by Gilles d'Aymery
(Swans - December 18, 2006) Chaos and loss of control seem to be the common denominator of this ending year, with its corollary, the attempt to regain control, at least domestically, through the midterm elections that saw the Democrats taking over Congress and the Iraq Study Group (ISG) that attempted to conflate the disgruntling voices within the establishment and to confine the limits of dissent. From an international to a domestic perspective, including Swans well being, 2006 has not been a swell year. Thankfully, a dog saved the day of an overall disintegrating year.
The latest slogan -- to establish in Iraq a country that can sustain itself, govern itself, and defend itself -- repeated with abandon by Mr. Bush, fully endorsed by the ISG with a straight face, and set in boldface all over the main media, is totally oblivious to the fact that it is precisely the situation that previously existed; until, that is, we invaded that country. Between then and now, a country fully devastated by the first Gulf War and a long decade of sanctions has been utterly torn down. Its museum of ancient, 6,000-year-old artifacts trashed and looted; its national library burnt down; its sewer and water systems obliterated; its electrical grid decimated; its economic infrastructure wiped out. Unemployment runs anywhere between 30 and 60 percent. The only paying jobs for young men are found in the various sectarian militias that are creating additional mayhem. The entire Iraqi Christian community has fled the country. So has the majority of the professional class (doctors, professors, engineers). In all, over 2 million people have become refugees either inside the country or in bordering nations (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Egypt...). Over 650,000 Iraqis have been killed (and this is a John Hopkins conservative and methodology-proven estimate), in overwhelming majority civilians. To put this in some kind of perspective, this number, entirely obfuscated by the opinion makers, would be equivalent to over 7 million dead Americans after a foreign country that we had never attacked or threatened had invaded the USA, toppled its government, and fomented civil war. Iraq is swashed in blood, engulfed in a morbid civil war, all in the name of "freedom & democracy" (and oil reserves). To fully fathom the meaning of democracy in our rulers' mind, suffice it to note that a majority of the American people and over two-thirds of the Iraqi people want the occupying forces out now. Majorities mean nothing. Rulers rule, while the latest poll shows that 90 percent of Iraqis feel that they were better off under the regime of Saddam Hussein than under the reign of the "freedom & democracy" crowd.
On December 14, 2006, Mr. Bush talked to esteemed guests at the White House Summit on Malaria. Three hundred million people have malaria-induced illnesses a year, causing a million deaths, the majority children, in the African continent alone. Mr. Bush reminded the audience that Americans were a loving and compassionate people. As such, the US government has dedicated $1.2 billion over five years to eradicate malaria in 15 African countries. It can be done, said the president. Yet we spend more in war, blood, destruction (and war profiteering) in one week than we spend on combating malaria in Africa over a five-year period. In Iraq, the American people spend $1.7 billion each and every week, drawn on credit cards held by mostly Asian countries. We only spend $0.005 billion a week on fighting malaria. People with arithmetic skills will be able to figure out the ratio between weekly expenses for death ($1.7 billion) and for life ($0.005 billion). These are priorities that our way of life cannot negotiate, I suppose.
Next, Afghanistan is turning into a quagmire from which the U.S. and its NATO allies cannot escape. Years down the road, historians will keep debating what brought us to trample into this hornet's nest. Our SUVs and Wal*Mart will be part of the answer.
By December 31, 2006, some 3,400 Americans will have died in Afghanistan and Iraq -- more than the casualties of 9/11 -- for our "way of life." Between 20 and 40,000 will have been maimed physically or psychologically with no money in our coffers to take care of them for the long term -- again, in the name of our "way of life."
Half a trillion dollars, which is closer to the reality of the actual costs of our misguided military ventures to date in Afghanistan and Iraq, paid for with money we do not have, could have been spent in more life-enhancing projects.
Of course, as readers know well, this writer and his companion are so unserious, un-patriotic, un-American, un-realistic, and un-un, that whatever is said here can be dismissed out of hand. Or maybe they will recall the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his April 16, 1953 address to the nation: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."
Elsewhere, in 2006, chaos and loss of control overcame the New Orleans Levees of our New Middle East Order. Israel, prodded by her American patron, went on a rampage in Lebanon. She got a bloody nose, and as a result Israeli society is becoming more paranoid than ever. "They," whoever is not "them," are up to "wiping Israel off the map." So, following a pathology that any shrink would diagnose as a syndrome of unconscious suicidal behavior, Israel, having once again destroyed Lebanon and the very government the U.S. vouched for, is eyeing Iran. Iran, the mother of all evils, must be brought to her knees. Thus, the conflagration in the Middle East will carry on unabated. Israel, like the USA, appears to be unable to survive without creating enemies and destruction galore.
