Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

American Reality Gaps

Now that the 9/11 celebrations of memories, oaths of determination, endless renditions of God Bless America and Nowhere else, and flying of flags have become old news, my wife and I take an overnight vacation. Driving north on scenic Highway 29 in Napa County, admiring the endless acres of grapes which will magically – and with lots of labor – become wine, I wonder who will drink the millions of gallons, and who can afford to even think about buying a bottle of fermented grape juice costing $15 to $300; if you want to experience a quick sensation of liquid velvet flowing through your mouth and oozing down your throat.

Some of the workers – illegal aliens for the Tea Party or undocumented workers if you’re politically correct – who pick and process these grapes earn less than minimum wage. Yes Virginia, in flag-flying California’s wine country and other patriotic agricultural zones, American bosses hired lots of low-wage foreign labor. But there’s an upside: lower food and booze prices. The underpaid Mexican worker who picks the grapes helps Mommy afford the smooth white wine she drinks from late morning on as well as the mellow red one she shares with Daddy when he comes home.

I assume Tea Partiers would accept $6 an hour doing hard fieldwork – or know solid American citizens who would. I don’t. At that wage, you could fast for two days and not afford a “good” bottle of Napa Valley wine!

Well, who needs to drink expensive wine? I ask myself. “Not me,” I answer, as we stop in St. Helena and watch tourists sip high-priced local wines to wash down expensive brunches. Some drop into organic olive oil shops dip French bread into exotic greases ($22 – for a small bottle). Then, they cut the oily taste by dipping bread squares into rare – how else to explain the price? – Balsamic vinegars; or try unusual homemade jams. After getting almost a meal’s worth of tasting I feel guilty and buy a four-ounce jar of jalapeno jelly – a gift for a relative. I hate my own gregarious impulse – spending so much on so little. Minimum wage workers in the store couldn’t afford to indulge such whims. I try to imagine millions of poverty-stricken people with the aftertaste of sugar-flavored jalapeno on their tongues!

Fashionably and casually dressed tourists drop in at tasting rooms at the Napa wineries. None fall into the category of the one in six U.S. citizens whom the Census Bureau’s annual report describes as “poor.” Moreover, the report also refers to some 6 million former wage earners who have fallen into a category called “long-term unemployed” – more than half a year without a job. Many of those have no immediate prospect of getting one. They can’t make their mortgage payments, have lost their health insurance and often the integrity of their families.

In 2011, 46.2 million Americans (more than 15% of the population) officially live in poverty, the largest number since the government began counting that category in its census in 1959. As of 2006, only 32 million people lived in all of Canada.

The medically uninsured population reached almost 50 million. Most of the so-called “Obamacare” doesn’t kick in until 2014. A sample of Tea Party Republicans on CNN would rather let patients die than treat them for free. (Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul if he would let an uninsured patient die. He said “No,” while members of the audience screamed “Yeah.” Sept. 12)

Diego, an uninsured, non-union janitor from Michoacan in Mexico, works at a Lake County resort. He describes his experience with American health care. “Last year,” he told me in Spanish, “one of my kids got a really high fever, and I had to take her to the Emergency Room. They hit me with an $800 bill for their services. I negotiated with them and they gave me a discount, but it took me months to pay the bill and I received threatening letters. Now I worry ‘what if my kids need to see a doctor?’”

“That’s crazy,” he concludes. “Eight hundred dollars for a visit to the emergency room and not even an X-ray!”

I ask him about work possibilities in the area. “There are grapes, of course. But only for a few months a year.” He emptied ashes from the BBQ grills behind the tourist cabins and laid fresh aluminum foil at the bottom of each.

“Tourists don’t come so much in bad times as they used to. I’m lucky I have my job and my wife has hers. She cleans houses and watches other people’s kids.”

He asked where I learned Spanish.

“Cuba.”

“Wow, I hear people are very poor there, but they have good medical care. Maybe poor is better than sick.”

