Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ted Talk: Louie Schwartzberg: Nature. Beauty. Gratitude

This is stunning.  Watch it before you start your morning and, I promise you, your day will be very different.

Voting Rights for Foreigners in France

It appears that French citizens are in favor of allowing foreigners to vote.  The French media are reporting that a new poll shows a firm majority of French citizens are in favor of extending the suffrage.  From L'Express:
Une nette majorité de français (61%) est favorable au vote des étrangers aux élections locales. Et cette acceptation vaut pour toutes les catégories de la population, même si les jeunes y sont plus ouverts que les personnes agées. En effet, cette adhésion est majoritaire dans la quasi totalité des catégories de population. L'adhésion passe ainsi de 75% auprès des 25-34 ans à 51% auprès des seniors et de 72% auprès des cadres à 60% auprès des ouvriers.
A clear majority of French (61%) is favorable to allowing foreigners to vote in local elections.  And this approval goes for all segments of the population, though the young are more open to it than seniors.  In fact this approval has a majority in nearly all segments of the population:  75% for those aged 25-34 years and 51% for seniors, 72% of managers and 60% of workers.
That certainly put a spring in my step.  That is very generous gesture and shows that the French population does not agree with the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who referred to it as "hazardous."  One
has to wonder if he will soften his stance as a result of this new information coming from the electorate.

And he has support with some parties and citizens clearly opposed like the Front National (61% against). See this rather snappy website Touche pas a mon vote to read more about the opposition to this measure.  This is their argument:
Être citoyen Français a une signification pleine et entière. Être citoyen Français donne le droit de vote, il en est ainsi depuis la Révolution française de 1789 . Cette proposition démagogique du Parti Socialiste est donc un mauvais coup porté à la République Française , à sa Constitution et à sa tradition. Comment imaginer que la principale différence entre un citoyen français et un étranger disparaisse ?
To be a French citizen has a full and important meaning. To be a citizen gives the right to vote and this has been true since the 1789 French Revolution.  This  demagogic proposition coming from the Socialist Party is therefore a blow against the French Republic, her Constitution and her traditions.  How can we envision erasing this important difference between a citizen and a foreigner?
As someone who tends to vote conservative in her home country, I do see their point.  It is an important difference between foreigners and citizens.  Will this, for example, reduce naturalizations of long-term foreign residents who, I argue, France has every interest in encouraging to become full members of  the nation.  Foreign residents, no matter how long they have lived in France or any other country, not only do not have the same rights as citizens, they also do not have the same obligations. For example, as a foreign resident I have no obligation to defend the nation and my duties and responsibilities are limited to obeying the laws and paying taxes.  By doing these things (which are basic to all residents, citizens and foreigners alike) am I entitled to be allowed to vote in local elections?  I don't think so.

But this a democracy and if the French people are gracious enough to allow people like me limited suffrage, I am certainly not going to argue with them.  I will even go so far as to say that I'm rather touched by the gesture.  But I will feel much better about exercising one of the most important rights and duties of a citizen when (and if)  I actually become one.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Walking in the Light

This morning I am turning the blog over to the younger Frenchling.  She started writing short stories a few years ago and has just finished writing her first fantasy novel.  At this time she is writing in English which certainly warms my heart but I presume she could do as well in French (or perhaps better since French is her first language).  This is something she wrote a few days ago and I liked it so much I asked for her permission to publish it. 

Walking in the Light

In a bright, endlessly clear world, a small child wearing a white dress and her black hair in pigtails looked up at the blue sky. Stretching to the horizon, it seemed distant, yet close enough to touch, if only one would dare reach up and sink their hand into the blank blue canvas and grasp the wonders beyond. Boundless, endless, a time without end.

The child walked, her small feet making ripples on the clear ground. On the other side of it, she could see the Earth, very far away, the ground, the trees, the cities, the fields, the limitless seas. Separated by an invisible barrier on which she walked, the impact of her steps making infinitely small waves, as if she was stepping on a very thin layer of pure water. Looking alternatively at the endless sky above and the active world below, part of both and part of neither, she walked.

The landscape underneath changed, little by little, becoming obscured by clouds every once in a while. This made her slightly sad. She liked looking at the world. She didn’t know if there were people in it, since she was too far away to see, but she liked it nonetheless. It was infinite, like the sky, but in a different way. It always changed, never repeated itself, capturing her attention, while the sky was always the same. Always different, always the same. Consistency. Just not the same kind.

She walked on.

There was no wind; no breath of air stirred the world. Empty, silent, peaceful, lonely, small feet making ripples in thin air, pigtails swaying to the rhythm of an endless walk, the sky gradually growing darker as time turned, undaunted by the timelessness of the empty world. Time has no regard for those who choose to ignore it. She did so. To her, there was only the walk and the endless change of the captivating world below her feet.

She walked on.

The world below gradually lighted up with a million tiny lights, like beacons for a lost soul roaming the heavens. Come here, they seemed to say, here, we are here. Home, perhaps? Not quite.

She stopped walking, the last ripples spreading out and fading into infinity transfixed by the mysterious lights as her world was plunged in darkness, the sky turning an inky color, like soft velvet spread above her, stretching to the limitless horizon. The lights shone warmly, invitingly, beaconing to her. But she couldn’t respond, couldn’t reach them. She walked on rippling, unbreakable air.

She glanced up. The stars shone coldly like a million diamonds swimming in a sea of darkness, like a twisted mirror reflecting the opposite of the world below. Could she reach it? If she stretched out her hand, would she be able to reach the stars? By looking down to an unattainable, forever transient world, what could she attain, I wonder? Reaching down was impossible. Should she reach up, give up the warm lights in favor of the cold stars?

Slowly, hesitantly, she raised her hand. As if walking on an invisible staircase, she walked up, hand outstretched, feet making ripples, higher and higher, up and up, for a very long time, till she was so close it seemed as if she would be swallowed by the stars.

Just one more step.

She took it. In a burst of light and not a sound everything turned white and disappeared into nothingness.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Identity and the Politics of Diversity

This gem was posted on the Linkedin group, Gestion des Risques Interculturels (a forum I highly recommend to you). In this video the discussion about identity is led by Nadège Ragaru of CNRS and her two guests are Dominique Schnapper and Denis Lacorne. Brilliant exchange among the three of them and some excellent comparisons between identity politics in France and in the U.S. It is in French and I wish very much that I could translate it for all the non-Francophones since it really merits the effort. Alas, I am not equipped to do so here in my Versailles apartment. It is also rather long but I encourage you to watch it in its entirety - a subject as important as this one cannot and should not be reduced to sound-bites. I will give you the quotation (with my translation) from Amin Maalouf's Les Identités meurtrières that Nadège Ragaru uses in her introduction.

Depuis que j'ai quitté le Liban en 1976 pour m'installer en France, que de fois m'a-t'on demandé, avec les meilleures intentions du monde, si je me sentais "plutôt francais" ou "plutôt libanais". Je reponds invariablement: "L'un et l'autre!"
Ever since I left Lebanon to come to France in 1976, how many times have I been asked, with the best intentions in the world, if I feel "more French" or "more Lebanese." I invariably answer, "Both!"

Ce que fait que je suis moi-meme et pas un autre, ce que je suis ainsi à la lisière de deux pays, de deux ou trois langues, de plusieurs traditions culturelles...
This means that I am myself and not someone else, and what I am places me at the frontier of two countries, two or three languages, and several cultural traditions...

L'identité ne se compartimente pas....
Identity cannot be partitionned.


