Despite the jaded palate of a persistent critic who dislikes my "Lendman soup" and whose name rhymes with phooey and hooey, I savor the splendor of my special soup I brew with sincerity and sanity. That's quite different from my gadfly whose comments are little more than shameless servings of senseless and sanctimonious silliness. I understand his situation as so many others suffer from the same insufferable, sorrowful and stuporous state of insensibility. The sap has been seduced by the self-serving sickness of shallowness, subservience and surliness from having sold out to the simpletons he sucks up to and sanctifies. I've tried before to save the sophomoric sucker, but he prefers to sink in his insipid stew and stay insensate. Such a shame.
Why An Aging Retired Small Businessman Decided to Write
Living in the US for nearly 72 years, I've seen what ails our system, know how I want to heal it, and understand we'd better get about working for it or face a future no one will relish - or maybe no future at all. I can't stop railing about this because our way is flawed, corrupted and based on plunder and exploitation for profit to benefit the privileged few and no one else. It treats people like commodities to be used and discarded like trash when no longer needed. It allows giant predatory corporations carte blanche to operate with no restraints on their divine right of capitalism, with no rules except the ones benefitting them. It needs endless war on the world for new markets, essential resources and cheap labor. It tolerates no "outliers" like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales who have the temerity to think they can serve the interests of their own people above those of their dominant Northern neighbor that always had it the other way.
It's a flat borderless world where people everywhere lose out to the interests of power, profit and privilege. It's a world falsely extolled as the best of all possible ones, but, in fact, is just the opposite. It's a corrupted and failed world that can't be repaired. It's a cancer consuming us we must expunge before it's too late. It's a world unfit to live in unless you happen to be rich and powerful. It's a world unable to endure the abuse inflicted on it and will one day expire from it unless stopped and reversed. It's not the world I want, and I work every day for the one I do. I know how daunting a task that is because too few of us understand the problem, how it affects our own welfare, or have joined the fight to overcome it while there's still time.
It's not easy marshalling opposition to an empire when so many living under it are as easily seduced by its message as my gadfly. I too was once an adherent, was weaned to be a believer in the system and remained faithful to it much too long. It's hard feeling otherwise when the power of the message is so great, begins early on, and never ends.
It starts in the schools where everyone is fed only acceptable doctrine up to the highest levels. It was ingrained in me there, especially in college and through grad school where I was taught by experts who knew why they were there and did their job well. The idea was and is to make us all "proper" citizens and accept without question the notion of American "exceptionalism" and that we're blessed to live in the best of all possible countries. It's all a myth but one easy to sell to young minds ready to believe almost anything repeated often enough and from sources we think we can trust: our teachers in school, our favorites in the corporate media, the clergy, and all other institutions of power. The reality, however, belies their false message, and the only thing holding up their house of cards is its constant repetition backed up with invented fears of threats that don't exist and brute force at home and abroad to show we're fighting them. It's something Gandhi understood when he was once asked what he thought of Western civilization and answered "I think it would be a good idea." And he said that long before the age of George W. Bush.
It took me a while in the real world to awaken to the way things really are. Like everyone else, I was focused on work and family and early on didn't make the effort I should have. But once I started years ago I continued and then couldn't stop. For me, it was a gradual awakening, and it came by reading the works of many dozens of great social thinkers, scholars, and activists. They taught me what I now know and never learned at two of the most prestigious of all institutions of higher learning including the one where I got my MBA in 1960 before that credential got popular. That noted university ranks at the top among the "finishing schools" that train future corporate CEOs, some of them came from my class, and I knew a couple when they were just classmates. I chose not to follow in its tradition nor do I believe in its dogma that profit is "the be all and end all" and plunder is an acceptable way to achieve it. I doubt they'd welcome me back now, think of me as one of their own or cite me as one of their many success stories. I preach and practice a much different philosophy than theirs.
My view of things and the kind of world I want to live in and leave for others is one where people and their needs come first - not the message I got from Econ or Marketing 101. Despite my modest means, I think of myself as one of the privileged. But I identify myself with what Martinique born thinker, writer and activist Frantz Fanon called "The Wretched of the Earth" (the title of his best known book which I've read and own). Fanon deplored the horrors of colonial subjugation and championed the liberation of all people under its oppressive yoke. I'm no Fanon, but so do I, and I recognize and look at all people everywhere as my brothers and sisters and support them all and their right to social equity and justice.
