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The Invisible People in a Land of Plenty

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Nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty*

But poverty is invisible to most affluent people. The high and mighty deliberately close their eyes and minds to the existence of poverty-stricken people in the United States, the land of plenty. It has become government policy to ignore the bottomless gulf that separates the poor from the super-affluent classes. The dominant theory in today's corporate-governed world is that the rich people make the world go round and that is all that matters. Keep the wheels turning, profit is progress, everything else is of little importance, if any.

The United States is a land of plenty, or certainly would be if it hadn't been for the catastrophic and illegal war in Iraq and the costly military presence all over the world. Billions would have to be moved from these recurrent wars to be spent on eradicating poverty – providing health insurance and quality education, cleaning up the ghettos where the destructive forces are gathered that feed on poverty, general negligence and humiliation. This negligence is at the root of much of the crime and misery in this country as well as everywhere else where slums are allowed to spawn through general indifference to the plight of the outcasts and the marginalized. Wars, it has to be added, are always fought for the profit of the arms manufacturers and big business in general and to the detriment of the poor people who sacrifice their lives and their economic and psychological well-being.

Poor children are deliberately neglected in the educational system, as well as in all other respects. The present government policy in the 'No child left behind' act is exactly a prescription for leaving the poor children behind. It is an Orwellian slogan with no substance. It sets up a system of tests that are geared to middle class children and that are not in any way indicative of the true level of knowledge of the student. Rote learning is what this system is concerned with, not actual understanding. Just another example of the simplistic ways of thinking of the present government. Shortcuts instead of substantive investment. Semblance instead of reality. This is a way of thinking and acting that pervades every aspect of the deeds and acts of this administration, in the matter of warfare as well as of education.

The theory among the super-rich, the people who run the big corporations and the world economy, is that poor people are expendable. They are of no great importance because they don't contribute to the profitability of the corporate world. They are, if anything, a heavy chain around the foot of the capitalist. Poor people, so they think, have demands but are not contributing to the creation of capital. A limited number of them are needed as low-paid workers, but less and less so as low-level work moves to the developing countries. Unemployment is desirable since it makes for competition for the lowest-paid jobs and thus to savings for the industrialists. By and large, however, these people are seen as a heavy burden and masses of the poorest people can be sacrificed, as cannon fodder or as victims of natural catastrophes.

Why was New Orleans left on the wayside?

And that brings us to Katrina. Why reconstruct the poor areas of New Orleans destroyed by the flooding and bring back 'the leeches on society'? Why not instead, as it is being done now, create middle class housing where the poor people used to live? 'Upgrade' the city at the expense of the lives of the poor families who used to live in the low income housing that now needs renovating. Poor people have no voice and so they don't matter. The fact that these same people are actually the basis of production seems immaterial to the capitalist and his world view. Humane notions are foreign to those who put the blame on the poverty stricken people themselves. Compassion is an unknown. Everyone should be able to pull themselves out of ghettos and out of their lives in poverty by their own bootstraps. If they can't, that's just too bad.

The fact that the free-market economy has rendered the poverty problem so much more acute than it was even six years ago is immaterial to the high and mighty. As long as the shareholders get their 15% increase on their investment everyone is happy. Or so they say. Well, the shortsighted financial leaders of the world are happy and they don't seem to realize that the present state of things can not possibly last.

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A Marshall Plan for the ghettos

In "A Domestic Marshall Plan to Transform America's 'Dark Ghettos'", the veteran social and political activist Ron Daniels writes about the urgent need to transform these ghettos. He puts forth the idea that poverty-stricken Americans are in urgent need of something similar to the Marshall aid that was given to Japan and Europe after World War II. Daniels actually makes the mistake of seeing that aid as coming out of sheer generosity and kindness of heart, whereas it was in reality for mostly selfish reasons that the U.S. had to restore its trading partners to full economic self-sufficiency. Whenever the U.S. treasury or the big financial institutions lend money, there are always strings attached. However, aside from that disagreement with Ron Daniels, I find the article clear and to the point as regards the need for urgent and deep-going restoration of slums which have often become centers of drug abuse and juvenile delinquency. All the authorities are doing is increase police forces and the numbers of overwhelmingly poor black people who are incarcerated for very minor offenses. There is not the slightest effort towards getting to the root of the problem.

Do we want a livable world for all people or do we want a world of outcasts living in unspeakable squalor and neglect and another world of the super rich who have no link to the world of the working poor?

The number of poverty stricken families increased by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes on Feb. 22, 2007:

"The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation's 'haves' and 'have-nots' continues to widen.

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"A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of the 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in extreme poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 - half the federal poverty line - was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year."

People will always rise up

People in distress have risen up many times in history. In the United States there were workers' movements in the early part of the 20th century that gave birth to unions and to socialism, which had not yet become a taboo word, and there were the civil disobedience acts, sit-ins, freedom marches, etc. in the 1960s that led to the creation of anti-segregation laws.

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Siv O'Neall was born and raised in Sweden where she graduated from Lund University. She has lived in Paris, France and New Rochelle, N.Y. and traveled extensively throughout the U.S, Europe, and other continents, including several trips to India. (more...)
 

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