by Gilles d'Aymery
"Wretches are ungrateful; it is part of their wretchedness."
—Victor Hugo, Tas de Pierres
(Swans - December 5, 2005) IT'S PIE SEASON AGAIN: Holly Sklar, the co-author of Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work for All Of Us, (South End Press) takes a look at the income distribution in the U.S. She writes:
Take two pies - one for 1979, the other for 2003 (using the latest IRS data). Divide the 1979 pie into 10 equal slices. If the slices were eaten according to the distribution of income in 1979:
-The richest 1 percent of taxpayers would get one slice.
-The rest of the top 20 percent would get four slices.
-The other 80 percent of taxpayers would split five slices.
Now, divide the 2003 pie into 10 slices.
-The richest 1 percent would get nearly two slices.
-The rest of the top 20 percent would get a little over four slices.
-The other 80 percent would split four slices.
In 1979, the top 20 percent of taxpayers had about as much income as the other 80 percent combined. In 2003, the top 20 percent had 60 percent of the income, leaving just 40 percent for the rest. The richest 1 percent nearly doubled their share.
SKLAR ALSO SHOWS, among other telling statistics, that between 1950 and 1970, "for every additional dollar earned by those in the bottom 90 percent, those in the top 0.01 percent earned an additional $162." During the period 1990-2002, the happy few took home $18,000 for every additional dollar earned by the many. Adjusted for inflation, hourly earnings dropped 5% between 1979 and 2004. Don't worry, corporate profits jumped 63% during the same period. Source, "Carving up our economic pie" by Holly Sklar, Salt Lake Tribune, November 23, 2005. (Worth reading in full...) So, be happy, be merry, and remember those figures when you go to the polls. (If you're hoping for a bigger piece of the pie next year, the House's proposed tax bill would hand "half the entire tax cut...to about 1.4 million households," those with an average income of $1.1 million. (Source, "Hmmm. What's This Alternative Tax? Hey, Wait! Ouch!" By Edmund L. Andrews, The New York Times, December 4, 2005.)
CITATION FOR THE AGES: "Social injustice is such a familiar phenomenon, it has such a sturdy constitution, that it is readily regarded as something natural even by its victims."
--Marcel Aymé, Silhouette du Scandale, 1938
DEMOCRATS' FUTURE AND IRAQ: A senior administration official recently said in regard to the road to victory in Iraq: "In sum, we have to focus, methodically and without partisanship, on those steps that will: one, stabilize Iraq, avoid all out civil war, and give the factions within Iraq the space they need to forge a political settlement; two, contain and ultimately extinguish the insurgency in Iraq; and three, bring our troops safely home." Oops, sorry, incorrect attribution. The man who uttered these words is US Senator Barack Obama (Dem., Ill.) in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on November 22, 2005. Obama, as you should know, is constantly touted as the new face, and future, of the Democratic Party. Here too, keep that future in mind when you go to the polls in November 2006 and 2008.
I'D SAY, BRING BACK SADDAM. Look, the guy was not a choir boy -- we managed to call him the "Butcher of Baghdad," a new Hitler, an evil man who started wars, invaded his neighbors, gassed his "own" people (with the chemical weapons we provided), inflicted torture upon many... Well, let's see: We invaded Iraq, a country that had not attacked us, on the pretext that it had weapons of mass destruction, which it did not, a nuclear program that was nonexistent, and links to Al Qaeda that were not. In doing so, we've used Depleted Uranium, White Phosphorous, Napalm (or Mark 77), Thermobaric bombs, Daisy cutters, Cluster bombs, and the like, against civilians and combatants. We use torture and extraordinary rendition. The puppet government we installed is using torture, too. We resorted to lies, obfuscations, and mendacious fabrications. We have bribed, and keep bribing, foreign officials and tribal leaders. We've instigated or promoted and quite certainly financed death squads. We've killed over 100,000 Iraqis. We've been planting disinformation in the Iraqi news media (in addition to the disinformation planted in the US main media). We've been paying journalists to write those phony stories, the same thing we've been doing for a long time at home. Finally, under Saddam, and in spite of the "humanitarian" sanctions imposed on the country for a decade or so, people had still a modicum of social services, which have in large part disappeared. Women had civil rights that have been tossed by the wayside thanks to the new constitution we helped craft. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other educated people are leaving the country in droves...and the "terrorists" who did not exist under the Saddam regime pretty much own the place now (they are also known as the Iraqi Resistance). The country, reasonably stable under Saddam, is in the mix of a civil war, ready to fall apart along the three main ethnic lines.
