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Tavis Smiley and Cornel West: The Rich and the Rest of Us -- a Poverty Manifesto

Poverty is no longer black and brown - it is multicultural and multiracial - and is engulfing millions of us.

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And that’s true with not just poor people here; look at the innocent civilians, with the drones dropping bombs now, expanded, don’t have to identify, CIA calling for that today. Very clear. "We fight for freedom. We’re concerned about innocent people." No, you’re killing innocent people in the name of fighting terrorism. That’s a moral issue for somebody like me.

TAVIS SMILEY: If I can add a—

CORNEL WEST: That’s a—

TAVIS SMILEY: If I can add—I’m sorry, if I can add right quick to that, when Doc says that both parties, quite frankly, have been bankrupt in this conversation, starting, first of all, with the language. Our language, our glossary of terminology around this conversation, is so bankrupt. What does it mean to be "working poor"? If you work, you ought not to be poor. Minimum wage? No, how about a living wage? What is a "jobless recovery"? It ain’t a recovery if it’s jobless to the average American.

But to Doc’s point about the fact that, beyond the language, both parties have been ideologically lacking in terms of imagination and vision and creativity for putting poor people back to work, just yesterday, the House Republicans in the Agriculture Committee voted, as you know, to tighten restrictions even further on food stamps. Now we already know that there’s a dramatic increase in—Mr. Gingrich’s nasty, vitriolic comment notwithstanding, calling the President the "food stamp president," we know that more Americans are applying for food stamps than ever before. Feeding America, who we work with, will tell you that more Americans are trying to find food. There is clearly a food insecurity problem, Juan, in this country. And at that very moment, here we now get this austerity conversation underway in Washington, and they start tightening the belt—not on defense, but on food stamps. There’s a problem with that.

AMY GOODMAN: O’Reilly on Tuesday, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly—and I know you’ve been on his show—slammed President Obama’s policies on poverty.

BILL O’REILLY: In a free society, people have a right to be a moron, and no government can stop irresponsible parenting. So, what is the solution? President Obama believes that the federal government should give money to the poor, hand it right to them, in a variety of ways. Problem with that is that many of the poor will use the money irresponsibly. The high rate of alcohol and drug addiction and other social problems assure a massive amount of waste in the entitlement arena. Americans are the most generous people on earth, but the truth is that income redistribution doesn’t work. For what this Feds spend now on entitlements, every single poor person in America could be handed almost $21,000 a year.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Bill O’Reilly, Fox News. Professor Cornel West?

CORNEL WEST: Well, we’ve got a section in this book where we talk about the myths and lies told about poor people in poverty. One is that poor people have character flaws and make bad decisions. I know a lot of oligarchs and plutocrats who have character flaws, make bad decisions, and still get bailed out, still have access to healthcare, still have socialism for them, as it were. So, Brother O’Reilly, he just falls right into the right-wing trap in that regard. And he talks about income redistribution. What we’ve seen is the most massive income distribution from poor and working people to the well-to-do. So he’s not against income distribution. It’s just when it’s top-down he’s against it. When it’s bottom-up, he’s all for it, in essence. In fact, he sees it as a natural process of the free market and so forth. So we have to shatter the myths that he’s putting forward. And Brother Tavis and I have been blessed to go at that dear brother directly, face to face and soul to soul.