That's why I take on the leaders of my country, their one-sided support for giant corporate interests and the rich, and the policies they adopt at home and abroad to work on their behalf and against ours. It's a tradition that goes back to our roots, born in the original sin of slavery and white supremacy, best expressed by one of the nation's Founders and First Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay when he said "Those who own the country ought to govern it." That notion is more alive now than ever and barely disguised anymore. But today is just an extension of the past in a nation weaned on war, imperial expansion, extreme racism and classism and the belief that all the (white only) rich and powerful were created equal but no one else. I guess that leaves me out and most everybody else.
How Hugo Chavez Treats His People Compared to George Bush - Pick the Leader You'd Want
Compare how things are in the US now to the way they are today under Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. The difference between the two countries is so extreme, it would be easy to think it's happening on two different planets. My country is the hostile planet earth of George Bush that's indifferent to essential human needs and believes imperial oppression is good for us. Venezuela is quite different because of Hugo Chavez's alternate vision. It's a people-friendly one dedicated to helping all Venezuelans (especially the most needy) by providing an array of essential social programs and services unimaginable in the US: free universal health and dental care for all, free education to the highest levels, food security and clean water, micro credit and support for small business, land and home ownership for the people, worker cooperatives and independent community radio free from the poison spread by the corporate-owned media and much more. And besides all that, Chavez instituted a participatory democracy under which ordinary people have a real say in how the country is governed. Can anyone imagine the US being run that way? Impossible.
There's more, lots of it. Here's a sample. Hugo Chavez aids his neighbors and doesn't threaten to invade them or any others; the country has no secret prisons; no illegal political prisoners or illegal detentions; doesn't practice torture; doesn't ethnically cleanse its population from neighborhoods wanted for redevelopment or entire cities like the US did to its black population of New Orleans to turn that city into a giant theme park for the rich and tourist trade; has never suspended constitutional law even in the face of a coup d'etat, mass street riots and a crippling US-instigated oil lockout and shutdown; and is working to clean up and change a legacy and systemic climate of corruption and inefficient state bureaucracy.
Now compare that record to how the US is governed. It devotes its immense resources to plunder, slaughter and destruction and treats ordinary people like production inputs or commodities - to be used as needed and dumped when they no longer are. The Bush administration, in its infinite arrogance, claims the right to forcibly oust any government it views as a threat to its security. It doesn't matter if it is, just that we say it is. It sees Chavez as such a threat and has tried and failed three times to remove him with a fourth attempt likely well underway. I've said before Hugo Chavez is the greatest of all threats to US hegemony everywhere - the threat of a good example that left in place may grow and spread to other countries in the region and beyond.
The Bush administration won't tolerate that and is either fomenting another coup to oust Chavez, likely with intent to kill him so he won't rise again from the deposed, or will go to war if that's what it takes to achieve regime change. Such action follows the same pattern the US has pursued toward its Latin American neighbors for over 150 years. Over that time, the US invaded Mexico and stole the half of the country it wanted. That began what became a tradition as from then until now it continued to remove the governments of a dozen Latin American countries it disapproved of, none of which posed a threat except to our hegemony. It did it by coup or armed incursion four dozen different times, and in each instance concocted convenient to justify its action. We even gave names to our hostile actions using benign language Orwell would have approved of. My favorite was Herbert Hoover's (and later Franklin Roosevelt's) Good Neighbor Policy. It was about as good as his economic policy that with lots of help from the Federal Reserve caused The Great Depression that ravaged the country for a decade and took the German and Japanese aggression and world war they started (with our nudging) to pull us out of it. War is good for business, and a big one is terrific.
Look at more examples of how Venezuela differs from the US and puts us to shame. Hugo Chavez wants no part of the destructive neoliberal policies imposed by the WTO, IMF and World Bank but preferred by Washington because they only favor us. Instead he's used his nation's resources for the public good and promoted the Bolivarian notion of Latin American integration through economic aid and joint ventures that benefit those countries participating in them equally. Some difference from the Washington Consensus that's a one-way street with a dead-end for developing countries sucked into it.
Look at the results based on current economic data. In Venezuela, Chavez's policies have created an economic boom lifting all boats (helped by high oil prices, of course). The economy is soaring, inflation and unemployment are down, and Chavez has continued his policy since 2000 of raising the minimum wage each year by 20 - 30%. He just raised it again in the first quarter of 2006 by another 10%. Data from Venezuela's National Statistics Institute show the result. The poverty rate stood at 80% for many years before Chavez was elected. A year before he came into office in 1997 it was an official 61%. The latest figures available as of the end of 2005 show the rate now down to under 44%, a dramatic change in a short time.
