Category Archives: Governance

Looking back, sadly, at the War On Poverty

President Johnson visiting a poor rural Kentucky family several months after announcing his "War On Poverty."

President Johnson visiting a poor rural Kentucky family several months after announcing his “War On Poverty.”

In more than four decades as a professional journalist, I never had the experience of being a war correspondent. However, I did serve as a reporter in the War On Poverty.

It was 50 years ago this year that President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his “War On Poverty,” an extensive set of federal efforts meant to combat the curse of poverty in America’s city, suburban and rural areas.

This was a big deal for me. I had recently moved from being a sports reporter to the news side of things and wanted to see how such a sweeping, historic program would affect my newspaper’s circulation area.

So, along with a handful of fellow journalists, we set out to beat the bushes to find people and communities the War On Poverty would impact. We found plenty and dutifully interviewed, researched and then wrote about their plights and which “War” programs might best eliminate their woes.

So, how did that go?

In January, President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers issued a “progress report” that was a jumble of conflicting statements. (One example: that “poverty in the U.S. when measured to include tax credits and other benefits has declined from 25.8% in 1967 to 16.0% in 2012. “ No mention of the three missing years – from when LBJ issued his “War” declaration in 1964 to the 1967 benchmark the Council decided to use.)

But, to me the telling paragraph in its report was this:

“The official poverty measure (OPM) has several flaws that distort our understanding of both the level of poverty and how it has changed over time. Perhaps the most significant problem with the OPM is its measure of family resources, based on pre-tax income plus cash transfers (like cash welfare, social security, or UI payments), but not taxes, tax credits, or non-cash transfers. As such it inhabits a measurement limbo between ‘market poverty’ (based on pre-tax, pre-transfer resources) and ‘post-tax, post transfer poverty’ reflecting well-being after taking into account the impact of policies directed at the poor. Several other shortcomings are more technical.”

Translated into everyday English, nobody can agree on how to measure or define poverty.

Another view of how LBJ’s dream is doing comes from The Daily Caller, a politically conservative news and opinion website. A story it published today is headlined: “Miscounting Poverty Again: The War On Poverty After Fifty Years.” As contributor Robert Rector writes (underlining has been added for emphasis):

“Today the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual poverty report. … [It] reported that 14.5% of Americans were poor in 2013. This is essentially the same rate as in 1966, two years after the War on Poverty was announced. According to Census, the country has made no real progress against poverty for more than 40 years.

“This lack of progress is remarkable. The government has spent some $22 trillion (in constant 2012 dollars) on means-tested welfare programs since the War on Poverty began. Adjusted for inflation, this is three times more than the nation has spent on all military wars combined since the American Revolution.

“Today the federal government runs more than 80 means-tested welfare programs providing cash, food, housing, and medical care to poor and near poor Americans. Last year, more than 100 million people, or roughly one in three Americans, received aid from at least one of these programs. In Fiscal Year 2013, federal and state spending on these programs came to $943 billion or around $9,000 per recipient. (These figures do not include Social Security, Medicare, or Unemployment insurance.)

“Adjusting for inflation, annual welfare spending is 16 times greater today than when the War on Poverty began. How can government spend so much while the poverty rate remains unchanged? The answer is, it can’t. … “

If you want to read the rest of Rector’s analysis, you can find it here.

As for that young journalist back in 1964, he still had enough starry-eyed idealism that made him think his government could do great things, just as it had in galvanizing a nation to lead the battle to defeat Germany and Japan and their minions in World War II, then push this vast country into the modern era.

The former journalist of today knows better. And, that is a sad realization.


For a variety of blogs, guides and websites for readers of all interests, go to Bill Dowd.com.


Cap Region cops often a force of farce

After promising myself to take the summer off from blogging on this site, I had to reverse my field. The question of what the hell is it about cops in the Capital Region of our befuddled state made my do so.

The laughing stock known as the Schenectady force has an almost-daily revelation of misconduct, often of a personal-behavior nature — pelting citizens with eggs, getting into bar fights, harassing ex’s, the former police chief and his wife being intimately involved with a drug ring.

Albany city cops have been revealed to have amused themselves by taking free meals from a now-indicted restaurateur while allowing him to be a parking ticket scofflaw and sell alcohol to underage drinkers. And others on the same force got their jollies buying illegal automatic weapons they had confiscated over the years.

The Rensselaer city force used to be as big a joke as Schenectady’s, but that at least has calmed down in the past couple of years. Now we have a Troy city cop, who doesn’t live in the city as required by statute, who may have been involved in a DWI incident that was covered up by a suburban cop helping a buddy in blue. And, of course, the city won’t talk about the incident because it characterizes it as a “personnel matter.” Which is bullshit. It’s a criminal matter. If you or I had been under scrutiny, they would gladly have talked about it. And talked and talked.

We have, unfortunately, gotten to the point at which the doomsayers who see our society crumbling have to be given their due. With a clearly non-functioning state legislature full of greedy cretins, a probe into voter fraud allegedly involving numerous members of the Troy City Council and city government, a do-nothing Rensselaer County legislature not worthy of the paint to put its name on a door, and you have to be excused for wailing in frustration and fear.

As the late satirical cartoonist Walt Kelly said in his long-gone strip “Pogo,” “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Take me out to The Felon

The other shoe finally dropped in an Albany, NY, courtroom yesterday. Joseph L. Bruno, the cocky former State Senate majority leader, was sentenced to two years in prison on his conviction for violating the federal law concerning theft of honest services.

