Failing The Toothpaste Test

If you haven’t paid much attention to the disaster that is slowly unfolding in Venezuela, here’s an indicator:  the economic disruption and hyperinflation is so bad that people can’t even afford to use toothpaste to brush their teeth at night, because a single tube of toothpaste costs half a week’s wages.

empty-toothpaste-tubeIt’s a classic example of the failure of a government-controlled economy.  Venezuela has a socialist government, but it’s a bastardized version that has a lot of Latin American “strong man” elements thrown in, too.  Dating from the days of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s government has so interfered with normal economic functioning that the country can’t even take advantage of having the largest proven oil reserves in the world.  Chavez expropriated industries, used oil revenues to pay for many social welfare benefits, and discouraged private enterprise.  After years of such mismanagement, Venezuela faces chronic shortages of food, medicine, and electricity, skyrocketing crime, and mounting social disorder — to say nothing of hyperinflation, now running at about 700 percent annually, that cuts into the buying power of workers’ wages and makes even a single tube of toothpaste a luxury item to be used sparingly.

The Washington Post story about the toothpaste tells the tale of Venezuela’s downward spiral from the standpoint of the working people of the country, and it is a sad tale, indeed.  The average worker’s income is about $33 a month — which is less than a quarter of the average wage in Haiti, which is one of the most impoverished countries in the western hemisphere.  People have to stand in line for hours to buy staples like pasta, rice, and flour, and the products they purchase are of poor quality — such as broken-grain rice that normally would be used as chicken feed.  Since 2014, the portion of people living in poverty has increased from 48 percent to 82 percent.  People are down to eating two poor meals a day, and many are starving.

The government’s only response is to dictate increases in the minimum wage, which was just raised for this third this year, this time by 20 percent, to 250,000 “strong bolivars.”  (When you have to name your currency “strong,” it tells you something about how the value of that currency is perceived, doesn’t it?)  Of course, the constant increases do nothing to address, and instead only promote, the hyperinflation that is ravaging the country.

We should all think about Venezuela the next time some politician starts talking about how well off we all would be if the government just took a firmer hand in managing the economy.

Trying New Toilet Techniques

The other day Kish and I got some of those mailings that send you new product samples, except this one was a little bit . .. different.

IMG_4913It was a little package from Cottonelle that provided a free sample of “Cottonelle Flushable Cleansing Cloths.”  Apparently the “cleansing cloths” are part of the “Cottonelle Care Routine” that you are supposed to use in conjunction with regular toilet paper, although the order in which these products are to be applied isn’t specified.  The delivery box trumpets “Try the routine that gets your bum clean,” and the inside coupon promises that “nothing leaves you feeling cleaner & fresher than the Cottonelle Care Routine.”  The end panel of the box says “let’s talk about your bum at Facebook.com/Cottonelle.”

I think I’ll pass on Facebook postings about my “bum,” thank you very much — although there is such a page if people are so inclined.  At first, I found it a bit insulting that Cottonelle is even raising questions about the cleanliness and freshness of my “bum.”  I’ve been perfectly happy with my current “routine.”  But then I wondered if I’m being a bit old-fashioned.  After all, there haven’t been significant developments in toilet techniques since rolled toilet paper was invented and marketed back in the 1800s.  Rolls of toilet paper always will have certain advantages over “flushable cleansing cloths” — for example, the latter can’t be used to decorate trees in the yard of your high-school friends — but maybe we should be more receptive to change in this sensitive area.

Now that I think about it, I’m proud to live in a land where a faceless corporation cares enough about my “bum” to spend millions on new product development.  It’s certainly preferable to the situation in Venezuela, where the government just seized a toilet paper factory in an effort to end chronic shortages of the product that have left the country teetering on the edge of riot and panic.  America, land of the free, home of the Cottonelle Care Routine!

“Reports Of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated”

Somewhere, Mark Twain — who coined the classic phrase appearing above, upon learning that his death had been mistakenly reported — must be smiling.

Today Hugo Chavez, the thuggish Venezuelan dictator who is undergoing ongoing treatment for cancer, had to call a state-run TV station to try to dispel rumors that he was already dead.  Chavez said that he is in Cuba getting radiation treatment for a pelvic tumor and contended that the rumors were part of a psychological war against him.

I’m sure it’s not easy being a loud-mouthed dictator under any circumstances, and it’s probably even harder to be a successful autocrat when you have to interrupt the normal propaganda programming on national TV to deny rumors of your own death.  It’s undoubtedly tough to rule by bullying and intimidation when those you are trying to bully and intimidate think you might already be toes up.

Maybe Now, Everyone Will Recognize Hugo Chavez Is A Jerk

When Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez followed then-President Bush to the podium at the United Nations several years ago and said he still smelled the scent of sulfur, some American politicians and pundits who were opposed to Bush laughed, shook their heads, and said Chavez’s comments just reflected how the Bush Administration’s policies had reduced the esteem for America in the world.  Today, Chavez, who is attending the climate change conference in Copenhagen, used the same “scent of sulphur” line about — President Obama.

Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Maybe now everyone in our country — Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative — will understand that Hugo Chavez is not some keen and witty observer of the international scene, but instead is just an anti-American jerk, an anti-democratic “populist” who has run his country’s economy into the ground and engages in tiresome America-bashing in an attempt to raise his international profile and prop up his sagging approval ratings at home.  Maybe now all Americans will come to realize that Chavez, who apparently received a standing ovation from delegates attending the Copenhagen conference, is just a slightly more outspoken example of the anti-capitalist, reflexively anti-western governments that make up significant portions of international bodies like the United Nations.  The next time someone expresses concern because the United States is following its own path, rather than hewing to the “international consensus,” remind them that the “international consensus” is largely made up of governments headed by former “rebel leaders,” dictators, “strong men,” thugs, scoundrels, “presidents for life,” and other representatives of repressive regimes.  Why in the world should we care what Chavez, Robert Mugabe, and Muammar Gaddafi and their ilk say about our country and its policies?

If Hugo Chavez’s comment about President Obama causes even a few Americans to wake up to the reality of what a rogues gallery many international organizations have become, we should thank him — and then never pay attention to him again.