Identités et politiques de la diversité from CERI on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dual Citizenship: Germany and Japan

In conclusion, a comparison of countries with very different geographical and historical situations demonstrates the weight of legal tradition in the establishment of rules for citizenship.  Substantive convergence takes place within preexisting legal frames and occurs only when states are subjected to important contradictions,  Historical traditions in the matter of citizenship were in fact modified when disjunctures appeared between the consequences of traditional law and either the interest of the state itself or that of individuals who could legitimately claim a right to become citizens.  Despite much academic writing to the contrary, there is no causal link between national identity and nationality laws.
Patrick Weil
Citizenship Today:  a Global Perspective
Despite traditional aversion to the idea of dual (or plural) nationality, it has become more and more common. No state seems to like the idea very much but most have come to some accommodation with it. There are many good reasons for this:  the desire to maintain some hold over one's diaspora, the hope that some will eventually return, the possibility of losing citizens permanently to another nation, the wish to bind immigrants and their children tightly to the state in which they reside, and the sheer impossibility of controlling the creation and application of other state's citizenship laws.

And, of course, things change: a country of emigration becomes a country of immigration or vice versa, borders settle or are reset, other institutions arise (like the EU) and must be accounted for,  and, let's face reality, people today are on the move more than ever.  I think Patrick Weil is right, national identity may be one of the least important factors when it comes to making citizenship law.

However, a few countries have had the reputation of being rather stubborn about dual nationality. Germany and Japan are known to be rather hostile to the idea and what I had seen up to now seemed to confirm that.   Then I realized that much of what I have read about German and Japanese citizenship law is fairly dated and so I thought it would be interesting to have a look at what these countries are saying today on the subject.  And what I came up with, using information from the their foreign consulate websites, showed a far more nuanced position.....

Germany:   Germany has a reputation for very strict application of jus sanguinis citizenship laws and some of the more scathing attacks on plural nationality that I have come across in my reading came from German courts.  However, a look at the Canadian German Consulate General website's page on dual nationality reveals something quite different:
While the German rules on citizenship are based on the principle of avoiding dual citizenship,this principle does not apply to children who receive dual citizenship through descent from their parents (e.g. a German mother and a Canadian father). Also, children born in Canada to one or more parent(s) who hold the German citizenship at the time of the birth of the child may be dual citizens by law. From a German legal perspective, children who have held two (or sometimes more) citizenships from the time of their birth for the above described reasons will not have to decide for either of the citizenships when they turn 18.  
Another German Consulate website (U.S.) confirms this.  In addition it appears that any German wishing to acquire another nationality through naturalization can also ask to retain German citizenship.  The request is called "Beibehaltungsgenehmigung" and is granted (or not) on an individual basis.

So Germany does allow for dual citizenship under certain circumstances. This has not always been the case and so one has to wonder why it was changed.  Patrick Weil's take on it was that German citizenship law was for many years influenced by its unstable borders (the division of Germany), the large German diaspora abroad and the presence of large numbers of immigrants on her soil.    So one could argue that unification meant that laws could be reviewed and modified within the context of jus sanguinis tradition to reflect new realities.

Japan:  The Japanese Ministry of Justice webpage, The Choice of Nationality, seems to be very clear on the subject:
A Japanese national having a foreign nationality (a person of dual nationality) shall choose either of the nationalities before he or she reaches twenty two years of age (or within two years after the day when he or she acquired the second nationality if he or she acquired such nationality after the day when he or she reached twenty years of age). If he or she fails to choose either of the nationalities, he or she may lose Japanese nationality. So, please don't forget the choice of nationality. 
Are there exceptions to this? Yes, it appears for example, that a Japanese national who is granted citizenship in another state for extraordinary service to that state (which many states do - including Japan) may keep it since he/she did not actually request it.

Also a quick pass through some of the message boards on the Net on this subject shows that at least some Japanese nationals simply fail to report the acquisition of another nationality to the Japanese government and continue to renew their Japanese passports.  And this reveals an important weakness in all laws limiting plural nationality by a state - just how is that state going to enforce such laws beyond its borders since, to my knowledge, there is no such thing as a worldwide citizenship database, in which all countries declare its citizens to other states.

A Japanese citizen abroad probably would have to do something very public in the host country for the Japanese to be aware that its citizen has naturalized in another state.  Something like election to public office or winning the Nobel Prize for Physics, for example.  The latter did in fact occur in 2008 when Yoichiro Nambu won and it was initially reported in the Japanese press that a Japanese had won the prize and then the unsettling news came in:  Nambu was born Japanese but at the time he won the Nobel he was a naturalized citizen of the United States.  This meant that, under Japanese nationality law, he was not a Japanese citizen, and so Japan was deprived of any claim to having a Nobel Prize winner that year.  

In response to this a committee was set up by the Liberal Democratic Party to review the nationality act with the idea of examining the possibility of allowing dual citizenship under some circumstances.  I was unable to find more information about the results of their deliberations.  If anyone has more information, please feel free to leave a comment and links.

As much as states would like to eliminate plural nationality, they face enormous obstacles in making this a reality.  Enforcement is simply impractical in many cases and may even be against national interests.  Over the years there has been a convergence toward tolerating plural nationality and, for all the rhetoric that comes out during election cycles, it seems highly unlikely that this trend will be reversed.  It is simply not in anyone's interest to do so.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Denmark: The Green Card and Other Highly-Qualified Migrant Programs

With implementation of the European Blue Card moving at a snail's pace, I thought it would be interesting to look more closely at some other programs around the world  and see what they have to offer.  We've already talked about New Zealand and its Silver Fern program so I thought I'd look a little closer to (my) home.  Here's what I found out about a country I've never visited in all my time in Europe, Denmark.

Denmark is part of the EU but is not participating in the European Blue Card program.  They were also not a part of the original decision to create the European Migration Network but they are represented in it.  Their NCP (National Contact Point) is their Ministry of Refugees, Immigration and Integration Affairs.

Denmark is a constitutional monarchy and the Kingdom of Denmark not only includes Denmark proper but also Greenland and the Faroe Islands.  Economy Watch has this to say about their national economy:
Denmark's modern open market economy features high-tech agriculture, fisheries and farming, up-to-date small-scale and corporate industry, extensive government welfare measures, comfortable living standards, a stable currency, and high dependence on foreign trade. Denmark is a net exporting country of food stuffs and energy and enjoys a comfortable balance of payments surplus. The government has been successful in meeting the economic convergence criteria for participating in the third phase (a common European Currency) of the European Economic and Monetary union (EMU), but so far Denmark has decided not to join 15 other European Union (EU) members in the euro. Nonetheless, the Danish krone remains pegged to the euro.
Just because they decided against implementing the EU Blue Card does not mean that they are not interested in attracting skilled people.  Their Work in Denmark site is clearly oriented to convincing people that Denmark is great place to come live and work and cites the following as her advantages:

  • A welfare society with a strong economic growth combined with a high standard of living
  • Multi-lingual:  "Danes typically speak many different foreign languages and welcome the opportunity to put these skills to use. Nearly all Danes speak English, many speak German, and one out of ten Danes speaks French."
  • A world-class business community
  • A land of opportunity for investment and development including continuing education for employees
  • Safety and security:  "Foreign nationals who come to Denmark often cite safety and security as the country's most important characteristics. Children walk to school alone and even well-known leaders in the business community do not have to surround themselves with bodyguards."

They have a number of interesting migrant programs.  They have a Green Card scheme that grants residency while the migrant is looking for work so one does not necessarily have to have a job before entering the country. This is a points system and migrants must have 100 points to qualify.  Points are given for academic degrees, professional experience, adaptability and proficiency in one of the following languages:  Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, English or German.  The FAQ for the Green Card can be found here.

For highly-skilled professionals this site aims to put Danish companies and highly-skilled migrants together.  You can upload your CV and search their job bank.  There is also a list, called the Positive List, that shows those sectors experiencing labor shortages.  All the residency and work permit programs for highly-skilled professionals are listed here.

