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The New Surge: Overcoming Poverty in America

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Since 2007, there's been plenty of bitter chatter about if/how to muster the proper surge of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. To this day, successes from proffering such resources largely remain anyone's guess.

Then along came last year's report called Federal Spending By the Numbers issued by conservative think-tank, The Heritage Foundation. Sure, it might not have moved the masses like Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol; nonetheless, it has its own certain potency.

A section of said report attempted to illuminate readers about a whole new kind of surge here at home, as stipulated accordingly...

"Anti-poverty spending surged 56 percent under President Bush to a record 3 percent of GDP."

It is yet unclear if the 39.8 million Americans living in poverty have read, pondered and debated the report while standing in unemployment lines, lounging on shelter beds or floundering through broken neighborhoods. So, it makes sense to question if/how such anti-poverty appropriations have been, well, appropriated.

However, here's the broader stroke. The Heritage Foundation report goes on to cite...

"It is a myth that anti-poverty spending has already been slashed and cannot be a source of savings or reforms. Program success should be measured by reduced government dependency not increased spending."

Well, how about elucidating the authors of said report in terms of this measurement? What if every resident of California were to surge into poverty right this very minute? Or what if we were to simultaneously wipe out New York, Florida and Washington, D.C., home of The Heritage Foundation? This entire populace represents the number of Americans who must currently choose between food on the table or gas in the tank, between a doctor's visit or an electric bill... between life and death.

For those like The Heritage Foundation who demand government spending be abridged on programming to protect the personal welfare of its citizens, how is it defensible that the U.S. Department of Defense budget has surged to approximately 4.8 percent of GDP, the most in U.S. history? (Incidentally, the $1 trillion surge on defense spending has NOT yet included appropriations for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, largely funded through bills outside the federal budget. So, add another $200 billion per year or so.)

A secure nation is a fundamental paradigm, and eternal praise must befall those who engage their military duties with incomparable valor. But the fact is, the 2009 U.S. military budget is nearly as much as the rest of the world's defense spending combined. It does not take a rocket scientist to wonder If this is truly apposite.

Most curious, however, is this country's perpetual penchant for securing foreign territories instead of salvaging its very own turf. And, what pray tell are we accomplishing by doing so? With 1 in 7.5 citizens living in poverty (including one in five children), America has ordained the bloodiest of wars right here within her very own borders; a war that affects every town and every city in every region of every state every single day.

The very least we can and should do is initiate a surge to empower our less fortunate souls into sustainable independence. The Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program (government arm of FEMA) and Community Services Block Grant program (via the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) afford monies to fight poverty. But should they not be funded dollar-for-dollar with "national defense" spending? Of course they should. And then some.

It sure would be swell to annually disperse a trillion dollars plus another $200 billion or so to help moms and dads, sons and daughters become wholly helpful and hopeful Americans. And with all this talk about family values, it seems eerily duplicitous that America has let its families become the fastest rising component of our 1.6 million homeless, representing 40 percent of the sum.

For more than eight years, this nation has deployed an extravagant amount of resources to fight a war against an enemy we can hardly see -- an enemy with unprecedented patience and resolve. Can that war be won? The jury might well be out for another eight, 28 or 108 years.

But when it comes to a war on poverty here at home, we know precisely where the enemy lies and how it attacks the hearts and minds of New Orleans, Sacramento, Detroit, Savannah and so on. Most importantly, this is a war that CAN be won.

Those who disproportionately equate poverty with iconic imagery of shotgun shacks, drug-addled convicts or war-torn vets are gravely under-informed. Poverty is a cyclical lack of means and opportunities, not a wholesale personal refusal to move forward. Furthermore, it is the turbulent and iniquitous imbalance that causes the conditional or behavioral characteristics most closely associated with our poor.

The most obvious illustration of this imbalance lies in recent wage history. Over the past 20 years, CEO pay has surged over 300 percent while Average Joe pay has sputtered to a meager 4.3 percent bump. Do not be fooled by recent public uproar and Executive Branch mandates to curtail this trend. There is a long and arduous road to travel before this disgraceful and unacceptable inclination eases.

Ultimately, through "good" economies and "bad", the constancy of American poverty continues. But why this enduring story fails to surge into our collective consciousness is the mystery that surely must unfold.