Swans » From the Martian Desk


Blips #6

by Gilles d'Aymery

November 15, 2004   


"Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism."
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

(Swans - November 15, 2004)   WATER FOR PROFIT -- NO MONEY, NO WATER: According to the UN Environment Programme, about 1.1 billion people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water and about 2.4 billion do not have access to sanitation. In South Africa, where racial apartheid has been replaced by economic, neo-liberal apartheid thanks to "I am a Thatcherite" Thabo Mbeki, water has been commodified and privatized. Giant international water management firms like Vivendi and Suez from France have answered the call from the South African government and implemented new policies benignly called "full cost recovery," resulting in the installation of pre-paid meters (you pay first, then you get your water...no money...no problem...no water...it's that simple). As many as 10 million South Africans have seen their water cut off since 1994 (the end of racial apartheid)... On South Africa, see the February 2003 Canadian CBC Radio's backgrounder by Bob Carty, "Whose hand on the tap? Water privatization in South Africa" and the "International call for Solidarity with Water Struggles in South Africa" from the Polaris Project.

PROFITS BEFORE PEOPLE: Water commodification has occurred all over the world. Water Barons like Suez have operations in India, Argentina, Canada, The Philippines, etc.; actually Suez also operates various US cities' water management systems (like, until last year, Atlanta, Georgia). Why should corrupt bureaucrats in government run water systems when the private sector is so much more efficient and lean (not mean, bien entendu)? Ah, the free-market mantra... Problem is, in each and every case, the cost of water has increased (not decreased) and its delivery decreased (not increased) -- and those efficient and lean Water Barons use the respective governments and local authorities to impose penury on the downtrodden. Again, no money...no problem...no water.

AS SAID, THIS PHENOMENON is not occurring only in economically poor countries. The "First World" is not immune. Take the example of Atlanta, Georgia, good ol' USA: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on November 1, 2004 ("Atlanta start to turn off taps") that "Atlanta's Watershed Management Department has assigned 20 to 24 staffers to terminate service to customers whose bills are delinquent at least 30 days . . . . About a quarter of the city's 134,000 water customers fall into that category . . . . the department estimates they owe $35 million . . . . officials began shutting off service Thursday and planned to turn off the meters of 400 to 500 delinquent customers a day for the 'foreseeable future.'" There's a 43% rate hike scheduled for January 2005, the second rate hike in five years...thanks to privatization... Alarmed by the sheer scale of the increase, the city of Atlanta put on the ballot last summer "a 1 percent sales tax increase to pay for water and sewer improvements." Three out of four voters approved the tax increase. In other words, public funds are diverted to profit-making private companies... Meanwhile the same local authorities are implementing "full cost recovery" programs on behalf of the same private interests, by "terminating" water services to those who can't afford to pay their bills. Neat trick, no?

WATER, A HUMAN RIGHT? Sorry -- wrong question -- for one should rather ask, is there any human right left, any human right that has not been commodified and privatized? But, so that you know, "about 34,000 people die EACH DAY worldwide due to diseases related to water, feces and dirt, such as cholera and infant diarrhea. In developing countries, 80 per cent of illnesses are water related" (source: Environment Canada).

I KEEP ASKING MYSELF how we -- you know the animal bipeds, the only animal that kills without necessity, as someone once observed -- can let such a dismal, horrifying disaster happen. Difficult question, no easy answer, I suppose. Great minds have discoursed on this for ages... Perhaps we should look at Luther and Calvin...you know the "personal responsibility" hogwash of "My money is my money. I have obligations too. I have worked hard for what I do have & I want to use it for me & my family, not someone else. Period.", as a certain thatboyaintright put it on a bulletin board...me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me... Oh well, I dunno.

MUCH HAS BEEN SAID about Yasser Arafat... Me, I'll keep remembering the images of this frail and dying man as he was being lifted inside the helicopter that would transport him to France... He was smiling and sending kisses with his hand moving it from his lips and extending his arm to the people and the sky, back and forth... Blowing those little kisses with a deep expression of love in his eyes... Revolutionary, corrupt bureaucrat, "terrorist," the man with "hairs on his face" (I think that's how Mr. Begin used to refer to Chairman Arafat), idolized and demonized for decades...? Perhaps he was all of the above and more, but when the dust settles, I think history will remember him as the father of Palestinian nationalism. Salam Alaikum, Yasser Arafat.

