by Gilles d'Aymery
"The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do."
—Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations
(Swans - April 24, 2006) WHEN IT RAINS, IT POURS. Shrewd observers, such as Vanity Fair contributing editor James Wolcott, date the loss of the Midas touch on the part of the wingnuts in the Republican Party to the Terri Schiavo case in March 2005. Remember the episode? It seems like a lifetime ago. Mrs. Schiavo, a gorgeous young woman, collapsed in her home in 1990. She was soon diagnosed with Persistent Vegetative State, but kept "alive" under artificial techniques (tube-feeding and the like). Her husband wanted her disconnected from those horrid machines to rest in peace. It took him fifteen years, during which time he had to fight all possible legal shenanigans thrown at him. From 2003 onward, the right-wing politicos got in the fray -- from Jeb Bush (the Governor of Florida) to his older brother, the president. The Prez, Himself, eventually left his cherished Crawford ranch and cherished vacation to return to Washington D.C. in order to sign a law Congress concocted to transfer the Schiavo case into federal jurisdiction. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and then-House Majority Leader Tom Delay were instrumental in getting the bill passed in the middle of the night, when most representatives were sound asleep. The judiciary would have none of it. Mrs. Schiavo went to rest at long last.
IT WAS A MERRY TIME. The Prez had been re-selected and was much willing to spend a little of the political capital that he believed he had earned at the polls whose computing machines were controlled by his pals. The Reps were jubilant. They dominated both the executive and the legislative branches. Life could not have been finer. They were on a mission. First they would save Mrs. Schiavo's life and then move on to gutting, err reforming, Social Security (which in today's America is almost an oxymoron). But, for whatever reason, the public mood did not follow the script. People in large majority wanted the government out of what was considered a family matter, and for the first time the Reps had to proceed with a prudent retreat. Then the new Social Security plan turned into a debacle. Meantime, over there, in "Airaq," the deadenders and other evildoers were causing increased American casualties with no end in sight. Flowers had metamorphosed into IEDs. The situation was far from rosy.
THEN, A SUCCESSION of bad news surfaced. The Downing Street memos; the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby; a series of corruption scandals that led to the falling from grace of Tom DeLay; Hurricane Katrina with its botched rescue -- people noticed that this time around the Prez didn't interrupt his vacations except for participating in a fund raising event in Southern California -- and the horrendous loss of lives and property (as of this writing, rescuers keep finding decomposed bodies in New Orleans and its surroundings). Cindy Sheehan was a tad inconvenient but nothing that the PR machine could not handle. The Prez's polls went slowly south, but still the American people in their compassionate complacency were quite willing to forgive their smirking leader. After all, the Iraq War has had little impact on Americans' daily lives (except for the soldiers and their families) since it's largely financed through borrowing and so far the housing market has been humming along.
BUT PATIENCE HAS ITS LIMITS. Forget about Spain having gone left of center and Italy following the trend, or that pesky mulatto down in Venezuela making nasty little noises -- this does not even appear on the radar screen. But gas prices do. $2.50 a gallon, $3.00, even $3.50 for the past year or so have begun to bite into consumers' wallets, and that, friends, will rouse the American people all right. Europeans, used to $6.00 and more per gallon, may sneer at us but they should keep in mind that, as noted in "The Noble Cause: Oil" (Swans, August 29, 2005) Americans consume almost 5.7 times as much gas and diesel as Europeans do per capita (429.06 and 75.56 US gallons, respectively, in 2001 according to the International Energy Agency). It all becomes relative, does it not?
ASSAILED BY THE BAD NEWS and with the mid-term elections approaching the Reps have been mumbling louder and louder, picking fights with the Prez and distancing themselves from his policies. The latest fight they chose was with the Latino population, those hard-working migrants from Mexico and Central America that Joseph Farah (WorldNetDaily) calls "human parasites" and the xenophobe at CNN, Lou Dobbs, calls "illegal invaders." Twelve, maybe 14 million of them that the Reps in both the House and the Senate want to forcefully expel. Perhaps they thought the immigration issue would be a great distraction, a way to find scapegoats for the growing pains felt by the public. But as James Wolcott notes astutely, "the rightwing carousel [has begun] to break down and the painted horses lost their rhythm, pawing the air to no avail." First, millions of Latinos took to the streets all over the U.S. in an amazing show of political strength -- the largest demonstrations ever in the country's history. Second, horror of horror for the archconservatives in Congress, the American public largely did not succumb to their reactionary and xenophobic stand and instead called for a liberalization of immigration laws.
