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Est. April 5, 2002
June 14, 2018 - Issue 746

U.S. Included
In Global Measurement of Poverty
Missing Human,
Civil and Political Rights


"As the peoples gather to demand an end to
poverty and deprivation in America, they need
to read the Alston report to the U.N. and therefore,
to the world, which shows that, among the so-called
developed world, the U.S. is not doing well and its
direction is downward, especially with an erratic
and unpredictable narcissist at the helm."

When the statistics are rolled out for all the world to see, poor people are usually enumerated by the amount of money they live on each day. Is it $1, $2, $4?

The alarming numbers don't really matter, because those number never come close to the depth of deprivation of the poor and now, a new study by the United Nations comes as close to the reality of poverty around the world, including the U.S., than previous studies have come. And the rapporteur happens to be an American, whose research has taken him around the world and the U.S. His name is Philip Alston and, though his report was handed to the UN last October, it is only recently that it has caused much of a stir in the circles of the rich and powerful.

The summary of his report is important enough to be repeated verbatim, in large part:

When the situation of people living in poverty is addressed in development or human rights frameworks, their civil and political rights are often completely ignored, explicitly excluded from the analysis or mentioned only in passing. As a result, neither the diagnosis of situations nor the resulting policy recommendations are tailored to address the distinctive ways in which people living in poverty are affected by police brutality and sexual and gender-based violence, left unprotected and open to property theft, deprived of their liberty in pretrial detention, confined in their freedom of movement by the criminalization of homelessness, or subjected to electoral fraud and manipulation, to mention just a few of the major violations. The aim of the present report is to show that: (a) the poor experience violations of civil and political rights both disproportionately and differently from others; (b) their civil and political rights are more or less systematically neglected by mainstream human rights and development actors; (c) the resulting situation crucially and very problematically undermines the principle of the indivisibility of all human rights ; and (d) both the human rights and the development communities need to make far-reaching changes in order to ensure that respect for and promotion of all of the human rights of those living in poverty are incorporated into their analytical frameworks, the methodologies they use and the programmes and policies they recommend.

In that short paragraph, he enumerates some of the violence and depravity of the tolerance of poverty among some of the richest nations of the world and, of course, some of the poorest nations. For now, it is enough to take up the poverty in the U.S., which the citizenry should begin to rouse themselves to action against. It has been for many years that there has been a war on the poor, rather than a war on poverty, to use military terminology (not the best way, but that's the way it's been couched). In the Trump Administration, with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, the war on the poor has been accelerated to an alarming degree.

Since the great “tax reform” law that Trump guided into the works, someone must pay for the fallout, which includes a giant hole in the federal budget, since he also forced the GOP majority into a huge increase in defense and military budgets (some $100 billion more annually). That money has to come from somewhere, so naturally, the GOP majorities, drooling over someone who thinks like they do, went about their business with plans to reduce programs that benefit the people, including especially the poor. Tax cuts for wage workers expire, but don't expire for the rich and Corporate America.

What the professor is saying is that there is more to making halfhearted stabs at alleviating poverty, by raising by a few cents a day the meager allotment of food stamps or welfare payments. Rather, poor people are suffering across the board by not only their not being able to feed and clothe themselves or being able to live in decent housing or put their children through school so they might live life on a higher plane than their parents. Too often, they are sentenced by their society to see generation after generation living the same kind of deprived life. There are no boot straps with which to raise oneself up, when there are no boots.

While rich nations should be concerned about the condition in which people live in other countries, especially ones from which resources are routinely taken by the rich countries, there is plenty to be concerned with in the U.S. Resource wealth and money abound in the U.S., but still there are millions who live in poverty. As Alston points out in the UN report, he traveled the U.S. in 2017 and found much to be alarmed about. For example: U.S. infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world; Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the “health gap” between the U.S. and its peer countries continues to grow; U.S. inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries; the U.S. has the highest prevalence of obesity in the developed world and; in terms of access to water and sanitation the U.S. ranks 36th in the world, and America's incarceration rate, the highest in the world, tops Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Cuba, Thailand and the Russian Federation.

