Once in while, a news item comes along that inadvertently gives us a telling insight into our media mindset. NPR featured this obituary by the Associated Press’s business reporters Pamela Sampson and Pablo Gorondi on the legacy of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez that had this quite extraordinary passage that tells you all that you need to know about what the oligarchy and its media lackeys consider development and progress. Sampson says:
Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.
Words failed me as to how to respond to such garbage because in reality, as this report that is otherwise quite critical of Chavez points out, “Using profits from oil production to fund social programs, Chávez’s administration was able to bring many people out of poverty and procure a more equal distribution of income. According to the CIA Factbook, the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, had dropped in Venezuela from nearly .5 in 1998 to .39 in 2011, rivaling only Canada for a more equal distribution of income in the Western Hemisphere.” Yes, the ‘gains were meager’ indeed. No wonder the US oligarchy hated Chavez and tried repeatedly to get him defeated, going so far as to back a coup in 2002 that fortunately was foiled. What they would have liked to have seen was oil revenues being used to further enrich the wealthy and for showy projects that would create yet another playground for the global elites.
But Jim Naureckas had the perfect response to Sampson and Gorondi that you have to read. He showed this chart that demonstrates how under Chavez, Venezuela reduced the number of people living on less than $2 per days from 35% to 13% in just three years. Brazil too reduced the numbers of poor by a large amount. Naureckas asks what kind of monster would squander his nation’s wealth on health care, education, and nutrition programs. He drily concludes, “Of course, during this time, the number of Venezuelans living in the world’s tallest building went from 0 percent to 0 percent, while the number of copies of the Mona Lisa remained flat, at none. So you have to say that Chavez’s presidency was overall pretty disappointing–at least by AP’s standards.”
In contrast to that trend, here is an excellent video about how income and wealth inequality have increased in the US. It makes very clear what has been happening since the mid-1970s when the gap between the few very wealthy people and the rest of us simply exploded. The video shows that most people do not have the faintest idea how skewed the wealth is in this country and I hope that seeing it will bring them to reality. What is perhaps most encouraging is that over four million people have already watched it.
Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson talked to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show about their new documentary on hunger in America called A Place at the Table that has just been released in theaters around the country and is available on iTunes and on demand.
They say that a 1968 CBS News report about hunger in America shocked viewers at that time. They could not believe that such widespread hunger could exist in the richest country in the world and it galvanized them and the government into action and that the problem was largely solved by the late 1970s. But with the arrival of the so-called Reagan revolution, the tide turned against ‘big government’ and the government withdrew from this effort and the burden was shifted to private charities. The number of food banks exploded from just 200 then to over 40,000 now and yet they still cannot cope with the scale of the problem.
Of course, nowadays significant numbers of people look on the hungry as moochers and undeserving of any assistance. In the film, president Richard Nixon pledges to eliminate hunger during his administration, noting that a wealthy country like the United States should not have children going hungry. Imagine that. Today the Republican party would drum him out for being a Communist because their dogma is that people are poor and hungry because they are lazy and parasitic, lounging around waiting for others to give them free stuff rather than going out and working.
The passion that Silverbush and Jacobson demonstrated was inspiring.
(These clips were aired on February 26, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)