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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Invisible Americans Get The Silent Treatment

Invisible Americans Get The Silent Treatment

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
Common Dreams
Saturday, August 25, 2012

It’s just astonishing to us how long this campaign has gone on with
no discussion of what’s happening to poor people.

Official Washington continues to see poverty with tunnel vision –
“out of sight, out of mind.”

And we’re not speaking just of Paul Ryan and his Draconian budget
plan or Mitt Romney and their fellow Republicans.

Tipping their hats to America’s impoverished while themselves
seeking handouts from billionaires and corporations is a bad habit
that includes President Obama, who of all people should know

Remember: for three years in the 1980’s he was a community
organizer in Roseland, one of the worst, most poverty-stricken
and despair-driven neighborhoods in Chicago.

He called it “the best education I ever had.”

And when Obama left to go to Harvard Law School, author
Paul Tough writes in The New York Times, he did so, “to
gain the knowledge and resources that would allow him to
eventually return and tackle the neighborhood’s problems

There’s a moving line in Dreams from My Father where Obama
writes: “I would learn power’s currency in all its intricacy and
detail” and “bring it back like Promethean fire.”

Oddly, though, for all his rhetorical skills, Obama hasn’t made a
single speech devoted to poverty since he moved into the White

Five years ago, he was one of the few politicians who would talk
about it. Here he is in July 2007, speaking in Anacostia, one of the
poorest parts of Washington, D.C.:

“The moral question about poverty in America — How can
a country like this allow it? — has an easy answer: we can’t.
The political question that follows — What do we do about
it? – has always been more difficult. But now that we’re
finally seeing the beginnings of an answer, this country has
an obligation to keep trying.”

Barack Obama the candidate said he wanted to spend billions
on a nationwide program similar to Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem
Children Zone in New York City, widely praised for its focus
on comprehensive child development.

In the last three years, only $40 million have been spent with
another $60 million scheduled for local community grants.

Obama’s White House team insisted their intentions were good,
but the depth of the economic meltdown passed along by their
predecessors has kept them from doing more.

And yes, billions have been spent on direct aid to families in
the form of welfare, food stamps, housing vouchers and other

What’s needed, as Paul Tough at the Times and others say, is
a less scattershot, more comprehensive program that gets to
the root of the problem, focusing on education and mentoring.

Not easy to do when a disaffected middle class that votes says
hey, what about us? — and the wealthy one percent who lay out
the fat campaign contributions simply say, so what?

Just a few days ago, The Chronicle of Philanthropy issued a
report on charitable giving. Among its findings:

“Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy
people give a smaller share of their incomes to charity than rich
people who live in more economically diverse communities.”

Responding to that study, social psychologist Paul Piff told
National Public Radio, “The more wealth you have, the more
focused on your own self and your own needs you become, and
the less attuned to the needs of other people you also become.”

Those few who dedicate themselves to keeping the poor ever
in sight realize how grave the situation really is.

The Associated Press reports that, “The number of Americans
with incomes at or below 125 percent of the poverty level is
expected to reach an all-time high of 66 million this year.”

A family of four earning 125 percent of the federal poverty level
makes about $28,800 a year, according to government figures.

That number’s important because 125 percent is the income limit
to qualify for legal aid, but although that family may qualify for
help, budgets for legal services have been slashed, too, and pro
bono work at the big law firms has fallen victim to downsizing.

So it’s not surprising, the AP goes on to say, that there’s a crisis
in America’s civil courts because people slammed by the financial
meltdown, overwhelmed by foreclosure, debt collection and
bankruptcy cases, can’t afford legal representation and have to
represent themselves, creating gridlock in our justice system and
one more hammer blow for the poor.

We know, we know: It is written that, “The poor will always be
with us.”

But when it comes to our “out of sight, out of mind” population
of the poor, you have to think we can help reduce their number,
ease the suffering, and speak out, with whatever means at hand,
on their behalf and against those who would prefer they remain

Speak out: that means you and me, and yes, Mr. President, you,

You once told the big bankers on Wall Street that you were all
that stood between them and the pitchforks of an angry public.

How about telling the poor you will make sure our government
stands between them and the cliff?

Bill Moyers is the host of the new show Moyers & Company, a
weekly series of smart talk and new ideas aimed at helping
viewers make sense of our tumultuous times through the
insight of America’s strongest thinkers. His previous shows
on PBS included NOW with Bill Moyers and Bill Moyers Journal.

Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at Demos and president
of the Writers Guild of America, East, is senior writer of the
new public television series Moyers & Company, premiering in
January 2012.

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