Pity the Poor Immigrant

Anti-Fascist Protest in Banska


Banska Bystrica     Traveling across Slovakia and listening to my guide, I recalled the contradictions of Bob Dylan’s song, “I pity the poor immigrant,” where he is both sympathetic to the plight of immigrants and suspicious of them.



I pity the poor immigrant
Whose strength is spent in vain
Whose heaven is like ironsides
Whose tears are like rain
Who eats but is not satisfied
Who hears but does not see
Who falls in love with wealth itself
And turns his back on me

I pity the poor immigrant
Who tramples through the mud
Who fills his mouth with laughing
And who builds his town with blood
Whose visions in the final end
Must shatter like the glass
I pity the poor immigrant

I asked my new friend how the Slovakian policy had evolved towards accepting their share of immigrant refugees from Syria and the Middle East.  Initially, as the Guardian had reported, “Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania opposed agreeing to the relocation scheme for asylum seekers in 2015, but were outvoted. Although generally opposed, Poland eventually voted with the majority.”  The European Union, responding to the complaints from Greece and Italy where many immigrants had traveled, had set a quota eventually.  The refusal of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to accept any level of the resettlement quota has led to the European Union initiating legal action against these countries.  My colleague had told me the economy was strong in Slovakia and listed the number of auto plants that were in various stages of development in the country and the concerns that Slovakia didn’t have enough labor to fill the needs there and in fact had been hiring thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians to work there.

His was a complicated answer involving bizarre politics, where the President had not been publicly defiant, but in practice had only accepted a ridiculously small number, perhaps 60, and then stopped.  My friend told this story in a complicated and convoluted way, much the same way that Americans embarrassingly describe the antics of President Trump around accepting immigrants and refugees now.  At first, he said it was not a problem, but as I pressed on, based on what I had been reading in recent years, he told more, including the political story, I just mentioned.  By the end of the conversation, he conceded that immigration was a major issue.

It is obviously a deeply one as well, and clearly racialized, unless I’m missing something “in translation.”  As he talked about what he called “white Slovakians” and the difficult integration situation in schools with the Roma population, who by default were being defined as non-white or “other,” it seemed that this was likely the same cultural and political commitment to homogeneity that was erecting barriers to Middle-Eastern, Arabic speaking immigrants, even internalized by progressives who had worked in refugee settlement and favored their admission to Slovakia.

Studies indicate that only 1% of refugees are ever able to return to their home countries, demanding less pity “for the poor immigrants” and more justice.  All of this makes Eastern Europe and its faux populism seem like the South in the 1950s, and that’s not a good thing.


The Healthcare Fixes Unfixed, Divide and Conquer on Display

Sofia    There’s no national healthcare in Bulgaria from what I learned in recent discussions, so this is a country where Americans can come to die and feel at home.  Think about that for a minute.  Living costs are relatively low.  Healthcare costs are relatively high.  Is this the world we want?  Perhaps so, because we seem headed for that situation, like it or not, ready or not.

Reading the morning papers on-line and getting past the Trump twitter tirades, the endless Russian hacking stories, and the usual grist for the mill, it was hard to miss a story in the Times that reminded us that no matter what small joy we may have harbored at the failure of the Republican Congress, the Trump project of starving the Affordable Care Act to death is making good solid progress around the land.  Worse for America, but probably great news in the West Wing of the White House is that it is yielding an even more politically beneficial result for the Trumpsters and the right wingnuts:  it’s dividing America even more.

I’ve ranted about the problems of lower waged workers suffering from the Obamacare loopholes and compromises that called them “covered” by the minimum standards of a healthcare plan if they were working for 50+ employee companies when their employers were allowed to say they were offering qualified plans with such absurd $4000 to $6000 deductibles and 9% of monthly income payments that literally NO ONE in many lower waged companies with hundreds of workers were electing coverage since it would suck up a huge portion of their checks when they were making $10 to $15 per hour.  More cynically, they were also barred because they were ostensibly covered by their employers from receiving any of the subsidies or shared cost assistance from the Obamacare marketplaces, so unless their states had expanded Medicaid, they were caught in the gap.   Nothing was sorted out in these years perhaps due to gridlock in Congress and perhaps because who really cares about low wage workers anyway?

Now in the Trump attack on the lower middle class, his starving of Affordable Care is leading, as predicted to soaring price and deductible increases on sketchy plans, almost identical to those faced by lower waged workers.  Families are seeing 50% or more increases in some states, and deductibles running up to $6000 before they are able to get benefits.  Now middle-income families are in the same boat as lower waged service workers where the cost of having insurance is creating a huge, sucking hole in their paychecks.

The shameful difference is that too many, if the Times’ report is to be believed, are not blaming Trump, the Republican Congress, gridlock, or anyone else.  They are blaming lower income families and – painful irony alert – lower waged workers.  Despite the fact that many families in both of these population segments are working their asses off at any and all jobs they can muster, this is now fueling support for even more draconian work requirements for the poor and lower income families access food stamps or even Medicaid benefits.

If that isn’t a master Machiavellian stroke approaching pure evil, what is?  Pretending Trump and his people are corrupt clowns may be satisfying to some, but as the Affordable Care fight shows, we’re in a death match now, and, friends, don’t fool yourself that we’re winning.