Katie Couric shows up on Baghdad billboards

Baghdad's electricity ministry pulled a strange PR stunt this week by displaying the American newscaster Katie Couric's face on giant billboards around the city in a campaign to "inspire the people to imagine a better future for electricity," according to a ministry spokesman.

Intermittent electricity supply means that Iraqis battle summer temperatures upwards of 108 degrees Fahrenheit without much air conditioning. Power outages are commonplace, and most Baghdad homes have working electricity for only a few hours a day.

The ministry's latest plan to prevent public uproar over the country's sub-par infrastructure (which erupted last spring and forced the electricity minister to resign) was to post unauthorized images of NBC's former "Today Show" host Katie Couric throughout Baghdad that advertise the ministry's public relations television program. While the smiling face of "America's Sweetheart" may not be doing much to solve the electricity problem, it seems to be lifting spirits.

"It doesn't give me hope about electricity, but I like to see her beautiful face," a fruit vendor told New York Times reporter Tim Arango. Another storeowner said, "Whoever comes here says, ‘What a beautiful face,' She's smiling. She gives us hope."

The ministry spokesman explained that they had considered depicting an Iraqi new caster on the banner, but her family opposed displaying her image publicly. The picture of Couric, who is wearing a brown blazer in the advertisement, was acceptable for the streets of Baghdad. The ministry's web designer said her image was "perfect for us."

Unlike U.S. television star Kim Kardashian, who sued Old Navy for using a model that merely looked like her, Katie Couric jokingly told reporters she was going to call her lawyer. After describing the move as "bizarre and slightly amusing," Couric said on a more solemn note, "It did remind me of how serious the situation still is there."



How the world views the 1 percent

Despite the heated rhetoric over inequality in the United States and elsewhere, today more people on average believe that the rich "deserve their wealth," according to a 23-country survey released by Globe Scan last week.   

The survey, which asked over 12,000 people whether they agreed with the statement "most rich people in my country deserve their wealth," found that this year nearly 15 percent strongly agreed and 28 percent agreed versus 12 percent and 27 percent respectively in 2008.  The slight increase was driven by improved perceptions of deserved wealth in Australia and Indonesia, with an eight and 11 percent increase of "agree" statements respectively. In the United States, ground zero for the Occupy movement, 58 percent believed the rich deserved their wealth.

The study found that in 6 of the 23 countries surveyed-- Australia, the United States, Canada, China, and Indonesia and India -- the majority of respondents believe that the rich deserve their wealth.

This group represents almost half of the world's population and includes the world's three largest democracies, India, the United States and Indonesia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, among the countries with pro-wealthy perceptions are the two largest economies, the U.S. and China, and countries in the upper tiers of fastest growing economies -- China, Indonesia, and India.

However, the countries in this group run the gamut in terms of prosperity levels: India and the United States occupy opposite ends of the GDP-per-capita spectrum.  Also notable is the absence of any European or Latin American state in the pro-rich category.  Six European states, five of which are in the OECD, and five Latin American countries all pooh-poohed their country's wealthy.  The only African countries surveyed, Kenya and Ghana, showed unfavorable views of the rich and their wealth, though there was a significant jump in approval in Kenya from 2008.

Below is a side-by-side comparison between each country's GINI coefficients-a commonly-used measure of inequality-- and their attitudes towards the rich.

*CIA World Factbook Figures (higher numbers indicate greater inequality)