Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Ending Poverty Remains Forgotten War on Domestic Front

LAST MAN STANDING Ending Poverty Remains Forgotten War on Domestic Front

Even though it has been more than seven months since the War on Terrorism began, we have little to show for it. Afghanistan continues to be a state where anarchy is the rule of law. The iddle East is simply a disaster. More anti-Americanism is present across the globe than ever before. Civil liberties at home are under attack from Attorney General John Ashcroft and company. But while we continue to fight the never-ending War on Terrorism abroad, we have forgotten about the “war on poverty” we need to fight at home. While we pump billions of dollars into the American military machine we seem to have forgotten that poverty is the root cause of not only terrorism abroad but also crime and societal breakdown within our own borders.

Unfortunately, our country seems to have a problem when it comes to helping the poor. America gives only around 0.1 percent of its annual Gross National Product to foreign aid. But maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering America’s long history of isolationism and unilateralist policy. There is little excuse, though, for failing to address the rampant poverty and inequality that is present in our own country.

Because we live in the self-contained community of Georgetown, we sometimes forget that poverty is just a short drive away from Healy Gates. In certain parts of Washington, D.C., the conditions seem to be more in tune with the third world. It is nothing short of embarrassing that, in the capital of the richest country in the world, 39 percent of children live below the poverty line. The District’s infant mortality rate (16.2 per 1,000 births) is nearly the same as Sri Lanka’s while the number of babies born underweight is higher than in Zambia.

Even with the tremendous overall economic growth of the 1990s, inequality is more of a problem than ever before. Ironically, the more America prospers, the more the gap between the rich and poor widens. Today, America can claim 170 billionaires, 25,000 deca-millionaires and a whopping 4.8 million-millionaires. This small group of elites (around 1.5 percent of the total U.S. population) controls more than half of all the personal wealth in America. It is perhaps just as shocking that as of 2000, the average CEO made 531times more than the average factory worker while in 1980, the ratio was only 42:1.

This blatant inequality is nowhere more evident than in the wretched inner cities of America. While our country seems to prosper on the surface, it is the people of the inner city – many of them minorities – who have been left behind. They have little to hope for. Young kids living in terrible conditions become disillusioned. Often times, they feel they are resigned to a never-ending life of drugs and crime. It is a self-perpetuating crisis. Poverty leads to despair and hopelessness which leads to crime and drug use. Rampant crime leads to more hopelessness, which results in yet more crime. It is obvious that someone has to intervene and say enough is enough.

Can we count on our politicians to seriously address these problems? In the debates between then-presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush in the last election, can you remember how many times they mentioned the words “inner city?” Republicans seem to think that hard work is all one needs to advance in society, while the Democrats have sold out the poor and the minorities to the corporate and special interests.

In typical fashion, in foreign policy and domestic policy alike, America seems to care only about the short-term. In order to deal with crime and drug use, we just build more and more prisons while doing nothing to address the underlying causes of the problem. Instead of rebuilding and strengthening public schools, the Bush administration is interested in sending some poor kids to private and charter schools. Bush’s policy of “accountability” in education is even more absurd. The schools that succeed and demonstrate improved test scores are the ones that get more funding. That is like saying that if people get rich, we should reward them by giving them even more money that they don’t need in the first place. The schools that really need the money are the ones that are poor and failing.

Since Sept. 11, the political elites have put billions of dollars into a “war on terrorism” that has succeeded in making people in Europe, Asia and Africa hate us even more than they did before. After last September, President Bush and Congress decided to balloon defense spending. For the 2003 fiscal year, Bush asked for even more: a $48 billion increase in military spending. Today, the U.S. accounts for nearly 40 percent of global defense spending while it houses only five percent of the world’s population.

Wouldn’t we serve the world and ourselves better if instead of giving countless billions to the American military machine, we gave the money to institutions that build instead of destroy? Just think about the good we could do if we used that same $48 billion to help rebuild public schools and to help alleviate the poverty that so many Americans still have to deal with on a daily basis.

Poverty is a cancer that will continue to eat away at our world. The War on Terrorism is a convenient excuse to avoid tackling domestic issues at home. But soon enough, the American public will realize that not only has this war given them nothing, it has also taken away so much. The war on poverty remains the forgotten war. Let us start remembering.

Last Man Standing appears every other Tuesday in The Hoya. The author can be reached at lastmanstandingthehoya.com.

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