Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What’s next for America? (heading for '1984')

We are living in uncertain times. International investment advisors are divided on so many issues; which of them should we believe? Some seem to base their opinions on formulas, but formulas don’t work in our new world. All the markets and indexes are manipulated by the banksters, these days.

A Canadian friend of mine owns a mobile home in Florida, which he and his wife live in every winter. Many nearby units are for sale at a dollar each, because the owners can’t afford to pay the site’s maintenance fees. He’s tempted to buy some, but how many years’ fees would he have to pay before he finds a paying tenant? And how would he fare if the US Government imposed currency controls, as a growing number of US commentators are expecting?

Congress is at the moment considering a bill to deny US passports to citizens who might – might! – conceivably owe money to the IRS. Citizens who renounce their citizenship would be forced by proposed legislation to pay tax on their income for ten years after their renunciation. The authorities may not be finished with Cayman’s Green-Card holders yet, either. It’s not certain.

Will Europe follow suit? Will our new UK passports be good to go – or will Britain start taxing its citizens on their worldwide income? Britain was “Airstrip One” in Orwell’s novel “1984”, a province of an evil empire perpetually at war. If he had been an economist instead of a journalist, Orwell might have written about how private capital sustains perpetual wars, and gains from them. Today we can see that happening in real time, as multinational corporations re-build what their NATO armies destroy. (Their profits are accumulated tax-free in Cayman, so the news is not all bad – for us.)

Young men are recruited from city gangs, put into American Army uniforms and instructed to kill whole families in foreign countries with rockets fired from drones. “Murder by joystick”, it’s called, to the amusement of the shooters.

America is abandoning the rule of law at home, too, fairly rapidly. Thousands of Federal Government employees already have the power to order the detention of any person inside the Fatherland, and confiscate their or their families’ assets. Policemen can already confiscate any cash found on any non-policeman. Armed drones are already being deployed above some US towns and suburbs, controlled by former gang-members. Uncertain times, indeed!

Those of us with friends and relatives living in the US: should we warn them to get out while they can, lest they find themselves trapped like Germans were in Nazi Germany? The Germans believed they were safe – Germany was a highly civilised nation – and didn’t notice when the heat was turned up one degree at a time. A German priest famously summed up how it happened.

First they came for the Socialists, but I wasn’t a Socialist, so I didn’t speak up. 
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, but I wasn’t a Trade Unionist, so I didn’t speak up. 
Then they came for the physically and mentally disabled, but I was healthy, so I didn’t speak up. 
Then they came for the Jews, but I wasn’t a Jew, so I didn’t speak up. 
And by the time they came for me, there was nobody left to speak up.

Already, we Westerners are looking on benignly as horrible things are done to entire races and cultures that we’re told are our enemies. How long before we produce our own man of poetry?  

Today they’re killing and mutilating Moslems; but I am a Christian, so why should I care? 
Next they will take out the “Occupy” rabble; but I despise them, so why should I care? 
Then they will eliminate the druggies and ghetto-dwellers; but they’re a burden on society, so why should I care? 
Next they will deal with the Jews; but they’ve been there before and survived. Why should I care? 
By the time they come for me... but, hey, it’s not gonna happen. Come on! We’re a highly civilised nation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Flogging a dead horse (education in Cayman)

Outside observers must wonder at the low priority accorded to education by our Island politicians. Such a large proportion of school-leavers are functionally illiterate, for an international tax-haven and financial centre. As long as native-Caymanians’ employment prospects are protected by law, why worry how good or bad their education is? As long as Caymanians are given impressive titles, who cares if the titles are dismissed as “token” and undeserved by their expat colleagues and overseas clients?

Over the past few decades, hundreds of millions of borrowed dollars have been poured down the drain of an education system whose Caymanian alumni cannot compete with expats in the workplace. Even the most aggressive and comprehensive affirmative-action program in the world can’t save 10% of Caymanians from being unemployed in their home community. For every Caymanian school-leaver, there are (in effect) two bureaucrats assigned to ensure that he or she gets a well-paid job in a community where two thirds of the workforce are expats. Still it’s not enough. Ours is surely the most ineffectual education system imaginable.

 My blog-post “Everybody’s cheating” in December 2010 reported the tricks played by both sides in the game (employers and the Immigration Monster). I won’t repeat them here; suffice it to say that nothing has changed since then. Nothing is ever likely to change, really. The Immigration authorities have a vested interest in maintaining a boondoggle that’s devoid of any productive purpose; and the education establishment is not required to do any more than go through the motions. The politicians – all bloodline Caymanians, by rule – are so supremely remunerated in office that they have no incentive to change the status quo.