I spent some time on their site and was quite impressed.  It is not particularly flashy but it is clear, well-organized, easy to understand and gives the impression that the Danes have the situation well in hand. There was even a note on one page that explained that, due to the volume of requests, their usual 30 day response time was not being respected at this time.  That is very good service indeed.  

Hope you find this helpful and I wish you all a very good weekend.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Narcissism of Difference

It is clearly not easy for man to give up the satisfaction of this inclination to aggression.  They do not feel comfortable without it.  The advantage which a comparatively small cultural group offers of allowing this instinct an outlet in the form of hostility against intruders is not to be despised. 
Sigmund Freud. Civilization and Its Discontents
I first came to France to live in 1989 after I had completed my studies at university.  Like many other migrants I was not sure I would stay but it seemed a fine adventure and I was young and in love, the family was more than welcoming and I thought the country was beautiful.  The differences between my vision of France and the reality became apparent quite quickly and the awareness of just how hard it was going to be to make a life here was almost overwhelming.  Finding a job was difficult since my French was poor and my credentials frequently misinterpreted.  Obtaining my residency card meant going to a clinic that resembled a factory processing cattle for a medical exam - the sheer humiliation of being part of a human assembly line waiting to be x-rayed and being asked very personal questions by the immigration officials.  And then there was the sense that my entire world had turned upside down and I could no longer do anything right. Life seemed to be an endless series of encounters where I was 
corrected or admonished for using the wrong words, not doing the proper thing or simply not understanding fast enough for the people around me. In this sea of uncertainty I clung to what I was, an American, with all the desperation of the survivor of a shipwreck clinging to a lifeboat.

Over the years, I did integrate. My French improved. I learned what to do and what not to do to such an extent that it became natural. I learned firsthand the power of culture to mold and shape us - even the way I thought changed and I reveled in the ability to switch from one language to another, from one set of cultural practices to another, with relative ease.  And that was when my motives for proclaiming my American identity changed.  It became less a lifeboat and more a statement of independence and an expression of difference:  a way of remaining a "neutral observer," someone in this society and culture but not of it.  I have genuinely enjoyed my status as "Exotic Beast" for many years.  Americans are a very small minority here in France and we enjoy a relatively high status.  It was a very comfortable place to be as it allowed me to proclaim love and admiration for this country while retaining the right to 
criticize it and comment on it as an outsider, a position which essentially absolved me from any responsibility for changing it or caring for it too deeply.

Re-reading Freud's words today I can re-interpret my actions as a kind of aggression against the world in which I live. And I had to ask myself, is this really what I want? To be be forever separate and turn that one part of my identity against a people who have educated my children, cared for me when I was ill, taught me their language, and given me opportunities to live and prosper and raise my children?

Amin Maalouf says that everyone from time to time should perform an "examen d'identité" (an examination of identity) similar to an examination of conscience. This exercise is useful, he believes, not in order to find the one true identity that defines us but with an entirely different objective:

Je fouille ma mémoire pour débusquer le plus grand nombre d'éléments de mon identité, je les rassemble, je les aligne, je n'en renie aucun.
I search my memory to flush out the maximum number of elements of my identity, I put them together, I align them, and I deny none of them.
Chacune de mes appartenances me relie à un grand nombre de personnes; cependant, plus les appartenances que je prends en compte sont nombreuses, plus mon identité s'avère spécifique.
Each one of my adherences connects me to a large number of people;  however, the more groups I belong to, the more my identity proves to be specific.
Grâce a chacune de mes appartenances, prise séparément, j'ai une certaine parenté avec un grand nombre de mes semblables;  grâce aux memes critères, pris tous ensemble, j'ai mon identité propre, qui ne se confond avec aucune autre.
Thanks to all my adherences, taken separately, I have a certain relationship with a large number of people like me;  thanks to the same elements, taken all together, I have my own identity, which can never be confused with any other.
Ainsi, en considérant séparément ces deux éléments de mon identité, je me sens proche, soit par la langue soit par la réligion, d'une bonne moitié de l'humanité.
And so, when I consider separately these two elements of my identity, I feel close to, either by language or religion, to nearly half of humanity.
When I performed this exercise and I added together all the identities that make me what I am right here and now (American, Roman Catholic, French resident, Francophone, Anglophone, mother, aunt, sister, child, cousin, friend, writer, musician) I realized that not one ever takes precedence over any other. None are, shall we say, "predatory" in the sense that they require the extinction of others to live in me.  I am all those things and all these things can co-exist serenely in the same body and mind.  And, thanks to them, I can parse all these identities at any given moment to find a common link with the people I meet, the people I live with and the people I love. 

Becoming French would change absolutely nothing in terms of my material well-being.  As a legal resident I already have access to healthcare, to a French pension, to fulfilling work.  My children are already French so that decision is a fait accompli.  The only things I cannot do here as a resident are vote and work in the public service sector.   I have read Patrick Weil's work carefully and I understand and support the fundamental principles of the French Republic which he writes about so eloquently.  I have read the Charte that I will be asked to sign if my request is received favorably and there is nothing in it I do not adhere to.  This is not a hasty decision - on the contrary, it has taken me nearly 20 years of reflection to arrive here.  And, finally, the French nation is not asking me to renounce or deny any other part of my identity. French citizenship is not at all "predatory" and does not require that I erase my other identities, be they religious, linguistic or family, in order to hold exclusive allegiance in my person.  All I am being asked to do is open my heart and mind and make an equal space for a French one.

It is in that spirit that I am making my request for citizenship.   I want to confirm publicly what I feel in common with 65 million other French people in the world and not spend the rest of my life as a narcissist of difference, proclaiming one part of my identity, when what I really want is to express my gratitude and my profound attachment to this country.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Path to French Citizenship - Papers, Papers, Papers

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I had gone to my local prefecture and asked for information about how to become a French citizen.  I have the paper upstairs in my office and I am now in the process of trying to gather all the necessary documents.

This is a huge step for me.  I have lived in France for many years enjoying almost all the rights of a citizen without really ever seriously considering exchanging my residency card for a passport.  My thinking has changed and while I will save a discussions of my motivations and wishes for a longer post, I will say that three people were instrumental in changing my feelings about my relationship with my host country:  Patrick Weil, Amin Maalouf, and the gentleman who stole my recently renewed 10-year residency permit one day last summer somewhere between the Versailles Chantiers and La Defense train stations.

When I asked the lovely woman at the desk at the prefecture for information about spousal naturalization, she asked me how long I had been married to a French citizen.  When I replied, "23 years," she was momentarily shocked and then she smiled (a huge grin) as she handed me the list of papers I need to open my "dossier."

As for me, I was not smiling after I read it.  Even the title of this document is a bit daunting: 

NOMENCLATURE DES PIECES A PRODUIRE POUR OBTENIR LE RECIPISSE D'UNE DECLARATION SOUSCRITE AU TITRE DE L'ARTICLE 21-2 DU CODE CIVIL - MARIAGE AVEC UN FRANCAIS

The list is divided up into four parts:  Etat civil (my civil state), Documents de communauté de vie (proof of marriage and our life together), Casier judiciaire (police report) and a Certificat de nationalité française du conjoint (proof that my spouse is French).  I must produce the originals (or certified copies) of all these document and copies of the copies.  In addition everything that is in a foreign language must be translated by a certified translator and I must give them 3 recent photographs, 2 self-addressed, stamped enveloppes and a 55 Euro tax stamp.