TALKING ABOUT "PARASITES," dear readers, please meet Eduardo. Eduardo came to the U.S. just about 2 1/2 months ago from the state of Michoácan, Mexico. Thirty-six years old, extremely fit and strong, he left behind his wife and their two sons (ages 15 and 6), to try to earn a living for him and his family. Why did he leave and what work did he have there, I asked him. I had to leave. I could not even earn enough to bring food to the table, he answered. I used to work in agriculture and logging -- avocado plantations -- but the entire agriculture has been decimated by NAFTA. There's no work, no money. We were going hungry. I had to leave. How did you come here and why here? I first crossed through Texas with a couple of friends. We got caught by the "migra" (border patrol). They put us in jail for a few hours and threw us back to Mexico. We turned around and made a go at it in Nogales, Arizona. No problema. Then I hitched my way here. Friends had told me there was work in logging here; that they pay $10 to $12 an hour, though they deduct 10 percent of the pay. But it's been raining for two months now. I've worked a week in Santa Rosa, and 14 hours in the fields around here, but the guy here has yet to pay me. Señor, could you spare some work? I'll do anything. I need to work.
SO LET'S SEE, we are destroying Mexican agriculture through NAFTA and literally exporting hunger with our own agricultural and food products to Mexico. We are sucking the life-blood of these decent people and forcing them to make the dangerous journey into gringoland in order to do the work that we either do not want to or cannot do, and earn enough money to sustain themselves while here and remit some of their earnings over there to feed their families. Then we turn around and call them "invaders" and "parasites," and use the immigration issue for political gains (hopefully, losses).
WITHOUT THEM, the state of California, for instance, would be on its knees within a matter of weeks. Hotels, restaurants, the entire agricultural sector, would come to a screeching halt. But they are "parasites!" Against this anti-immigrant hysteria the entire Latino community will go on strike all over the U.S. for one day on May 1st, 2006. During that day -- one day without Latinos or immigrants -- they will stop their work and take to the streets. I too am an immigrant. I shall be with them, in solidarity.
AND, YES, I gave Eduardo some work and I was most grateful for his help. We've had a couple of slides due to the rain; a trench, 12-feet long, 3-feet deep and 18-inches wide needed to be dug to fix water seepage along the foundation of the workshop. I sure wish I could use a shovel as well and strenuously as Eduardo. And if we can afford it, I'll give him more till the logging season begins. (Note in passing: the Prez who's so much hated by the "progressives" turned out to be much more decent than them on this issue -- and out of sync with his archconservative base.)
BY THE WAY, CLASS, why has the US administration been so stubbornly opposed to Ibrahim al-Jafaari for the Iraqi prime-ministership? Was he viewed as too inflexible, pro-militia, favoring Shiite interests, anti-Kurd, anti-Sunni? Nope, Mr. al-Jafaari's crime of lese majesty was much more practical: he wanted to renationalize, at least partially, Iraqi oil resources. The new "acceptable" candidate, Jawad al-Maliki, is a much more accommodating man when it comes to "free market." Oil renationalization is not a part of Malaki's program. End of lesson, which the corporate media conveniently omitted from the story.
A FRIENDLY NEBRASKAN WRITES: "Thanks for your online publication. I wish more folks could be exposed to such commentaries. Given the enormous power of our plutocratic have- and have-more masters to filter the information available from major 'news' sources in service of their own selfish interests, it seems miraculous sometimes when some mildly dissenting voice is heard in the mainstream. I'm entirely pessimistic though, in that I think it's more a sign that our masters feel so unthreatened by the prospect of such voices spurring any serious action that they can laugh and say, 'let them talk.' And they are correct. After all, who is listening? But while the outlook for the future is dismal, I enjoy reading commentaries that reassure me that even if pessimism is a product of a wrong-headed un-American bad attitude, at least, I'm far from alone. (Although I'm pretty much alone in this part of the country!) Best regards, D."
WELL FRIEND, first, thank you for the $30 check that accompanied your note. It is much appreciated. If each and every reader of Swans put their money where their heart and mind is, I can assure you that Swans, with no ads, glitzy graphics, mugs, thongs, or T-shirts -- just original content that cannot be found anywhere else, written by a bevy of highly dedicated and loyal volunteers -- will be a viable venture. Not to make one rich, for sure, but enough to pay the operational costs and put food on the table. No doubt about this. Heck, even if only half of the readers contributed a few tens of buckaroos, we would have a sustainable operation that would not have to depend on two Quixotic fools who bleed themselves in the name of ideas and convictions worth bleeding to death for: People before greed; none rich none poor; reason before belief; civic centers before churches; collaboration instead of competition; solidarity with the wretched of the world; custody of the present for the well being of the future (the earth does not belong to humankind, humankind belongs to the earth); united we stand, divided we fall. Think, think, think, think...then, question your own answers...and repeat again...time and again, and again, and again.