There are no coherent national policies for the desperately needed massive low-cost housing programs, for jobs programs, for health care, or for high quality education programs that provide for all children. The answer always from the GOP and the political right-wing is “privatization,” which they declare will solve all problems. They ignore the deadly disparity between the rich 10 percent (most talk about the 1 percent, but it's larger than that) and the rest of America. On top of that, there is the debilitating problem of mass incarceration, one of the results of the school-to-prison program that is either intentional by the powers that be or because of their neglect of their sworn duty of seeing to the public welfare. From that kind of neglect comes the decline of nations and empires.

The nation and its empire are in that kind of decline now. The appearance of Donald Trump, first as Republican candidate for the office, then as president, accelerated the decline, as he has made the nation the laughing stock of the world, alienated most of U.S. allies, and acted generally in the manner of one who sees himself and his country as the center of the universe. He was wrong. He is wrong, and there doesn't seem to be a way to stop him in his erratic habits. His win was attributed to the working class, which had been left out of any economic consideration, but there were substantial middle class voters who voted for him, as well. A few days after the election in 2016, Solidarity America ventured this: “Not all of the Trump supporters and voters were 'a basket of deplorables,' as Hillary Clinton described them. Many have been so frustrated and enraged at their economic condition (joblessness on a grand scale and monumental student debt, to name a few) that they wanted to throw a monkey wrench into the works. They did, and the monkey wrench is named Donald Trump. We know that there are those who agree with Trump’s racist and misogynistic attitude and other negative inclinations that never should be present in a president of the United States, but those people were there all the time, waiting for a Trump to unleash their hateful bile, and he did. Trump supporters must have had more help than from just Republican voters, since there is a large and growing cohort of voters who register in no political party. Lots of them voted for Trump.”

The U.S. and its electorate are living with the result of having thrown the monkey wrench into the works and it is likely to continue for some time, since the mechanisms for removing an incompetent from office is complex and a lengthy process. Even though he may have defused the bomb that he largely created himself with North Korea, his meeting with Kim Jong Un this week did not result in the instant diagnosis he bragged about in meeting the absolute dictator. He had said he would be able to take Kim's measure in the first minute, as he has done in his many previous real estate deals. But running a democracy (one has to wonder if he actually believes in democracy) and conducting a measured and intelligent foreign policy are not real estate deals. But Trump can't tell the difference.

Being a neophyte in governmental affairs, Trump cannot seem to get out of the rut of bullying and otherwise overpowering his opponents at the real estate bargaining table. As president, he's in over his head and retreats to threats and invective to try to silence those who might disagree with him on any subject or issue. That is why the plight of the poor and other marginalized people in America can't really look to Trump, his administration, or the GOP-controlled Congress for help, because they all are of the same mind.

The poverty that exists and the disparity in wealth and income in America is a national disgrace, but it is not just disgraceful, for in the long run, the kind of social and economic problems that are created will bring down a nation, no matter how powerful and wealthy it appears to be. In the long run, there will be no hauling itself back to the starting line, because the damage will have been done. At present, there is still a chance that the nation can redeem itself. Sure, there are other problems that seem to overshadow the problem of poverty-in-plenty, such as the destruction of the environment and threats of nuclear war, but the potential catastrophe caused by poverty in all of its manifestations must be one of the top priorities for years or generations to come.

Addressing poverty in a positive way on a massive scale must be undertaken now, but it cannot be left to politicians or a president. Impetus for a “war on poverty” will be generated only by the action of the people. There are untold numbers of groups that have been working for generations to alleviate poverty, but they need to work more closely together. The appearance of the renewed “poor peoples' campaign,” involving marches and civil disobedience will go a long way toward making it clear that something needs to be done now. As the numbers in the street grow, the politicians, even those in the rabidly right wing, will begin to listen.

But, as the peoples gather to demand an end to poverty and deprivation in America, they need to read the Alston report to the U.N. and therefore, to the world, which shows that, among the so-called developed world, the U.S. is not doing well and its direction is downward, especially with an erratic and unpredictable narcissist at the helm. Now, it is the peoples' movement to make the rest of the country aware of the current condition and begin to realize that “everyone does well when everyone does well.” Down with poverty. Down with deprivation. Down with every kind of inequality. It can and must be done.

There is no better quote to recall in this time, the beginning of an end to oppression of all kinds, than the simple one of Frederick Douglass: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Let the progress continue apace. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




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