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The “war on poverty” 50 years on, the most effected and least aware

Years ago I sat in an enormous empty hangar waiting for deploying troops to arrive. It was in the early 1980’s. Yes, it was the proverbial military o’dark early.

The JAG for whom I worked was seated next to me. He was the more philosophically and politically moderate of the two JAGs for whom I provided legal assistance.

We were part of the pre-deployment line past which deploying troops made their way, stopping at the different stations to have their deployment documents checked.

The troops were men and women, young and old mostly from the community. These were reservists who gave up at least one weekend monthly to train for the inevitable next military engagement.

At that point in time there hadn’t been an all out military or contingency operation since the conflict in Vietnam had ended half a decade earlier.

It would be another decade before what became known as the Gulf War would once again have the drum beat and saber rattling rise to a fevered pitch.

Sitting in that cold, drafty hangar bundled up in an unlined olive drab military jacket, scarf and gloves wouldn’t seem to be the time for my mind to ponder on the bigger picture but it happened anyway.

Just sitting there with little to do but wait provided a powerful vacuum force that drew the rush of ideas and observations into it in a thunderous clap.

I observed to the JAG that we---those of us in uniform---were just cops on the beat for the world’s powerful. Wars weren’t brought on by the non-powerful. In fact that non-powerful had little to wage war about or over. Wars are waged for one reason; profit. The term one-percent wasn’t in vogue then but it would have been appropriate.

The JAG was taken aback and the ongoing discussion we had resulted no doubt from his observation that while I was dressed as just another automaton protector of the one-percent their respective wealth and safety I was far from it.

All these years later, that discussion is still fresh and relevant to me; perhaps more relevant than ever.

Recently a young troop called me to discuss the fact that a “grateful nation” had announced a life altering watershed moment. At least 25,000 active duty troops were going to be cut loose by the air force. He was potentially among them. He was calling me because he knew my background and wanted very much to discuss the nuances of the life altering choices ahead of him. These decisions would affect him and his young family.

A “grateful nation” needs money and reducing military strength by thousands of troops will do it. God knows the millionaire’s club we call a congress couldn’t possibly be expected to raise taxes on the top one-percent from 35 to 39 percent. That just wouldn’t be right; far better to send tens of thousands of young men and women from uniformed service into the anemic economy on short notice. It is an economy, if I might add, that is far from ready to absorb those highly trained and qualified young men and women many of whom thought they were going to remain in uniform until retirement.

Once again, the life and property of the one-percent secure and their money hunger momentarily sated and with little additional money to be made by the one-percent’s wrecking havoc half way round the world it is time to unload the “surplus population” ---until next time.

Economist Robert Reich recently observed that the “US economy produced a pathetic 74,000 jobs in December -- the worst job growth in 3 years. Even if number gets revised upward, as expected, the reality is this is the most anemic recovery on record. And the reason is the vast middle class and poor don't have the purchasing power needed to lift the economy out of the doldrums. Median household income continues to drop, adjusted for inflation, while 95 percent of the economic gains from this recovery have gone to the top 1 percent.”

Reich adds, “This is why we need (1) a living wage, (2) major new infrastructure spending, (3) extended unemployment benefits, (4) a larger Earned Income Tax Credit, (5) unions for low-wage workers, (6) exemption of first $20K of income from Social Security payroll taxes (and lift cap on income subject to them to make up difference), (7) resurrection of Glass-Steagall and limits on size of big banks. And more. More basically, we need a national movement for better jobs and wages -- a movement to reverse the widening inequality that's destroying our economy and undermining our democracy. (See "Inequality for All" now on iTunes, DVD, and On Demand.)”

“Republicans say they won't extend emergency unemployment benefits unless their cost is offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget. But they won't even consider offsetting the cost by closing tax loopholes for the rich -- such as the "carried interest" loophole that gives hedge-fund and private-equity partners an annual $11 billion tax subsidy, almost twice the cost of extending unemployment benefits. Put this in a larger context and see the pattern: (1) Not only do they oppose extending unemployment benefits, but (2) they oppose any jobs program to put the long-term unemployed to work, (3) they want to cut food stamps, (4) they refuse to raise the minimum wage, and (5) they're determined to kill off unions. Connect the dots and you have a calculated strategy to keep wages as low as possible -- forcing large numbers of Americans to choose between working for peanuts or having nothing at all. Republicans are pushing this strategy because lower wages give their big-business patrons fatter profits (at least in the short term; longer term, they reduce overall demand for goods and services). The strategy is already succeeding: Real median household incomes are now 4.4 percent below what they were at the start of the so-called recovery, and corporate profits are up. Democrats, including Obama, should be calling them out on this strategy. Why aren't they?”

And here’s the thing, against all odds a disproportionate percentage of a well educated, highly trained and skilled subset of US citizens who serve in the military are predisposed to a GOPer mentality and loyalty. It is unlikely that they will understand that it isn’t one political party or the other showing their “gratitude” or lack of but the one-percent and their finger puppets in the congress.

From Texas Red: a cratered landscape of for profit prisons, deplorable apartheid public education, lack of healthcare and politicians and majority population intent on keeping it that way…

Hasta Siempre,

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