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The Story of Want

Out Here in the Sticks

by BILL HATCH

Merced, California

I have noticed in recent months that people inside the Beltway, regardless of the positions they hold there, have extracted by common agreement the first "r" in the word, "forward," creating a new word, "fo’ward," verging on a more dialectical form, "fowud," which could be Beltway dialect for "fraud."

I come from the dumbest city in the United States, by government test, based on graduation rates from high school and college surveyed by "Portfolio," a digital edition brought to us by something called American Cities Business Journals.

We have three stupid views of that. First, when the University of California plopped down a campus here on top of habitat for 15 endangered species, its first chancellor told us that "proximity was destiny," UC cannot prove it empirically, she explained, but it just happens that when a UC campus comes to town, the town gets smarter. The real estate boom that ensued from the location of the campus here in the dumbest city in the US was so extreme that we thought what the chancellor had probably said was, "Proximity is density." That boom busted and, judging from the leaps in unemployment figures in October and November and half filled parking lots at WalMart and Costco, we are probably at 20 per cent officially, and twice that, really. Secondly, how are we going to account for all those genius retiring electrical engineers from Silicon Valley who speculated in real estate here in Merced. Don’t they count? They graduated from all the universities.

But we believe the real reason the biz journals are so critical of such a small rural county seat is pure jealousy. This little cow county of 245,000 people, person for person, did more to bring down the global credit system than any community its size on the face of the earth., including 2 million Las Vegans. Depending on your views on real estate fraud, you can say that is pretty dumb, but just look at the impact! Nobody in this county knows who owns anything anymore. And besides, we got Rabobank now. We’re too dumb to know what Rabobank is, other than it is here, there and everywhere all of a sudden, is one of the biggest banks in the world, has a partnership with Rothschilds among many others, and has a AAA rating from both S & P and Moody. Rabobank appears to be devouring B of A, which made its fortune in the San Joaquin Valley. Great work if you like the taste of zombie bank.

We don’t see too much "fo’ward" motion around here. Really, really dumb people, like a few of us in Merced, believe we still have an environment for critturs running around on the ground, flying in the air, swimming in the pools and rivers.  We couldn’t see the fo’ward motion at the Cancun conference on global warming. In fact, the most interesting thing about the conference we saw was video of Mexican cops beating up a photographer with their night sticks. We don’t get whupped much around here but that business about the media and environmentalists being in the wrong place at the wrong time according to the authorities strikes some chords. We do quite regularly get thrown out of public meetings ("by invitation only") and authorities frequently try to deny us access to public information and sometimes even beating them in court doesn’t put a dent in their tiny minds. But, hey, we’re stupid.

As far as the president’s tax cut compromise is concerned, people as dumb as we are  figure he’s just padding his resume with the presidency until he gets a seat on the Goldman Sachs board and a law-professor chair somewhere where he can teach how law and morality don’t mix and recreate corporate kiss-asses in his own image.

Wikileaks? As near as we idiots can figure out down here in the sticks, the real problem is what was leaked was mostly trivial. It was certainly trivial from our point of view. But, we do realize that triviality itself is a matter of national security to our leaders because if we ever realized how trivial were the thoughts of our leaders, we might just laugh out loud and bring the whole thing down, probably on our own heads, but down, anyway.

The wars? I was talking to the father of a warrior the other day. I dutifully expressed my respect for his son’s service and my sympathy for his father’s combination of pride and worry. But, coming from Dumb City, I had to ask myself silently and secretly during the conversation: why would anyone with half a brain coming from a well-to-do family have anything to do with these wars, that play like obscure passages from Gibbon? (A homeless guy here in town sold me all three volumes of Gibbon for $10 — what was I gonna do, turn the guy down?) We may be stupid here but we try to read stuff. We keep trying to understand WWI too because some of us down at the donut shop have the feeling that has something to do with this.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there are unincorporated towns in this county that will hit over 90 percent unemployment again this year. But most of those people are Mexicans and a lot of those Mexicans are not what people call Mexican-Americans. Congress and the Obama administration gave them a Christmas present this year: non-passage of the DREAM Act. So, there wasn’t much celebrating in the Bola Negra bars and pool halls around the Valley; but it sure was Christmas in the Castro District of San Francisco when the Senate repealed "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell." But that was a middle-class issue, and to listen to the Democrats, there are only two classes, the upper and the middle. The rest of us are so "under" it is evidently politically incorrect to even mention us.

