Americans’ Right to Know


In a number of states and in the American Congress, legislation is being advanced, usually under the deliberately misleading heading of the “consumer’s right to know,” to restrict the ability of companies and government agencies to use call centers abroad. The legislation is nothing less than the kind of non-tariff barrier so castigated by the same American legislators when one appears in another land. The legislation dangerously plays to the considerable xenophobia found in America.

John Kerry is a leading figure in this enlightened effort to close off opportunity to ambitious Third World countries. Were the same principles somehow to be applied to the products of American corporations, there wouldn’t be any merchandise left on the country’s shelves. Most domestic shipping would close down because American merchant ships are virtually all flagged in foreign ports to excuse them from taxes and regulations. Hollywood would close since most of its films are shot anywhere but Hollywood. As the Internet becomes a truly international method for exchanging information and commerce, instead of one dominated by Americans who because of their wealth were first in with a large population of computers, you will unquestionably see politicians like Kerry seeking to limit it, too.

It is a globalized world, and that is not a slogan. Since Elizabethan times at least a remarkable economic process has been underway, changing society and its institutions throughout the advanced world. The scale of economic production and its associated trade has grown from craftsmen in the homes of tiny villages to specialized factories in growing cities; then to regional firms and to great national corporations and retail chains. Now these changes move inexorably to world-scale, bringing with them the benefits of economic growth to regions of the world long frozen in poverty and ancient custom. So long as this change is fairly administered by a parallel growth in international treaties, laws, and organizations, it will gradually and peacefully bring the same benefits to dark corners of the world that it brought to dark corners of America.

Narrow-minded American legislators bore considerable responsibility for the sustained nature of the Great Depression with the foolish Smoots-Hawley bill unilaterally limiting trade. Unenlightened American trade restrictions against the ambitions of Japan as it entered the modern era helped push that country eventually to attacking the United States. With globalization an important part of the world’s economic landscape through this century, comparably selfish efforts by American legislators can produce comparably destructive results.

The call-center legislation will affect a number of countries, especially India, a country using its relatively high proportion of educated people and sizeable pool of English speakers as comparative advantages in new businesses like global call centers. Indian companies have adopted the practice of training their employees to speak with an American accent. Employees also typically adopt simple American names rather than spend several minutes of each call trying to explain names like Chandrascar or Gojsumal.

Under the legislation, those calling from outside the United States will not only have to identify themselves accurately but to offer the person being called an opportunity to transfer to an American call center. This is particularly interesting coming, as it does, in a country where felons are often the people handling your business on the telephone and whose legislators generously tolerate a huge home-grown population of con artists and chiselers. One can just imagine some of the calls that will hum across the planet under the legislation.

* * *

In a call center in Bangalore, India, an attractive young man speaks into his headset. Above him in his tiny cube is a framed copy of his degree in engineering, opportunities in a developing country like India fully to use your education being very limited. He speaks American-style English with a reasonably good accent, having been trained in it.

“Hello, Mrs. Jones, I am calling you about an important new opportunity.”

“Whatcha sayin’?”

“I’m calling about a new opportunity…”

“Could a swore ya said ya was callin’ ’bout some damn community. I ain’t interested in no communities, that’s fur sure.”

“That’s fine, Mrs. Jones, in a minute I’ll be glad to explain about the opportunity. First, though, I have to inform you, in keeping with new legislation in America, that I’m calling from Bangalore, India…”

“Huh? Ya callin’ ’bout bingo in Indiana?”

“Sorry, Mrs. Jones, no, that’s Bangalore, B-A-N-G-A-L-O-R-E, in India.”

“Never heard of it.”

“That’s okay, Mrs. Jones, as I was saying, in keeping with new legislation in America, my name is Yogesh…”

“I ain’t got time ta be guessin’ no names.”

“Yo-gesh, Mrs. Jones, Yogesh Vajpayee is my name, Mrs. Jones.”

“Hold on there. What the hell kinda name is that? You ain’t no ‘merican are ya?”

“That’s right, Mrs. Jones, I’m calling from India, and I am obliged to ask you if you would prefer that I transfer this call to an American call center?”

“Well, a course, why’d ya think I wanna be talkin’ to some guy with a weird name like yours callin’ from some damn place I never hearda?”