The educational shortfalls cover a range of inadequacies: spelling, grammar, punctuation and usage (English), mental arithmetic (Math), basic knowledge of foreign nations and cultures (Geography, History, comparative religions). Of those items, the most important is English. Non-standard grammar, usage, spelling and punctuation are, in the world at large, marks of ignorance. They are often taken to indicate low intelligence, too, on the premise that the offenders aren’t smart enough to learn the rules. Sometimes, defying the rules is taken to be arrogance.

Yeah, yeah, but who’s watching? Who really minds if somebody can’t point to Libya or Los Angeles on a map? Who is genuinely bothered by non-standard grammar or spelling? This is Cayman, and Caymanians have a basic human right to speak and spell the way they’ve always done, haven’t they? Well, actually, no: not if they are ever going to be respected in their careers by non-Caymanians.

Look. Cayman is a sophisticated international tax-haven with some rich and fussy clients who don’t want to deal with anybody they perceive to be ignorant, or arrogant. The customer is always right, right? Everybody in business has to accede to his clients’ preferences. One will be forgiven for not knowing how long a chukka lasts, but one will be expected to know what sport it features in. And to know the difference between a chukka and a chucker, of course, if one is talking to a rich and fussy Englishman.

Caymanians’ low educational achievements – and their 10% unemployment – are directly attributable to the affirmative-action program in place for the past forty years. You’d think that somebody would care enough about the future to challenge the continuation of a failed system. Several private-sector committees have urged alternative remedies, over the years. At least some of their Minutes and reports still exist. Why do our local rulers persist in flogging a dead horse? Will it be another forty years before they wake up to the utter futility of such a stupid ritual? Sigh. Maybe it will be.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Telling the world (visitors to this blogsite)

My March posting “Cayman - warts and all” argued in favour of telling the truth about one’s homeland. Why hide the bad bits? Inviting prospective residents to come to Cayman on false premises is futile, when you think about it. Tell them there’s no crime, and they won’t take precautions. Tell them the Police are efficient, and they’ll be all the angrier when they come face to face with the reality. Tell them how welcome they’ll be, and they’ll be disillusioned when they discover the xenophobia that pervades our little society, fostered by the Immigration authorities.

Our rulers have never in recent decades felt comfortable when people tell the truth about Cayman. I remember the late 1980s, when the Department of Tourism’s brochures suppressed the fact that most Caymanians had African ancestors, lest American tourists be put off visiting. The ancestral lands were given as England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. What were the visitors to think when they saw all the dark faces – remnants of the famous “Black Irish”?

It was all part and parcel of the official policy of censorship in these Islands. At around the same time, the local newspaper was discouraged from publicising any criminal activities here. Cayman was advertised as being “crime-free” right up to the 1990s. The Police denied the existence of criminal gangs in the schools until the 2000s. As a result, criminality and gangs flourished. After all, why protect a society and its visitors against a problem that doesn’t exist?

The Cayman News Service website this last Tuesday reported that there have been forty-three murders over the past eight years, of which seventeen have not yet been solved. This, on an Island of 50,000! Each ethnic group in our society keeps its secrets, naturally, but each knows its secrets, too. Those seventeen unsolved murders were not committed by criminal masterminds but by young tearaways. Are the guilty parties being protected by persons of influence? That would go some way to explaining why the Police aren’t trusted.

Our Immigration Monster is the chosen instrument for the suppression of critics. Expat residents can be – and sometimes are – deported for breaking the unwritten rules of censorship. I’ve covered the matter in several past blogs, but it bears repeating. Virtually every native Caymanian has the power to deport virtually any expat, for pretty much any reason. The vague accusation “he’s anti-Caymanian” is sometimes enough, and always has been.

Even anonymous denunciations are acceptable as evidence. Occasionally, someone in authority will deny that, but the denial is never meant to be taken seriously. “Anti-Caymanian” can mean anything from criticism by a middle-class expat of government's protectionist policies, to a protest by an expat domestic servant against his or her employer’s refusal to pay wages owed.

 When I blog about such things, does it damage Cayman? Am I letting the side down by washing our dirty linen in public? Is it treason? No, none of those things. If the facts themselves don’t damage the Islands, then the reporting of them can do no harm.

According to Google’s statistics, two thirds of all visits to my blog come from outside of Cayman. Almost all of those visitors are expatriates living in other countries, I would think; I contribute to several international forums for expats. The grand total for the blog is only a thousand or so a month, at the moment. The numbers are inching up, but it’s a gradual business. I look forward to the day when they reach ten times the present total. By then, hopefully, there won’t be as many bad things to write about.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Perception and reality (austerity in Cayman)

Chancellor Angela Merkel is so ordinary-looking that she is not recognised by a Greek Immigration officer. “Nationality?” “German.” “Occupation?” “No, no, just for a few days.”