Here are the documents I need:

Titre de séjour et passeport:   copy of my residency permit and my U.S. passport
Carte nationale d'identité du conjoint:  My spouse's French identity card or passport
La copie intégrale de votre acte de naissance délivré par l'officier d'état-civil du lieu de naissance: A certified copy of my birth certificate delivered by an official in my home country/county in the U.S. They will not accept documents from the consulate.  This was easy to get (I ordered a copy on-line) but now I have to find a certified translator.
Un maximum de documents attestant votre communauté de vie:  Tax statements, our lease and bank statements.  All things that after 23 years together we do have in our files.
Tout document justifiant d'une résidence régulière et ininterrompue en France d'au moins trois ans:  Again this is easy since I have years worth of pay stubs from various employers.
Un extrait de casier judiciaire:  I need the police reports from all the countries I've lived in in the last 10 years and this one is a bit troublesome.  The one for France was easy and I have a copy in my possession.  However, we did live in Japan for awhile and I had no idea how to approach the Japanese authorities for this.  Luckily, the Japanese consulate in Paris does give instructions on their website for how to go about it.  I must get an appointment, go there in person, justify my request and if they accept, they will start the process which takes about two months.  Then I imagine that I will have to find another certified translator to get the document translated into French.
Un certificat de nationalité française:  This is proof that my husband was French when we got married and that he has not renounced since.  My husband was actually born in Algeria when his father was serving in the military there so I think we have to go through a special service in Nantes to get these documents.

Once I have all of the above, I will be able to go down to the prefecture, present my pile of documents, and start the process. 

And then the real fun begins.  Apparently there are interviews and tests I will have to pass:  written and spoken French (I must demonstrate that I have at least the level of a junior high school student) and a history test.  For the spoken French I am not too worried, for the written, well, let's just say that I'm comfortable writing letters and emails but I sure hope they don't ask me to write a long essay on nihilism without a dictionary at my side.  I'm also going to have to study a bit for the history test - if anyone has any books to propose that might help, I would be most grateful for your recommendations.

This will be quite an adventure and it looks like it will take awhile.   I'll let you know how it goes. 

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More Unintended Consequences of U.S. Immigration Law

About three days ago this story hit the news and is rapidly going international.

A visiting German executive from Mercedes-Benz was stopped by the police in Alabama and, as a result of the new immigration laws, was arrested when he failed to produce the correct documentation.  It appears that the governor of the state was informed, the executive's colleagues brought his papers to the police station, and he was promptly released.

To opponents of the law this is a reason to gloat but I personally think that such a reaction is a bit uncharitable.  I sincerely doubt that anyone in Alabama intended for the law to be used to harass executives of a major international employer of people in that state.  To the credit of the police department they did apply the law without regard to race or position. He was, as they say here in France, caught in a "situation irrégulière" - something that could get someone like me arrested if I were caught strolling about as a foreigner without identification in my host country. (For the record this has never happened to me but it is possible.)

Still, it is very embarrassing for the state of Alabama.  Mercedes-Benz is definitely one of those "job creators" that politicians are counting on to improve the economic climate and lower unemployment. I doubt that the gentleman from Germany is going to go home to corporate with happy pleasant stories to tell about his encounter with southern hospitality.  And that is a shame.

Supporters of the new rules have this mantra, "It's the law" which reveals something very fundamental about the American psyche.  Americans believe in law and the rule of flaw and by extension this faith contradicts their words about the efficiency and effectiveness of government.  They may claim that  they don't trust government but their actions and deeply held beliefs say something entirely different.

Ted Talk: Phil Plait Talks about Asteroids

This is so good I just had to post it.  Phil Plait gives a very engaging and sometimes quite funny talk about asteroids.  Some interesting (and apparently plausible) methods for defending the Earth from the Big Rocks.  Ion drives?  Wow.....



Monday, November 21, 2011

European Blue Card - Update November 2011

Time for another update on Blue Card implementation in the EU.  I strongly advise everyone to double-check all the information here and on other sites.  Your best bet is always to check official government sites and/or the local consulates for these countries to be sure that you have the most up-to-date and correct information.

A reminder - three countries are not participating:  UK, Denmark and Ireland.

Also there are six countries that ostensibly are participating in the Blue Card program (they did sign up for it) but are now trouble with the EU for not complying.  These countries are:  Germany, Italy, Malta, Poland, Portugal and Sweden

That said, here is what I was able to find out about implementation in the rest of Europe.

The Netherlands:  This site has some great information about the procedure.  You can also find contact information for the relevant government agency,  the Office for Labour and Highly Skilled Migrants, here. They list an address, phone numbers, e-mail and even a hot-line number if you have questions.  It also appears that you can download the forms on-line.

Austria:  Here is the procedure for applying in Austria.  Looks pretty straightforward.

Hungary:  Some information here and here about the Hungarian implementation.

Slovakia:  This site is reporting that the law has been on the books since the end of July but implementation is delayed because they are updating the list of positions for which non-EU foreigners can apply.  If anyone has better information, please leave a link in the comments section.

Belgium:  This site has the procedure for applying in Belgium.  This Belgian government site has more information (papers required and so on).

Spain:  Here is the official government site for the Ministry of Labour and Immigration and here is a link to their fact sheets on procedures and requirements for entry.

Hope this helps.  Good luck, everyone, and I'll post a separate update on France as soon as I have more news.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Le Francais est Ma Langue Paternelle

A spontaneous trip into a Parisian bookstore last week yielded something marvelous - a small book filled with everything I ever wanted to say about learning and learning to love a second language but never had the courage or the skill to express.

The book is called Une Langue Venue d'Ailleurs and it evoked the same emotions in me as Eva Hoffman's biography, Lost in Translation.  At last, two people who can capture all the love and sacrifice that is the lot of people who seek out other places, peoples and languages.  But while Hoffman tells a tale of loss and exile where culture and language are intertwined, Akira Mizubayashi mostly confines himself to language and his purely voluntary, almost existential, escape into the world of the language of Molière.

The journey began in the 1970's when Mizubayashi, a young Japanese student, came to the conclusion that his own language was not enough and as long as he stayed within his own mother-tongue he was a hostage to it.  After stumbling upon the work of a compatriot, Arimasa Mori, and reading what he had to say about the nature of profound and authentic experience, Mizubayashi decided:
Le texte de Mori me demandait, depuis la hauteur incoupçonnée d'un discours philosophique et sur un ton austère défiant toute attitude velléitaire, si j'étais prêt à me lancer dans une telle aventure, à m'imposer une discipline de fer, à me livrer à un terrible exercise d'endurance, à m'offrir le luxe ou le risque d'une deuxième naissance, d'une seconde vie impure, hybride, sans doute plus longue, plus aléatoire, plus exposée à des ébranlements imprévisibles, plus obstinément questionneuse que la première, suffisante, autoréférentielle, peuplée de certitudes, tendanciellement repliée sur elle-même. Ma réponse fut, sans une seconde d'hésitation, oui.

Mori's text was asking me, from the unexpected height of a philosophical discourse and with a austere tone defying all indecisive attitudes, if I was ready to launch myself into such an adventure, to impose upon myself an iron discipline, to deliver myself to a terrible exercise of endurance, to offer myself the luxury or the risk of a second birth, a hybrid and impure second life, no doubt longer, more exposed to unforeseen weaknesses, more stubborningly questioning than the first, self-referencing, filled with certainties, always folding back into itself. My reply was, without a moment's hesitation, yes. 
So much in this book to savor and think about:  his father's support in his endeavor, his trepidation and excitement on coming to France for the first time, and even his mistakes.  In particular, the ones he makes when he moves from academia into the streets of Montpelier and discovers that it is not exactly the same language that he learned in school but it is no less beautiful just because it is the language of everyday life.  I could quote endlessly from this book but then I would deprive you of the pleasure of discovering it for yourself.  Just one more:
Oui le français est un instrument de musique pour moi.  C'est le sentiment que j'ai depuis longtemps, depuis, tout compte fait, le début de min apprentissage.  Pour devenir un bon instrumentaliste, il faut de la discipline, je dirais même le sens de l'ascèse.  Et ce que je dis à mes étudiants aujourd'hui:  maîtriser le français, c'est en jouer comme jouer du violon ou du piano.  Chez un bon musicien, l'instrument fait partie de son corps.  Eh bien, le français doit faire partie de son corps chez un locuteur qui choisit de s'exprimer en français.
Yes French is a musical instrument for me.  I've had this feeling for a long time, ever since, when all is said and done, the beginning of my apprenticeship.  To become a good instrumentalist, discipline is required and even, I would say, a sense of asceticism. I tell my students even today:  mastering French means playing it like a violin or a piano.  A good musician is one where the instrument becomes a part of his body.  And so French must become a part of the body of a speaker who chooses to express himself in French.
As a French speaker and amateur violinist I can certainly concur wholeheartedly.  Something about learning both has always felt a bit masochistic whether it is my lips that ache or my stiff and sore fingers that are concerned that day.  But there comes a moment when the physical, the mental and the soul come together and what comes off the strings or the tongue is pure magic.