A young waitress at a BBQ joint in Lakeport on the west side of Clear Lake said, “Health insurance doesn’t come with the job, but as soon as I enroll in college I’ll have some protection.”

Tips?

“Tourism sucks,” she said, referring to the declining numbers of people who can afford to take vacations. “A lot of people here without jobs and no prospects.”

You wouldn’t know poverty existed at St. Helena gift shops and overpriced restaurants – I mean bistros. The conversations (I eavesdropped) did not include the newly released poverty figures.

The richest nation in the world rewards its affluent minority with exciting food tastes, ever-new clothing styles, cars with the comforts of their penthouses, super yachts and unimaginable luxuries – and very low taxes. The unpleasant news doesn’t enter their conversations and indeed it must be hard for the ultra rich to imagine that almost 50 million people living in the same county with them have scant access to medical care and will never get a pension.

Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND is available for theatrical showings and on DVD from cinemalibrestudio.com. He’s an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. Counterpunch published his BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD

 

More articles by:

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

Weekend Edition
May 25, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
A Major Win for Trump’s War Cabinet
Andrew Levine
Could Anything Cause the GOP to Dump Trump?
Pete Tucker
Is the Washington Post Soft on Amazon?
Conn Hallinan
Iran: Sanctions & War
Jeffrey St. Clair
Out of Space: John McCain, Telescopes and the Desecration of Mount Graham
John Laforge
Senate Puts CIA Back on Torture Track
David Rosen
Santa Fe High School Shooting: an Incel Killing?
Gary Leupp
Pompeo’s Iran Speech and the 21 Demands
Jonathan Power
Bang, Bang to Trump
Robert Fisk
You Can’t Commit Genocide Without the Help of Local People
Brian Cloughley
Washington’s Provocations in the South China Sea
Louis Proyect
Requiem for a Mountain Lion
Robert Fantina
The U.S. and Israel: a Match Made in Hell
Kevin Martin
The Libya Model: It’s Not Always All About Trump
Susie Day
Trump, the NYPD and the People We Call “Animals”
Pepe Escobar
How Iran Will Respond to Trump
Sarah Anderson
When CEO’s Earn 5,000 Times as Much as a Company’s Workers
Ralph Nader
Audit the Outlaw Military Budget Draining America’s Necessities
Chris Wright
The Significance of Karl Marx
David Schultz
Indict or Not: the Choice Mueller May Have to Make and Which is Worse for Trump
George Payne
The NFL Moves to Silence Voices of Dissent
Razan Azzarkani
America’s Treatment of Palestinians Has Grown Horrendously Cruel
Katalina Khoury
The Need to Evaluate the Human Constructs Enabling Palestinian Genocide
George Ochenski
Tillerson, the Truth and Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department
Jill Richardson
Our Immigration Debate Needs a Lot More Humanity
Martha Rosenberg
Once Again a Slaughterhouse Raid Turns Up Abuses
Judith Deutsch
Pension Systems and the Deadly Hand of the Market
Shamus Cooke
Oregon’s Poor People’s Campaign and DSA Partner Against State Democrats
Thomas Barker
Only a Mass Struggle From Below Can End the Bloodshed in Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
Australia’s China Syndrome
Missy Comley Beattie
Say “I Love You”
Ron Jacobs
A Photographic Revenge
Saurav Sarkar
War and Moral Injury
Clark T. Scott
The Shell Game and “The Bank Dick”
Seth Sandronsky
The State of Worker Safety in America
Thomas Knapp
Making Gridlock Great Again
Manuel E. Yepe
The US Will Have to Ask for Forgiveness
Laura Finley
Stop Blaming Women and Girls for Men’s Violence Against Them
Rob Okun
Raising Boys to Love and Care, Not to Kill
Christopher Brauchli
What Conflicts of Interest?
Winslow Myers
Real Security
George Wuerthner
Happy Talk About Weeds
Abel Cohen
Give the People What They Want: Shame
David Yearsley
King Arthur in Berlin
Douglas Valentine
Memorial Day
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail