Monday, February 26, 2007

In the Poor House

The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high as the gulf between the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.

A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of the 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 — half the federal poverty line — was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.

The McClatchy analysis found that between 2000 and 2005, the number of Americans living in severe poverty grew by 26 percent, which is 56 percent faster than the overall population expanded during the same time.

And even that is likely an understatement. To better understand the numbers, consider that the U.S. still relies on a manner for measuring poverty developed in the 1960s. I wrote about it last year for In These Times.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Online in ‘08

NetTrends ’08: The Online Race for the White House: The 2008 election cycle is shaping up to be the first campaign to make significant use of the Web. To track this trend, the group ThinkProgress has launched Presidential Progress: NetTrends08, a comprehensive database of the 2008 presidential candidates’ online activity. From now until the end of the 2008 election, NetTrend08 will be tracking how the candidates and their supporters are using the Internet to participate in our democracy.

Check out the next generation of American democracy!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Who Said That?

Radio Station Cries 'Enough' -- Won't Quote From Certain News Stories Relying on Unnamed Officials

Feb. 13 - Editor & Publisher

After the latest widely-publicized stories in national newspapers about weapons from Iran allegedly killing Americans in Iraq -- based completely on unnamed sources -- at least one smaller news outlet has had enough of it.
The news director of the public radio station in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has directed his staff to "ignore national stories quoting unnamed sources." He also called on other news outlets to join this policy.

Bill Dupuy sent the following to his news staff.

Effectively immediately and until further notice, it is the policy of KSFR's news department to ignore and not repeat any wire service or nationally published story about Iran, China, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia or any other foreign power that quotes an "unnamed" U.S. official.

What we have suspected and talked about at length before is now becoming clear. "High administration officials speaking on the condition of anonymity," "Usually reliable Washington sources," and others of the like were behind the publicity that added credibility to the need to go to war against Afghanistan and Iraq.

Our news department covers local news. But, like local newspapers and others, we occassionally are taken in by national stories that we have no way to verify.

This is a small news department with a small reach. We cannot research these stories ourselves. But we can take steps not to compromise our integrity. We should not dutifully parrot whatever comes out of Washington, on thewire or by whatever means, no matter how intriguing and urgent it sounds, when the source is unnamed.

I am also calling on our colleagues in other local news departments -- broadcast and print -- to take the same professional approach.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Pax Americana

With more than 2,500,000 U.S. personnel serving across the planet and military bases spread across each continent, it's time to face up to the fact that our American democracy has spawned a global empire.

Former CIA consultant and president and co-founder of the Japan Policy Research Institute, Chalmers Johnson, explains the mechanics.

The following is excerpted from Chalmers Johnson's new book, "Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic" (Metropolitan Books).

Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies. America's version of the colony is the military base; and by following the changing politics of global basing, one can learn much about our ever more all-encompassing imperial "footprint" and the militarism that grows with it.

It is not easy, however, to assess the size or exact value of our empire of bases. Official records available to the public on these subjects are misleading, although instructive. According to the Defense Department's annual inventories from 2002 to 2005 of real property it owns around the world, the Base Structure Report, there has been an immense churning in the numbers of installations.

The total of America's military bases in other people's countries in 2005, according to official sources, was 737. Reflecting massive deployments to Iraq and the pursuit of President Bush's strategy of preemptive war, the trend line for numbers of overseas bases continues to go up.

Interestingly enough, the thirty-eight large and medium-sized American facilities spread around the globe in 2005 -- mostly air and naval bases for our bombers and fleets -- almost exactly equals Britain's thirty-six naval bases and army garrisons at its imperial zenith in 1898. The Roman Empire at its height in 117 AD required thirty-seven major bases to police its realm from Britannia to Egypt, from Hispania to Armenia. Perhaps the optimum number of major citadels and fortresses for an imperialist aspiring to dominate the world is somewhere between thirty-five and forty....Read this story in full at

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Tropical Animal

I just finished reading the book Tropical Animal, the first novel published in the U.S. by Cuban journalist, writer and painter Pedro Juan Gutierrez. With a prose that cuts to the bone Gutiérrez lifts the veil off the underside of Cuban society while exposing the sometimes discomfiting, sometimes humorous, sometimes enticing secret life of humanity.

he following short story by Gutiérrez appeared in The Barcelona Review

Stars and Losers
Pedro Juan Gutiérrez translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer

I like to smell my armpits while I masturbate. The smell of sweat turns me on. It's dependable, sweet-smelling sex. Especially when I'm horny at night and Luisa is out making money. Though it's not the same anymore. Now that I'm forty-five, my libido isn't what it used to be. I have less semen. Barely one little spurt a day. I'm getting old: slackening of desire, less semen, slower glands. Still, women keep fluttering around me. I guess I've got more soul now. Ha, a more soulful me. I won't say I'm closer to God. That's a silly thing to say, pedantic: "Oh, I'm closer to God." No. Not at all. He gives me a nod every once in a while. And I keep trying. That's all.

Well, it was time to get out. Solo masturbation is the same as solo dancing: at first you like it and it works, but then you realize you're an idiot. What was I doing standing there naked jerking off in front of a mirror? I got dressed and went out. I had put on dirty, sweaty clothes. Today I was definitely repulsive. Going down the stairs, I ran into the morons crying on the fifth floor. They're young, but they're morons, mongoloids, or crazy, loony, I don't know, some kind of retards, idiots. They've been together for years. They stink of filth. They shit in hidden places on the stairs. They pee every-where. Sometimes they walk around their room naked and come right up to the door. They make a racket, they slobber. Now she was sitting on a stair step wailing at the top of her lungs. "I love you so much, but I can't. I love you so much, but I can't do it that way. I love you so much. Oh, darling! Ohhhh! I love you so much."
He lit a cigarette, moved to one side to let me by, and said, "I know you love me, sweetie, I know you love me, sweetie." And he started sobbing too.

At least today they hadn't crapped on the stairs. What they needed was a good grooming with a stiff brush, soap, and a cold shower. Coming out into the four o'clock light, I stopped: what to do? Should I go to the gym and box a little, or head for Paseo and Twenty-third? Last time I won twenty dollars at Russian roulette. It was the right time of day. Someone would surely be there. I went off to play Russian roulette.
I like to walk slowly, but I can't. I always walk fast. And it's silly. If I don't know where I'm going, what's the hurry? Well, that's probably exactly it: I'm so terrified, I can't stop running. I'm afraid to stop for even a second and find out I don't know where the fuck I am.

I stopped in at Las Vegas. Las Vegas is immortal. It will always be there, the place where she sang boleros, the piano in the dark, the bottles of rum, the ice. All of it just as it always has been. It's good to know some things don't change. I gulped down two shots of rum. It was very quiet and very cold and very dark. So much heat and humidity and light outside, and so much noise. And all of a sudden, everything is different when you come into the cabaret. It's really a tomb, where time has stopped forever. Just sitting there for a minute, it made me think.

Soul and flesh. That was it. One glass of rum and already the two were in painful confrontation, the soul on one side, flesh on the other. And me torn in between, chopped into bits. I was trying to understand. But it was difficult. Almost impossible to comprehend anything at all. And the fear. Ever since I was a child, there was always the fear. Now I had given myself the task of conquering it. I was going to a gym to box and I was toughening up. I'd box anyone, though I was always trembling inside. I tried to hit hard. I tried to let myself be swept away, but it was impossible. The fear was always there, going about its own business. And I'd say to myself, "Oh, don't worry, everybody's afraid. Fear springs up before anything else. You've just got to forget it. Forget your fear. Pretend it doesn't exist, and live your life."

I downed two more shots of rum. Delicious. I was in a delicious state, I mean. The rum wasn't so delicious. It tasted like diesel fuel. And I went off to play Russian roulette. I had seven dollars and twenty-two pesos left. Not bad. Things had been much worse and I had always managed to stay afloat.

There were people at Paseo and Twenty-third. And Formula One was there, with his bicycle. It was the right time of day. Almost five o'clock. There's lots of traffic at that intersection. Traffic in all directions. We settled our bets. I played my seven dollars at five to one. If I won, I'd have thirty-five. I always bet that the kid will make it across. A black man, wearing silver and gold chains every-where, even on his ankles, went by. That asshole always bets he won't make it. "I bet on blood, man. Always blood. That's all you need to know." Whenever we ran into each other he'd take my bet at five to one. Even so,I never made much money.

A month ago, I set a record: I won thirty-five dollars in one shot. I was lucky. Delfina was with me. I cashed in, showed her the money, and she went crazy. I call her Delfi because she has the most half-assed name in Havana. We went to the beach, and we rented a room there and partied for two days, with all the food, rum, and marijuana we wanted. Delfi is a beautiful, sexy black woman, but I found out I couldn't handle orgies like that anymore. All Delfi wanted was prick, rum, and marijuana. In that order. But I couldn't always be fucking. When I couldn't get it up, insatiable Delfi tried to see what she could do by sticking her finger up my ass. I slapped her a few times and said, "Get your finger out of my ass, you black bitch." But still, we kept fucking and fucking. Maybe out of inertia. When the rum and the marijuana and the dollars ran out, I came back to my senses. I ached everywhere: my head, my ass, my throat, my prick, my pockets, my liver, my stomach. Not Delfi. She was twenty-eight years old, and she was a black powerhouse, muscular and tough. She was ready to keep going for two or three more days without stopping. Tireless, that woman. Amazing. She's a marvel of nature.

