File Under “Kick ‘Em When They’re Down”

A few days ago, a neighbor shared a blog post by a friend of hers.

The post referenced a recent report by the United Nations, accusing the Trump Administration of intentionally making life more difficult for poor Americans while taking steps to enrich the already privileged. I had seen an article on the report in the Guardian, but so far as I–and the author of this blog– know, that was the only news source that addressed it.

Were it not for the source, it would hardly be news to learn that the United States can’t take care of its most needy—that it may be the richest country, but it is also increasingly, appallingly, unequal in how its wealth and opportunities are shared. When the various dimensions of human security are examined, critics have long noted that the US falls short, whether in treatment of children, poverty rates, income gaps between rich and poor, or even life expectancy. All this has been amply documented in annual reports of the United Nations Development Programme (http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2016_human_development_report.pdf), which I’ve discussed in previous blogs (#9 for example).

But now comes an update from a distinguished international legal scholar who is the United Nations special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights. Philip Alston visited several deep pockets of poverty, from Los Angeles to West Virginia and Detroit to Puerto Rico, at the end of 2017. His report (UN General Assembly Doc. A/HRC/38/33/Add.1, May 4, 2018) is a devastating indictment of the government that underscores the large and growing contradictions between the American Dream and reality. Alston told The Guardian that Trump’s policies amount to “ a systematic attack on America’s welfare program that is undermining the social safety net for those who can’t cope on their own. Once you start removing any sense of government commitment, you quickly move into cruelty.”

The report acknowledges that previous administrations haven’t distinguished themselves by their concern for these inequities, but quotes Alston to the effect that the Trump Administration has “deliberately targeted the most vulnerable in society, kicking away every ladder of social wellbeing in order to serve Trump’s rich supporters and his alt-right agenda”.

In other words, it’s not that this government can’t take care of the poor. It won’t. It has no interest in doing so.

The blogger, Mel Gurtov, provides examples of the measures that Alston identified as particularly onerous to the most vulnerable:

• Debasing civil society: Supporting limits on voting rights with specious arguments about voter fraud and “covert disenfranchisement” such as gerrymandering and various ID requirements.
• Giving huge tax breaks to millionaires and big corporations while about 40 million people live below the poverty line—among them, 23.8 million considered in extreme or absolute poverty. The richest 1 percent of Americans now account for 20 percent of national income, double the percentage in 1980. “The proposed tax reform package stakes out America’s bid to become the most unequal society in the world,” says Alston in a separate statement (www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22533).
• Putting new limits on basic anti-poverty measures such as work requirements for welfare, food stamps, subsidized housing, health insurance, and veterans’ benefits.
• Limiting opportunity: “The United States now has one of the lowest rates of intergenerational social mobility of any of the rich countries. . . . 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.”
• Promoting racist stereotypes that seek to stigmatize non-whites as being mainly poor, lazy, and unworthy of uplifting.
• Tolerating the highest rate of infant mortality, the highest rate of youth poverty, and the highest income inequality among all rich countries.*
• Treating Puerto Rico as a colony, and imposing fiscal discipline that fails to take into account people’s need of social protection. (The mayor of San Juan says it all: Trump’s , total neglect has to be called [out]. The United Nations says that when people are denied the right to access to basic human services — like electric power, like water, like food, like appropriate medical care — that it is a violation of human rights.”)

We’ve gone from a war on poverty to a war on the impoverished.

We’ve become a country without compassion, where the shameless and greedy eat bon bons and watch the poor scramble for crumbs. Our cruelty, together with the President’s erratic and embarrassingly ignorant behavior, has squandered America’s claim to any vestige of continued moral authority.

How long can this go on before it becomes irreversible?

25 thoughts on “File Under “Kick ‘Em When They’re Down”

  1. “How long can this go on before it becomes irreversible?”

    It will go on until the wealthy and powerful are brought low by their own indifference, malice, and cruelty. Blinded by their own greed, they do not see that they have sown the seeds of war, pestilence and famine. If that day of reckoning does not come soon, I fear we will be the last free people in the United States.

  2. “The report acknowledges that previous administrations haven’t distinguished themselves by their concern for these inequities, but quotes Alston to the effect that the Trump Administration has “deliberately targeted the most vulnerable in society, kicking away every ladder of social wellbeing in order to serve Trump’s rich supporters and his alt-right agenda”.

    “In other words, it’s not that this government can’t take care of the poor. It won’t. It has no interest in doing so.”

    “Philip Alston visited several deep pockets of poverty, from Los Angeles to West Virginia and Detroit to Puerto Rico, at the end of 2017. ”

    Previous administrations have certainly been lax in their concerns and assistance to the needy; Trump’s administration is different in that it appears to deliberately single them out to sink them deeper in poverty and will soon deprive them of all help. Mr. Alston’s visits to those deep pockets of poverty was vital in the information he documented but, there are hundreds of thousands of Americans living at poverty level – or below – who are virtually unknown, uncounted and ignored when they seek help which is fast disappearing thanks to Trump’s welfare to the wealthy programs. I have a family member (don’t I always?) who was one of over 2,000 who lost her good paying job at Rolls Royce, then all were informed months later they could reapply for their previous job – at minimum wage. Job seeking wherever possible, she was told at one job fair that at age 50 she was too old to work. She was denied assistance from her township trustee office due to “living in a home she cannot afford”; she could no longer afford it because she isn’t working. This is a small, post-Korean war home, easily affordable in a middle-class neighborhood which is one of thousands sinking to low-middle class. She is among the unknown poor in this country, is there a way to count them? Possibly the upcoming census depending on what questions Trump’s administration allows to be put forward. But this administration has no interest in helping anyone but themselves and those of “their equal” as well as their race and religious beliefs.

