by Gilles d'Aymery
"This must be put bluntly: every man who has more than is necessary for his livelihood and that of his family, and for the normal development of his intelligence, is a thief and a robber. If he has too much, it means that others have too little."
—Romain Rolland (1866-1944)
(Swans - October 10, 2005) AMERICAN FASCISM, ANYONE? George Beres's article in the last issue, "Too Much Tolerance By Americans Could Feed Fascism," raised once again the temptation of the American experiment to turn toward fascism -- not a German, or Italian, or Spanish fascism but one more perfect, more grandiose, more planetary -- American style. While I did not concur with some of George's reasoning -- e.g., the "Christian Serbs" did not attempt "to annihilate Muslim Bosnians" (George appears to have swallowed the 1990s PR hook, line and sinker... I'd recommend he read Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting - Journalism and Tragedy in Yugoslavia, by American journalist Peter Brock) and his analysis could have gone beyond the Bush administration to encompass the ruling corporate elites -- I nevertheless found his train of thought valid and realistic. There is not only a danger, but an actual, clearly perceivable trend toward a form of fascism that may turn out to be far more violent than anything seen in history.
SURELY, SOME READERS will set aside these concerns as gloom and doom prophecies, as an obsessively pessimistic view of the American experiment. Most people have a mental picture of the word fascism (concentration camps, extermination of minorities, violent fanaticisms, auto-da-fé, etc.) and cannot imagine -- even though some would agree that the U.S. has had her share of concentration camps, extermination of minorities, and the like -- it could recur nowadays. That history is simply set aside as the distant past, erreurs de jeunesse, which America, in her infinite goodness and wisdom, will not allow to repeat.
THESE READERS would be well-advised to read Lewis H. Lapham, "On message," in the October 2005 issue of Harper's Magazine, in which he expounds on the ever "increasing heavy hand of authoritarian guidance." Lapham begins by reviewing Umberto Eco's 1995 essay "Ur-Fascism," published in The New York Review of Books. Eco suggested that it was "a mistake to translate fascism into a figure of literary speech." He looked for "a set of axioms on which all the [different] fascisms agree," writes Lapham. He adds: "Among the most notable:"
The truth is revealed once and only once.
Parliamentary democracy is by definition rotten because it doesn't represent the voice of the people, which is that of the sublime leader.
Doctrine outpoints reason, and science is always suspect.
Critical thought is the province of degenerate intellectuals, who betray the culture and subvert traditional values.
The national identity is provided by the nation's enemies.
Argument is tantamount to treason.
Perpetually at war, the state must govern with the instruments of fear.
Citizens do not act; they play the supporting role of "the people" in the grand opera that is the state.
LAPHAM then uses his considerable talent to show that this set of axioms rigorously applies to the contemporary U.S. of A. From "America's racist passions to the ferocity of its anti-intellectual prejudice..." to "people who don't know how to read or think..."; from the corporate hold on, and strangulation of, free thinking, to a co-opted and supine media at the order of its masters, to science being disregarded, raped, and discarded; from the politics of fear, to war till the end of time; from religious fanaticism, to an intelligentsia -- "the American school of dissent" -- exiled to "half-deserted lecture halls in Midwestern colleges," "[talking] to itself in the pages of obscure journals," widely ignored by the main press. . . . All "largely accepted and understood by a gratifying large number of our most forward-thinking fellow citizens, multitasking and safe with Jesus."
ONE CAN ASK, with Lapham's closing words, when will we begin to applaud the "thrilling cavalcades of splendidly costumed motorcycle police"? It looks like we are well on our way to bear witness to those grandiose accomplishments. I highly recommend this essay. It's a must read. If you can't find it, well, here is a favor to you from Marxmail.org.
A FRIEND WRITES: "Let me add to the TimesSelect bullshit, which you addressed in your last Blips. Here's my ("inspired") E-mail to them:
First of all, you fuckers have failed miserably at being the paper of record (if record is meant to imply truth).
Now you expect people to PAY to access the important parts of your paper (if you haven't noticed, your OPINION columnists come much closer to the truth than your NEWS sections).
This is the beginning of your end. I know I'm done with you, baby. It's not me, it's you.
"My friend found this site which has been posting links to the Op-Eds, but alas, it looks like the Times is making this harder."
I TOO HAVE E-MAILED the New York Times with my own take, expressing not my ire at their crass commercialism but my gratitude.
