by Gilles d'Aymery
"It is not easy for men to rise whose qualities are thwarted by poverty."
—Juvenal (55 AD-127 AD)"The marvel of all history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments."
—George Washington (1732-1799)
(Swans - September 7, 2009) THE LICENSE FEE of my 1986 Toyota pickup truck was $66 in 2008. This year it's gone up to $80 -- a 21.21 percent increase. The Mendocino County fee for the license of Priam, our faithful 10-year-old dog and companion (they call him a "pet"), went from $40 to $50 in just one year -- a 25 percent increase. I could multiply these two examples by the multiple license fees that we are paying to either the local or state coffers. They don't even have a unified rate over the board, but they are shooting up like crazy -- no deflation here.
WHILE UNAPPRECIATED, they are understandable because of the huge yearly deficits run by the state of California, filled by massive borrowing. Hit hard by the recession, the budget gap has grown to $27 billion. The state is largely insolvent, its expenses running far greater than its revenues. Its credit rating is dangerously flirting with junk status. If it were not for a federal law that forbids states to declare bankruptcy, California would be in Chapter 11 today. Instead, our multi-millionaire exterminator, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the legislature came up with a mix of accounting gimmicks and deep cuts in services in July. They played with I.O.U.'s -- warrants for residents awaiting a tax refund or private contractors providing social services to the state and local agencies. In addition, they requested that the counties lend money to the state (a measure that apparently was rescinded) and kicked the ball down the road by borrowing more monies. Of course, this was not sufficient to fill the gap. So they proceeded to slash spending on education and health care, targeting the most powerless and indigent members of the polity. Thousands and thousands of social workers received their pink slips or were forced to take a third furlough day per month without pay. Out of $15 billion in service cuts, over $8 billion targeted education and $1.3 billion Medicaid. So, it's no surprise that fees and all sort of levies go up (except wages and donations to Swans), while services are going down. Some ideologically-driven dimwits argue that if you are not poor, have no kid in K-12 or in college, get health insurance from your employer (or your spouse's employer), and are lucky enough to still have a job, you should not worry much. These cuts won't affect you directly. Think again.
EVERY DECEMBER since we moved to Boonville, this small rural community 115 miles north of San Francisco, we have been sending modest donations to local organizations that constitute the backbone of the social fabric that keeps us all together: The Anderson Valley (AV) Fire Fighters Association, the AV Health Center, the AV Ambulance Volunteers, the AV Housing Association (for low income families), the AV Elder Home, etc. I recall how thankful we were to our firefighters during the inferno that took over the valley and much of the county in June 2008. They needed financial sustenance for fuel and equipment. We immediately responded. We were proud to have participated in the funding of the $1.3 million "green" addition to the AV Health Center. Our contribution was tiny in comparison to more affluent residents, or the matching grant from the Tides Foundation ($250,000), but still we were a part of the solution.
OPEN PARENTHESIS: Notice, if you will, that all these organizations are non-profit, and are either left regularly under-funded or not funded at all (like the AV Ambulance Volunteers, which depends entirely on the generosity of the residents) by the county, state, and federal governments, and notice that they all are social services. I've long wondered whether this situation was a purposely-crafted policy to keep people in a constant state of insecurity, so that attention is focused on local issues while the larger national and international issues (how our taxes are spent, war & peace, etc.) don't receive the consideration that they deserve and are left in the hands of the elites. And when the shit hits the fan and sacrifices are forced upon the residents of any community the blame is almost always deflected from the decision makers by the same decision makers toward the usual scapegoats -- the illegal immigrants, the poor...the terrorists... Closed parenthesis.
THE AV HEALTH CENTER is a non-profit organization whose "mission is to provide excellent [it does] and affordable [it is] health care to the people of Anderson Valley." It cares for over 78 percent of the community -- including me. At its heart is Dr. Mark Apfel, a keen, sane, and sound doctor, whom I once covered in my February 12, 2007, Blips #47. (Though my reference to him shows up in the later part of those Blips, I recommend reading the entire piece as it provides a good picture of American society and culture.) According to a fundraising letter I have just received,
Dr. Mark Apfel is one of the most important members of our community and certainly the vital heart of our health center. In 1976, Mark's cousin, Franklin, started the Anderson Valley Health Center with other interested valley residents. Mark joined him six months later after completing medical school. Mark grew up in the Bronx and attended Syracuse University. After interning at Harkness Hospital in San Francisco in 1973, he worked in several bay area medical facilities, then he settled in the Valley in 1976. He has been interested in rural medicine since medical school and is truly a country doctor in the old fashioned sense. Mark tends to his patients at all hours and situations -- often making house calls to or from work at the Health Center.
THERE WAS more to this fundraising letter, however. It read:
... Like many organizations these days the Health Center has been affected by the current economic downturn. The State has eliminated our service support grants, which means that we will have a $250,000 loss in revenue to our just over $1 million budget. The State cuts combined with program cuts to adult dental, and child health programs represent a 33% reduction in revenues in this fiscal year. We are also experiencing a sharp increase in the number of patients who do not have health insurance. We treat these patients, of course, but we will not be reimbursed for the cost of their care.
