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On Tsunamis & Bogs, Part 1: Incongruities

Posted by Rick · December 31st, 2004 · 2 Comments

The Internet has been flooded — nearly every blogger I visited last week, as well as all the mainstream media — by The Great Tsunami. Consequently, I haven’t felt a need to comment upon it; I didn’t feel I had anything to add that couldn’t be said in comments on other blogs.

The more I’ve watched, read and pondered, however, the more — what’s the word I want? — amazed (?)…incredulous (?)… — bemused almost fits, except the circumstances giving rise to the emotion are much too serious for me to think that word works…

At any rate, I find that I have something to say about The Great Tsunami and a question or two about the the Bog that’s been overlooked.

A U.N. official’s claim that wealthy Western nations were “stingy” in giving aid to poor countries appears to have touched off a tsunami of its own.

— Unattributed Story, ‘Stingy’ Barb Gets Results (December 30, 2004) CBS “News”.

As tragic as The Great Tsunami has been and future consequences of it will be, the story I’ve watched with the most interest is that developing around the relief effort.

Most of the people who read this blog are intelligent; for them, my periodic disclaimers aren’t necessary. A few, however, will hit my e-mailbox after a post like this one with snarky or hateful comments inspired by their apparent failure to understand my point. I stress “apparent” because I think they actually get it, but don’t like the implications. Better then, to shift attention to something else I’ve said.

So let me — right up front — say as plainly and forcefully as possible: The tsunami that has occupied our attention on the news of late is a tragedy of immense proportion. In no way, shape, or form should the current post be taken as belittling that.

I’m not so much interested in the supposed competitive nature of it as reported by Snay and other friends of mine. This aspect of it is so familiar it fails to break through the ennui one rightfully associates with political breastbeating.

What has struck me is the incongruity inherent in the relief effort relative to the way people in such dire consequences are normally treated.

Consider this: According to the Census Bureau, the number of people living in poverty in the United States jumped to 1.7 million last year. [read – free subscription required] That’s two years in a row. The number of impoverished hasn’t increased for two years in a row since George Bush was President — oops, I should note that I’m talking George Bush the First, Daddy, Papa, GB 41.

During the years of Democratic rule, poverty levels dropped. Instead of talking about dismantling Social Security, Democrats talked about protecting it. Health care was such a big issue that Republicans had to spend the next eight years attacking the President, after he had the audacity to try to reform it. We weren’t busy starting wars based on lies. We weren’t ignoring our problems at home in order to allocate our resources towards telling others abroad how to live. We weren’t taking from the poor and middle class to give to the rich. But, of course, that’s because of our lack of moral values.

And GB 43? The incongruity I mentioned? It’s worth noting that while the number of impoverished is rising and whilst Bush is cutting foreign food aid spending, fifty-seven percent of all new expenditures since he took office has gone to providing tax cuts. That includes spending on Iraq. Funny how the legacy of the son so closely tracks that of his daddy.

Anyway, as I was saying, the total number of people living below the poverty line — and, remember, this is just in the United States — is now 34.6 million. And rising. Ironically, those hardest hit are key constituencies “courted” by Bush on his trek back to the White House: the Mid-West and Hispanics. But, as one pundit puts it,

One of the Republican Party’s major successes over the last few decades has been to persuade many of the working poor to vote for tax breaks for billionaires.

— Nicholas Kristof, “Living Poor, Voting Rich” (November 3, 2004) via ‘Blog for Iowa.’

But what does that mean? “Working poor”? “Below the poverty line”?

Forget health care. Forget dental care. High poverty school districts receive less funding; according to the group that supports the No Child Left Behind Act, these children are being left behind to the tune of $868 less per student (in New York, the gap between poorer districts and richer ones is $2040). Right now, people in Sri Lanka are “scrambling for food,” which for the poor has been going on daily since time immemorial. And the number of poor needing assistance just to get enough to eat is rising.

While conservative “think” tanks are busy twisting reports and numbers to “prove” that poor people in America are not really poor and falsely stating that the poor today are actually better off than the Middle Class of yesterday — an absurd claim when you realize that not even the Middle Class of today can afford the “dad works/mom stays home” model of the Middle Class up until the second half of the 1900s — Americans pat themselves on the back over their generosity in this — i.e., after numerous people rich and poor are hit by a tsunami — one-time event. (And who is featured on the news throughout this horrific event? Top fashion models. Rich white Europeans who lost family members. This is terrible. And I’m not suggesting that these folk didn’t suffer tremendous losses and pain. But I’m guessing that in places like Sri Lanka, the majority of those suffering right now were neither rich white Europeans nor fashion models.)

Most of this is because Americans are impressed by immediacy, visibility and numbers. A tsunami strikes in a matter of minutes or hours; the poor in America sink slowly into the bog and disappear.

For example, we pat ourselves on the back that Republican programs to reduce the numbers of people on welfare are “working.” What we don’t stop to think about is that they’re “working” because we just stop giving people the help they need to survive. It’s the same as with unemployment. I, personally, have been unemployed for the first time in my 30+ years of working. Last week, the government told me my unemployment benefits are terminated; although I still haven’t found a job after six months, I’m no longer “unemployed.” Fortunately for me, I saved some money and should be okay for up to another year. But isn’t it great to see how the unemployment and welfare situation are improving in America? All you have to do is point to someone, say “you’re no longer unemployed” or “you no longer need welfare” and — voilà — faster than you can say “reprogram that voting machine,” Bush’s numbers have improved!

The problem is that while the number of people “getting off welfare rolls” is rising, so, too, are the numbers of homeless people. It’s happening in places like South Dakota, in New York, in Southern California, and other places. And as recently as 2002, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty noted that higher numbers of American homeless are dying in the streets due to the inability to find shelter, as America — which responded so well to the foreign tsunami — proves incapable of handling the tsunami right here on our own shores. As both the article about Southern California and the Religion & Ethics Newsweekly note, many of these “hidden homeless,” actually have jobs! In other words, folks, it’s not like they’re lazy SOBs simply looking for a hand-out, or someone to support them in a life of leisure.

So why can Americans rise to the challenge of giving their money to support people hit by natural disasters on vacation in foreign third-world countries, but must explain away, or just ignore, the very real and significantly more serious needs of people who could rightly be considered their own? I’m not trying to say we should not be helping out with the Tsunami Disaster; we should. I’m saying we have a rising tide of poverty, pain and suffering here in America which we should be viewing with the same concern — and opening our hearts and purses with the same generosity — that we’re showing the rest of the world.

Stay tuned tomorrow, when we ask, “Where are the Christians?” in this “Christian nation.”

Categories: Social Issues


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 eRobin // Jan 1, 2005 at 1:19 pm

    It’s exactly as you said – there is a deep and abiding belief in this country that people are poor because they deserve to be poor. The tsunami victims are in a whole separate class of tragedy now that they remind us that bad stuff can happen very quickly and without warning to anyone. When they were scrambling to survive before, they fit into our capitalist consciousness as the necessary losers. They were simply lazy or unlucky or both.

  • 2 On Tsunamis & Bogs, Part 2: Where Are The Christians? // Sep 17, 2008 at 8:36 am

    […] ← On Tsunamis & Bogs, Part 1: Incongruities Thaw Out, Dude! […]

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