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The War on Poverty

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Over 50 years ago, on Jan. 8, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an all-out war on poverty. His idea consisted of a simple plan that was laid out in the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964: to provide tax dollars to better the sociological needs of the poor. The money would be used to provide job training and focus community resources on stopping the cycle of poverty and its disastrous recurrence.

A number of institutions were established to provide basic education and training for young men and women in hopes of giving them better opportunities in the workplace. Centers were to provide voluntary assistance and resources to the needy. Grants were to be given to colleges and universities to provide employment to low-income families and loans to small businesses, migrant agricultural employees and farmers, and a plethora of small groups that focused on small communities and their economic climates.

The idea was not the redistribution of wealth but the protection of the ability to earn a decent living through the power of knowledge. Unfortunately, all these ideas soon lost their prominence to a more salient war: Vietnam. In less than five years a majority of the programs had been destroyed and the money was being sent overseas to buy blood and democracy. (Since then, this practice has been carried out ad abundantiam.) As we have seen from Richard Nixon on through Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, the war on poverty has transformed a war on poor people.

Martin Luther King Jr. understood that revolution starts with knowledge, and his words are still a brave and honest reminder:

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. ... A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.