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By Charlie Hu

The Hiding of America's Poor

The establishment press, with few exceptions, has long projected an image of the United States as the shining light in a cold, dark world. Images of famine, social unrest and state oppression are shown on our news channels in an effort to point the finger away and say ‘look how good we have it here in the U.S.A.’ Of course being the richest country in the history of civilization will provide advantages for many folks, but more and more people are finding themselves unable to take part in this system. This growing, unorganized group is the same ‘sleeping giant’ that Martin Luther King, Jr. was trying to awaken with his Poor People’s Campaign. One can imagine how a multi-racial, army of the poor demanding an end to economic human rights violations could cause problems for the establishment. A major tool in their arsenal to quell this potential movement is the portrayal of an America without poverty through the dissemination of images and information. In this crafted ‘reality’ the poor are disappeared. For those who wish to fight for change, much may be learned from the propaganda tactics of the ruling class.

The Heritage Foundation is an influential, conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. They are influential with both government policy makers and the press. They were an instrumental force behind the detrimental Welfare Reform of the Clinton years and they consistently get their members on TV and radio to espouse their belief that things are a whole lot better then they look in your neighborhood. Their resident self-proclaimed ‘poverty expert’ is Robert E. Rector. He is an intellectual soldier for the ruling class, called to duty whenever the conditions of widespread poverty in the U.S. are publicized. The ‘poverty expert’ pens his diatribes from a comfortable, sheltered office suite on Capitol Hill. Using misleading statistics to tailor his commitment to small government, Rector provides the scholarly-muscle behind the ‘compassionate conservative’ movement.

Rector co-wrote a recent paper published by Heritage called Understanding Poverty in America (http://www.heritage.org/Research/Welfare/bg1713.cfm.) He starts his inept analysis with a condescending understatement, ‘Poverty is an important and emotional issue.’ Never a man to let his emotions overwhelm him, Rector goes on to refute government statistics illustrating a rise in poverty in recent years. He argues against the government definition of poor, stating that poor folks in the U.S. own color TV’s and grow to be bigger than the G.I.’s who stormed Normandy in World War II. In 2003 the federal government set the poverty line for an individual at $8,980 and for a family of 4 at $18,400. Census data cites 34.6 million Americans (12.1% of the population) living in poverty, an increase of 1.7 million from the prior year. The Census fails to include people without a stable address. Perhaps the only way Rector could earn his title ‘poverty expert’ would be for him to sustain himself decently on an annual salary of $8,980.

The Bush administration has exacerbated the crisis by committing wholesale robbery with mammoth tax cuts for the rich and accelerated slashing of social programs for everyone else. These actions and their effects need to be dressed up and spit out by ‘experts’ like Rector to maintain the perception that all Americans, save for a few pockets of poverty, are living comfortably.

Also contributing to the ‘Hiding of the Poor’ media drive is National Review editor Rich Lowry. At the tender age of 33 this young, whippersnapper has been called ‘the edgy voice of fresh-faced conservatism.’ His writings have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. He also regularly appears on television as a guest commentator.

About a year ago Lowry penned a sharply offensive opinion piece titled ‘America’s Overweight Poor’ (http://www.townhall.com/columnists/richlowry/rl20030121.shtml.) He begins his article with a lead that Rector must surely appreciate, ‘The problem with America’s poor kids is that they’re too fat.’ Indeed Rector is Lowry’s primary source for his more outrageous claims, including that poor kids are in fact better nourished than rich kids.

Rector and Lowry are both extremely influential opinion shapers and in Rector’s case policy maker. Both Republican and Democrat government officials seek their counsel when faced with solving domestic problems. Rector’s papers on poverty are cited in Congressional hearings and Lowry’s columns are read by everyone on Capitol Hill, save President Bush who admittedly doesn’t read regularly. Because they never see the reality experienced day to day by America’s poor they rely on statistics to draw conclusions. Statistics can be twisted and slanted by anyone attempting to prove a thesis. I often use statistics to re-enforce statements and views I present here but in this case I will not try to combat the theories of Rector and Lowry with numbers. I can prove them incorrect 100% of the time by inviting this duo to take a Reality Tour of poor neighborhoods from the valleys in California to the depressed towns of Maine and everywhere in between. I would invite them to read the thousands of pages of documentation collected by the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (kwru.org) where people have detailed how their economic human rights have been violated in the U.S. I would invite them to watch the films of Skylight Pictures (skylightpictures.com), which so effectively communicate human struggle in the face of a great opposing force.

Ultimately the most effective rebuttal to these spun poverty theories, which guide federal policy, is our stories. Creating our own media is an essential action in the battle for hearts and minds. The information gatekeepers do much work distorting data to enhance their political agenda and we must do more work to spread a new perspective of reality, fairness and truth into the debate.


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