Saturday, January 01, 2011

Tunnel People of Las Vegas Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The SHAME of Poverty in America

When I saw this story I was shocked. It’s a story that hasn’t been reported much in U.S. media:
“These are normal people of all ages who’ve lost their way, generally after a traumatic event. Many are war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress. It’s not known how many children are living there, as they’re kept out of sight, but I’ve seen evidence of them — toys and teddy bears.”
Perhaps it’s because the media elites simply do not like to stray outside their two percent tax bracket comfort zone. They prefer to speak of trivialities (Beltway politics) and abstract numbers (the economy) instead of the real flesh-and-bone people behind the misery indexes they breezily report.

Lately, one of the enduring media clichés is, if you want to know what’s really going on in America, read the British press — or watch Al Jazeera. Democracy Now with Amy Goodman works. Or Keith and Rachel. Ed and Cenk. That’s about it.

Big Eddie deserves honorable mention as unyielding spokesperson for the 99ers and the ravaged middle class. Rachel, for pulling back the curtain of corporate lies and propaganda for all to see, for reporting from the military and environmental fronts and for her dogged, successfull pursuit of justice for gays in the military ending in repeal of DADT. Cenk is a consistent administration critic online with the Young Turks and on MSNBC.

It’s no accident this Spartan crew came into their own in secondary alternate media: Progressive talk radio and the internet. Keith, who made it all possible for them to find a voice at MSNBC, much to the chagrin of lesser news deity Tom Brokaw, honed his craft in the freewheeling sports reporting arena.

What are the odds President Obama will be visiting the dispossessed Tunnel People of Las Vegas? Bobby Kennedy would have dragged Nevada’s Harry Reid down into that gutter and challenged the entire Republican leadership to come see for themselves what their policies have done to our middle class. Today, reactions are tempered by decades of wingnut propaganda. I was disgusted, but not shocked or surprised by this one:
“There are certain degrading things that you have to deal with when you live in New York. Like the time I took the tour at Alcatraz only to realized that their inmates had more space than I did in Manhattan at the time. Meanwhile, I had committed no crimes and paid $400 for the privilege to live on 105th Street. Plus, they had sinks in their rooms! And now, The Daily Mail has made us feel the same way once again, with a story about 1,000 people who live in makeshift homes in Las Vegas, carved out of a labyrinth of tunnels underneath the Las Vegas strip.

The article is pretty fascinating, but the first thing that came to mind when we saw the pics? Ooh… Spacious!”
Such callous disregard for other people’s misfortune isn’t simply mocking someone’s slip on a banana peel. It’s schadenfreude redefined to reflect the Lord of The Flies world promoted by Limbaugh, Beck and the Fox network. It values insensitivity, derides compassion as a weak emotion. It deflects a sense of  community, of social responsibility for the needy among us by making a sick joke about living space. Usually, schadenfreude is tempered by the notion that the victims being mocked deserve it. Clearly, right wing acculturation has convinced such thoughtless people that the poor and homeless deserve the plight they’re in. It’s a wingnut media/Republican talking point; a popular perversion of just deserts due the homeless, unemployed, uninsured, poor, and hungry people of America.

Such ignorant attitudes, depressing though they may be, aren’t particularly shocking; but these facts about poverty in the world’s most affluent country are:
  • 1.6 million people were homeless in 2009 and spent at least part of the year in a shelter; nearly 325,000 of them were children.
  • 15 million people were unemployed as of October, 6 million of whom had been looking for work for more than half a year.
  • 44 million people were poor in 2009, 19 million of whom had incomes below half of the poverty line (half of the poverty line corresponds to an income of $5,478 for an individual and $10,977 for a family of four).
  • 50 million people lacked access to adequate food at some point in 2009 because they didn’t have enough money for groceries.  Nearly 18 million people lived in households where one or more people had to skip meals or take other steps to reduce their food intake because of lack of resources.
  • The official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent — up from 13.2 percent in 2008. This was the second statistically significant annual increase in the poverty rate since 2004.
  • In 2009, 43.6 million people were in poverty, up from 39.8 million in 2008 — the third consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty.
  • Between 2008 and 2009, the poverty rate increased for non-Hispanic Whites (from 8.6 percent to 9.4 percent), for Blacks (from 24.7 percent to 25.8 percent), and for Hispanics (from 23.2 percent to 25.3 percent). For Asians, the 2009 poverty rate (12.5 percent) was not statistically different from the 2008 poverty rate.
  • The poverty rate in 2009 (14.3 percent) was the highest poverty rate since 1994 but was 8.1 percentage points lower than the poverty rate in 1959, the first year for which poverty estimates are available.
  • The number of people in poverty in 2009 (43.6 million) is the largest number in the 51 years for which poverty estimates have been published.
  • Between 2008 and 2009, the poverty rate increased for children under the age of 18 (from 19.0 percent to 20.7 percent) and people aged 18 to 64 (from 11.7 percent to 12.9 percent), but decreased for people aged 65 and older (from 9.7 percent to 8.9 percent). [Even the Teabaggers will understand this is due largely to Social Security and Medicare.]
  • 51 million people lacked health coverage in 2009.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate what you have written here. The homeless problem in America (which began under Raygun) is our national shame. It is tragic that so many poor and middle class people got screwed during his Free Trade reign and the horror continued through 8 years of Bush. Everyone is talking about jobs but no one is talking about the people in these photographs. Every single media machine should be doing a story on these folks but unfortunately the media has become completely shallow and banal. Some of these folks could have gone to high school with me or worked in my town. It is very sad to see them discarded the way they are. You would never see something like this occur in Norway or Sweden. This country has become morally bankrupt.