by Gilles d'Aymery
"It is to be expected that we will run out of fossil fuels before we run out of optimists, who are, along with fools and madmen, a renewable resource."
—Dmitry Orlov, August 15, 2006
(Swans - June 18, 2007) HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Last week, I was treated to my first copy of The Canyon Country Zephyr thanks to a new subscription courtesy of Jim Stiles, the publisher and editor of the Moab, Utah, bi-monthly magazine, and author of Brave New West (University of Arizona Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-8165-2474-7), a book that looks into the impact of the cappuccino Westerners who out of liberalism and enlightened environmentalism are destroying rural life by bringing with them, with fully good intentions, city amenities and more consumerism. As readers may already know, I discovered the Zephyr (also referred to among cognizant enviros as simply The Z) thanks to good ol' Martin Murie, our unrepentant environmentalist, who's been contributing to The Z for at least six years -- you can read his first article (or at least, the first article that I could find in Z's archives) in the June-July 2001 issue, "In Defense of Nostalgia," in which Martin uses the occasion of a visit to his old home grounds, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to deliver a few plain actualities in his inimitable style.
SIX YEARS LATER, the June-July issue fittingly features "varmentalist" Murie with a front page photo of him at the age of 8 in September 1933, with Tooluak, his Siberian Husky. Look at the smile and gleaming, somewhat mischievous, eyes -- wonderfully endearing... Then, on pages 8 and 9, more pictures and the first part of "Losing Solitude: The Jackson Hole I Loved," with snippets of Martin's childhood and schooldays and reading sessions of great novels and other works by famous authors, which reminded me of my own childhood and the tiny rural school I attended in 1956-58. Madame Puèch, our institutrice (primary school teacher, but with a strong French Third Republic connotation) would do the very same, reading the classics to the children of the farming community -- but that's a story for another time.
MORE PICTURES YET in the center pages (p. 16-17): Mardy Murie, Martin's mom; his brother Donald; his own three children and more; with what it "was like to travel to Jackson Hole in the 1930s" through "excerpts from the American Guide series, compiled by the workers of the Writers' Program of the Works Progress Administration." Teton National Forest, the Continental Divide, Jackson Lake, etc. A good read that will remind you of the old adage, "All Happy, None Rich, None Poor." This is a publication that deserves your support. For just $15 (The Zephyr, P.O. Box 327, Moab, UT 84532) you can get a one-year subscription -- $28 for 2 years, $40 for 3 years.
NOW, YOU MAY ASK why I make a plug for The Z when I am rather remiss at raising funds for Swans. Why support the "competition"? Wrong questions. We must create a web of co-operation and shun competition. Jim Stiles launched The Zephyr in March 1989. He had to either be a fool or an idealist, or both, to enter willingly into a venture that would at best keep him poor or at worst make him homeless. Stiles has been described in turn as a cantankerous curmudgeon, a Luddite, a radical bonehead, but also a perpetrator of knowledge with a great sense of humor, and a "passionate defender of kindness and common sense," one who is "clinging hopelessly to the past since 1989." In 1996, he jumped into a deeper hole by making The Z free for local readers and theretofore depending on out-of-state subscribers and local advertisers. The ads he publishes are the most creative and the funniest that I have ever seen. Actually, one of his readers, Ber Knight, writes: "Yours is the only publication I see where I look at all the ads, though I admit I don't read all of every article." I mean, even the local Moab Chevron gas station advertises in the paper with good humor!
FOR OVER A DECADE, I've endeavored to build bridges between people and organizations with the idea of being a part of and helping build an independent grassroots movement with people from all walks of life, but with the stubborn effort to build way afar from ideological chapels and political denominations. I've tried, at least from 1999 on, to create alliances with Znet, Counterpunch, Antiwar.com, the WSWS, the WWP, the Marxmailistas, Dissident Voice, Sacramento's Because People Matter, Press Action, FAIR, Monthly Review, the Feral Scholar, the Jackson Progressive, the Anderson Valley Advertiser, the Oregon AVA (which failed miserably within 6 months), and many more that one can peruse in our Connection Page, which is being updated regularly (with many sites gone). To put it mildly: I have had limited success, but that should not keep one from trying again... There are people out there who are not tied to any hobbled party and do not think about themselves first. These are the people I want to reach.