It was all different before Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution that began in 1998. The country was a sham 40 year elite-controlled "democracy" (for the rich and powerful only) with 80% of the people in desperate poverty and 75% of the arable land owned by 5% of the population; its schools and hospitals were crumbling and two-thirds of the people had no access to basic medical care and most everything else; it was mostly an oil-based economy and political system controlled by and benefitting the rich and well-off middle class only (so-called sifrinos) and all under the giant shadow and dominance of the US that just cared about it's access to and control of the nation's oil and as much other wealth as it could suck out of the country. It took plenty. In all of Latin American from 1990 - 2002, US banks and transnational corporations earned about $1,000,000,000,000 ($1 trillion) in profits and were the main beneficiary of nearly $180 billion of state-owned enterprises privatized and thus expropriated from the people.
Now compare the Chavez achievements to the US under George Bush. We're by far the richest country in the world with nearly enough resources to be able to pave the streets with gold if they were used responsibly. The US's 2005 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was over 90 times greater than Venezuela's with a population about 12 times greater. Here's another comparison I cited in an earlier article I wrote. The largest US corporation in 2005, Exxon-Mobil, alone had gross sales about 2.8 times greater than Venezuela's total GDP.
So with all that wealth, what do the numbers show. Over 46 million Americans have no health insurance and millions more have too little; inner city schools are so deliberately degraded that millions of kids in them finish up unable to read, write or do math; the official US Department of Education illiteracy rate is about 20% (it should be even higher) compared to Venezuela where it's virtually zero; adjusted for inflation, the average working person in the US earns less than 30 years ago and the federal minimum wage (a paltry $5.15 an hour) hasn't been raised since 1997; the growing wealth gap between rich and poor has never been greater in modern times; the average CEO in 2004 earned 431 times the income of the average working person, a ten-fold increase in the spread since 1980; the official poverty rate is 12.7% or about 37 million people in 2005 and rising, but it's widely acknowledged the number is rigged and true figure is much higher; the prison population is the largest in the world and growing by 1000 new inmates a week; higher paid manufacturing and many high-tech jobs are being exported to low wage countries and replaced by low-paying service ones with few or no benefits; the ranks of organized labor have dropped from about one third of all workers in 1958 to under 13% today; and the level of racism is as great as before the landmark civil rights legislation in the 1960s that was passed to end it.
Here's one more startling piece of economic data for those who follow the monthly reports from the US Labor Department. The official unemployment rate it reports is dead wrong according to some economists willing and honest enough to speak out about it. They claim (and I agree with them) the true current figure would be about 12% instead of the reported 4.6% if the rate today was calculated the same way it was during The Great Depression when it rose to a peak of 25% and the Roosevelt administration was alarmed enough to think its consequences might cause a Russian-style revolution. That's why we got all the great New Deal social programs from a government that cared enough or was scared enough to give them to us. Now George Bush wants to end them all including our landmark Social Security along with Medicare, Medicaid and about everything else to transfer more wealth to the rich and fund his war machine. Bush's policies are the opposite of Franklin Roosevelt's. He's the greatest wrecker of social programs since the late 19th century and age of the "robber barons" when the country had few social gains to reverse and didn't think about adding any.
And just for good measure, look at the difference between gasoline prices in the US compared to Venezuela. No one owning a car needs reminding that under the Bush Big Oil administration, the average price at the pump here is just under $3 a gallon as a result of blatant market manipulation mostly at the refinery level to deliberately keep it high. That's perfectly acceptable to the Bush administration run by former oil men and one woman who had an oil tanker named after her. Compare that to Venezuela where gasoline costs 12 cents a gallon. Anyone detect a strange odor? It's coming from the smell of corruption from the Capitol and White House. Anyone thinking it's about time we stopped putting up with this outrage and began acting to take our government back. It's up to us to do it because no one there will give it to us.
Back to My Splendid Soup I Want to Share with All
I know why I write and hope my readers do as well. The world today is not the one I want, and I intend to work not just to change it but to help save it before it's too late. I agree with Noam Chomsky who fears that unless we change course soon we face the possibility of one or more three unpleasant outcomes: the real threat of passing from a republic to tyranny, a nuclear holocaust and/or environmental destruction. None of us would relish those alternatives, but we'd better realize they're real and one or more of them may happen in our lifetime or even quite soon. I intend to keep brewing my special soup and season it well with sincerity, sanity as well as lots of hope and hard work for social equity and justice for all. It's even there for the naysayers and disbelievers to sample. They should try some. They might discover a whole new flavor far better than the witch's brew they now prefer.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.