Palestinians, kept under the yoke of their Israeli masters, have slowly descended into their own civil war -- a situation that will allow Israel to remain as intransigent as ever in her goal to steal as much real estate as possible. Here again, power was the order of the day. Israel destroys. America applauds. America destroys. Israel applauds. It's as simple as that, and 2006 was another demonstration of elites' thinking run amok.
From Somalia to Eritrea, from the Sudan to Nigeria, violence is increasingly doing the talking. In Latin America we continue to pursue policies to destabilize the government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. His sins? Mr. Chávez has the audacity to implement policies that favor the poor and less fortunate among his society instead of the rich and the international oil corporations. Even his efforts to deliver heating oil to poor US communities at a substantial discount through the Venezuelan-owned CITGO is portrayed by the ruminators and policy makers and think tank experts as an act of demagoguery. To combat poverty and to put people before profits remains a crime of lese majesty for the Establishment. In regard to Cuba, those same gatekeepers are left rejoicing as the ailing Fidel Castro confronts a last struggle for his life, this time not at the hands of assassins sponsored and supported by the reactionary clique in Miami and its Washington D.C. masters. They do not even have the dignity to let the old man die in peace.
Finally, why should we concern ourselves with melting ice and global warming -- nothing that the most powerful military in the history of the world cannot take care of -- when we are busy organizing a Farewell Parade for the "best secretary of defense in the history of the nation" and strategizing like the Ford Motor Co. does for its US workers on "The New Way Forward" in Iraq?
Domestically, the situation has worsened for all Americans but the tiny few. As Warren E. Buffett, the second wealthiest American after Bill Gates, told lawyer, writer, actor, and economist Ben Stein, "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning." ("Everybody's Business: In Class Warfare, Guess Which Class Is Winning," New York Times, November 26, 2006.) Buffett knows what he is talking about. For the third consecutive year the investment banking company, the Goldman Sachs Group, has had record-breaking profits -- almost $9.5 billion this year alone. The company said it was setting aside $16.5 billion for salaries, benefits, and bonuses, an average of $622,000 for each employee according to the New York Times. The Drum Major Institute, in its "2006 Injustice Index," reports that the "projected total in Christmas bonuses that the five largest investment banks in New York City will pay out in 2006 [is] $36 billion;" an average CEO earns more in one single morning of work than "a full-time minimum wage worker makes in a year"; the "ratio of the average US CEO's annual pay to a minimum wage worker's [is] 821:1"; one CEO, Barry Diller of IAC/Interactive, got $469 million in 2005 for his hard work -- that's over $39 million a month, almost $9.8 million a week, $1.95 million a day (5 workdays a week), or $32,569 an hour (at 60 hours a week), just about $543 for each and every minute. It was not enough though. Mr. Diller received an additional $7.6 million in new stock options to "motivate his future performance." If you think that war is not a profitable business, think again. The ratio of compensation for CEOs of publicly traded defense companies to privates have shot up from 190 to 1 before 9/11 to 308 to 1 in 2006.
Meanwhile, 70 percent of US households are "using credit to cover basic living expenses." Thirty-five million Americans go hungry at any one time during the calendar year. In New York City alone, one of the wealthiest cities on earth, 1.2 million people, including 400,000 children, go to bed without food on the table. (Talking about food, for the very first time in this nation's history Americans eat over fifty percent of their food from foreign-grown produce, which does not portend well for the ability of this country to survive). At last count, about 46 million Americans, close to one-sixth of the population, lack basic heath care coverage at any one time. Furthermore, the Drum Major Institute indicates, the "increase in out-of-pocket medical expenses for the average American in the past 5 years [is] 93 percent." In New Orleans, Katrina having long been erased from American consciousness, low-income housing, hosting in huge majority African Americans, is being leveled to make place for gentrification, thus leading to the biggest silent ethnic cleansing in modern American history.
Not only do we, the American people, with less than 5 percent of the world population, gobble 25 percent of the world energy sources, we also have 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population. One in every 32 American adults is either in prison or on parole, or on probation. We have 737 per 100,000 people incarcerated, the most in the world. Even China and Russia cannot compete. California alone holds three and one half times as many prisoners than France, a country whose population is twice as big.
Our national debt has passed the $8.6 trillion mark -- about $29,000 for each American -- in a country whose household savings rate is negative and where 53 percent of its workers have saved less than $25,000 for their retirement as the pension funds are being dismantled and plundered. All the while, plasma and HDTV sets consuming as much as four time more energy than old tube TVs disappear from the mega-store shelves as fast as they are being stocked, Americans watch TV 64 days a year, and 50 percent of the video games kids are playing are related to war. The other 50 percent? Sports.