Bruno, who loves nothing better than making self-congratulatory speeches — well, he also obviously likes doing business with friends who can enrich him, spent 40 minutes of the judge’s time boo-hooing about his hardscrabble upbringing and shoring up his own personal code of ethics, That was before the judge — who had to take a 10-minute pee break a half-hour into Bruno’s monologue — sentenced him to two concurrent two-year terms.

Bruno was freed on bail, awaiting a possible U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a suit challenging the legality of the theft of honest services law. He then headed for a meal at the iconic Jack’s Oyster House in downtown Albany with his son, Kenny.

Don’t be surprised if the elder Bruno continues his freedom by showing up at the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium on the Hudson Valley Community College campus in Troy when the minor league baseball season begins. Something soothing about basking in the glow of your own name.

And, speaking of Hudson Valley CC, it now has two edifices named for convicted felons. The McDonough Sports Complex was named for the late Ed McDonough, the Rensselaer County Democratic Party chairman and powerbroker who served federal prison time for municipal corruption, and the aforementioned Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, named for the now-convicted felon who behind closed doors steered taxpayers’ money to the college to construct the stadium that, in a move he and his aides said was a surprise to them, then was adorned with his name.

So, here we have an ever-growing, taxpayer-funded college with two of its most prominent facilities proudly bearing the names of convicted crooks who enriched themselves in money and power at the expense of you, me and every other New Yorker.

Local media and sports fans like to refer to the stadium as “The Joe,” short for Bruno’s name. A suggestion: Why not re-name it it Felony Field, and just call it “The Felon”?

Better still, HVCC President Drew Matonak should extend the courtesy to the public of starting a push to change the names of both sports complexes. Lingering honors to dishonorable politicians have no place in the community.

Canadian press gag? Sorry aboot that

Answer: “A clean United States.” “Like us, but polite.”

Question: What are two ways Canada often is described.

Another way I wish I could describe it, but can’t, is “Having freedom of the press.”

Anyone who thinks our neighbors live in a society almost identical to ours — except for the socialized medicine and the French-speaking thing — needs to think again. Canada is a place where the federal government can issue a sweeping ban on what its media can and cannot report.

The topic pops up from time to time, usually in matters deemed national security or in attempts to protect the rights of accused groups. However, the latest instance is a court-ordered prohibition on reporting on the murder of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford (above). The press is following the order, but not quietly, luckily for fans of press freedom. Some front-page editorials have been lambasting the gag order.

Iain MacKinnon, a lawyer for several media organizations covering the case, said, “It’s unusual in its scope and how broad it is and how much it covers.”

The girl disappeared 13 months ago after leaving her school in Woodstock, Ontario. Her remains were found three months later. One of the suspects charged in her death was scheduled to appear in court last Friday facing a first-degree murder charge. The ban issued by Judge Dougald McDermid prevents all media from saying anything else about the proceedings.

One newspaper had a front-page editorial had  blacked-out sections where details of what happened in court on Friday would have been written.

To add to the heavy-handed judicial ruling, even publishing the reason the ban is being imposed is not allowed to be published.

Hate the Census, hate your history

I’ve been an amateur geneaologist since long before it became an “in” thing. Tracking down my roots on both my father’s side (mainly Irish, but with a lot of other Celtic branches tossed in) and my mother’s (mainly English and Palatine German, with a smattering of Irish, Scottish and French for good measure) always fascinated me.

The research became more difficult as time passed and I became the older generation. No longer could I call on the family elders to explain an odd name or supply me with an anecdote that might explain a snippet of information I’d tracked down.

One of the most helpful sources of information over the years has been the U.S. census, conducted every 10 years. I’m disappointed that the current version requests far less information than those in the past, perhaps a response to what appears to be a growing public objection to giving personal information to government, even while the willingness to do so for anyone else through such social media as Facebook and Twitter might argue against that.

It was through such old records I have been able to ascertain the homeland of parents of various ancestors, the languages they spoke at home, what they did for a living, the non-family members who might have been living with them and how they were connected (boarder, servant, in-law, student, etc.), even who their neighbors were.

When I was very young, my step-great-grandfather lived with us. Like any child, I’d just assumed he was always there, not giving much thought to how he married into the family. An old census form solved that puzzle for me when it listed he and his wife of the time as living just three houses away from my family’s house in a small Pennsylvania town. As it turned out, the two families had been friends for years, and when both he and my great-grandmother lost their spouses, they eventually married.

Census records have not, of course, been my sole source of information. I also discovered various military records — from the French and Indian War right through today’s records — of relatives who lived here from well before the United States became a nation. Social Security death records, marriage and baptismal certificates, ship’s passenger manifests, property transfers and other family histories that intertwine with mine. … Add those to the volumes of foreign records I’ve researched for my pre-American ancestors, and I could have spent my entire life looking into my roots.

Despite the digitizing of records in most countries, the ubiquity of the Internet, the emergence of such subscription search services as Ancestor.com and so on, the widespread public distrust of, and apathy for, our current census portends troubles for future amateur and professional geneaologists. Even though this year we were given a stripped-down form to fill out, ignoring it not only will hamper governmental planning, it will add to the burden of future generations looking for a picture of their past.

[Note: Published as an op-ed commentary in the Albany (NY) Times Union 04.16.10.]