THEY DIVIDE US all right, friend. It's a long, long, long, long story. But think of it: The dividers have lost battles after battles over centuries. They are still ahead in the "long war," the only war worth fighting, but they are losing ground over and over. It's a matter of time. That's where you and the many of us have a playing role. We are working to pass the torch to the next generation. It's always hard to remain an optimist, especially on the wake of a long winter, when we, in the Northern hemisphere, need some sun to redeem our negative thoughts. Optimism, love, the thirst for justice, should not be abandoned because of our own failings. Let us keep working to pass on the torch.
CITATION FOR THE AGES: "The young inheritors of the world's supreme military and economic power apparently take it as an insult if anybody invites them to think. Why should they? Thinking is not advertised on television. This is America, where everything good is easy, anything difficult is bad, and the customer is always right."
--Lewis H. Lapham, "Blue guitar," Harper's, May 2006. (Sadly, with this issue, Lapham is leaving the editor's helm of the magazine. He will be sorely missed.)
BOONVILLE NEWS: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, it has rained 25 days out of 31 in the month of March 2006, and 15 days to date in April. Depression, I hear, is making psychotherapists and drug makers (as though the latter needed it) richer by the minute.
Saturday, a month ago, as we were hard at work editing and formatting the previous edition of Swans, we lost our phone line. No dial tone. Anguish set in. Jan, the mother of our editing landscape, called SBC/ATT on her cell phone and after being put on hold for 30 minutes was told to unplug our phones for a few, so that the dial tone would reset itself automatically. Hogwash, I thought. Okay, we did it, waited 15 minutes, replugged...no dial tone. Jan called them back on the cell. A friendly lady asked whether we wanted to have a technician make a house call. Strange question, no? Of course, we wanted. Okay, said she, what about next Tuesday, between 8:00 and 12:00? Err, what about today, this afternoon? Jan asked. Sorry, she answered, this is the earliest time we can make it. Okay, then, go for Tuesday.
Meantime, I wondered how the heck we were going to load Swans the next day. We could try to use our satellite connection but when it's very cloudy and rainy it does not work properly (and it was raining hard). We could copy Swans to our laptop and drive to a neighbor's with the hope they would let us use their phone line for a few minutes.
Still, I walked to the outside switch box to see whether I could fix the darn thing myself. (When we bought the house, there were four lines installed -- three in service. We cancelled two and kept the main number.) As I was verifying the connections with an old ATT phone, Jan suddenly found that one of the cancelled lines (in November 2003) was still connected. At one point we could hear a conversation in Spanish.
In the evening, we unplugged the phone again and went to bed. In the morning, the dial tone was back! I got on line to check e-mails, hung up, and went to work (Swans Sundays are generally kind of hectic). An hour later, I wanted to get on line again... No dial tone... @#$%
Ultimately, I shamelessly used the other line, which I know I was not supposed to do, to load Swans and send the Swans Release e-mail to the multitude of recipients. Lo lamento!
The dial tone came back on Tuesday afternoon. The tech showed up at 5:00 PM. Do you think that I told the Tech about the live line that should have long been disconnected? You betcha, I didn't! And the idiot did not even figure it out!!!
Two days later the dial tone went out again for a short while, then came back out of the blue.
No wonder we are so f***** up in Iraq.
The same week, the pickup truck refused to start (turned out to be a dead battery). No dial tone. No truck. Another oak tree fell and we had a (fortunately) small mud slide about 50 feet away from the house. Somehow, a sense of real isolation kind of set in.
Amusingly -- and I won't complain -- since the phone people did whatever they did our connection to the Internet has moved up from 24 kbps to 36 kbps -- a 50% increase in speed! So, there is hope. One day in the far future, when I'm dead and it thus becomes irrelevant to me, the Anderson Valley will join the 21st century -- or maybe it will be the 22nd if the response time we've experienced keeps as is -- and broadband will become a part of the landscape. I would not bet on it though. But, hey, I could be proven wrong, and I certainly will find out when I am dead.
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.