Any good news? Yes, the bigots got a whopping beating in the midterm elections and Mary Cheney got pregnant.
Enough said. I know we shall be dismissed as yet another Cassandra; but what people fail to realize is that all of Cassandra's prophesies ended up being realized.
In these quarters, 2006 -- Swans tenth year of operation -- has brought the dimmed realization that the project lays in limbo without much of a realistic future. We are on a death march, which John Robb, the author of Brave New War, defines as "a term used in the software development world for projects that fail despite extreme sacrifice (time, effort, money, health, etc.) by the project teams." Time? Over 10 years. Effort? From 50 to 70 hours a week shared between Jan Baughman and me. Money? We've paid for it all with a sprinkling of donations in 2005 and 2006. Health? I've worked myself to such dire carpal tunnel syndrome that at times I can't even move my arms, use the mouse, or type on the keyboard, and Jan has to take over my functions more often than she ought to, or should, or can.
The absence of money is perhaps the most dispiriting part of the equation. Without any source of revenues from advertising we are competing for a decreasing pool of donated funds. Even the famous New York Times "Neediest Cases Fund" raises less money year after year. Whatever the myths, people do not give much...because they have little to give in the first place. Swans situation is far from unique. In the past week Monthly Review, traversing a dire financial straight, is asking for help. Political Research Associates, a much more mainstream outfit, while receiving foundations grants, is also calling for help. The Swedish Transnational Foundation (TFF) in a fundraising appeal states that only one in 2,500 people makes a donation. "That is," they add, "2,499 think that peace is free. They let their tax money finance wars. They hardly think of what it takes to produce quality analysis and policy proposals like TFF's." That's very much the ratio we experience at Swans. It serves no purpose to submit that if each and every reader who signs up to our bi-weekly "Swans Release" were to send $20 with their subscription request, we would have ample funds to carry on, develop the project, share some of the stipends with a few of our regular contributors who could use some financial help. It serves no purpose because people know it quite clearly, as they want to change the world so long as it's not costly to them. Old story, indeed. Small yet valuable publications like Left Hook have thrown in the towel, unable to sustain the costs and the dedication it takes to "hang in there."
The atomization of our modernity, well represented by the bloggers (13 million new blogs were created in 2006 alone), does not help either. The old motto, chacun pour soi et dieu pour tous, is more relevant than ever. Solidarity is a word that has lost all meaning but as the empty slogan that it has become. Madison Avenue has co-opted that word too.
The bickering among would-be "revolutionaries," their constant sell-out, for whatever tactical flexibility, to the duopoly, their -- irony aside -- self-serving blogging endeavors in the name of the masses and their so-called indomitable principles (sold at a moment's notice when it serves their own behavior), their ossified thinking -- the world is the same as in the time of Marx...how important it is today to be a Leninist, a Stalinist, a Marxist, a Troskyist, a whatever...Marxists for Democrats...Greens for Democrats...Progressives for stagnation...Revolutionaries for the status quo to better foster the revolution...and on, and on, and on -- have numbed me to the point of speechlessness. These people have come and gone -- mostly gone now. One of them was even able to swindle Jan and I out of $400 last year.
Don't extrapolate from the above. Not all revolutionaries are spineless, and Swans travails were not caused by them. Lib Labs have much to be thanked for. Take this fellow, Michael Yonchenko, who out of his "friendliness" for Jan and for his singularly friendly disposition toward our work, gave us a Macintosh earlier this year, till, unhappy with my defense of Fidel Castro and a few other positions I took in regard to questions he asked, he reclaimed the gift he had made, and then, once the computer was safely back in his possession, told me to go "f***" myself. The last time such an occurrence happened to me was when I was a child. (Perhaps Yonchenko deserves the "nasty father award" of the year!) Anyway, Lib Labs can have an even more devastating effect than false revolutionaries. They attempt to kill with kisses and love.
The responsibility, when all is said and done, lies with me. Bad judgments, misjudgments, and too much misguided hope and wishful thinking brought us where we are -- a struggling, endangered endeavor. Neither the revolutionaries nor the Yonchenkos of this world should be blamed for my failings. They are symptoms of powerlessness I have developed on my own volition.
I have no clear idea as to what 2007 will entail so far as Swans is concerned. Jan and I will try our best to perdure...with hopefully a few changes. More windmills on the horizon, I suppose!
Nevertheless, 2006 was not all that bad. It was a year in which at least one life was saved. My dearest companion and I adopted another mutt that was on death row. We named him Mestor, a son of Priam, the Greek King; a very appropriate calling since our first adopted mutt, also saved from death row, is named Priam. Hence, 2006 was in this humble household a life-saving year, and there are few things in life more precious than the love of Dog.
That's what it is all about, isn't it?
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