JIM STILES is one of these people...hopefully. He is a non-denominational character who's fighting for a way of life that both Martin Murie and I espouse -- and we are not talking about environmentalism à la Al Gore, which by the way Jim debunks in his current "Take it or Leave it" column. So, please support the Z, and when you are at it, think of supporting Swans too.
NONE RICH, NONE POOR, should make you think of Richistan and Pooristan. Richistan is the title of a recent book by Robert Frank (Crown Publishers). The author exposes that the rich have no clue of what's going on in the distressed kingdom of poverty that lies all over the land of this little planet of ours. In Richistan, an 11-year old kid of the blessed ones asks her parents to fly commercial (instead of private) -- a gift for her birthday: I want "to ride on a big plane with other people. I want to see what an airport looks like on the inside." How cool.
PERHAPS, THIS ARISTOKID would safely land back on earth were the proposal of Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner implemented. As labor journalist Sam Pizzigati, the Editor of Too Much and author of Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality That Limits Our Lives, reports in "Saving the World - from the Wealthy," Gardner posits that, "The United States needs an income cap. . . . that limits the amount of money a single individual can annually take home to no more than '100 times as much money as the average worker in a society earns in a year.'" Gardner also posits that "no individual should be allowed to accumulate an estate more than 50 times the allowed annual income." (Read Pizzigati's entire article.)
GARDNER'S PROPOSAL, which was published in Foreign Policy, is still too generous, but it would be a significant first step toward a more socially progressive society whereby both Richistan and Pooristan would eventually fade away. In the interim, the parents of this little spoiled brat could take the advice of Etan Thomas, the basketball player for the NBA Washington Wizards, and send their kid to the 'hood for her summer vacation, to "drop [her] off and leave [her] there, let [her] become one with the other side of the tracks." Remember Thomas's speech at the antiwar demonstration in Washington D.C., on September 24, 2005? (See my Blips #27.)
DRIVING'S A GAS: About a month ago, I had to fill my 20-year-old Toyota Land Cruiser -- it gets about 18/19 miles a gallon when driving at 50/55 mph). The tank was almost empty. I poured just about 19 gallons of regular. Cost: $63. My eyeballs almost popped out. Never before had I spent that much money on gas. But it gets better. I drove down to town the other day to get 4.5 gallons of diesel for the tractor and 2 gallons of supreme for our Stihl brushcutter/trimmer/weedeater. Six and one half gallons: Over $23.50. Err, I asked the cashier, there must be an error...almost 4 bucks a gallon? No error. Now, before my European readers begin laughing at me, as they often pay in excess of $6 per gallon, they should know about the infrastructure of the country and the kind of vehicles that roam the highways. There's no public transportation to speak of, except in a few metropolitan areas. Eighty percent of all freight is transported by trucks over long distances. Trucks average 125,000 miles per year at 4 to 7 miles per gallon. Ninety-seven percent of the transportation sector is oil dependent. I'm not saying it is right or wrong. I'm simply saying it is the actuality. So when prices go from say $2 to $3 a gallon, that increase is inevitably going to have ripple effects on the economy. There are about 26 million small businesses in the U.S., practically all of them depending to a large extent on transportation. From the local pizza parlors to the groceries stores the cost of rising fuel prices are passed on to the customers, who end up being hit from all sides. They must pay more to drive to the stores and swallow the higher costs of the goodies they buy. Inflation anyone?
HEARINGS TO OBLIVION: Even the elites are getting concerned. The US Senate's Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, chaired by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), held a hearing on June 14, 2007, on "The Impact of Rising Gas Prices on America's Small Businesses" -- an instructive hearing to say the least (you can watch a video on the Committee's Web site). Two small business owners, a representative of the truck industry, a member of the Department of Energy, and, more importantly, the legendary chairman of FedEx (Fred Smith) were testifying. They quickly showed that in the past year or so transportation costs have shot up by about 35 percent, an increase that is slowly reverberating through the entire US economy with obvious consequences (the "butterfly effect"). Of special interest for those who are reading between the lines was the "big picture" testimony of the FedEx's CEO.
