Inside Politics

Shocking: 40 million Americans live in poverty


America is known for flash. But all that glis­ters is not gold, accord­ing to the latest United Nations report on President Trump’s country. From the outside, America is heaven, “God’s own country” they call it in fact. That is what American propaganda – spread by its media and Hollywood film industry – has made the world to believe. According to that nar­rative, the US is a land paved with gold, where everybody (provided they are hardworking) can achieve the “American Dream” of prosperity and liberty.

Therefore, it comes as a massive shock that an official United Na­tions 2018 Report says, “40 million Americans live in poverty, 18,5 mil­lion in extreme poverty, and 5,3 mil­lion live in Third World conditions of absolute poverty.”

Not only that: American “citizens live shorter and sicker lives com­pared to those living in all other rich democracies”.

On top of it, America “now has one of the lowest rates of intergen­erational social mobility of any of the rich countries”, to the point where “high child and youth pov­erty rates perpetuate the intergenera­tional transmission of poverty very effectively”, thus “ensuring that the ‘American dream’ is rapidly becom­ing the American illusion.”

Today, therefore, “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.”

Worse still, “in imagining the poor, racist stereotypes are usu­ally not far beneath the surface. The poor are overwhelmingly assumed to be people of colour, whether African Americans or Hispanic ‘immigrants’. The reality is that there are 8 million more poor whites than there are poor blacks.

The face of poverty in America is not only black or Hispanic, but also white, Asian and many other back­grounds.”

This is hard to believe yet it is true. For the last 74 years – since the end of World War II – America has been the dominant empire of the world, commanding all it surveys. There­fore, to see the kind of poverty that the UN Report says stands tall in the supposedly mighty US, is a huge in­dictment of the American Empire.

America has a population of 237 million (according to the US Census Bureau’s 2018 estimate), compared with China’s 1,39 billion, and Rus­sia’s 144,5 million.

But as the former US Senator Mike Gravel confirms: “China is moving its citizens out of poverty while US citizens fall deeply into poverty. China is building roads and bridges and railways while the US policymakers take our tax dollars and blow them up! There is some­thing terribly wrong with a system that creates war as its energy and industrial policy, immigration as its labour policy, and debt as its invest­ment policy.

“Somehow, the US political sys­tem has inserted a banker between the student and his or her professor, an insurance bureaucrat between the doctor and his or her patient. The US is seriously on the wrong track, and we need revolutionary political thought to come to grips with what we are currently doing in order to begin thinking about how to put us back on the right track,” Senator Gravel adds.

Truly incredible

The shocking UN Report was done by Philip Alston, the UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur On Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, after his mission to the US in December 2017 in accordance with the Human Rights Council Resolu­tion 35/19.

Alston visited the US from 1 to 15 December 2017, and his 20-page Re­port was released on 4 May 2018 as part of the Human Rights Council’s 38th Session, which took place from 18 June to 6 July 2018. The Report was Agenda Item 3 of the 38th Ses­sion.

The purpose of Alston’s visit was to report to the Human Rights Council on the extent to which the US government’s policies and pro­grammes relating to extreme poverty are consistent with its human rights obligations and to offer constructive recommendations to the government and other stakeholders.

“During his visit, the Special Rap­porteur met with government offi­cials at the federal, state, county and city levels, members of Congress, representatives of civil society, aca­demics and people living in poverty. He also received more than 40 de­tailed written submissions in advance of his visit.

“He visited California (Los An­geles and San Francisco), Alabama (Lowndes County and Montgom­ery), Georgia (Atlanta), Puerto Rico (San Juan, Guayama and Salinas), West Virginia (Charleston), and Washington DC.

“Fortunately, there is already much excellent scholarship and many civil society analyses of the challenges of poverty in the United States.

In the present Report, the Special Rapporteur aims to bring together some of those analyses, identify the key poverty-related problems, and explain the relevance of the interna­tional human rights obligations of the United States in this context.”

Alston’s Report was included as the last chapter of a new book edited by the former US congresswoman and political activist, Cynthia Mckinney, which came out in late 2018. Titled “How the US Creates ‘Sh*thole’ Coun­tries”, the book is a parody of Presi­dent Trump’s insulting remark in January 2018 characterising Africa, Haiti and El Salvador as “shithole countries”.

Interestingly, from the analyses of the 25 contributors of the book, in­cluding myself who wrote a lengthy chapter on Africa, it is the US itself whose imperial and foreign policies turn these nations into “shithole” countries. And worse, as the UN Report and other contributors of the book care to point out from em­pirical evidence, the US itself is a big “shithole country”.

My chapter on Africa deals with how the US and Western foreign policy and their multinational com­panies, especially those in the extrac­tive sector, exploit Africa and create the conditions for what Trump calls shithole countries on the continent.

