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The Guardian 28 January, 2009

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Purge the weak or feed the hungry

Did you see where the Republican Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, announced in a speech at the very end of last year "the need to purge California of its weaker elements"?

To make clear whom he meant, he announced that he was cutting all or most services to the very old, the very poor, the disabled, the sick and the mentally ill.

Arnie is the son of a Nazi, as if you couldn’t tell!

Also on the December 31, Iran’s President wished the entire world "a merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year".

He then reminded the Christian world that "if Jesus Christ were here today he would stand with all those who opposed bullying, ill-tempered empire-building war-mongers".

Every Western TV news channel that covered it labelled his speech "controversial and offensive"!

In mid January, the Bush White House, at that time still the self-appointed centre of freedom in the world, showed how well it understood the concept by awarding its "Medal of Freedom" to the former conservative leader of Australia (such a nice, caring man!), the former conservative leader of Canada, and the former conservative leader of Britain (although he claimed to be a Labour leader!).

All of them were now former leaders, all had been dumped by their parties and their electorates. Reporters and other observers were inevitably left pondering whether they were receiving the "Medal of Freedom" for services to the American Empire.

Noting how unpopular they are now in their own countries, one American journalist quipped that they may have been in Washington to apply for political asylum.

When was the last time you saw an American film showing people in the US today who were too poor to buy food? Have you ever seen such a film? Neither have I.

And yet, in a report as recent as 2006, the US Department of Agriculture (a body not noted as a hotbed of left-wing propaganda) acknowledged that more than 35 million people in the United States were threatened by hunger. Of them, about 13 million were children, with most in non-white working families (no surprise there).

Official studies show Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Arizona as some of the states that continue to have the highest rates of food insecurity.

It has been several decades since we saw such everyday subjects as people who worked in a factory appear in a TV sitcom. People worried about unemployment have been even harder to find in the neverland of TV light entertainment.

Yuppies abound. But people who don’t get enough to eat because they are poor? In the USA? Never!

The USA is, after all, the land of conspicuous consumption. According to the organisation Food Not Bombs, every year, about 45 billion kilos weight of food is wasted in the United States. Experts say about 30 million people in the US could be fed with just 1 out of every 12 kilos of wasted food.

But such is the inefficiency and chaos of capitalism that no one, least of all an American, expects the US government to actually do something about avoiding waste and feeding the needy. In fact, according to a study by the Washington-based Food Research and Action Centre (FRAC), people with low income in the United States are feeling increasingly insecure about their ability to buy food.

"As the economy continues its downward trend, concerns about hunger will only intensify," Jim Weill, president of FRAC, told the media.

The FRAC poll found that 94 percent of respondents believe it’s important for the US federal government to fund anti-hunger programs, including school lunches and special nutrition programs for women and infants.

It says much about the present state of US capitalism that the idea of the federal government funding such programs is seen as novel and innovative, and also that the only way to combat hunger — at home and abroad — is through charity.

So ingrained is the latter approach that towards the end of last year, for example, the international humanitarian aid group Action Against Hunger joined hands with Weight Watchers, to launch a new campaign (without a trace of irony) aiming to improve the health of affluent Americans through good nutrition while providing food for the poor.

The nationwide campaign, billed as "Lose for Good," involved Weight Watchers pledging to donate the cost of one pound of food — up to a ceiling of US$1 million — for each pound of weight their members lost.

No doubt grateful for whatever financial help she can get, Nan Dale, Executive Director of Action Against Hunger, welcomed Weight Watchers’ move and expressed hope that its "philanthropic effort" would help reduce hunger in the United States and 40 other countries.

It still amounts to the well-heeled (and well fed) giving their leftover change (and leftover food) to the poor, a solution that has never successfully alleviated poverty. What the poor, the hungry and the homeless need is a change from the system that puts private profit first to a system that puts satisfying people’s needs first.

Sounds like socialism, to me.

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