can be a tragic weakness. You are exceedingly vulnerable, and more so if you are young and pretty.

We all know the platitudes: In the end it doesn’t pay to lie. But the consequences in this country can be devastating if you have to make a case in court. If by some miracle you should inherit a billion dollars, there is maybe a chance for you. At least we surmise so from what we read in the newspapers.