Those of us who follow the financial news (just to check on how much of our retirement money has been stolen by the banksters each week) know that most European nations are heading for bankruptcy, beginning with the desperately over-borrowed nations of the south. German banks are Greece’s main creditors, and are bitterly blamed for the austerity-measures levied by the last Greek Government. Hence the anti-German rioters, warning that “the Germans” are planning to come down in force to collect the money owed.

The Greeks’ perception is that German banks forced Greek politicians to borrow more than could comfortably be repaid out of tax revenues. The reality is that Greece’s corrupt politicians voluntarily borrowed all the money, in full awareness that it could not be comfortably repaid; the German banks no doubt bribed the crooks, but that’s what banks do. Much of the borrowed money was spent on weapons of war, manufactured by German companies. Sigh. We’ve been here before, haven’t we?

Whatever goes wrong is always somebody else’s fault, politicians say; and they sell that perception to their constituents. Here in Cayman our recent ruling cliques have borrowed beyond the limits of comfort, while craftily keeping unfunded Civil Service pensions obligations off the Territory’s Balance Sheet, and making no provision for them in the annual Expenditure Budgets. That way, they can pretend Cayman is not insolvent; where could they have gotten that idea from, but news reports from Europe?

When austerity comes to us – and come it must – who will be blamed? The opposition politicians, naturally, and the British FCO clerks as well. When the Civil Service layoffs come, and the pension-defaults, and when the taxes increase, it will be everybody’s fault but the rulers of the day. Those rulers will not blame themselves for the shambles; they will hope to sell us the perception that the fault lies elsewhere.

We (the general public) perceive the extravagances and waste all right, but we aren’t always sure precisely whose fault they are. After all, we haven’t seen audited Government Financial Statements since 2004, so how can we know? Is it all our politicians’ fault? Well, yes and no. It’s our perception that they make all the decisions. But what many of us fail to recognise is that our British colonial constitution strictly limits our elected MLAs’ authority to borrow. In effect, our MLAs are Britain’s indentured servants – and we all know how that works...

The FCO can suspend any part of our Constitution at any time, and can block any borrowing attempt by our MLAs. The MLAs are headstrong and wilful, but they aren’t in any position to bully the British Government. Our MLAs see themselves as the leaders of our little community, but what they are is representatives, not leaders. The reality is that we don’t need leaders. (Check this blog’s archives for my post on this topic in December 2010 called “Leaders and followers”.)

Britain has made a rod for its own back by encouraging our representatives to perceive themselves as important. Our “leader” – a parish-council chairman in any other context – is called a Premier, for goodness sake. He has a full-time bodyguard and a chef and a Protocol Office with a staff of ten, and gets free First Class travel to anywhere in the world. The FCO clerks in Whitehall consented to the creation of our comic-book Ruritania, so they can’t pretend the fault isn’t theirs.

However... incompetent as the FCO clerks have been in the administration of Cayman, an independent Cayman might be fifty times worse. Let’s cling to that thought, when times get tough.

Monday, May 7, 2012

“International Man” (an expat website)

A little while ago I came across a Web forum called International Man (dot com), contributors to which are mainly US expats and intending expats. A minority of them already live outside the US, and are happy to advertise the virtues of their new homes; others are unhappy in them and are looking for somewhere else. Some are retired, others have jobs or businesses. In total, there are hundreds of posts asking or telling about the pros and cons of living in this country or that. **** see footnote

What a shame Cayman’s authorities don’t welcome foreign businessmen or retirees. It would help our economy, if they did. Unfortunately, a change would require a 180-degree turn in our rulers’ immigration policy, and that’s not going to happen without one political Team or the other adopting an openly pro-expat platform.

Latin America is the region of choice for US citizens. Uruguay seems to be losing its appeal in favour of Paraguay and Chile; Panama and Dominican Republic are preferred to Costa Rica and eastern Mexico. Belize is the most praised of English-speaking territories. A surprising number favour South-East Asian nations: Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore. New Zealand is well thought of, but not Australia (on this particular site).Of the small Pacific territories, Vanuatu and Cook Islands receive honourable mentions. Few Caribbean islands make the list, except Nevis and DR for second-passports.

The site’s basic purpose is to encourage its readers to become “international men” – to slough off their tribal loyalties as best they can and embrace a world-view of – uh, well, of the world, I suppose. More and more thinking Americans are becoming disenchanted with their nation’s behaviour both internationally and domestically. Some have found it hard to abandon trust in their government’s good faith – not least about the alleged existentialist threat of the world’s entire stock of Moslems.