 This is a beautiful book.  The French is exquisite but it's really the experiences that moved me.   It's much more than an autobiography. It is definitely not a "how to" manual for second-language acquisition. Let' s just call it a love song and leave it at that.


For anyone who might be interested an interview with the author here:



Akira Mizubayashi - Une langue venue d'ailleurs par Librairie_Mollat
.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Diasporas and Entrepreneurship

There is a very fine feature article up the Migration Policy Institute's website called Mobilizing Diaspora Entrepreneurship for Development.

Most debates about immigration focus on what migrants cost their host countries in social services and social coherence.  The valid but relatively weak counter-argument to this to point out the riches immigrants bring in terms of customs and languages and overall diversity.   But what if we added another element to this and started talking about immigrants and their descendants as job creators.  You know, the darlings of American politicians who must be coddled and their taxes lowered lest they flee and leave the United States in a state of perpetual high unemployment?  Somehow they don't seem to include immigrants in their definition of job creator (there is certainly very little coddling going on right now in the U.S. or France when it comes to migrants) but, as the MPI article clearly shows,  they should.

If you are going to play seriously in the global economy, the diasporans on your soil are one of your best assets.  As MPI says, "emigrants and their descendents are, in fact, uniquely positioned to recognize investment opportunities in their countries of origin and to exploit such opportunities by taking advantage of their ties in two worlds."  The diasporans know the language, have the contacts, and can smooth the way for their host countries to do business in the homelands by creating companies or helping host country businesses start ventures abroad. There are certainly a number of variables that have to be taken into account:  business and legal environment in both countries, infrastructure, availability of capital  and other factors like political instability or outright war, for example.  Nevertheless,  in the best of all possible worlds these transnational business ventures create jobs for everyone:  natives of both countries and migrants.

While host countries do not always see the bounty before them, the homeland countries do.  They harness the power of their diasporas by building transnational organizations that provide all manner of services to their diasporans from basic networking to mentoring, training and investment expertise.  The MPI article lists a number of these successful initiatives:  the Mexican Talent NetworkGlobalScot, the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange, IntEnt, and the Economic Initiatives and Migration Program (Programme Solidarité Eau) in France and Fundación Chile.

In adversity there is opportunity.  The migrant experience, however kind the host country may be (and they usually aren't) is one fraught with uncertainty and turmoil.  It is so hard to leave one's home for distant shores.  But in that experience migrants have and acquire more cards to play in the global economy than they know.  A modest suggestion?  Perhaps we could reframe the debate.

For example, to those who argue "English (or French or Japanese or German) Only" we can shoot back, "We will learn your language because it is to our benefit and because we want to feel at home here.  However, we will continue to speak our homeland language in our communities and in our homes and this is to your benefit because it will improve the position of this country in the global economy."

And the next time the word "immigrant' is thrown at us as an epithet, we might try gently but firmly replying:

"No, actually I'm a international job creator."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Rules for Acquiring French Citizenship

Claude Guéant is a very busy man these days.  Having made great strides toward reducing legal immigration in France, he is now turning his attention to foreigners who wish to acquire French citizenship.

Le Figaro reported yesterday that the Haut conseil à l'intégration (High Council on Integration) has presented a text to the Minister of the Interior which makes explicit French rights and customs (something I've been waiting for all my life) and adds new obligations for those who wish to become naturalized French citizens.  

This text is called la Charte des droits et des devoirs du citoyen français (the Charter of Rights and Responsibilities of a French Citizen).  I would urge all French citizens (not just those seeking citizenship) to read it carefully because this document lays down nothing less (in black and white) than what it means to be French.  At least the government's idea of what it means to be French which is well worth knowing.

As an interested party I read the document very carefully indeed since I understand that I would be asked to sign it if I seek citizenship.  It runs about 20 pages and, while I do suggest you read it in its entirety, here is a short synopsis for your edification and general knowledge:

Let's start with the opening paragraph:

Vous souhaitez devenir Français. C'est une décision importante et réfléchie. Devenir Français 
n'est pas une simple démarche administrative. Acquérir la nationalité française est une décision 
qui vous engage et, au-delà de vous, engage vos descendants.  

You wish to become French.  This an important and thoughtful decision.  Becoming French is not just a simple administrative procedure.  Acquiring French nationality is a decision that commits not only you but your descendants as well.

Indeed it does.  I like the way it makes explicit French jus sanguinis citizenship law.  If you become French, your descendants will be French as well and that is a big decision to make.  What I find interesting is what it doesn't say about those who have already acquired French citizenship through jus sanguinis - something which cannot in any way be described as a "thoughtful decision".  For these citizens the choice was already made for them by their parents which, if I take this to its logical conclusion, makes French citizens by birth a kind of hereditary aristocracy since they did nothing to merit citizenship other than being born to the right parents.  Rather odd for a Republic when you really think about it.  Moving on....

En acquérant la nationalité française, vous bénéficierez de tous les droits et serez tenu à toutes
les obligations attachées à la qualité de citoyen français à dater du jour de cette acquisition. En
devenant Français, vous ne pourrez plus vous réclamer d'une autre nationalité sur le territoire
français. 


By acquiring French nationality, you will benefit from all the rights and will be held to the obligations of French citizenship from the day you acquire it.  By becoming French you may no longer claim another nationality while on French soil.

An elegant solution to the question of dual citizenship.  This is actually not a new idea.  The principle, which other states also use, is called "dominant nationality."  Effectively this means that a French citizen with another nationality (British, Chinese, Mexican and so on) cannot run to the consulate of his other government if he has a problem with the French one.  That seems entirely fair to me but it does raise an interesting question:  what if the the individual's other government attempts to impose their obligations of citizenship on a naturalized French citizen on French soil?  Does this mean that the French will tell the other government to go to hell if it tries to tax that dual citizen or ask him to go into the army?  Is this unconditional protection for that new citizen as long as he or she is on French soil?  Something worth thinking about because that is a serious obligation assumed by the state on behalf of new citizens and everyone needs to think carefully about the international repercussions.

The next section talks in a general way about the values, principles and symbols of the French Republic.  The Rights of Man and the principles of democracy.  A Republic, deeply attached to its language, that is "indivisible, secular, democratic and social" symbolized by the flag, the national anthem, the 14th of July, Marianne and, of course,  "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity."   

The last section is a very clear statement of the rights and responsibilities of citizens with a table that refers back to their origin in the Civil Code, the French Constitution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man.  All very explicit and presented in a form that makes it easy to understand.

My overall verdict?  A fine document - really well done.  I personally would have no hesitation in signing it.  A lot of it I already knew since the larger culture here has a better job than they know in inculcating these values in me. It was a pleasure nonetheless to actually have them in a form that pulls all those disparate bits of knowledge, acquired in half a lifetime spent in this country, into one text.  