WITH SUCH A RECORD, I think Saddam should be allowed to compete in the elections of the great new democracy that Iraq has become. We should let the Iraqis decide whether they want him back in charge of their affairs. What do we have to fear? Let democracy do the talking. If, as we contend, the Iraqis hate Saddam, they won't vote for him and he'll be over and finished for good. On the other hand, if it turns out he's elected fair and square, I'm sure we'll find a way to make a deal with him -- like we keep the oil (through private US energy conglomerates) and he gets his palaces back.
MEANWHILE, I can't wait to read the memoirs of Tariq Aziz, if he is ever released and allowed to write them. I'm sure he must have many stories to tell about the past collusion of the Western powers and the Saddam regime... He too, by the way, should be allowed to run for office. After all, the Christian crazies that are supposed to be Bush's political base would love to have him in power -- Aziz is a Chaldean Catholic (Eastern Rite) -- under the condition, of course, that he would agree to let the crazies Christianize the country with bibles galore. We've seen so many strange things happen. This latest development would not particularly surprise me. What counts, after all, is how we maintain control over the black gold.
MORE REALISTICALLY, we'll endure the Sharia and a theocratic, democratically-elected government, so long as, again, oil is firmly internationalized under the benevolent supervision of Wall Street, with the loving care of the US military ensconced in a few permanent "liberty" bases either within Iraq -- the preferred choice -- or redeployed on the periphery (Kuwait, Qatar, Diego Garcia, the US Navy, and the like).
STILL, there is much more to be done. Syria is controlled by a secular clique that could advantageously be replaced by another chaotic theocracy -- and it's another weak country, hence an easy one to destabilize and, who knows, invade just in time for the 2006 US mid-term elections. Our war president needs his feathers re-fluffed... Iran will wait and saber rattling will continue. This is a 65-million-people prize that our appetite, however gargantuan it may be, is not ready to take on, just as yet -- we first need to digest Iraq. Maybe we'll test one of our new tactical nuclear weapons in Iran to spare Micronesia or whatever other Pacific atoll from further contamination.
THEN THERE IS BROTHER ARIEL who, on Bill's advice -- and in full consideration that Condi may have begun to see the light at last, the ignominious treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, so reminiscent of what her ancestors had to endure, and how influential she is on Bush Lite -- decided to experiment with triangulation, with his old foe and comrade in arms, Shimon Peres. Back to the central postulation of the Zionist project, these two are. The road to Greater Israel is a sinuous one -- always has been -- and no olive grove should be left standing on the path to the final aspiration: sovereignty over all biblical lands, even if the bible is mute on the matter and the history blatantly muddy and falsified.
OH MY, OH MY, Bushiboozehook is alleged to have wanted to take Al Jazeera headquarters out, but chose, thanks to Mr. Blair's well-known wisdom, to pass on the opportunity. I mean, Georgie Boy, after Kabul and Baghdad, how would you dare? In defense of our pummeled great leader, let's recall that Billy Boy, our man from Hope, did not hesitate to level the Serbian TV station in Belgrade, 1999, on the professed merit that it was disseminating propaganda detrimental to the war efforts, with which the same Mr. Blair concurred profusely. Killing journalists (over 70 since the beginning of Gulf War II) is like shooting quails in Texas or executing inmates (we've just passed the 1,000 mark). Just another American pastime. No worries, real journalists like Judith Miller or Bob Woodward have nothing to fear... They too are targeted, but the bullets take the shape of book contracts...and we are the victims.