MEANWHILE, IN FALLUJAH things are going according to plan. Perhaps The Lancet will revisit its estimate that some 100,000 Iraqis have been killed since the beginning of operation "Iraqi Freedom" to include the deceased in Fallujah... The plan, you ask? Well, what about two quotes, courtesy of Tom Engelhardt (in his recent Tom Dispatch, "Four Times Fallujah Equals?")

QUOTE FOR THE AGES: "We must not be afraid to make an example of Fallujah. ... We need to demonstrate that the United States military cannot be deterred or defeated. If that means widespread destruction, we must accept the price. ... Even if Fallujah has to go the way of Carthage, reduced to shards, the price will be worth it."
--Neocon former military officer Ralph Peters, "And Now, Fallujah," The New York Post.

ANOTHER QUOTE FOR THE AGES: "'The Marines that I have had wounded over the past five months have been attacked by a faceless enemy,' said Colonel Brandl. 'But the enemy has got a face. He's called Satan. He lives in Fallujah. And we're going to destroy him.'"
--Lt. Col. Gareth Brandl, on his second tour of duty in Iraq and in command of one of the battalions "at the tip of the spear" of the assault on Fallujah

SATAN, no less... Poor me who thought that I was living in the 21st century... Looks like a time capsule has transported me way back to the 11th-13th centuries... Maybe it's just a small part of the "capital" Mr. Bush is eager to spend...

WHAT'S SO MIND BOGGLING is that those people are supposedly intelligent and many highly educated. When the UK Daily Mirror ran its Nov. 4 front page with a picture of Dubya with the question, "How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB," it occasioned a deluge of letters to the editor. Erin from Washington, DC wrote, "I voted for Bush and I am neither a redneck nor a hillbilly. I have a PhD in International Relations from Georgetown, have lived abroad several times, speak five languages and am a very proud Republican." For his part, a Jorge Chaparro wrote, "God is with America. People with morals, class, Bible readers and believers have spoken." Go figure...

"IN 1986 WE [U.S.] DEPORTED just under 2,000 immigrants per year for criminal offenses. Last year that number was 79,000. The Department of Homeland Security posts this on their Web site; they're proud of this," tells Bryan Lonegan, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, to Paige Williams ("My Hands Are Tied," The New York Times Magazine, 11/7/04, p. 98). He adds, "Countries have a right to control their borders, but our policies have become so harsh, I think it's beyond a question of national sovereignty or even security and has become a real human rights crisis." Deported people, some have lived in the country almost all their lives, then lose all their property, even their Social Security benefits... Lonegan again, "Justice Brandeis once said that deportation is the loss of all that makes life worth living." Human Rights, Justice Brandeis...again in what century are we? We have dehumanized rights at best...and Justice Thomas! No one cares...

OKAY, let's not get too depressed here.

I'M HAPPY TO REPORT that "Claire Elizabeth Lecomte du Noüy, the daughter of Patricia and Philippe Lecomte du Noüy of New York was married yesterday to Christopher Eric Pakurar...," dixit the paper of record (Nov. 7, 2004, Sunday Styles, p. 14). And I who had thought I had left these double-barreled names behind all the way back to Old Europe... The bride (Swarthmore, Columbia) is keeping her name, of course! Mais bien sûr ma jolie...

BY POPULAR DEMAND, here is the Open Letter I wrote to Michael Albert of ZNet fame, on Nov. 4:

Dear Michael,

Thank you much for your "Free Update in the aftermath of the election." Funny, every time I receive one of your "Free Update" e-mails, I think of marketing -- like a McDonald's plug, if you see what I mean...

How generous of you, in the name of self-opinion making (an endeavor I keep recommending to our Swans' readers), to publish the views of Ms. Vanden Heuvel, a bona-fide member of the Cruise Missile Left. It will save me a trip to The Nation...

And many thanks for sharing your deep insights on the elections and their aftermath, in "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" -- indubitably 4,000 words of wisdom...

Funny again, in my October 31 under-the-radar-screen "blips #5" (published Nov. 1 -- see http://www.swans.com/library/art10/desk005.html), I wrote: "WHERE'S YOGI BERRA when we need him? And so, 'some of the best-known names of the anti-imperialist American left' will vote for Kerry in tomorrow's elections. Then they may watch Survivor on CBS, or the latest reality show hit, Trading Spouses, on Fox -- many will, more seriously, read a good book and make a few calls -- and the next morning, yes the very next morning, they will assemble, dissect the results, lay plans for the coming battles toward the revolution..."