Bravo to the High Council on Integration and to Mr. Guéant.  If you continue to do things like this, sir,  I just might have to temper my rather cheeky criticism of your policies. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bringing in the Harvest: the Unintended Consequences of Immigration Policy

For an example of how poorly crafted and uncoordinated immigration policies hurt everyone, look no further than my own region of origin, Washington:  a northern state that borders the Canadian province of British Columbia.  

Washington State is best known internationally as the home of  high-tech enterprises like Microsoft, Adobe and Amazon.   To the surprise of many it is also an agricultural region and one of the main crops is apples:  Fujis, Red Delicious, Pink Ladies.  When I was a child we would go over the mountains to visit my great-grandparents and we would always pick up huge boxes of apples and peaches and other fruit for eating or canning.

This year the apple farmers are reporting a good year, a bumper crop.  Unfortunately, there has been a real struggle to find enough labor to pick the fruit from the trees and the farmers are desperately searching for solutions including, in some cases, using inmates from local prisons.

How did this happen?  Nature played a role (the harvest was late) but immigration politics and the economics of farming are even more important factors.  I could find no better example that proves the Migration Policy Institute's point that there is a disconnect between U.S. policy at the State and Federal level and the real-time labor needs of actors in the American economy.  Tougher immigration laws (sometimes enacted in one state to the detriment of others), more vigorous enforcement of the laws already on the books, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and a weak American economy next to a relatively strong Mexican economy, are radically reducing the numbers of migrants, legal and illegal.  Washington is not the only state to be suffering -   Alabama is another region where farmers are very bitter about new state immigration laws that are making it very difficult to find workers.

It is an open secret that agriculture in the U.S. relies heavily on immigrant (usually illegal) labor.  These are back-breaking jobs that require a lot of physical endurance under very poor working conditions.  And, clearly, they are not well-paid.  On the other hand, farming is not the world's most lucrative profession, especially small farms that lack the economies of scale that allow the big farms to survive in the national and global markets. In the past there was a kind of "live and let live" policy between farmers and government and between the United States and Mexico.  In a growing economy, this arrangement was beneficial to everyone.  With the souring of the U.S. economy, all this changed and the migrants began leaving.  Hundred of thousands of people fleeing California and other states for home (Mexico) where the economy is not too bad (unemployment at 5.4% in 2010) and where, more importantly, they don't have to live in fear of being harassed and deported.

Sometimes it is possible for everyone to have a good point and still have a bad outcome.  It is very easy to impute bad motives (racism, greed, lack of realism, political gain) to politicians, farmers, American labor and so on.  Oh, if it were that simple.

The farmers are right.  They need workers for jobs that are not terribly attractive.  They could pay higher wages but that would make them less competitive.  They operate in a global market and there are countries with much lower wages than the U.S.  If the labor shortage continues, small farms will be driven out of business.  Nobody wants that.

Labor is right.  It's not good for the American worker, people who have fought hard for decent wages, benefits and better working conditions, to be undercut by agricultural and service industries who hire migrants to evade labor law.  Unemployment is high in the U.S. right now and people want to work but they have every interest in refusing jobs that don't pay a living wage or without basic benefits.  Americans receive very little compared to Europeans from the government - healthcare,  for example, has traditionally been provided by employers.  Nobody wants to see American workers without access to healthcare or a living wage that allows people to feed their families.

The migrants are right.  They want to work too but they don't want to be harassed, treated like criminals, or held responsible for all the ills of America.  All these laws, the new and the old ones now being enforced, combined with harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric, create a hostile environment that repels immigrants, illegal and legal.  Who wants to put in a 10-hour shift picking apples for a low wage only to be stopped repeatedly by local law enforcement on the way home and asked to show papers?  Nobody wants people to live in fear or have the sense that they are living in an authoritarian police state.

I left the politicians and government officials for last because it's their job to look at the interests of all the actors above and the will of the people to try and find some solution that satisfies everyone.  Complicating this task is the fact that the U.S. is very much like the EU in the sense that are many different levels of government (city, country, state and Federal) and they all respond to different constituents who have interests that are not always compatible.

Otto von Bismarck once said, "Laws are like sausages, it's better not to see them being made."  U.S. immigration law and policy are an perfect example of this both in their production and implementation. Too many interests, not enough coordination and leadership, and a failure to understand the national and international context in which business and migrants try to maximize their positions, make for a really bad bratwurst.

I don't see an easy solution to any of this.  Better minds than mine have grappled with this issue to no avail.  What everyone needs to remember in this debate is that words, ideas and laws have consequences, often unintended, but very very real, and sometimes, downright destructive.

Bonus:  This video by an American comedian on the state of Alabama's new immigration laws is both funny and true.  Enjoy.


The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Alabama's Migrant Workers
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive



Monday, November 14, 2011

The Art of Not Being Governed: Roms, Travelers and Migrants

With impeccable timing the European Union finally delivered its verdict on last year's expulsion of the Roms from France by the French government.  It was a disquieting event that I watched with  a great deal of interest since the people who were ejected are, to my knowledge, European citizens.  When a state decides to deport people who ostensibly have rights under the law, then measures against other migrants who have even fewer rights may be just around the corner.

It all started with this now infamous "circulaire" released on August 5, 2010 concerning an "'evacuation des campements illicites."  These illegal camps have irritated the authorities and French citizens for some time now.  Filled with camping cars and small children running about everywhere, everyone seemed to assume that these people were up to no good.  As J.C. Scott would say, these people were not "legible."

What was particularly shocking about this "circulaire' was that the French government openly stated that the Roms (gypsies) were to be a priority target in this grand endeavour.  It was later "corrected" (ah the flexibility of bureaucratic language) but the damage was done.  France proceeded anyway but under a cloud of suspicion and protest not only from human rights advocates but also from fellow member-states like Romania and Bulgaria.  And now Europe has spoken and condemned the actions of the French government calling them, "une violation aggravée des droits de l'homme" (a flagrant violation of the rights of man) and "discriminatoires" (discriminatory) et "contraires à la dignité humaine" (contrary to human dignity).  Strong language and surely there are penalties to fit the crime?  Not so fast.  All France is being asked to do is to show the EU how she will remediate the situation which is the equivalent of slapping her wrist and saying, "Please, mend your ways?" Mildly embarrassing for the government but hardly something that they need to take too seriously.

In all the years I've been in Europe I have never heard anyone say anything nice about these people. I have the impression that if they disappeared tomorrow, hardly anyone would cry for them or ask too many questions.  They are mysterious and illegible, they move around, and they stubbornly cling to their ways in spite of efforts to help them.  Acts for and against them seem to fall pretty consistently into these camps:  one that assumes that they are evil undesirables and the other which pities them and seeks to bring them into society.

 If you are interested in a slightly different take on all this, James C. Scott has two books out that are worth reading.  The first is Seeing Like a State (1998) and the second is The Art of Not Being Governed (2009).

In the first Scott gives the perspective of the state to show why the state has always been the enemy of the 'people who move around'.  Quite simply migrants and other mobile populations act in ways contrary to the classic project of "sedenterization" and rationalization which is the objective of all states.

It is very hard to tax and provide social services for people who don't stay in one place.  With the aim of making populations "legible" a state has a toolkit of methods:  inheritance laws, cadastral maps, written language, standardization of weights and measure, even the imposition of last names, which have been used to great effect all over the world.   We have only to look around us at all the state-imposed activities that we all meekly submit to and take for granted, to see how successful this has been. In exchange, of course, we get nice things like schools and roads and protection.  Scott is not arguing that this is necessarily a bad arrangement.  It becomes problematic when the state channels its power and knowledge into large-scale social engineering projects inimical to human freedom.  Destroying societies in the name of questionable "progress."

