Bag of Pardons

Hiding the Poor While
Laying the Red Carpet

The Jiangxi province, in Nanchang, China, came up with a novel way to prevent beggars from bothering those attending a religious festival: it built metal cages to house them for the duration of the event. For the poor, it was either that, or literally get out of town.
It was a particularly crude display of business expediency by local officials. But China’s has shown before that it places a higher premium on its global image than on its underclass. That’s why poverty was nowhere to be seen during the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
Of course, pious souls of all stripes chimed in, bless their hearts, calling the Jiangxi’s initiative barbaric, akin to the promotion of a human zoo. But, abstracted the blatant insensitivity, the action seems in line with the general trend, in Western societies too, to regard the poor as lepers used to be, hidden and as far away as possible.
It’s happening again in Spain and Greece and throughout Europe: despite the failure of the ‘austerity to everyone but us’ policies, officials and politicians continue to prescribe it. Unemployment and economic stagnation remain rampant, sowing misery and massive disruption of the continent’s social fabric.
For the financial elite, though, which almost bankrupted the system a few years ago, not much has changed. While they navigate the high-luxury routes of conferences and parties across the world, millions sleep, and scream, and get beaten in the streets. Or resort to begging.

At times, a global event, a faith-based gathering, or a big sports competition, are just what it takes to call attention of the world to the widespread turmoil most people are going through right now. That’s why we even registered the name of that tiny province in a southeastern corner of the world’s most populous country.
On the other side of the earth, there’s Brazil, whose current excuse is again, the games. Two major competitions, to be exact: the World Cup of soccer, in 2014, and two years later, another edition of the Summer Games. So the massive evacuations and the not so effective relocation of thousands of people have already started.
To some, the government bulldozers have shown up unexpectedly and immediately torn away homes where low-income Brazilians had lived for years. It happened in Rio de Janeiro, a city where ironically some of its most prized real estate are occupied by favelas surrounding wealthy neighborhoods.
Officially, the effort to clear up some areas and relocate residents is being made to meet the expected demand from the two major upcoming events. But it’s also a way to move away from the precious tourism dollars the undesirable class of beggars and underprivileged, often unjustly blamed for the city’s high criminality rate.
Less than two years from the World Cup, the influx of capital that has flooded Brazil’s economy has been mainly escaped scrutiny. It’s supposed to boost infrastructure works throughout the country, and increase government-funded low-income housing. Such ideas, though, have been getting a terrible rap lately.
Critics have already pointed to the lack of vision of some urban projects, that may be rendered obsolete, once visitors return home, and Brazil gets back to the customary laidback attitude towards its glaring social disparities. There won’t be then, any need to maintain the elaborated and expensive made-up reality.

If we were fans of hyperbole and over the top comparisons, we could be trying now to compare that extreme example of building metal cages for beggars with some elements of the U.S. presidential campaign. The definite medieval tinge of that experiment, though, may prove too much to draw comparisons, without resorting to some voodoo gymnastics.
Instead, let’s just line up some facts that have emerged during this political cycle. For example, the poorest 20% Americans paid last year about 17% in combined taxes. Corporations, though, proving that they’re most definite not people, paid only 11%, or $221 billion from their estimated total annual profit of $1.97 trillion.
Not sure whether this makes sense? Between 2008 and 2010, for every dollar that six of the biggest U.S. companies made in profits, citizens got a penny in taxes. Back in 1980, for every buck the richest 0.1% of Americans have earned, they’ve added three more dollars to their personal wealth, while the poorest 90% of the population of the time have added one cent.
Thinking about the hungry? According to the World Food Program, it’d take about $100 a year to feed a human being. Since there’re an estimated 925 million people in the world with insufficient food, it’d only take the fortune of six Wal-Mart heirs, $92 billion, to completely eradicate hunger in the world.
Oh, and about those 47% who are of no interest to the GOP presidential candidate, because like him, they pay none or almost no taxes, they’re actually 46%, according to the Tax Policy Center. And they don’t pay because 23% are low income citizens (read, homeless and destitute); 10% are elderly or retired on a fixed income; and the remaining 23% are benefits for the working poor and children.
Now who’s the only one putting their poverty-stricken citizens on public display? Just to make sure we don’t convince ourselves how great we are compared to other societies, a recent NYTimes story reports that rich Americans, despite donating large sums in exchange for tax credits, rarely do it so to charities and social causes that benefit the poor.
Thus, among the target of wealthy U.S. donors, are multi-billion dollar endowed universities and museums, public parks and hospital wings, while organizations dedicated to children, education, social projects and food banks are often given what amounts to tips. In New York, for example, none of the top 49 philanthropy gifts listed by the trade organization went to support social services.
And just so we’re clear to about one thing: despite China’s growth, and Brazil’s emergency as a world power, and Germany’s strong economic position, and the European industry, as a whole, still mighty and powerful (albeit mismanaged, one may argue), the U.S. is still the richest and largest economy in the world.
Think about that the next time you get slightly mad for having to switch cars on the train because of the stench of a fellow human being, which was too much to bear, and in consequence, got late in line to get those tickets for Jay-Z’s credit-card-discounted concert. You actually got lucky, for it’s something else less to add to your rampant credit card debt anyway.
Besides, we heard that the supposedly unexpected sensation of the night, the ‘wardrobe malfunction’ of the headliner’s stunning wife’s red-carpet entrance,  didn’t really amount to all they made up to be. From the seats you were bound to afford, you’d probably miss it big time. Even the tiny screen of your smartphone had a better view of it, and don’t even let us get started about your phone woes.


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