Current Comment

Census Data and the Poor

The poor became poorer last year, according to a recent analysis of the new U.S. Census Bureau data by the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Put another way, the report points out that the proportion of poor people who experienced severe povertythat is, whose incomes fell below half of the poverty linewas higher in 2005 than in any prior year on record, with data going back to 1975. The federal poverty line for a family of four is $19,971. Since the average yearly rent paid in 2005 was $8,328, it is not hard to understand that many poor families do without adequate food and other necessities just to pay the rent.

A similar poverty-related situation is reflected in health insurance. The same C.B.P.P. report states that the number of uninsured people rose last year to a record 46.6 million people, an increase of 1.3 million. The drop in coverage since 2001 stems primarily from an erosion in employer-based insurance. The center’s executive director, Robert Greenstein, observes in the report that the country has yet to make progress in reducing poverty, raising the typical family’s income or stemming the rise in the ranks of the uninsured.

Peace Without Borders

When the destructiveness of war overtakes a society, peace is sometimes difficult even to imagine. That is particularly true in regions where war has long run rampant across borders, as it has done in central Africa, where Uganda, Sudan and Congo meet. Yet the civil war in the Congo officially ended in 2003 (although violence continues in the east), and the 19-year-long civil war in Uganda may finally be drawing to a close as well. Because this war has been so horrific, the scenes unfolding in the peace process have the makings of an epic reconciliation.

The first surprise was that the cruel Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, agreed to a cease-fire in late August, after more than a month of mediation by the government of Southern Sudan and the Sant’Egidio Community. Next the rebels accepted a truce with the Ugandan government. Now hundreds of its fighters are assembling at the two neutral camps set up for the rebels across the border in Sudan, including Vincent Otti, the L.R.A. deputy commander, with Joseph Kony, the commander, not far behind.

Kony and Otti are lobbying to have the warrants for their arrest dropped and to have the case before the International Criminal Court in the Hague, where they have been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, withdrawn by the Ugandan government. So uncertainties remain.

Whenever peace is achieved, it typically means bringing home soldiers and prisoners of war, but any such homecoming in Uganda promises to be especially poignant. Those to be released will include some 1,500 to 2,000 women and children still held captive. Many of those are among the 20,000 boys and girls (by U.N. estimates) whom the rebels had kidnapped from their homes as children and forced to commit murders and other atrocities.

The United Nations is already preparing to assist with family reunions. This is a peace the whole world would do well to ponder.

Accentuate the Positive

At first everyone hoped, and many believed, that the war would be fast-moving, mechanized, remote-controlled, and perhaps even rather easy. That’s Paul Fussell, the cultural critic, writing not about the current war in Iraq, but about World War II in Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, published in 1989. One of Fussell’s arguments is that World War II was the first war to make use of the modern public-relations apparatus so familiar to Americans today.

The author does not impugn the colossal sacrifice of the soldiers who battled the Axis powers. Far from it: Fussell himself served in the armed forces during the war. Rather, he elucidates the ways that the U.S. government withheld negative information from the populace to accentuate the positive in order to maintain morale. Words were carefully chosen, in the manner of a Madison Avenue ad agency. A panicky rout, at the Kasserine Pass, or in the Ardennes, is better not designated as a retreat: it is a retrograde movement or disengagement.

Mr. Fussell’s book is essential reading for those who wonder why our governmentwhich persists in pointing to a supposed link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, which avoids admitting that Iraq teeters on the brink of civil war and which asks Americans to believe that we can eliminate all terrorismcontinues to sound so optimistic. It is all part of the battle. Those attentive to the maintenance of home-front morale, writes Fussell, became skilled at optimistic prose.... What is needed from our leaders today is not such prose but facts that will finally allow the American populace to understand the complicated reality of our occupation of Iraq.

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