The kid who was going to play Russian roulette picked up his bicycle. He had a red handkerchief tied around his head. He was just a kid, mulatto, fifteen or sixteen years old, and never separated from his bicycle. He wouldn't even let go of it to take a shit. It was a small, sturdy bike, shiny chrome with fat tires. He earned his living from it, He got twenty dollars straight up each time he made it across. He was good. Other times, he performed stunts, and he charged for them, too: he'd make ten children lie down in a row in the middle of the street, then he'd back up several feet, cross himself, take off like a shot, and sail over the kids. He'd do that on any street, wherever he was called. People bet on him, but he wouldn't bet. He'd take his twenty dollars and get out. He was vain, and he'd say to people, "Formula One, that's me."

Now Formula One was riding up Paseo. He did a few jumps on his bicycle between cars. He looped, leapt into the air, twirled a few times, and landed on one wheel. He was a master. People watched him, but they didn't know what the kid was up to. There were seven of us, and we played it cool on the corner by the convent under the trees. There wasn't even one policeman around. Formula had to wait for an order from one of us. Just as the light turned green on Twenty-third, a guy next to me dropped his arm and Formula took off like lightning down Paseo.

On Twenty-third, heading toward La Rampa, thirty cars accelerated when the light turned green, rush hour traffic raring to go. And heading in the opposite direction, up the street toward Almendares, came thirty or forty more, growling and desperate. In total, Formula had seventy chances to be crushed to death and just one to live. My seven dollars were in the balance. If the kid was killed, I'd have nothing. I needed Formula to cross safely and earn his twenty dollars. And he made it! He was a flash of light. I don't know how the fuck he did it. Just like a bird. All of a sudden, he was sparkling on the other side of Paseo, twisting in the air and laughing.

He came toward us laughing as hard as he could. "I'm Formula One!" I collected my thirty-five dollars. I gave five to Formula and called him aside. I shook his hands. They were dry and steady.

I looked him in the eye and asked him, "Don't you get scared?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, whitey, don't make me laugh. I'm Formula One, man! Formula One!"

Before his time, four boys were killed in the same spot. I don't want to think about it. Two others didn't have the guts to go for it. That's life. Only a very few survive: the biggest stars and the biggest losers.

Pedro Juan
Gutiérrez began his working life at the age of seven, as an ice-cream vendor and newsboy. The author of several published works of poetry, he lives in Havana, where he is employed as a magazine journalist.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

On Writing

"The world I live in is loathsome to me, but I feel one with the men who suffer in it. There are ambitions that are not mine, and I should not feel at ease if I had to make my way by relying on the paltry privileges granted to those who adapt themselves to this world. But it seems to me that there is another ambition that ought to belong to all writers: to bear witness and shout aloud, every time it is possible, insofar as our talent allows, for those who are enslaved as we are."

- Albert Camus

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dining Out - Part I

The walls were a deep salmon, complimented by a ceiling of pale green and white. For months on end I stood behind the dull pink marble bartop polishing glass after glass, occasionally mixing a cocktail or two. The place wasn't busy, and within a few weeks I had memorized every item on every shelf of the dark oak bar. I knew each bottle and where it belonged. Here was the creme de cacao, dark and sweet, next to that the cassis, followed by blue curacao, and so forth. I recognized every blemish and chip on the tired bartop, each broken floor tile, and could categorize the dozens of smells that drifted from the open liquor bottles. I knew every word to each of the one hundred eleven songs that rotated mathematically -- in some quasi-random formula -- on the restaurant's sound system. And each night I went home smelling of bourbon and limes, chardonnay and cheap perfume.

Tom's head peeked from behind the whitewashed wall that divided the bar from the restaurant's foyer. Several tables sat here, and Tom was at one of them entertaining a potential client. I saw him straining to locate one of his employees so I shifted my stance just a bit, falling into his line of sight. "Can I get a refill of regular coffee?," he asked, his gaze finally fixing on me. I filled a small metal pitcher with hot black coffee and stepped from around the bar to the table where Tom sat with a middle-aged woman. She wore gold rings and too much make-up. I filled the woman's cup and stepped back from the table, one hand behind my back and bent slightly forward at the waist in mock deference. "Do you need anything, Mr. Batett?," I asked, addressing him formally, making him seem important in front of the client. "N-no, I'm O.K., thanks," he replied.

My manager could only be described as comical; sort of a caricature of himself. There were a lot of those on the Mainline. He looked clownish in his three-piece suits, a different tie for each day of the week. Yet no matter how well-fitted his vestments, no matter how clean and pressed his French-cuffed shirts or how polished his tie clip, Tom never quite looked like he belonged in formal attire. His clothes just never seemed to fit right, though they were likely custom tailored down to the minutest detail, making him more closely resemble some character in a poorly produced play than an actual Maitre D'. He went about his duties as if in dress rehearsal for some larger and infinitely more important role that he had yet to play but anxiously anticipated. He feigned confidence back and forth across the restaurant floor. It was hard to take him seriously. [:]