FRED SMITH was there not in his capacity of head of a $34 billion business, with 275,000 employees worldwide and a fleet of 672 aircrafts and 70,000 vehicles but as the co-chair of The Energy Security Leadership Council ("Committed to Reducing America's Oil Dependence"), a project of Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE) -- "a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization committed to reducing America's dependence on oil and improving U.S. energy security in order to bolster national security and strengthen the economy." The organization is composed of heads of very powerful US corporations, decision makers, and a phalanx of retired generals and admirals. Fred Smith was exceptionally candid as he presented the Establishment's assessment of the "big picture" in terms of economic and strategic interests and the proposals that are likely to come to fruition in one form or another in the coming years. They certainly are not proposals that Jim Stiles, Martin Murie, or I would embrace, but they are what's in store for the foreseeable future. Additionally, how often do you hear a member of the elites say in a public setting that one of the major roles of the US military is to secure the access and security of the black gold? He could not be clearer! "No blood for oil" is quickly becoming a quaint slogan, especially coming from anti-warriors who waste more fossil fuel in order to gather in one place or another to chant their same old same old catchphrases without ever offering alternatives -- but here is yet again another story.
"SAFE" DID AN EXTRAPOLATION earlier on this year when the big boys and a few gals met in Davos, Switzerland. A three to four percent disruption or drop in worldwide oil supply would lead to a staggering price of $120/125 per barrel. Mr. Smith is not in the business to think about the consequences of such prices on poor countries in, for example, the sinking African continent. He only thinks about the Northern Hemisphere, more specifically the USA -- and, from his frame of reference, he can see the threatening clouds gathering on the horizon, which if ever they turn into thunderstorms could lay waste on the U.S. and the industrialized world.
YOU'D THINK that Fred Smith would advocate a different path; that he would have heard of such Luddites as Martin and Jim. Nope. He recommends the only thing he knows: Repeat the past and improve on it. His proposal and that of the SAFE group he co-chairs, beside suggesting that the industrialized world should help the U.S. financially to defray the costs our military gendarmes of the oil realms carry, offers a three-tiered approach: 1) Increase efficiency standards, i.e., higher mileage per gallon for all vehicles. 2) Promote alternative fuels, i.e., ethanol, bio-fuels, etc. And 3), increase domestic production (off the continental shelf, ANWR, etc.). In other words, the solution to the conundrum is to keep doing what we have always done: More technological fixes and more growth. Good luck!
STRANGE that a group of smart and intelligent people can clearly delineate the problem and yet come up with worn-out solutions. I highly recommend that you take the time to read the SAFE Report (PDF file), which offers mainstream establishment's recommendations for lowering US oil dependence and promote security to keep the status quo going. I'm sure both Jim and Martin can take that monster apart.
THINKING OF IT, before this far-fetching (!!!!) strategic plan is implemented (and it will be), not only will the poor countries be erased from the face of the world, but we in America will become bankrupt. No more delivered pizzas, no more driving to Wal*Mart. We will run not just for the hills, but for survival. It's coming folks. Time to wake up, though I won't bet on the awakening.
THE REASON NOT TO BET on the awakening of the famed exceptional American polity has nothing to do with the polity, but with the people in charge of our destiny -- the Fred Smiths of the world. Think of Bill Clinton: Mr. Clinton commands $125,000 to $300,000 for any speech he gives. He's made some $40 million on the lecture circuit since leaving office. Can you relate to the number? I cannot. Do you think they truly understand the quagmire from within their golden bubble? Do you think Bill Gates fathoms the reality of the masses? Maybe you do. I do not.
WELL, HOLD ON A MINUTE: The famed polity does hold its share of responsibility. Look for instance at the sales of gas-guzzling SUVs. They are up 6 percent in the first quarter of 2007 and 25 percent in April (compared to 2006). The sales of the GMC Yukon was up 72 percent; the Chevy Suburban, 38 percent. Those mastodons get at most 14 miles a gallon. To fill the beasts' tank will relieve the happy owner from $120 at any one time. In April 2006, according to Edmunds.com, 47,363 SUVs were sold; in April 2007, 59,297. The American Dream? Own a Hummer, a 5,000 square-foot house with a three-car garage filled to the rim with utterly unnecessary consumer products and goodies, a big yard with an immaculate, irrigated lawn, a couple of 52" plasma TVs (make it 100"), and somewhere, lost among the whole obscenity, impoverished souls and minds who dutifully revivify themselves in Church on Sundays...before driving back to Wal*Mart.
DOOMED we are so long as we put out our hopes in people who could care less about us and enrich themselves on our backs, and we stubbornly stick to our "way of life." When will people understand?
. . . . .
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.