I was folding clothes the other night next to Laundrimat Lou, a fixture in my neighborhood washery. Lou’s the girl that, if she likes you, steers you to the best washers and dryers. She was telling me that in addition to being on duty at the laundrimat part-time, she washes clothes for people, and wouldn’t I be interested? I would be if I could afford it. She was folding her husband’s clothes that evening and so she began to talk about him and how, when working "off the books" for a relative last year, he fell off a ladder, broke his foot, had to have surgery, now walks with a limp and in pain for the rest of his life, and the relative didn’t pay a dime for the medical because he figured, correctly, that her husband wouldn’t sue a relative. Lou and her husband are too young for Social Security, Medicare or MediCal (California’s Medicaid). They aren’t stupid, they are loyal Americans, good Christians who support a daughter living at home and several grandchildren. Yet in the eyes of the government of Holy Christian Crusaders against the Infidels, they are very great sinners because they are Poor Americans.

The next trillion in debt? We may be dumb down here but we have this theory that the president and the Democrats absolutely could not ask the millionaires and billionaires to pay for anything as tacky as unemployment insurance for working people. It just wasn’t right, don’t you see. It would suggest that the millionaires and billionaires were in some sense moral, and it would be bad form on the part of the merely elected to suggest such a thing.

The only revenge against the bigshots is cultivating your own garden. In fact, given what the bigshots are doing to your economy, it is wise to learn how to cultivate a garden.

Two tools.

I have, resting on my desk beside me, the greatest gardening tool ever invented, the Japanese Hori Hori Knife. Even though the dirt is liquid muck at the moment, soon it will be time to plant the onions in our communal garden. I admit, dumb as I am, I am reassured by the feel of the hori hori knife in my hand. I wished, romantically, to believe that the hori hori had begun life as a bayonet — it looks like a bayonet — and by Isaiah transformation, became the greatest digging tool ever invented. I can find no information to confirm my fantasy. The Japanese simply designed a superb tool — wooden handle, slightly concave, cast iron blade, serrated on one side, as sharp as you want to file it on the other, coming to a medium point at the end of a 7-inch blade.

The only other tool you really need for gardening is an Italian Grape Hoe. It has a blade twice as long, slightly curved, and wider than any other hoe, and a shorter handle with curves in it that allow you to work all day with it without destroying your lower back. You can break the soil and make a bed with it walking forward instead of backward, as you have to do with the spades made famous by English organic garden gurus. You can also weed with it, dig trenches with it and do anything a shovel can do with it.

America "tried to hustle the East" and went down, shedding blood and treasure for oil and natural gas lines, developed by Israel in Turkmenistan, to fuel the economy of Kipling’s "brown Aryans" of India and Pakistan. Here in dumb old Merced, we never knew that the Middle East wars were also about water. But we do know one thing that might have been enough to grasp the shape of our nation’s imperial careen: all water is local. All you have to do here is ask your Punjabi grocer the right question. But the Muslim Punjabi grocers are too busy taking care of our hungry neighbors to talk geo-hydro-politique in the check out line. Every time I go into my grocery store these days I witness the story of want, faith and charity as long as people don’t try to steal.

However, my respect for Islam is tempered every time I overhear our local Christians. I am Christian by birth and confirmation so I hearken in these dark days to the words of our Christian leaders. But, when I hear them bashing Muslims who I know dispense charity everyday to my neighbors, I am ashamed of the religion into which I was born and raised and I am reminded of the Christian grocers I grew up among 50 and 60 years ago, who were, shall we say, real Christians, unlike these brilliant exponents of the true faith we find among us these days. I am deeply ashamed of what passes for Christianity in my town. I speak as a member of a family full of ministers that went back before the American Revolution.

Dumb as I am, coming from the dumbest city in the nation, I despise our gaggle of Christian priests and ministers, whoring after the approval of our chambers of commerce because I remember priests and ministers a few decades ago that opposed the bastards in the chambers of commerce. I remember life here. I don’t see anything but cultural, moral, spiritual and political death around me, here in the dumbest town in the USA.

BILL HATCH lives in Merced, CA. He can be reached at wmmhatch@sbcglobal.net.