Sunday, March 03, 2019

Poverty and Human Rights in the United States of America

The 2018 Report of the U.N. Special Rapporteur - On Extreme Poverty and Human Rights in the United States of America, is interesting to consider if you are open minded. You probably didn't see much about it from corporate media but it is eye opening.

If you prefer to proclaim American Exceptionalism in all things - while refusing to consider the non-mythologized history of the U.S.A. or the current state of affairs for large segments of the population in this new Gilded Age...then the report is probably not for you.

Some people believe this report led to the U.S. discontinuing it's membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council. Criticism of the Trump administrations policy of separating children from their parents by the Human Rights Council was probably a factor in the withdrawal, as well as the official reason given - that the Council was unfair to Israel for criticizing their treatment of Palestinians.

In any event the report is sobering and serves as a good counterpoint to the tired old propaganda the Heritage Foundation has been putting out for decades.


Here are a few samples from the U.N. Report -

"The United States is a land of stark contrasts. It is one of the world’s wealthiest societies, a global leader in many areas, and a land of unsurpassed technological and other forms of innovation. Its corporations are global trendsetters, its civil society is vibrant and sophisticated and its higher education system leads the world. But its immense wealth and expertise stand in shocking contrast with the conditions in which vast numbers of its citizens live. About 40 million live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and 5.3 million live in Third World conditions of absolute poverty. It has the highest youth poverty rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the highest infant mortality rates among comparable OECD States. Its citizens live shorter and sicker lives compared to those living in all other rich democracies, eradicable tropical diseases are increasingly prevalent, and it has the world’s highest incarceration rate, one of the lowest levels of voter registrations in among OECD countries and the highest obesity levels in the developed world." 

"The United States has the highest rate of income inequality among Western countries. The $1.5 trillion in tax cuts in December 2017 overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality. The consequences of neglecting poverty and promoting inequality are clear. The United States has one of the highest poverty and inequality levels among the OECD countries, and the Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty ranks it 18th out of 21 wealthy countries in terms of labour markets, poverty rates, safety nets, wealth inequality and economic mobility."

"Defenders of the status quo point to the United States as the land of opportunity and the place where the American dream can come true because the poorest can aspire to the ranks of the richest. But today’s reality is very different. The United States now has one of the lowest rates of intergenerational social mobility of any of the rich countries. 
Zip codes, which are usually reliable proxies for race and wealth, are tragically reliable predictors of a child’s future employment and income prospects. High child and youth poverty rates perpetuate the intergenerational transmission of poverty very effectively, and ensure that the American dream is rapidly becoming the American illusion. The equality of opportunity, which is so prized in theory, is in practice a myth, especially for minorities and women, but also for many middle-class White workers."

Note: If you would like to learn more about super Zips and the resulting class divisions in American society the book Coming Apart by Charles Murray is interesting.

The United States has swung very far to the right since the 1980's. Voodoo economics aka trickle down theory aka the Laffer curve were features of the Reagan revolution which have been carried into today's government where the GOP passed a tax bill that provided massive amounts of corporate welfare and tax breaks favoring the tippy top of the plutocrats. The party that purportedly valued fiscal responsibility did this by adding trillions of dollars to the national debt for our children to pay for. Reagan tripled the national debt fyi - so this isn't something new. 

Another feature of the Reagan revolution was an all out assault on labor unions which helped lead the United States to the conditions we see described in the 2018 U.N. report. Bill Clinton did his share to undermine the working and middle class as well by repealing Glass-Steagall which turned out to be a key factor in enabling the 2007 Great Recession. Clinton also "triangulated" with hard right wingers like Newt Gingrich to pass the welfare reform act which helped lead us to the type of poverty we see described in the U.N. report.

After a few decades of these neo-liberal unregulated free market policies where middle class families tax dollars are transferred to the defense industrial complex, and other rent-seeking entities (farm subsidies for example), we start to see the devastating effects on society today.


You may ask yourself what the terms "right wing" and "conservative" mean in today's parlance? What does it mean to say Neil Gorsuch is a "conservative" judge?

It boils down to one thing - money. Well maybe two things money and power. There have always been plutocrats and special interest groups willing to buy politicians, but since the Citizen's United Decision dark money has invaded our political (and therefore legal) systems, unlike anything we've seen in history.

The term conservative is just about as meaningless as liberal or socialist but it doesn't take a wacko conspiracy theorist to at least wonder -
do the people in power that identify as "conservative" really care about hot button emotionally charged topics like abortion, religious freedom, freedom of speech or gun control? Or is the way they frame these topics a way to convince working and middle class American's to vote against their own self interests? I'd recommend reading What's The Matter With Kansas by Thomas Frank if you are interested in this topic. He's got plenty of unflattering things to say about liberals as well in his book Listen Liberal or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?

So when Neil Gorsuch, who's mother Anne proudly rolled back many environmental regulations as EPA administrator under Ronald Reagan, is appointed to the Supreme Court who do you think controls our government? When Neil Gorsuch auditions for his appointment to the Supreme Court by writing the one dissenting opinion in a case where a truck driver was fired for leaving his load because he was freezing to death...who do you think controls America? 

If you are interested in how our government was taken over by far right radical libertarians the book Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean has an interesting take. One of the funny things about this book is that Nancy MacLean writes about the many corporate funded think tanks and fake grass roots movements (astroturf movements funded by dark money) that exist in America to try and sway middle Americans into voting for politicians who do not represent them. Her book resulted in literally hundreds of op-eds, online articles etc. attacking her thesis - from people paid by the very think tanks she is criticizing...which sort of proves her point.



My generation obviously hasn't been able to solve this. We've seen things degrade over the last few decades. Younger people can swing things closer to the center by supporting candidates and policies that today are labeled - radical far left socialism - policies that would have been considered moderate during the Eisenhower administration. 

The extremely well funded right wing will use whatever propaganda they can to convince citizens that things that used to be considered standard features of American life - labor unions, public funded schools, a medical system not dominated by profit seeking corporations, sensible environmental regulations, a government that worked for the people and not the corporate military industrial complex - are somehow now the ravings of mad socialists who want to take away our hamburgers. 

I don't think American people are that stupid - I believe there are a majority of Americans who see through the smoke and mirrors. Unfortunately many of them have never, or have given up on, participating in the political system. About 50 percent of eligible voters actually vote - that's terrible for a democracy (and in some sense proves the old saw that we get the type of government we deserve). We need politicians who can energize those citizens who don't vote.

Read! Get educated! VOTE!