Well, I was incorrect by only one day.

Yes, one should wonder how it is that Ralph Nader's message could not be heard. It obviously had nothing to do with the straight-jackets the friendly Democrats used to silence him (or keep him off the ballot through relentless legal shenanigans), and the help of his "friends and allies," you know, those dignitaries who graced vote2stopbush.org -- or those friendly opinion-makers, like Ted Glick and Norman Solomon, Ronnie Dugger, Barbara Ehrenreich, Michael Lerner, et al., whose voices, in the name of self-opinion making, you so lavishly broadcast time and again.

Nothing to do, indeed... Actually, I am surprised that you guys have not yet come up with the simplest line of reasoning: Yeah we thrashed Nader, but we did it so that no one could ever say again that he spoiled the election. See how our strategy was right on mark! A Chomskian logic, at its best...

Anyway, water has gone under the bridge and you are ready to move on, as we all are. Time to unite again and plan for the future. How refreshing, how welcomed...

Is the objective alliance between your good self and the CML buried for good, at long last?

You are so compellingly correct, "[A] new left has got to be new where it matters - in having real and compelling shared vision, real and compelling short and mid term goals, and real and compelling shared practice and strategy - indeed, in having long term vision and empowering and engaging strategy at all."

And, yes again, "[T]he whole is, or should be, mostly the development of consciousness and commitment and the exercising of social pressure. We have to get right back to that. And we have to do it immediately. And we have to do it more wisely than in the past."

No one would dispute that.

What one would possibly dispute is how you, as the folks at The Nation, the Dems and the Reps, keep playing on people fears: You say, "We have to look at it squarely. Bush, without a very active, militant, and effective opposition, could mean overturning Roe v Wade, ending the separation of Church and State, and gutting Social Security and Medicare. It could mean escalated ecological devastation, expanded Patriot Act and repression, even larger gaps between rich and poor, expanded violence in Iraq and beyond, and election reforms to protect all this reaction against democracy."

Michael, Roe v. Wade has long been gutted (85 pct of US counties cannot perform abortions), there's not been separation of Church and State in this country (at least in the 22 years I've lived in your blessed country), Social Security and Medicare *are* gutted and being privatized (ask Clinton). Ecological devastation is happening. Patriot Act is a continuum of bipartisan authorship. Violence is an American trade-mark. The gap between rich and poor is not a Bush creation (and are you talking about the down-trodden in the huge swaths of the world, or between you and me, nice white middle class petty-bourgeois?), and your last point, democracy...err, what democracy, Michael?

Anyway, it's a great pleasure and relief to read that you good folks at ZNet have chosen, in the aftermath of this debacle (of which you were an inherent part), to move on and build a new, progressive, left wing, party.

In my blip #5, I added after those little dreaded three dots: "...till 2008, when they'll ask again to put your hopes between parentheses (it's called 'strategy,' within the ranks of the self-proclaimed fragmented Left). The progress of the American progressive community is simply astounding, beyond my wildest beliefs. Yes, I know, America is tantalized and hypnotized by safety issues: safety from the terrOOOrists, safe food, safe drugs, safe cars (the bigger the better), safe sex (no parentheses here)...even safe states voting. How is it that the insurance industry has not yet fashioned a policy to make a few bucks...but actually it has, it's called the "American progressive community," where the competition is ferocious for the premiums charged. Please send your monthly check."

I hope that you and I will be healthy enough in 2008, so that we can revisit, in friendly terms, your call to vote for a Democrat again. If, I'm proven wrong, I'll be glad to acknowledge it (a behavior you may want to emulate, one of these days...).

Meanwhile, please let me know the mailing address where I can send my check to support your worthy endeavor. It will be in the amount of my comments: 2 cents.

You say you've been at it for 40 years. I hope my 2 cents, literally and figuratively, will help foster the next 40.

(Note: Will you ever learn about Occam's Razor?)