The Board of Directors of the Health Center is addressing this huge decrease in revenue in a number of ways. We asked our staff to purchase only those items that are absolutely necessary for providing excellent care for our patients. We have also instituted what we hope will be a temporary 9.75% cut in pay for all staff. [...]
We have contacted U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein... [...]
Our fund raising committee is discussing activities for the coming year. . . . . We will need community support for these efforts so we are forming the Friends of the Health Center to raise funds and provide volunteers. . . . . Now we are asking our community to continue to support our vital health care organization. . . . . Thank you in advance for seriously considering an end of summer donation toward community health. It is a community affair!
HEALTH CARE is a community affair, not a societal one, right? When society is not up to the task then the community needs to come to the fore. Fine. Jan (my companion and spouse) and I decided to send them $150 (which for me is a substantial amount since my work on Swans does not generate any revenue). Here we are, in Libertarian country, being asked for personal charity to help sustain the fundamental right to care that the state and the federal governments ought to cover. They do not. We are supposed to do it. But where does the money come from? We are forced to pay higher levies to the state, need to help the community organizations that are so vital to the well being of us all, and struggle to keep our income (essentially that of my wife) steady. In other words we are being squeezed on both ends of the ledger, like the overwhelming majority of the American people (note that where there is a majority, there also is a minority -- and I am not referring to "minorities"). Well, you tighten your belt and make choices by saving where you can.
HEREIN LIES THE IRONY: In the past few months, I've gone out from time to time to have dinner at a couple of local restaurants. My rationale to do so was two-fold. First, with the recession/depression in full bloom, I wanted to help these local restaurateurs get through these hard times. Second, it was a way to get better acquainted with the "locals" and not remain the hermit I have become in recent years. I've spent just about $15 every time. That's ten dinners I'm not going to attend in order to help the AV Health Center. The money is certainly better spent on the Health Center, but two small business owners may respectfully disagree, suggesting that if everybody deserted their outfits to help the Health Center, they would have to lay off employees, a snowballing process that eventually would have a negative effect on the Health Center itself. Remember, everything is related and interwoven... Call it the gradual but relentless immiseration of the many for the profits of the few.
WHICH BRINGS ME back to the famed minority. As mentioned above, the Health Center contacted the two California senators, who "have promised to explore ways to help." Coming from Mrs. Feinstein this "exploration" is particularly entertaining, if not galling. As noted in my February 2007 Blips #47 and my May 2006 Blips #36, Senator Feinstein and her third husband, investment banker Richard Blum, had "moved from their San Francisco Presidio Terrace home in January 2006 and bought a $16.5 million, 9,500 sq. ft. house in Pacific Heights. A couple of years ago, they built a $7.4 million ski retreat on 30 acres in Aspen, Colorado; and five years ago they traded their Washington D.C. townhouse for a $6 million French Renaissance style estate." The couple's net worth is estimated at over $100 million, the investments of the financial entities in which Mr. Blum is involved are reported to be over $1 billion, and it is alleged that he has benefited from legislations sponsored by his wife regarding the Iraq War and the financing of the FDIC. Whatever these allegations and the total of the investments, $250,000 must amount to less than their yearly bills for travel & entertainment, and the servants they employ to take care of their real estate. Furthermore, the senator who voted for both the Afghan and Iraq wars has consistently voted to fund these obscene adventures, which cost between $6 and $10 billion a month -- oops, sorry, we can't fund your clinic, but we'll "explore ways to help." And let us not forget that they have health care coverage, courtesy of the taxpayers.
WHETHER THE AV Health Center will survive the storm without federal or state help is a bet I would not want to take. Obviously our $150 donation won't change the outcome. Everybody in Anderson Valley is suffering. Even the vineyards -- the biggest employers -- have cut back on spending and seen their revenues dwindle. To fill a $250 to $350,000 gap is going to be a tough proposition, and even if it's achieved, there will be next year and the next one... Essentially, the powers-that-be have decided that not only the poor world is expendable, the American people too are expendable. Think I exaggerate? Again, think again.
POTTER VALLEY is a small community located east of Anderson Valley. It had a Community Health Center for 27-some years. It was created once the county had shut down its outpatient clinic. The PV Health Center served thousands of patients. It closed on August 21, 2009. Its president, Sue Meek, wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Ukiah Daily Journal in which she simply stated:
Despite an outstanding staff, high productivity in our medical and dental programs, recent draconian budget cuts and "blue line vetoes" by Governor Schwarzenegger to State funding for community health centers coupled with the elimination of Medi-Cal's dental and other "optional" benefits, left Potter Valley Community Health Center losing $546,000 on a budget of just under $1.5M. In other words it is not financially feasible for PVCHC to continue operations. Our doors closed on Friday, August 21. [To understand the dire situation, please read the full letter.]