To the Editor:
Thank you for the TimesSelect commercial gimmick. It has had a therapeutic effect. I used to enjoy the Dowd-Krugman-Rich trio, and occasionally the other columnists. I then would read some editorials and letters, and several various articles -- a daily visit during which I gladly put up with the ads. This routine has come to an abrupt end.
I thought that, like a drug addict, I would suffer withdrawals and face anxiety attacks from this loss, but three weeks later I'm only experiencing a sense of liberation and exhilaration. I've gained an hour a day to think for myself.
And since you have repeatedly espoused and propagated war policies concocted by administrations from both parties, time and again based on lies and deception, as well as domestic policies that are transforming the country into a Third World nation, I'm glad to have left your shibboleths behind for good.
ENERGY CONSERVATION CITATIONS: 1) "We can all pitch in by being better conservers." -- George Bush, September 26, 2005 (Did he mean better "conservatives"?)
2) "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption." -- George W. Bush, on September 23, 2002, in Trenton, New Jersey
3) "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." -- Dick Cheney, May 1, 2001
GO FIGURE THE AGENDA According to the October 2005 Harper's Index, the U.S. spent $780,000,000 in 2004 "on poppy eradication and other antidrug efforts in Afghanistan." The Index then adds that the country's entire poppy crop could have been purchased for $600,000,000. So, let's see: We could have bought the entire Afghan poppy crop for $600 million and then destroyed it; instead we spent $780 million and let the crop reach the Western markets. Hmm, the "free market" at work, I suppose...
QUOTATION FOR THE AGES: "Bush is the most brilliant man I have met."
--Harriet Miers, Bush's faith-based, born-again nominee to the Supreme Court.
DARWINIAN COMPETITION AMONGST THE HAPPY FEW: Following on the Forbes 400, which I mentioned in my last Blips (worth $1.13 trillion -- not the Blips, evidently!), and an article by whining Lib-Lab Paul Loeb, posted all over the Web at the usual whoring multi-posting sites, I reached the conclusion that to be obscenely rich is a tough act to follow. Even there, in the rarified stratosphere of the 0.0001 percent of the population, it's not easy to be, and remain, at the top of the food chain.
TAKE THE "ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRE," Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the #3 richest of the rich on the Forbes 400, worth $22.5 billion on paper, or Oracle C.E.O. Larry Ellison (#5, $17 billion), or Limited Brand's Leslie Wexner (#89, only worth $2.6 billion), who have a passion in common beside money -- big, mega-yachts. Mr. Allen began with the Méduse, a "modest" 1996, 199-foot yacht; then he bought the 2000, 303-foot Tatoosh from his neighbor, cellular magnate Craig McCaw (#125, $2.1 billion), but was still stymied by the fact that #89 Leslie Wexner had a bigger toy, the 1997-built 316-foot, plus or minus a few inches, Limitless. Well, thought Mr. Allen, if the sky has no limits, he should be able to improve the score and become the biggest kid on the block -- and #89 should not be free (like in "freedom and democracy") to compete with #3. So, Mr. Allen commissioned the biggest of the mammoths from the German luxury shipyard, Lürssen Werft, and took possession, for a meek $200+ million, of his new beauty, the 2003, 414-foot Octopus. "Take that, Mr. Wexner! I'm the baddest, baldest, biggest kid in town now."
LACKING LOVE for Microsoft, Larry Ellison planned his assault on the #1 mega-yacht position. He commissioned the same Lürssen shipyard to build the longest of the biggest yacht with the full intent to outdo Allen's feast. In 2004, Mr. Ellison, having sold his 1991, 244-foot Enigma for $68 million, became the happy owner of the ugly, $300+ million, 454-foot Rising Sun. "Maybe I'm only #5, but now I'm #1. Take that, you bachibousouk!" Bigger is better, as any SUV owner will tell you.
OF COURSE, Mr. Allen remains #1 in the mega-length-yacht business, so he thinks. Since he has kept the three yachts under his tutelage, he accounts for no less than 916 feet of ocean, or port, frontage. Allison has a ways to go... The closest contender to Allen's kingship would be the billionaire Russian oil magnate and owner of English Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich (worth over $14 billion according to Forbes). Mr. Abramovich took delivery of the beautifully designed Pelorus, a mere 377-foot Lürssen-built yacht in 2003, which he bought from a Saudi businessman. Mr. Abramovich also owns the 282-foot ($150 million) Ecstasea, and Le Grand Bleu, a 370-foot yacht worth $87 million. Actually, Abramovich is #1 in ocean frontage, with 1,029 feet of length. Mr. Allen will have to make his move soon, although Abramovich is not an American -- so he does not really register on the block.
