We Are All Adrift on a Ship of Fools

In the recent flurry of news reports from the Middle East, this item slipped by, largely unnoticed.   Four thousand Tunisians arrived illegally by boat in Italy in just four days after the triumph of the pro-democracy movement in their native country.  Apparently, they decided to forsake newly acquired freedom and democracy in Tunisia.  Rather, they chose the long odds of the dangerous journey and the indignity of an illegal (pardon me, undocumented) existence in Italy.  Italian officials described the situation as a "Biblical exodus" and asked for European help to deal with it.  One could only feel sorry for these poor people, who just try to escape unemployment, poverty, the misery of overcrowded cities and the lack of opportunities in the Arab world.   

Let me digress for a paragraph.  When I was born, the population of our planet was 2 billion people.  Now it stands at 7 billion.  This explosive growth is the root cause of many major problems: the depletion of natural resources; pollution; ethnic and religious hatred; the rise of militant Islam; and growing commodity prices.  Millions of people flee from poor countries hoping to find a better life in the West.  Unfortunately, the Western countries themselves are in a downward spiral, as they have finally realized that they can no longer afford their lifestyle, and the party is over.  The governments of some countries, such as England, France, Spain and Greece, have adopted drastic austerity measures.  Others, such as the US government, are still in denial, hoping that if they ignore the problem, it will go away.  But the shrinking Western economies cannot accommodate the newcomers.  Our world begins to look like the sinking Titanic, with its dearth of lifeboats.  The loud demands for a fair redistribution of wealth -- presumably among all 7 billion people -- resemble the screams of Titanic passengers scrambling for the scarce lifeboats.  As Titanic buffs know, some of the boats were launched half-empty, but even if they all had been filled to capacity, there would not have been enough room for everyone.

Back to the Tunisians trying to get into Italy: I believe that they are willing to work hard to provide for their families, but unfortunately, Italy does not need them.  I have seen hundreds of immigrants peddling fake watches, pirated DVDs and other wares on many street corners in Rome.  I have been hustled by pushy men with thick Arabic accents trying to sell flowers in St. Marco's Piazza in Venice.  They are probably better established, ‘older' immigrants possessing some degree of command of Western languages.  Those who are less fortunate try to move to other European countries, like England or France, or to Sweden, which is famous for its generous welfare programs.  But once they arrive there, they discover that those countries are already overwhelmed with their fellow immigrants who were lucky to have come earlier.

Of course, not all Arabs living in Europe are mired in misery.  According to a 1996 diplomatic cable recently released by Wiki Leaks, "Saudi princes and princesses, of whom there are thousands, are known for the stories of their fabulous wealth -- and tendency to squander it."  Depending on their position on the genealogical tree, their stipends ran from $800 a month for "the lowliest member of the most remote branch of the family" to $270,000 a month.  The cable further explains that the "stipends also provide a substantial incentive for royals to procreate since the stipends begin at birth."  Many prefer to spend their money on posh hotels and restaurants in London or the French Riviera.

But let us talk about those who are not blessed with petrodollars.  Here are a few bits of demographic trivia.  The population of Egypt has tripled in the past 50 years.  It has reached 80 million people, by far surpassing both France and England.  Twenty percent of Egyptians live on less than $1 a day.  The population of Pakistan has increased 3.6 times in the same period.  It stands at 184 million people now, thus surpassing Russia.  Twenty-two percent of the Pakistanis live on less than $1 a day. The populations of Sudan and Yemen have quadrupled during the same time.  Even if the growth rates in these and many other countries slow down, or even if the populations stabilize at the current levels, these levels are unsustainable.

Suppose that you are among the lucky ones who managed to move to a Western country.  Chances are that your main problem is unemployment.  For example, the immigrant unemployment rate in France is twice as high as the national average.  Malmo, Sweden's third largest city, is a telling example, as it shows what happens when the immigrant population reach a quarter of the total population.  In the district called Rosengaard, Muslim immigrants make up an overwhelming majority of the residents, and the unemployment rate is 70%.  Their influx has created many non-economic problems as well.  Fire and emergency workers are afraid to enter Rosengaard without police protection.  The number of rapes in Malmo has tripled in the last 20 years.  The Muslim newcomers bring their old hatreds with them.  For example, Jew-hatred in Malmo has reached a point that even the BBC abandoned its usual political correctness and devoted one of its reports in December of 2010 specifically to the verbal and physical harassment of Malmo's tiny Jewish community by Muslim immigrants.  Sweden is a tolerant liberal country, but the Jewish kindergarten in Malmo has to be protected with thick steel security doors.