The thinkers are perceptive enough to realise that Moslems (“rag-heads”, “hajjis”) are simply the new “niggers”. The new hatred of Islam (among those who do hate people not like themselves) merely displaced an existing hatred of Blacks. Probably, all of today’s Moslem-haters were yesterday’s racists. If I were a Black or Jewish or Hispanic or homosexual American, I would stay well clear of the verbal attacks on Moslems, in the certain knowledge that “my” people will always be the backup victims – in the future, as they were in the past.

International Man is a relatively new site, and most of its members are new to the idea of leaving their homes in the USA. A large percentage would like to acquire second-passports. They expect that one day they will be forbidden from renouncing their citizenship, and be subjected to exchange-controls on the expatriation of private assets. Would the US ever do such a thing? Surely not! Surely that sort of action went out with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Surely America is not bent on a 1984-type empire, sustained by permanent warfare. Well, who knows...?

More and more Americans are losing faith in their nation’s future as a democracy. Some of them believe that moving to a foreign domicile will protect their freedoms – and that a foreign passport will guarantee their freedom to travel. Others, less trusting, just want to slip out from under the US radar.

The International Man site has plenty to interest Cayman’s expats, at least those who are skilled or have a healthy retirement package put away and are on the lookout for overseas bolt-holes. Unskilled expats, unfortunately, don’t have the option of going anywhere except home, if our economy turns turtle. Native-born Caymanians (in general) aren’t receptive to the notion of ever leaving Cayman, whatever the economic circumstances. They believe their politicians will protect them from poverty as long as the tax-haven lasts, which in practice means as long as our status as a British colony lasts. They’re probably right. But I wonder how long that will be, in years.

**** Since this piece was posted, International Man has scrapped its Members' forum, and now offers little of value.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The German lesson (T 8 - Austria 1960s)

(Eighth traveller’s tale – April 1965) 

The Youth Hostel wasn’t where it was supposed to be, so we pulled up beside an inn, in this small town in Austria. I rehearsed a little speech in German and asked the girl behind the bar for directions. She in turn asked the customers at large, and while they were reaching a consensus a man at the back called out, in German, “Give him a room; I’ll pay for it.”

I ignored the call, but she repeated his words in English. What to do? He and his female companion, both in their forties, were well dressed and appeared respectable, but who knows? In German I told him, “My girlfriend is waiting in the car, but thank you.” The offer was immediately extended to my girlfriend. There was no polite way out, and the waitress nodded her assurance that the couple posed no danger to our virtue, so Linda and I hustled our basic luggage upstairs, washed and brushed, and came down to thank our host.

For the next ninety minutes, though it was probably only twenty, I told him our life stories and answered his questions in the most brutally mutilated German grammar he and his wife could ever have heard. Linda always supplied words that I couldn’t call to mind, in any language, but I had a better feel for pronunciation, so most of the dog work was mine. The couple were patient, and the wife sometimes supplied words that Linda didn’t know. When I finally stumbled to a halt from mental exhaustion, he said fluently, “We can speak English, if you like.”

The bastard! Why had he let me stammer on so pathetically for so long? “It was good practice for you,” he smiled; “Your German’s not all that bad.” Why was he paying for our room, so kindly? “Somebody did it for me, once, when I was about your age and travelling around Europe. I’m passing on the favour.” We ate and drank and enjoyed each other’s company until the bar closed; we never saw them again.

In the places we’d been before then, German was not a popular language, though a lot of older people remembered it from the wartime occupations. We had used it from time to time, from Turkey up through Bulgaria, Rumania and Czechoslovakia. Our German number-plates misled people, so every conversation with a stranger began, in the local language, “We are not German; we are English.” Only then, could I speak my ungrammatical German without fear of rejection. I had permitted a mechanic in Rumania to rip the car apart and replace the differential ball-bearings, because I happened to know that German kugel meant “ball”, and I figured out the rest of it from his gestures.

The only other time the car needed attention was months afterwards in Minsk, in what is now Belarus. Fed up with pumping up the tyres every morning, we decided to get them fixed by an expert. (My January blog post titled “Ararat” told how they had gotten so soft.) A young Intourist translator drove with us to the city’s sole car-repair shop – a vast yard that catered for every car in the entire country, it seemed. Well! All the workers rushed over to inspect our tubeless tyres. No tubes? Impossible! What keeps the air inside? Ah, well, that was the present problem...

In the end they cheerfully put tubes inside the hitherto tubeless tyres, and I tipped them generously with our illegal roubles (“Russian Roulette”, March blog), and Linda made the girl cry by giving her a new pair of nylons, carried unopened since London. (Nylon stockings in the USSR were as rare as tubeless tyres.) Did we speak English or German with her? I honestly can’t recall. If German, we would no doubt have taken a quiet moment to salute the efforts of our mentor back at the Austrian inn.