Cynthia McKinney takes up the cue. A wonderful African American woman who, while in Congress, stood up for justice for all across the world and fought tenaciously against the American Empire’s predatory at­titude towards Africa (in 2011 she famously stood on the floor of Con­gress and spoke passionately against the imposition of economic sanctions against Zimbabwe), she explains in the Introduction of the book that America’s relationship to conditions in the so-called shithole countries “is clear from US military occupation of Haiti, financing of death squads in El Salvador, and support for dictators in all of them, indeed all over the Afri­can continent.

“Therefore, for our purposes, a ‘sh*thole’ country is a country whose residents’ present quality of living conditions can be tied to historical or current US foreign and military poli­cies that have negatively impacted the ability of that state to deliver quality of life policies to its residents.

“In this regard, for too many US residents, the United States itself, can also be characterised as a ‘sh*thole’ country, resulting from its deliberate choice to fund the war machine and corporate policies that produce nega­tive consequences for the countries and territories, in some cases colo­nies, that are profiled [in the book].”

A must-read

The book is in four parts. Part One deals with “understanding US for­eign policy”. Part Two deals with “some victims to remember (and how they got that way).” Part Three is about “why getting the truth out is so difficult.” Part Four is about “the United States as a ‘sh*thole’ country.”

One of the contributors of Part Four, Dr Kevin Barret (an American Islamic studies scholar, writer, and popular contributor to the top ech­elons of the American media), writes that “America is in decline primarily and precisely due to its misallocation of resources in favour of the military-industrial complex.

Barret quotes Alfred McCoy who endorses in his new book, In the Shadows of American Empire, “the prediction of the National Intelli­gence Council that the US hegemony will end by 2030”. Barret says “impe­rial collapse will bring a major crash in Americans living standards and an accompanying decline towards ‘sh*thole country’ status.”

Another “Part Four” contributor, Richard Falks (an American author of 30 books, who is also profes­sor emeritus of international law at Princeton University), dwells on how the US actually creates ‘sh*thole’ countries around the world.

He explains that ever since the de­cline and fall of European colonial­ism, US foreign policy has generally done its best to control the econom­ic, political and social development of countries in Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America.

“Stripping away the ideology of US expansionism,” Falk writes, “ex­poses a set of realities devoted to squeezing wealth from [developing countries], confiscating or unjustly appropriating their resources, and as a result producing sh*thole condi­tions of impoverishment, corrupted elites, oppressive government, as well as a mixture of nationalist resistance and the collective loss of self-esteem.

“What motivated the political leadership of the United States to en­gage in this kind of predatory behav­iour around the world? It was, at the first, materialist greed, civilisational arrogance, and the need for export markets and sources of raw materi­als to satisfy the compulsions of 19th century industrial capitalism, essen­tially maximising profits while ignor­ing massive poverty.

“We as a country have never truly acknowledged the full extent of these crimes or the degree to which treat­ing others so wretchedly deforms the national character of the perpetra­tor, contributing to elaborate rituals of denial so as to avoid confronting unpleasant realities embedded in an accurate rendering of the national narrative.

We employ a variety of euphe­misms and prohibitions designed to cover depraved behaviour with a thick veil of ignorance and decep­tion.”

Then Falks pronounces matter-of-factly: “We are a sh*thole coun­try to the extent that our leaders and citizenry accept extreme pov­erty, police brutality, environmental degradation, and global warming as non-issues, while scapegoating Mus­lims, Hispanics, non-white immi­grants, and refugees while projecting a world of drug addicts and Islamic radicals posing dire threats to the future. Such an inversion of societal realities and challenges does warrant the sh*thole labelling in the spirit of honest disclosure.

“As the lead international ac­tor for the past century, the United States needs to accept some responsi­bility for making foreign societies so unlivable that people flee elsewhere in desperation, and take steps to im­prove the situation.”

Remarkably, after cheating its way around the world and trampling on other people’s rights, America, Kevin Barrett says, is no better. “The pet­rol dollar – so named because Saudi Arabia has propped up the otherwise overvalued greenback by refusing to sell oil in any other currency – will almost certainly lose its status as the de facto global reserve currency during the coming decade,” Barrett predicts.

“As in Sigmund Freud’s favourite folktale, the devil, that head usurer of the empire of usury, will suddenly vanish from our shores, and Ameri­cans will discover that [the devil’s] gold has turned to shit.

The resulting crisis in the US do­mestic economy will likely push the erstwhile world hegemon further down the road toward sh*thole na­tion status, giving Americans a nox­ious taste of the foul medicine their leaders have been foisting on the world.

“This will mark the end of the ‘American century’ – the roughly 100 years during which the US prof­ited, at least relative to the rest of the world, from the international usury cartel’s depredations.”

Poverty in the midst of plenty

The shocking UN Report is clear in its conclusions. “The United States is a land of stark contrasts,” the Re­port says. “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 Organi­sation 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 among OECD countries, and the highest obesity levels in the devel­oped world.”

Shockingly, “in 2018 the United States had over 25 percent of the world’s 2,208 billionaires. There is thus a dramatic contrast between the immense wealth of the few and the squalor and deprivation in which vast numbers of Americans exist.”

The UN Report goes on: “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.

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