His second book, The Art of Not Being Governed, follows from the first but takes the perspective of the  "people who move around."  Or more precisely, the people who flee the state for any number of reasons:  taxes, war, conscription, discrimination or simply a refusal to be absorbed as a minority in a majority culture.  He contends that the "civilizational discourse" that presumes that people rarely choose to be barbarians, and that absorption into a state is the norm, is fundamentally incorrect.  More people flee than any civilization or state would care to admit.  In the past it was much easier to "vote with one's feet" since there were real geographically separate places beyond state control:  an area called "Zomia," for example in Asia that has historically been a free zone for people running away from the Chinese, Burmese or Vietnamese states.  Today "distance demolishing technologies" make this a bit harder though not entirely impossible.

What Scott is trying to show here is agency.  He contends that these people are conscious rational actors who understand quite well what they are giving up (literacy, protection, status, public goods) in order to pursue their own ends.  They have strategies that have proven fruitful in the past and appear to work even in modern times.

Using elements of his argument, it is worth taking a moment and trying to see the world of the "sedentary," from the perspective of a fugitive from state control.  Is there not something slightly horrifying about a settled population's submission to authority, their meek acceptance of state activities designed to control and rationalize them?  Are they not pigeons waiting to be plucked?

Perhaps dislike for the "people who move around" is more rooted in envy and grudging admiration than most would care to admit.  If they were completely honest they might acknowledge how the very existence of Roms, travelers and migrants is an important check on the state.  In small numbers these people offer a temptation - an alternative way of life that is the frontier brought forward.  In large numbers they provoke a reaction by the state since the state must take notice and action to respond to the situation (allow its own citizens more freedom, for example), or find itself fighting desperately to keep  its own people from imitating them or leaving.

Within the framework of Scott's argument it is possible to see a relationship between settled Europeans and the Roms that is symbiotic.  In modern Europe the Roms and their like have few places to flee utterly and irrevocably and so they live within the borders of established states, unloved and subject to actions like the 2010 expulsions.  But it is unlikely that they could survive outside of the European societies in which they live, and so they stay, a permanent fixture in European societies.  My argument is simply this:  their fellow citizens of Europe may have a vital interest in letting them be and negotiating terms of co-existence as one method among others to curb the power of the state.  They are less a danger to public safety and more a living breathing symbol of human freedom in a world where surveillance, rationalization and control are becoming the norm.  For all those reasons try to think of them more as guardians of liberty.  They are not just dangerous to the state - they are necessary for us all.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

An Excellent Analysis of The Tea Party versus the Front National

I was going to take the day off since the sun finally came out after a week of gloomy weather but I just checked the blog Arun with a View and saw that he has an excellent post up about the Front National and  the Tea Party.  A really fine analysis and I strongly recommend you give Le Pen and America a read.

I confess that I was a little started by his conclusions at the end.  But, after a cup of coffee and some time in the garden, I concluded that he is basically correct.  It's a pattern of political participation (American party affiliation and political orientation translated to the French context) that I have seen among the long-term resident Americans I know here.
Regardless of the similarities and differences between the FN and Tea Party GOP—and I argue that there are more of the former than the latter—, I am quite sure that hardcore FN supporters, were they to move to the US, would find their natural home in the Tea Party GOP. And vice-versa. American Democrats living in France invariably end up supporting the Socialists and other currents on the moderate left (EELV, PRG), leftist Americans look to the left of the Socialists (PG, MRC, NPA), and mainstream, moderate Republicans the UMP or MoDem. I will wager that Tea Partiers who live in France and acculturate into French society will, in their majority, find an affinity with the FN...

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Day to Remember in France and the United States

Today is a very unusual day because it is a national holiday in both the United States and France.   Its origins can be found in a conflict that rocked the beginning of the 20th century - the First World War - which effectively ended at 11:00 on November 11, 1918.

Go to almost any village or town in France and you will see a memorial, often right in the middle of the main square, honoring the French dead.  "Morts pour la France" is the usual inscription which is then followed by a tragically long list of names. It is said that over a million French lost their lives in this war which is sometimes referred to by older people as the "la Guerre de 14."  This day was declared a national holiday in 1922.  Everyone has the day off today and there will be ceremonies in Paris at the Arc de Triomphe where a Flame of Remembrance is kept lit on the tomb of an unknown soldier.

In the U.S. this day was proclaimed a day to remember by President Wilson in 1919 and became a legal holiday, called "Armistice Day," in 1938.   And then the second great war of the 20th century came and America found herself once again on European soil.  And then Korea.  So it was decided in 1954 to extend the holiday to honor all Americans veterans of all wars.  There are a number of ceremonies planned this weekend at American military cemeteries all over France.  If I were still living in Suresnes I would undoubtedly hear the national anthem drifting down from the slopes of Mont Valerien.

I never met a member of our family who fought in the Great War.  The Second World War is another story.  On the French side my father-in-law was a young officer in that conflict and went on to serve in Indochina and North Africa. I was told that he very much wanted his son to go into the Navy but it was not to be.  But the elder Frenchling's godfather did and was recently serving in the Mediterranean.

On the American side (and I was a bit surprised to learn this) my great-aunt, Georgeanne Amans, served in the American Navy during World War II.  I have no idea what this daughter of an American/French-Canadian  family (she was bilingual French/English) did, but I am intrigued.  I have a small medallion that was hers that was given to me by my grandmother that says "Pistol Expert."  She must have been one tough lady.

Arthur Heath, Rachel Heath (nee Smith)
and Pete Smith
And finally there was my grandfather, Arthur Heath of Bliss, Idaho who served during World War II in a part of the world that is often overlooked because it is so darn far from anywhere, The Aleutian Islands.  He was a medic on Attu and was wounded during the fight over that small island located nearly a thousand miles from the Alaska mainland.  I think it may actually be closer to Russia than the U.S.

It has become the custom in recent years in the United States to thank serving members of the military for their service to the country. It is a dignified and respectful gesture that I like for its simplicity and sincerity.

So, on this day I honor the members of my family, both French and American, who served and risked their lives in order to make this world, the one in which we live today in relative peace and prosperity,  possible.

Thank you all for your service.



News Flash:  A few hours ago Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of the French Republic, announced that he will sponsor a bill that will make Armistice Day a day to remember the Great War and all those who died for France.  More here in the French paper Le Point.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ted Talk: Hasan Elahi

This Ted talk is really inspiring.  The speaker, an American of Bangladeshi origin, was mistakenly added to a surveillance list and was dropped into a Kafkaesque nightmare where he had to prove that he was not a terrorist.  His reaction was not what one would expect.  I would have been highly indignant and looking for the best lawyer money could buy.  After watching his talk I have to admit that he is the better man.  What he did and how he reacted is both deeply inspiring and really funny.

For example, when he was being interrogated by the FBI, he had to answer many questions.  His answer to this one had me laughing so hard I almost cried:

FBI:  Do you belong to any group that wishes to harm the United States?
Elahi's answer:  I work at a university

I am astounded by his courage, his patience and his ability to turn this event into a really fascinating personal project - information as art.



Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More on the "Circulaire Guéant"

The "circulaire Guéant" continues to be a hot topic here in France.  For those of you who are just now joining the conversation, the French government released a new policy at the end of May that restricts the opportunities for foreign students to work in France after they have completed their studies here.

International students continue to protest, the politicians are debating it in the National Assembly, and both universities and businesses are making their displeasure known in the media and to the government.  