SOME PEOPLE COLLECT yachts like others do stamps or tin soldiers... It just costs slightly more. To maintain these toys takes about 10% of the purchasing price per year. Mr. Allen may spend as much as $35 or $40 million a year on maintenance. Add to this his two Boeing 757s to transport his august ass and those of his guests to any one of his floating palaces at a moment's notice. I'd guess Mr. Wexner spends $15 mil a year and Allison, $30... Let's forget Abramovich for a moment. Between the three Americans, some $70/80 million are spent in maintaining boat-mansions that are used a few weeks a year.
HOW MANY HOUSES could be built in New Orleans for these token maintenance fees? Take into consideration the purchase price of these mega-yachts and ask yourself the same question: how many houses could be built in New Orleans for that kind of money? Three individuals versus thousands and thousands of people... Think about it...the equation...
NEO-LIBERALISM AT WORK: Going back to Mr. Abramovich, I was struck by a conversation with my companion, Jan Baughman, who shared lunch with a former co-worker who came to the U.S. from Ukraine. This co-worker had just gone back for the first time in 18 years. She told Jan how shocked she was to witness the amount of dire poverty there. As she mused, it was not a Garden of Eden then (in the communist years), but everybody had enough food, education, health, and housing, to make ends meet. It was not great, but no one was left aside, drowning into abject poverty. Today, 18 years later, there are the few filthy rich, and everybody else falling apart, in disrepair and despair. John Steppling has noticed the same trend in Poland (he and his wife Anna cannot even support themselves, the rent, the food, the health care...). The East Europeans, who used to be on an even keel, have all fallen into America's haves vs. have-nots paradigm. It's a disaster in the making, Jan's former co-worker says. Same in Russia, and most pointedly, same in the U.S. Want an example? In Illinois, the top-spending school district spends almost $19,500 more per student than the poor districts. Last year, the gap was only $15,500. Nothing new here as I reported nine years ago, in 1996, in "Shame on us." We'll keep talking rhetorically about alleviating poverty in the world, but that's what the discourse is all about, rhetoric. Poverty is becoming the plague of the well-to-do conscience, from the horrors of Africa to American neighborhoods, passing through all corners of the world. Messrs. Abramovich, Allen, Ellison, et al. should be condemned to spend a few years of their life on the other side of the track (and their wealth confiscated altogether for the better good of humanity).
SPEAKING OF THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS: Did you, dear readers, have the opportunity to hear Etan Thomas -- the basketball player for the NBA Washington Wizards -- as he delivered a fiery speech at the antiwar demonstration in Washington D.C., on September 24, 2005? You did not? Or maybe you did... In both cases, don't let time go by here. Don't let the daily brouhaha that leads you from one story to another so that you keep your numbness alive fool you. Read his speech. Better yet, listen to his speech (there's a link to the Webcast on that page).
HERE IS A TINY EXCERPT: "I'd like to thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts, feelings and concerns regarding a tremendous problem that we are currently facing. This problem is universal, transcending race, economic background, religion, and culture, and this problem is none other than the current administration which has set up shop in the White House.
"In fact, I'd like to take some of these cats on a field trip. I want to get big yellow buses with no air conditioner and no seatbelts and round up Bill O'Reilly, Pat Buchanan, Trent Lott, Sean Hannity, Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Bush Jr. and Bush Sr., John Ashcroft, Giuliani, Ed Gillespie, Katherine Harris, that little bow-tied Tucker Carlson and any other right-wing conservative Republicans I can think of, and take them all on a trip to the 'hood. Not to do no 30-minute documentary. I mean, I want to drop them off and leave them there, let them become one with the other side of the tracks, get them four mouths to feed and no welfare, have scare tactics run through them like a laxative, criticizing them for needing assistance."
ETAN THOMAS was the most powerful speaker, bar none, at the antiwar gathering. He had the smartness to speak little about the war and much about what drives war in the first place. Kudos to him. Much to learn from him...
YES, I KNOW, the media did not cover Etan, or the demonstration for that matter, but humanness was at its best then, showing people who won't give in to the barbarian bargain our rulers from both sides of the aisle are offering us in unison. Wake up America!
JOYFUL NEWS: Renowned San Francisco Bay Area bookstore, Kepler's, has been "saved." It re-opened this past Saturday thanks to the many patrons in the community who committed to help the store financially. That the building's landlord agreed to lower the rent, under heavy pressure from the local top hats, did certainly help. This is indeed good news for Kepler's, and perhaps a wake-up call on the need to support our local businesses.
