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.

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Syria and Summers Prove the Power of No

obama-britain-northern-ireland-g-8-summit
President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin

New Orleans  The progressive forces can suddenly count coup on the Obama Administration over two issues in the matter of recent weeks for both economic progressives and anti-war advocates.

            The irony of having a Nobel Peace Prize winning President caught in a web of his own weaving and left with only military options in Syria and virtually no support from the United Nations, the international community, the United States Congress, or his own party is nothing short of amazing in its proof of a fundamental detachment from basic governmental process.  The schoolyard axiom was always to “think before you speak,” the political rule has always been to “count your votes before you speak,” and the President seems to be leading with his mouth rather than his mind in these matters.  Now luckily for all parties, we are back in the muck and murk of diplomacy with an agreement to take control of Syria’s chemical weapon supply even as there are reports that Syrian military operatives are running around that country trying to hide them away before the turnover.  Nonetheless, even in the worst case scenario, if we are forced to act, we won’t be a pariah country this time, and we are finally giving peace a chance.

            Domestically and to our great relief, Larry Summers, the brusque and arrogant economist and former Treasury Secretary and President of Harvard, has thankfully withdrawn his name from consideration as head of the Federal Reserve Board.   This was the same guy whose fingerprints were all over the deregulation of the banks and rise of risky derivative speculation as well as the “no help, good luck” policy for homeowners facing foreclosures.   Obama was supposedly grateful to him for his help in dealing with the Great Recession, but this was more of a case of someone who was called in to fix something they had helped break, and certainly not someone you could put in charge of something as important as the money supply for our economic future.  Once again, the lack of vote counting was front and center.   In a recent piece I asked who thought Montana’s Senator Jon Testor would really sign up to vote in favor of a big bank apologist.  Sure enough he joined Democratic Senators from Ohio and Oregon and likely Massachusetts in the “no” camp on the Senate Banking Committee on Summers’ potential nomination in a huge victory for progressives.

            These victories are important reminders of the power of saying NO.   The Tea Party has been using such leverage to great effect, so it’s actually past time for progressives to stand up as well, and it’s working.

            Unfortunately, a negative tactical power doesn’t create constructive victories that might win immigration reform or better voter protection or funding for social programs, but at least maybe the President and his people will stop taking our votes for granted and start seeing what he can put on the table to persuade us to stand with him in the future.           

 

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