Muslim countries are not the only sources of mass migration.  Millions of immigrants have come to the West from Catholic countries (Mexico and Philippines), from Eastern Orthodox Christian countries (Russia and Armenia), from India, and elsewhere.  "Emigriruy ili degradiruy" (emigrate or deteriorate) has become a popular adage in my old country, Russia.  And emigrate Russians do, mostly to Western Europe.  According to an Indian friend, when singles ads in India list the advertisers' attractive attributes, the possession of a US green card is viewed as a trump card.  Fake marriages and enrollment in colleges are other popular ways to gain a foothold in the US.  One does not need much in the way of academic credentials in order be admitted to a US college.  Many community colleges and even four year ones do not require SAT tests.  They are happy to welcome everyone, just to collect tuition and stay afloat. 

The other day, I went to a Kaiser hospital and then to an auto mechanic shop.  The nurse who took my blood test, the receptionist and the mechanic were all new immigrants.  I am sure that they are good workers, and I appreciated their service.  But as this country is already grappling with high unemployment, is it wise to import more and more engineers, lab technicians and bookkeepers?  Barack Obama has said that this country needs to "produce more engineers than lawyers."  But unfortunately, while in the past we had only unemployed lawyers, now the number of unemployed engineers has spiked too, which is duly recorded by the US Department of Labor Statistics.  Many American college graduates earn their degrees and, unable to find jobs, move back with their parents.  It is no wonder that one of the most popular items of the new health care reform is the rise of the age of dependency for children from 23 years of age to 26.  What will be next?  Moving it up to 28 or 32?

In the meantime, we are inundated with TV ads showing heart-breaking pictures of a five-year old malnourished child and calling on us to support him for just $1.25 a day.  Only the most despicable people can say no to such an ad.  I am proud of my compassionate friends who dip into their pockets to send the money.  But do they worry about what world that child can expect when he turns 20?  Borrowing the title of Stanley Kramer's movie, we are all adrift on a "Ship of Fools."  Or borrowing another, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."
In the recent flurry of news reports from the Middle East, this item slipped by, largely unnoticed.   Four thousand Tunisians arrived illegally by boat in Italy in just four days after the triumph of the pro-democracy movement in their native country.  Apparently, they decided to forsake newly acquired freedom and democracy in Tunisia.  Rather, they chose the long odds of the dangerous journey and the indignity of an illegal (pardon me, undocumented) existence in Italy.  Italian officials described the situation as a "Biblical exodus" and asked for European help to deal with it.  One could only feel sorry for these poor people, who just try to escape unemployment, poverty, the misery of overcrowded cities and the lack of opportunities in the Arab world.   

Let me digress for a paragraph.  When I was born, the population of our planet was 2 billion people.  Now it stands at 7 billion.  This explosive growth is the root cause of many major problems: the depletion of natural resources; pollution; ethnic and religious hatred; the rise of militant Islam; and growing commodity prices.  Millions of people flee from poor countries hoping to find a better life in the West.  Unfortunately, the Western countries themselves are in a downward spiral, as they have finally realized that they can no longer afford their lifestyle, and the party is over.  The governments of some countries, such as England, France, Spain and Greece, have adopted drastic austerity measures.  Others, such as the US government, are still in denial, hoping that if they ignore the problem, it will go away.  But the shrinking Western economies cannot accommodate the newcomers.  Our world begins to look like the sinking Titanic, with its dearth of lifeboats.  The loud demands for a fair redistribution of wealth -- presumably among all 7 billion people -- resemble the screams of Titanic passengers scrambling for the scarce lifeboats.  As Titanic buffs know, some of the boats were launched half-empty, but even if they all had been filled to capacity, there would not have been enough room for everyone.

Back to the Tunisians trying to get into Italy: I believe that they are willing to work hard to provide for their families, but unfortunately, Italy does not need them.  I have seen hundreds of immigrants peddling fake watches, pirated DVDs and other wares on many street corners in Rome.  I have been hustled by pushy men with thick Arabic accents trying to sell flowers in St. Marco's Piazza in Venice.  They are probably better established, ‘older' immigrants possessing some degree of command of Western languages.  Those who are less fortunate try to move to other European countries, like England or France, or to Sweden, which is famous for its generous welfare programs.  But once they arrive there, they discover that those countries are already overwhelmed with their fellow immigrants who were lucky to have come earlier.