"IT IS NOT financially feasible" due to the absence of federal funding (the AV Health Center does not receive federal funds either) and the savage sacking of State help. As Sue Meek concluded, "Unfortunately, health reform will come too little and too late for this community." Result: Twenty-seven staff laid off and over 3,200 patients left to dangle in the wind. Go one step further: our local school district has also been hit hard by the drastic cuts in State funds. Our local high and elementary schools is facing a big shortfall (of I believe $600,000) in comparison to last year's budget. As the Mendocino County Web site states, "The light at the end of the tunnel has been extinguished due to budget cuts."
EVERY TAXPAYER to the US federal budget spends 54 cents of each paid dollar for the US military. America, with 4.5 percent of the world's population, spends 47 percent of the worldwide spending on the hardware, software, and human personnel of death. We are, and it seems, always have been, a country that values violence over peaceful relations, so that our garages and rooms can be filled with literally meaningless consumer goods for the better enrichment of the very few (0.01 percent) of the people who keep us in bondage (cf. Dianne Feinstein, et al). The rhetoric of peace, freedom & democracy, and moral self-righteousness controls the airwaves but the reality of war, greed, and decimation of the public sphere dominates our existence -- our well being be damned. On the gap between the rhetoric and the reality -- a Grand Canyon-like chasm -- allow me to bring the words of a Swiss observer, a banker, who in an August 24, 2009, Investment Commentary (PDF) that focused on the moral hypocrisy of the US government in regard to tax policies wrote:
At the risk of once again winding up certain specialists in business ethics, let us briefly recall the sort of tax authorities we are dealing with, and the sort of state they serve: a country that, over the last 60 years, has unquestionably been one of the most aggressive nations in the world. The USA has fought by far the largest number of wars, sometimes with, but mostly without a UN mandate. It has broken the international laws of war, maintained secret prisons, and fought an absurd war against drugs, with serious consequences both abroad (Columbia, Afghanistan) and at home (according to reliable sources, the tentacles of the narcotics mafia now reach well into political circles). With breathtaking moral duplicity, the USA maintains enormous offshore havens in Florida, Delaware and others of its states. The moralizers have joined sides with a nation that still makes extensive use of the death penalty, and that has a legal system under which lawyers can get rich on the misfortunes of their clients. Liability cases often end in verdicts with exorbitant damages, which makes business activity extremely risky, for medium-sized enterprises in particular. The moralizers provide intellectual support for a country that allows its infrastructure to collapse, and then stuffs convicts into hopelessly overfilled jails, after what are not infrequently dubious proceedings. They fund a nation that tolerates -- or rather, causes -- regular crises in the global financial system that it manages. A country whose underclass enjoys neither the benefits of an adequate education, nor a halfway functional healthcare system; a country whose economic system is increasingly inclined to overconsumption, and in which saving and investing have increasingly become alien concepts, a situation that has undoubtedly been one of the driving forces behind the current recession, with all its catastrophic consequences for the whole world.
NOW, Konrad Hummeler is not your run-of-the-mill radical leftist. He is the quite conservative president of Switzerland's oldest bank, Wegelin & Co., which was founded in 1741. The bank has decided to leave the US market entirely and his commentary, which details with acuteness the economic, fiscal, and moral contradictions of the U.S., is entitled "Farewell America." It encapsulates from a business and conservative perspective (for Hummeler, FDR's New Deal was a huge socialistic failure) the economic conditions of a failing system and a destructive construct -- an America that millions of folks, including the staff at the AV Health Center, reject heartedly. Still we are a minority and I therefore expect that this state of utter depravation, moral and otherwise, will carry on for the foreseeable future, till the demise of that violent imperial experiment takes place in due course, and perhaps we or future generations will create a social system in which education and health care are a right, not a privilege; and the allocation of resources will be done according to need, not greed. (Still, for the curious minds, I highly recommend Hummeler's analysis -- in PDF or in iPaper format. You'll learn much about banking and economic intricacies.)
A EUROPEAN READER took exception with my August 24 essay, "Eurasian Spectacle And Reality," asserting that the US foray in Afghanistan and the Greater Middle East was not just about the control of energy resources. She is eminently correct. That's the reason I wrote in the introduction, "The control of Eurasia is mostly about [energy]." It is also about the profits of the merchants of deaths, of course; and it is very much about domestic politics as wars always are. It's also the reflection of imperial hubris and the prevalent violence of the American culture (but these last two are rather unexceptional in the history of wars and empires). Still, it remains that we would not be there and use Russia and China as bogeymen if these forsaken lands had no strategic value due to the energetic riches they contain. Where there is oil and gas, there is conflict -- all over the world. Conflict is relatively dormant (or subterraneous) in Latin America, but check where the prize(s) is (are) and natural resources, especially fossil fuels, are at the center of Western interventions under the American umbrella. It is indeed mostly about energy.
. . . . .
C'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.