Economic Justice

Neoliberalism's Destructive Path: Part 2

As neoliberalism was being ushered in, the media (along with those who create the “official” stats for unemployment) made it a point to ‘disappear’ the jobless poor who were not re-absorbed back into the workforce, while painting a rosy economic picture that clearly established the middle and upper classes as the only “real” people who exist (or who deserve to).

The media also propagandized the public into accepting prostitution - one of the most brutal forms of violence against women and one the most harmful forms of exploitation, as the only allowable “solution” to poor marginalized women’s poverty in pro-Welfare Reform America (instead of providing a generous safety net and eliminating job discrimination against poor women) - with movies like Pretty Woman.

The media also slowly propagandized the public into welcoming the growing police state, which serves only one purpose: to prevent massive uprisings from the poor by doing the elite’s dirty work of culling the poor, or at the very least locking poor people up in cages, where they’re forced to do slave labor for private corporations as a solution to increasing crime resulting from increasing structural poverty and unemployment.

Remember the TV show 21 Jumpstreet that ran from 1987 to 1992? Remember the young heartthrob Johnny Depp as the moody Officer Tom Hanson who always did everything by the book, and the handsome cherubic Peter DeLuise with his impish grin as the affable Officer Doug Penhall who was a good-hearted goofy guy that loved women, sports and take-out food? Remember the studious and adorable Officer Harry Ioki played by Dustin Nguyen?

Image result for officer ioki 21 jump street wikimedia

21 Jumpstreet portrayed the police as really cute sensitive guys who cared about social justice and protecting abuse victims from bad guys while also being above any kind of corruption and abuse of authority in the course of doing their jobs. All of these ‘kiddie cops’ in the Jumpstreet program were cast by actors who were teen idols that girls swooned over. Coincidence?

Cops were also glorified in movies like Lethal Weapon and Tango & Cash. Who doesn’t remember enjoying seeing Kurt Russell in a wig, make-up and a mini-skirt when he snuck out the back door of an exotic dancer club as he and Sylvester Stallone set out to prove they were set up by the real bad guys?

And then there was the reality TV show Cops which portrayed poor people, especially young men of color, as dangerous criminals that the rest of society needed protection from - a stereotype of black males that is as old as the institution of slavery in the antebellum South.

And that’s not even getting into the rise of hate radio misogynistic “shock jocks” like Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh who made their pile by vilifying the poor, especially poor people who were members of traditionally discriminated groups. Their wealth and success was made possible by generous corporate sponsorships over three decades. The majority of Americans lapped up their verbal sewage as if it was foie gras, and clamored for the further immiseration of the poor through abusive social and economic policies, as the poor were painted as lesser-thans that were undeserving of the most basic of human rights to food, shelter, and medical care per the UN’s UDHR.

Completely dehumanized and viewed as non-human vermin by society’s better-off, local business owners and middle-class workers thought nothing of demanding that their local officials brutally force the chronically poor/jobless and homeless out of the public square, out of sight, and into hiding.

Nobody cared about the poor, and all the harm and indignities we’ve been forced to suffer, for the past 40 years. Nobody wanted to hear about our problems, never mind help us - or at the very least, refrain from further hurting us. Nobody even acknowledged us as human beings whose lives and human rights matter.

News media touted a booming economy, but it was only booming for the middle/upper-middle classes and the rich. Meanwhile, the fact that there were 94 million working-age Americans who were not earning an income (after the economic recovery) was buried by those who decide what news gets reported.

Increasing deaths from poverty due to utility shut-offs from unaffordable rates charged by deregulated and privatized utility companies, while Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding for the poor was slashed to the bone, increasing nutritional diseases/malnourishment, lack of healthcare (including access to life-saving medicines), and homelessness all went deliberately unreported in mainstream news media for many years.

In 2002, nearly 30,000 poor households in Wayne County, Michigan suffered gas and electric shut-offs due to inability to pay. Detroit Water & Sewer shut off running water to 40,000 poor residents.

As of 2007, only 14% of America’s poorest people who were deemed eligible for subsidized housing were able to get it, but that required being put on a waiting list of an average wait time of 10 years. That same year, Pennsylvania Power & Light (PP&L) reported a 110% increase in utility shut-offs to the poor.

Poor people who died or whose family members died as a result of utility shut-offs due to unrelieved poverty were either dismissed by news media as being overly frugal in “choosing to conserve” home heating and power, or were outright vilified, victim-blamed and even criminalized for their suffering - which is what happened to Sylvia Young, a poor single mother of seven who lost three of her children in a deadly house fire in March of 2010 as the result of an unsafe space heater that was used in a desperate attempt to not freeze to death in a bitter cold Detroit winter.

The news media viciously smeared Ms. Young, saying that she left her kids unattended while she “went out to a party store.” What happened was she went out, trudging on foot through deep snow with no winter boots to the nearest store to buy a second space heater to prevent herself and her children from freezing to death while an electrical fire from the faulty old space heater broke out at the home.

As a result of the character assassination job that the news media did on Ms. Young[3], the poor young mother suffered further injustice when the state took custody of her remaining children and filed criminal negligence charges against her because of how that fire was reported by the news. And this was after Ms. Young tried in vain to get help for herself and her children with utility bill assistance, only to not get any.

Private charities have not provided adequate help to the chronically poor and failed to house the homeless - they are not a suitable substitute for a legitimate government social safety net and other systemic policies to eradicate poverty.

Nobody acknowledged the problem of our growing poverty crisis until enough middle-class people fell into poverty in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008. Some were fortunate and eventually got reabsorbed into middle-class jobs but many lost everything - their jobs, their 401(K)s, their health insurance, their cars, and their homes - and were never able to recoup financially, as age discrimination shut them out of jobs permanently once the economy began to recover. As a result, many joined the ranks of the burgeoning underclass, struggling to survive on the streets, in homeless shelters, in “tent cities”, on meager crumbs of an occasional begrudgingly given charity.

Discussing poverty within the framework of unearned privilege and classism isn’t popular, it’s considered “divisive.” And for self-styled “liberals” to be true to their professed principles of social justice, they would have to take a very strong stand against the economic terrorism of unrelieved abject poverty and involuntary joblessness. But that’s not as much fun as publicly performing boutique activism rituals for the latest cause du jour, so they can pat themselves on the back and praise each other for being socially conscious people.

The jobless poor and homeless had increased dramatically in number over the past 40 years until finally becoming so large in number that the truth about extreme poverty across the US could no longer be swept under the rug, as more and more middle-class people became poor. Only then did poverty and homelessness start to matter - sort of.

Capitalism works like a Ponzi scheme. And for a growing number of people, it’s more like a shell game -- without the pea. If you don’t accept that, then there’s no point in discussing solutions for those trapped at the very bottom who are left unable to economically provide for themselves with no clear path out of crushing poverty.

Footnotes:

[3] Vendetta continues against mother who lost three in Detroit fire

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