It is worth noting that this "circulaire" did not just come out of thin air.  Going back and reading older editions of French newspapers, Claude Guereant has been saying for months that he wants to reduce legal immigration which includes selective economic immigration  ("l'immigration choisie" in French), family reunification and asylum for political refugees.  He laid out his intentions quite clearly in this article in Le Figaro back in April of this year:
Comptez-vous également intervenir pour réduire l'immigration légale ? 
Bien évidemment. J'ai demandé que l'on réduise le nombre de personnes admises au titre de l'immigration du travail (20.000 arrivées par an). Et nous allons continuer à réduire le nombre d'étrangers venant en France au titre du regroupement familial (15.000). J'ai demandé une étude sur la pratique des pays d'Europe sur l'application du droit international. 
Do you also plan on reducing legal immigration? 
Of course.  I have asked that we reduce the number of persons admitted with work permits (20,000 arrivals per year).  And we are to continue to reduce the number of foreigners coming to France as part of the family reunification program (15,000).  I have asked for a study of the practices of other European countries in the application of international law.
This means everyone trying to come live and work in France legally:  high-tech workers, people with advanced degrees, entrepreneurs, foreign family members and asylum seekers.  In this context international students are just casualties along with all the others.

To be fair to the French government and the French people, immigration is a deeply emotional issue here just as it is in many countries.  There is real fear, exacerbated by economic uncertainty, that the country is being taken over by foreigners who come to abuse the social welfare system and steal jobs.  Clearly there must be a response to this.  This is a democracy and the people deserve a debate and an intelligent  measured response from their elected officials.  The question is:  does the "circulaire Guéant" and the drive to reduce legal immigration constitute an appropriate response to these fears?   I would argue "no" and that this is more about shoring up a government that is facing re-election and much less about formulating good policy to the benefit of the French nation.

It is quite simply a way for the present government to demonstrate that it has "everything under control" and it is faithfully fulfilling one of the primary purposes of government which is to defend the people, the culture and the border.  A very powerful message that most certainly is playing to a receptive audience here.

I would also argue that it plays to another kind of fear:  the fear of decline. Rhetoric against migrants in both the United States and France could be seen as a way for natives to reassure themselves that they still do live in a great country.  The more the international students and other migrants protest, the more natives can feel comforted that they live in a country that is such a magnet for foreigners that hordes of people are knocking down the door just to have a chance to get what natives have.

The reality is that you cannot make people come to your country and you can not prevent them from leaving.  Migrants are rational actors in this game and they have options.  If they do not come to your country, they will go somewhere else where they are likely to be warmly received.   No country on this planet is so special that their government can afford to ignore this global labor market.  And let's be brutally honest about the political implications:    yes, the number and quality of people your country attracts does say something about your country's relative power in the world.  

I don't think the French Minister of the Interior really thought through all the implications of the "circulaire Guéant" and the message it sends to the wider world.

Message sent and received.  Now welcome to the world of unintended negative consequences.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The US is More Like Europe Than You Think



I'll be honest and say that I initially had very low expectations for this book.  It looked like a good airplane book which is my way of saying that I purchased it with the idea that I would read it while being held captive in a tube hurtling over Greenland.  It turned out to be much better than I ever imagined and while I still have questions and quibbles with Colin Woodard's argument, I am convinced that he's on to something.

What he is asking us to do is to suspend our vision of the United States of America as one country "indivisible" with 50 states under one written constitution.   Look underneath all this, he says, and you can identify at least 11 radically different nations who have been at odds with each other ever since independence.  Of those 11 different nations, "Six joined together to liberate themselves from the British.  Four were conquered but not vanquished by English-speaking rivals.  Two more were founded in the West by a mix of American frontiersmen in the second half of the nineteenth century."  All are defined by either cultural pluralism (the minority) or by their European origins (the majority):  French, Spanish, or "Anglo-Saxon" heritage.  

In a country of diverse immigration are these roots imagined or are they real?  Woodard argues that, yes, they are real and it does make a difference even in the early 21st century.  All these nations (with the exception of Native Americans) came from somewhere else and they brought their cultural baggage with them:  languages, religions, morals, cultural practices.  He argues that these thing continue to matter even where the original settlers gradually became a minority in the oldest areas of settlement.  This theory is called The Doctrine of First Effective Settlement and was first posited by Wilbur Zelinsky of Pennsylvania State University in the early 1970's.

Here are the nations Mr. Woodard sees underneath the "legible" political boundaries:

Yankeedom:  Founded by English Calvinists.  Characterized by faith in government, social engineering, local government.  When the French talk about Americans as being "Puritans" this is the nation they are talking about.
New Netherland:  Founded by the Dutch.  Commercial, multi-cultural, committed to trade.  Basically New York City and surrounding areas.
The Midlands:  Founded by English Quakers.  Also multi-cultural (Germans eventually became the majority in this region), suspicious of government and politically moderate.
Tidewater: Also founded by the English.  Aristocratic, semi-feudal, conservative.  
Greater Appalachia:  Founded by people from Northern Ireland, Northern England and Scotland.  Highly suspicious of government with a deep commitment to personal liberty.  Religious with a deeply personal faith that is often lived outside established churches. Traditionally much of the U.S. military comes from this region.
The Deep South:  Founded by the English from Barbados - aristocrats committed to slavery.  Still very suspicious of democracy.  It is also the heartland of African-American culture in the U.S.
New France:  Founded by the French.  Egalitarian, politically very liberal, and multi-cultural with a lot of mixing with Native Americans.
El Norte:  Founded by the Spanish.  This is the oldest European civilization in North America.  Multi-cultural mixing Spanish, Native American and Anglo cultures. An area to watch because "The Pew Research Center predicts that by 2050 the proportion of the U.S. population that self-identifies as Hispanic will reach 29 percent..."
The Left Coast:  Colonized by people from New England (merchants and missionaries) and Appalachia (farmers, prospectors and fur traders).  The culture is a combination of "Yankee faith in good government and social reform with a commitment to individual self-exploration and discovery..."
The Far West:  An environmentally hostile area colonized by diverse people - both internal migrants and immigrants.  Individualistic and anti-government but highly dependent on it.  
The First Nation:  The original Americans.  Very diverse peoples that have lived through centuries of reduced sovereignty.  This is changing.  In Canada, Greenland and the U.S. they are asserting their sovereignty over the regions under their control and they are acting in the political realm of the states under which they live.

Woodard asserts (and I would agree) that the above nations do not correspond to state or international boundaries.  I have only to look at my own region, the Pacific Northwest (Left Coast), which borders the Canadian province of British Columbia, to see it.  Cut in half by a chain of mountains, the seaboard side of the state of Washington is a temperate rain forest, mostly urban, politically liberal and culturally pluralistic settled by a mix of Asians, Scandinavians and New Englanders.  Go east across the mountains and you are in a different country:  desert, rural, politically conservative, agricultural.  The city of Seattle has more in common with the city of Vancouver in Canada than it does with Spokane, an American city in the same state near the Idaho border. 

The above is just a brief overview of Colin Woodard's entire argument and I certainly can not do it justice in a short blog post.  Nonetheless, within it I see some possible trends that have implications for North America and its relationship with other regions like the EU.  

Is it possible, for example, that the rise of anti-government rhetoric in the U.S. (which has very deep cultural roots) will lead to a lessening of Federal power and influence and eventually make the United States government look more like the present European Union?  Is it so hard to imagine the EU on one trajectory toward greater union even as the U.S. regresses in the direction of less union and more regional autonomy and sovereignty?

There is also the matter of shifting demographics.  If Pew is correct Hispanics will be a large and powerful minority in the U.S. in the near future.  This has the potential to radically change the U.S. relationship to Mexico and perhaps also to Europe.  Up until now the closest relationships that the U.S. has had with Europe are primarily with Northern Europe:  United Kingdom and Germany, for example. It also has important ties with the Anglosphere all over the world (Canada, Australia, New Zealand...) Is it possible that this affinity could change in favor of the Mediterranean countries and its settler colonies?  Spain, for example, or even France and by extension the associated settler nations: Phillipines, Latin and Central America and French-speaking Canada.

This book is a great read.  It's not entirely original - other people have postulated similar ideas and Mr. Woodard pays homage to all of them.  Whatever arguments I had with specifics were overshadowed by the overall thesis which is well-argued and well-written  If nothing else, you will never look at North America the same way again.