Yours in solidarity,


Gilles d'Aymery
Swans Commentary

BOONVILLE NEWS: Two weeks ago, an electrician showed up, walking along the driveway wearing a big belt and with three kids in his trail. He'd called early in the morning around 8:00 saying that he would be up here within an hour and one half. It was 2:00 pm. I asked him whether they had walked all the way from Ukiah; he said that he had lost his truck going up hill on the dirt road. The truck was stuck in the mud at a 45 degree angle, close to sliding all the way down the hill. Mr. Kerrent, a friendly fellow, assured me it was no big deal and he had called a tow truck. Mr. Kerrent was sent by the First American Home Buyers Protection Corporation, which we had contacted just about the end of September after discovering that the former owner of the house, Marsha O'Bannon, had left us -- without disclosing the problem -- with electrical wiring out of a sub-circuit breaker electrical box that had been burnt badly, possibly by the people who installed the water heater. I recall the day when we found out, September 25...a fellow had just discharged his hand gun -- pah, pah, pah, pah, pah -- right down the hill from us and, as we were watching him with a bit of concern, he looked at us and asked: "Ya' have a problem?" Eh, no, no problem, I mean it's perfectly normal to shoot at whatever near someone's home. This is America after all. Anyway, the insurance company kept giving us the roundabout and we kept insisting, especially because our contract was coming to term on October 22. That same fateful day, by the way, I had immediately called a local electrician, Brian Wyant, who had come earlier in September to discuss replacing the main box and adding more circuits. Said he would be doing the job in October... We are mid-November... Okay fine, so I left a message on his answering machine explaining our discovery (burnt live electrical wiring makes for peaceful sleep at night, as anyone knows well!) and asking him if he could come and look at it. Brian Wyant did not even have the courtesy to call back; forget about showing up. So, okay, here is Mr. Kerrent. Mr. Kerrent looks at the wiring, agrees that it has been badly burnt and needs replacement. Says the good man, there is a good day or two of work for a couple of people (drywall to remove and then replace, running all new wires, etc.). He needs to talk to the insurance company. Meanwhile, the local Star's tow truck has come to help him save his truck. So, he'll call me tomorrow (that was, again, two weeks, ago). I walk down the hill with him and the three kids, with Priam. Wow, the brave man had managed to make a mud road of the dirt road he had found, along a couple of hundred feet. Evidently the tow truck added to the damages. Fortunately, we were able to pull the truck backward, after a series of failed attempts to pull it forward. And so Mr. Kerrent was safely on his way home and I was left with calling Craig Titus, a road and land contractor, to come and fix the road -- and, incredibly, he showed up the same day, and proceeded to do an excellent job the next day or so. Thanks Craig (if you read this). Now, I am still awaiting a) Mr. Kerrent's phone call, b) Brian Wyant's visit, c) the insurance company to stop giving me the finger (and of course, our contract is over) and, in the meantime, d) I still have burnt electrical wiring that need be replaced, and e) a forthcoming bill from Craig Titus to be paid! Jan's asking me whether I'm trying to alienate everybody in the Valley. Nope, I can't compete with Bruce Anderson! I'm just trying to not get alienated from this Valley, so I'll save the rotting, improperly built deck, the broken radiant heat system and the other contractor who has yet to show up for another day...

FURTHERMORE, the legendary Anderson Valley Advertiser, under the new editorship of David Severn is on a learning curve as to how effectively copy and paste. For cause, they published my Open Letter to Michael Albert, managing to intermingle two paragraphs of a letter on the FTAA and appended to them my letter, largely truncated, all this signed in my name and in solidarity, s'il vous plait. The able Saffron Fraser, the paper's manager and daughter of the publisher, told me I could humor her... I don't know why but I feel it is I who should be humored!

THE INFURIATING SCAVENGERS (see Blips #5) got infuriated in return (see the Letters to the Editor). They're a funny bunch, but these blips are already too long, so the "infuriated" legions will have to wait a bit before I poke some fun at them...and address the hogwash that I've heard time and again for the past 8 or 9 years. The me-me-me crowd is so overwhelming that it overwhelmingly comforts my position. No multi-posting; no scavenging, period. When I see any one of them bring forth fresh ideas, I will pause...and pause...and pause. Then, I guess, we'll be in good company. In the meantime, Mickey Z. can sell all the T-Shirts and thongs to his heart's and crotch's delight, it will still be about him and only him, and you and only you, and Les, and Shunil, and Michael, and, and...a bank account... Hey, keep ratcheting the big "Revolution..." I've seen it all...

And so it goes...

· · · · · ·


America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.

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Published November 15, 2004
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