SOLAR ENERGY: I can't resist bringing this other bon mot from the White House Resident in Chief. Here is what Bush said in his October 4, 2005 press conference:
I had an interesting opportunity to go see some research and development being done on solar energy. I'm convinced, someday in the relative near future we'll be able to have units on our houses that will be able to power electronics within our houses, and hopefully, with excess energy, be able to feed them back in the system. That's possible. We're not there yet, but it's coming.
IS THIS GUY that clueless? No wonder he's botched Iraq and Katrina! As Studs Terkel would say about the he-man he calls "second banana" (first banana being Karl Rove) or the "clown," it may be "a burlesque show, really, but it's not funny." Not funny, indeed! I mean, Bush does not even know that photovoltaic solar electric generating systems, whether on or off the grid, have been around for a long time. Heck, my uphill neighbor has had an array of 18 or 20 solar panels feeding into an inverter and hooked to the public greed for close to a decade. Further uphill, a small cabin owned by a retired couple who visits twice a year is off the grid with a tiny array fed into batteries, enough to provide electricity for the well pump and the cabin. The first silicon solar cell was made in the spring of 1953 by Gerald Pearson, a physicist at Bell Labs, and work on solar energy goes way back to the 1860s in France (ah ben oui, alors!). Photovoltaic systems have been installed in California since the 1980s. They say that ignorance is bliss. We have a homo ignoramus in the White House. No wonder education is going downhill in this country. Be ignorant, my son, and you may become POTUS one day...
BOONVILLE NEWS: Someone tell that dullhead in D.C. that right here the Anderson Valley Brewing Company (yeah, we don't make only wine in the valley) is completing a major photovoltaic system with two arrays of 40 by 54" panels, each producing 187 watts of power, for a grand total of 786 panels. The peak output should be around 125,000 watts of AC power. The system, whose life expectancy is about 40+ years should pay for itself in a few years. It is connected to the public grid. Even Muscle Man down in Sacramento is coming with a Million Solar Roof legislation and a new California State Rebate Program. But, hey, it's only a "personal virtue," not "an energy policy," if you follow Cheney's and the other crazies' thinking. Instead of spending gazillions of dollars on lethal weapons to wreak mayhem and death around the world could we not as a society decide to solarize the country? Here's an idea:
LET THE PUBLIC utilities companies take care of the installation, maintenance, and management of solar systems. These companies have always resisted those systems because they lose customers, hence money -- the usual vicious circle. So, let's find a way to have these fat cats keep their profits dandy. They'd lease the rooftop or a patch of land of peoples' houses; install as many cells as they physically can, two, three, four times as much as the electricity needs of each household. All the excess electricity would be fed into the public grid. In exchange the utility company would provide free electricity to each household (in payment for each lease) up to an average to be determined; charge the normal rate for consumption above the average; and market the excess of electricity fed to the grid. Less oil, less pollution, new jobs. Wow, what a radical idea!
I READ IN OUR LOCAL RAG that the Mendocino County Planning Department conducted an informal poll to rank the 15 issues of greatest importance to the locals. #1 was lack of affordable housing; #2 was watershed issues and water quality; #3 was hillside development and grading impacts; #4 was lack of water availability. I'll stop here, though #10, lack of thresholds or objective standards for projects or cumulative impact analysis, made me pensive... Anyway, from the pre-written 15 issues, not one addressed the vineyards, and as the reporter noted with some acidity, unaffordable housing, watershed issues, water quality and availability, hillside development and grading impacts, are all directly related to, and caused by, the literal invasion of grape growers and wine makers. They gobble the land; dam the Navarro river with countless unregulated ponds, killing the fishes; poison the land with their pesticides; pollute the water; pump from streams, creeks, wells, lowering the water table; attract immigrants, underpay them, and don't provide housing, leaving the social costs to the community. Worse, the biggest operations are owned by out of the area -- absentee owners. The reporter concludes: "If this were a democracy, we could put some reasonable restrictions on grapes on the ballot and most residents, probably including many from the so-called 'wine-industry,' would vote for it" (from "Valley People," Anderson Valley Advertiser, 09/28/05).
Problem is, this is not a democracy. It's a plutocracy: the democracy of the rich, by the rich, for the rich. It's also known as a greedocracy and a kleptocracy -- and for the rest of us, it's a dumbocracy!
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...