MISSING DICK: When our VP is not talking about dishonesty and reprehensiveness, the good man is nowhere to be seen. Some say he's bunkered down in various undisclosed places. Others suggest that he's enjoying the good life, shooting pheasants -- or is it peasants...or quails, or Quayles? -- in his Jackson Hole, Wyoming, ranch, in the company of his good friend Antonin Scalia -- or is it Alito? -- and has great gatherings in his new $2.6 million waterfront house on nine acres on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay (St. Michael's, Maryland) with his neighbor, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. A one nautical mile radius no-fly zone has been put in place over Dick's new home, whether he's there or not. Meanwhile, Dick's electrical bill in his official VP residence costs us well over 1,000,000 dollars a year (it was "only" $600,000 when he came back to Washington in 2000 after a streak at Halliburton.) Dick, old man, we all wish you well. Where can I send my personal contribution to help alleviate the heavy lifting you are confronted with to keep the boy steady?
SINCE I MENTION HIS GOOD GRACIOUSNESS, the Honorable Donald Rumsfeld, here is a short update on Tamiflu, the drug supposed to combat the Avian Flu pandemic. Remember, I covered this issue in my Blips #28 (Rumsfeld was the chairman of Gilead, the biotech company that invented the drug, before becoming the US Secretary of Defense.) Gilead renegotiated its royalty contract with Roche from about 10% to about 18 or 19% depending on Roche's sales. In addition, Roche is making back-payments of $62.5 million and is allowing Gilead to keep an additional $18.2 million. Gilead's stock that had increased from $35 to $47 in the past six months jumped to above $55 after the announcement of the renegotiation. (See Gilead's press release.) A perfect example of putting profits before people, which undoubtedly made the day of his good graciousness and reminds me of John Selden's aphorism, "Money makes a man laugh."
BOONVILLE NEWS: I've been working on and off, in between rain showers, to help Dennis and Speedy expand the tiny and old shed that came with the house. We're even adding a small one-car carport. Dennis and Speedy have known each other forever and been working together for many years. Speedy was born in the Valley, spent his childhood and youth here till the time came to have a family and a home. Family he could have; a home was another matter. He simply could not afford a small piece of land. So, he went out of the county and bought a small lot in a subdivision of neighboring Lake County. Land was and remains relatively cheaper than in the Anderson Valley due, I suspect, to the fact that it's a bit too far (yet) from the Bay Area for weekenders and maybe (I don't really know) winemakers have not yet reached that county, and there are fewer people living there. So, all is well and good except that work is scarce. So Speedy comes to work on a practically daily basis back in the Anderson Valley. The commute from his home to the fork between HWY 253 and 128 is 52 miles. From there, he needs to add the mileage to wherever in the Valley the job rests. So, in our case, Speedy drives about 56.5 miles for a daily total of 113 miles. He drives, like many construction workers, a 2500 pickup loaded with his tools. With a gas engine, the truck must clock in at 12 miles per gallon or so -- say about 10 gallons a day in commute. Do the math...
It makes me think of David Gowans of the Farm Supply & Animal Deli in Philo down the road from us and the conversation we had on the subject, a while back. Many local workers can't afford to live here any more -- especially the young -- but work there is due to large vineyard investments and the influx of Bay Area weekenders. Work and a terrible shortage of housing. You'd think that the local community would have found a solution to this problem and made a cost analysis of the situation. Maybe a subdivision could be put aside for the construction of affordable housing. Perhaps a tax system could be put in place that would make newcomers, weekenders, wine people, share some of the burden to finance such projects. You'd think the local rag would address this issue head on, but I suppose it wouldn't increase the paper's circulation. Worse, maybe because it is a controversial issue the publisher/editor would run the risk to see the circulation go down -- or some loss of ad revenues. But the publisher/editor is no longer Bruce Anderson who, aside from being a real editor, had guts and stamina. The current one is fast becoming a disgrace to intellectual probity (and the English language, but that's another matter) -- a vegie of sort. I guess, from what I've observed in the past year, ad revenues and the bottom line have taken precedence on all other considerations (or are carrying the day). In fifteen months or so, a small paper that had a national reputation has been hijacked by the Lib-Labs and become an annex of the Chamber of Commerce.
The haves would not have it otherwise and he seems more than happy to oblige. What a pity!
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...