“Okay, Mrs. Jones, I am now transferring you. This may take a few minutes. So you hang on. Very nice speaking with you.”

Mrs. Jones waits, holding the phone, muttering about foreigners.

In a large, dingy room of a privately-run Texas medium-security prison, one of dozens of prisoners working for a subcontractor of the company running the prison, a man with a long purplish scar on one side of his face and cigarette dangling between chubby, yellowed fingers, receives the call and grunts into his headset. On the computer screen in front of him, Mrs. Jones credit rating comes up along with her address and other personal information.

“That Mrs. Jones? The name’s Jake.”

“God, it’s nice hearin’ a real ‘merican.”

“Yeah, I know jus’ what ya mean there, Mrs. Jones. T’aint much fun tryin’ ta figure out what some monkey from Iraq is yakkin’ ’bout.”

Jake takes a long drag on his cigarette, smiles at a grotesquely-pornographic photograph taped to his keyboard, and scratches his shaved head.

“I’m callin’ ya for Jerry Franklin.”

“Jerry Franklin? Why God bless, what a fine Christian man!”

Jake takes another big drag on his cigarette and scratches the crotch of his orange prison jump suit, war-on-terror surplus the private prison contractor obtained from the Pentagon.

“Sure ’nuff is. Well, M’am, they all got somethin’ for ya”

“Somethin’ fur me?”

“Yup. Jerry’s askin’ folks like you if they got themselves focused on Eternity?”

“Oh, you jus’ tell Jerry, I sure am.”

“Yes’am. Jerry figures good Christian folk got special needs.”

“Well, I s’pose they do.”

“Jerry’s thinkin’ what with the End a comin’…”

“Oh, he’s right ’bout that, ya can sure tell when yer gettin’ foreigners botherin’ ya at home an’ all.”

“Well, he jus’ thought maybe ya was interested in some in-surance. Ya know, ta leave somethin’ fur those lef’ behind after the Battle of Armageddon an’ the Rapture an’ all.”

“In-surance? I ain’t interested in no damn in-surance.”

There’s a loud click, and Jake’s left with a hum on the line, but it only lasts a second or two, as another call is transferred from Bangalore.

November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration
John Wight
After Paris: Hypocrisy and Mendacity Writ Large
Joseph G. Ramsey
No Excuses, No Exceptions: the Moral Imperative to Offer Refuge
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS Thrives on the Disunity of Its Enemies
Andrew Moss
The Message of Montgomery: 60 Years Later
Jim Green
James Hansen’s Nuclear Fantasies
Robert Koehler
The Absence of History in the Aftermath of Paris
Dave Lindorff
The US Media and Propaganda
Dave Randle
France and Martial Law
Gilbert Mercier
If We Are at War, Let’s Bring Back the Draft!
Alexey Malashenko
Putin’s Syrian Gambit
Binoy Kampmark
Closing the Door: US Politics and the Refugee Debate
Julian Vigo
A Brief Genealogy of Disappearance and Murder
John R. Hall
Stuck in the Middle With You
Barbara Nimri Aziz
McDonalds at 96th Street
David Rovics
At the Center of Rebellion: the Life and Music of Armand
Weekend Edition
November 20-22, 2015
Jason Hirthler
Paris and the Soldiers of the Caliphate: More War, More Blowback
Sam Husseini
The Left and Right Must Stop the Establishment’s Perpetual War Machine
Mike Whitney
Hillary’s War Whoop
Pepe Escobar
In the Fight Against ISIS, Russia Ain’t Taking No Prisoners
Ajamu Baraka
The Paris Attacks and the White Lives Matter Movement
Andrew Levine
The Clintons are Coming, the Clintons are Coming!
Linda Pentz Gunter
Let’s Call Them What They Are: Climate Liars
Paul Street
Verging on Plutocracy? Getting Real About the Unelected Dictatorship
Nur Arafeh
Strangling the Palestinian Economy
Patrick Howlett-Martin
The Paris Attacks: a Chronicle Foretold
Vijay Prashad
Rebuilding Syria With BRICS and Mortar
Brian Cloughley
Why US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is the Biggest Threat to World Peace