Of course, not all Arabs living in Europe are mired in misery.  According to a 1996 diplomatic cable recently released by Wiki Leaks, "Saudi princes and princesses, of whom there are thousands, are known for the stories of their fabulous wealth -- and tendency to squander it."  Depending on their position on the genealogical tree, their stipends ran from $800 a month for "the lowliest member of the most remote branch of the family" to $270,000 a month.  The cable further explains that the "stipends also provide a substantial incentive for royals to procreate since the stipends begin at birth."  Many prefer to spend their money on posh hotels and restaurants in London or the French Riviera.

But let us talk about those who are not blessed with petrodollars.  Here are a few bits of demographic trivia.  The population of Egypt has tripled in the past 50 years.  It has reached 80 million people, by far surpassing both France and England.  Twenty percent of Egyptians live on less than $1 a day.  The population of Pakistan has increased 3.6 times in the same period.  It stands at 184 million people now, thus surpassing Russia.  Twenty-two percent of the Pakistanis live on less than $1 a day. The populations of Sudan and Yemen have quadrupled during the same time.  Even if the growth rates in these and many other countries slow down, or even if the populations stabilize at the current levels, these levels are unsustainable.

Suppose that you are among the lucky ones who managed to move to a Western country.  Chances are that your main problem is unemployment.  For example, the immigrant unemployment rate in France is twice as high as the national average.  Malmo, Sweden's third largest city, is a telling example, as it shows what happens when the immigrant population reach a quarter of the total population.  In the district called Rosengaard, Muslim immigrants make up an overwhelming majority of the residents, and the unemployment rate is 70%.  Their influx has created many non-economic problems as well.  Fire and emergency workers are afraid to enter Rosengaard without police protection.  The number of rapes in Malmo has tripled in the last 20 years.  The Muslim newcomers bring their old hatreds with them.  For example, Jew-hatred in Malmo has reached a point that even the BBC abandoned its usual political correctness and devoted one of its reports in December of 2010 specifically to the verbal and physical harassment of Malmo's tiny Jewish community by Muslim immigrants.  Sweden is a tolerant liberal country, but the Jewish kindergarten in Malmo has to be protected with thick steel security doors.

Muslim countries are not the only sources of mass migration.  Millions of immigrants have come to the West from Catholic countries (Mexico and Philippines), from Eastern Orthodox Christian countries (Russia and Armenia), from India, and elsewhere.  "Emigriruy ili degradiruy" (emigrate or deteriorate) has become a popular adage in my old country, Russia.  And emigrate Russians do, mostly to Western Europe.  According to an Indian friend, when singles ads in India list the advertisers' attractive attributes, the possession of a US green card is viewed as a trump card.  Fake marriages and enrollment in colleges are other popular ways to gain a foothold in the US.  One does not need much in the way of academic credentials in order be admitted to a US college.  Many community colleges and even four year ones do not require SAT tests.  They are happy to welcome everyone, just to collect tuition and stay afloat. 

The other day, I went to a Kaiser hospital and then to an auto mechanic shop.  The nurse who took my blood test, the receptionist and the mechanic were all new immigrants.  I am sure that they are good workers, and I appreciated their service.  But as this country is already grappling with high unemployment, is it wise to import more and more engineers, lab technicians and bookkeepers?  Barack Obama has said that this country needs to "produce more engineers than lawyers."  But unfortunately, while in the past we had only unemployed lawyers, now the number of unemployed engineers has spiked too, which is duly recorded by the US Department of Labor Statistics.  Many American college graduates earn their degrees and, unable to find jobs, move back with their parents.  It is no wonder that one of the most popular items of the new health care reform is the rise of the age of dependency for children from 23 years of age to 26.  What will be next?  Moving it up to 28 or 32?

In the meantime, we are inundated with TV ads showing heart-breaking pictures of a five-year old malnourished child and calling on us to support him for just $1.25 a day.  Only the most despicable people can say no to such an ad.  I am proud of my compassionate friends who dip into their pockets to send the money.  But do they worry about what world that child can expect when he turns 20?  Borrowing the title of Stanley Kramer's movie, we are all adrift on a "Ship of Fools."  Or borrowing another, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."