    While our caste system doesn’t yet rival the one of old in India; it is a dangerous situation with a worsening system approaching. Americans don’t yet allow cattle to roam our streets because we worship them as being holy but the 1% worships their “cash cow” and protects it through the United States government which it currently owns and operates.

  3. Nancy, where do you see signs of immiment revolution? I live in a retirement Facility and before this comfortable life we lived 57 years in 46298. I have no contact with people ready to revolt. I don’t dispute your statement. I’m just ignorant of facts. As I said 2 days ago here the Poor People’s March hasn’t recruited in Indianapolis but a few dozen protesters. None of them are starving. Sheila asked then where is/are national organizations which will mobilize millions to make a significant change? No answer yet.

  4. I’m working on an article about an interview with Noam Chomsky. He mentioned that Alan Greenspan testified once in front of Congress and said, “And that’s healthy for the economy from a certain point of view, a point of view that says workers ought to be oppressed and controlled, and that wealth ought to be concentrated in a very few pockets.”

    Don’t forget, St. Alan ran the Fed when Bill Clinton was in office. 😉

    Where in the world did St. Alan get that idea?

    Chomsky answered that as well…”The assumption is that by some kind of magic, concentrated private power will lead to a more free and just society. Actually, that has been believed in the past. Adam Smith, for example, one of his main arguments for markets was the claim that under conditions of perfect liberty, markets would lead to perfect equality. Well, we don’t have to talk about that! That kind of —”

    Greedy sociopaths are very predictable in their behavior.

    Meanwhile, our free press is busy manufacturing consent for why “wealth ought to be concentrated in a very few pockets.”, including the owners of their network.

  5. Wayne, have you ever heard the expression, “The revolution won’t be televised.”?

    The role of our media is to ring the bell and tell all who tune in, “All is fine, America is exceptional.”

    A few media outlets want you to remain calm – the poor and downtrodden got screwed over by Vladimir Putin and Russia. LOL

  6. Todd, I appreciate your comments and wisdom each time you share in this blog. I fear St. Alan and the host of saints and angels with him in their luxury cannot be tamed. My wife and I have 6 grandchildren, 22-32. What lies before them as the income gap widens? I haven’t ask them point blank “what do you expect”. 3 of the 4 girls have a 4 year degree, 2 a Masters, the 4th an Associate from Ivy Tech. Neither grandson has a college degree. I shall ask them. I fear for them; even more for their peers without their education and privilege. I don’t know if they share my anger.

  7. June 7, 2018
    WASHINGTON — The Trump administration told a federal court on Thursday that it would no longer defend crucial provisions of the Affordable Care Act that protect consumers with pre-existing medical conditions.

    Under those provisions of the law, insurance companies cannot deny coverage or charge higher rates to people with pre-existing conditions.

    The Justice Department said the provisions were part of an unconstitutional scheme that required most Americans to carry health insurance.

    In a court case filed by Texas and 19 other states, (including Indiana) the Justice Department said in a brief on Thursday that the requirement for people to have insurance — the individual mandate — was unconstitutional.

    If that argument is accepted by the federal court, it could eviscerate major parts of the Affordable Care Act that remain in place despite numerous attacks by President Trump and his administration. Insurers could again deny people coverage because of their medical condition or history. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/07/us/politics/trump-affordable-care-act.html
    ==============================================================================

    America without a doubt has the cruelest, most brutal and inhumane system of health care among all major countries in the world.

    When the Democrats controlled the W.H. the Senate and House in 2009, instead of going for the Gold with Universal Health Care or Single Payer, they came up with ACA which was just a part of the health care for profit scheme. ACA was nothing but an automobile with square wheels, that did not cover everyone anyway. Now the Trumpet (aka Agent Orange) is dismantling ACA bit by bit.

  8. Per Prof. Kennedy’s remarks, Is it any wonder that suicide rates are at 26 to 30% higher than 20 years ago. The despair of deep poverty, the complete disdain for their plight by the upper caste and the systematic removal of the rungs of the ladder that might allow for a better life are eating away at our society and our Declaration’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Loss of hope often leads to addiction, desperation and finally, surrender. Our system is broken and those in power intend to keep it that way as long as they benefit.

  9. Monotonous; and I saw a news item this week that the Insurance Commission (?) is requesting another rate increase. They and the medical providers have been the source of soaring health care costs since long before the ACA was a twinkle in President Obama’s eye. Also; he announced to the public himself that the plan needed more work, didn’t have to announce that the Republicans refused to be of much help even though parts of the ACA are coverages the Bush administration tried to push through.

    It amazes me that this Congress, and it is basically the same Congress, was able to control President Obama and prevent many of his efforts seeking progress but can’t get Trump to shut his mouth…or cut off his Tweets.

    JD; two celebrity suicides this week and the death of a very young TV star. Saw an announcement recently that suicide rates in Indiana are up 30%; my beautiful 19 year-old niece was one of them on February 15th. Suicide doesn’t have any social levels or economic limits; it is available and a possibility for one-and-all…at least in this country. What are suicide rates in other countries?

  10. Wayne, I live in rural northern Indiana. People have been getting more angry and desperate each year. Jobs have been disappearing for over 30 years. On the rare occasion when a new company comes around they pay $9-10/hour.

    This has been happening all over the country. People want to work yet there aren’t enough jobs. At some point people will revolt. I believe the current administration’s gutting of the minimal safety nets that exist is going to bring about a revolt soon. The gop has been working for 3+ decades to create a new class of slaves. They have been successful, but this time the slaves are educated and will reach a breaking point.

  11. Wayne, one example is the teacher strikes. The gop managed to destroy teacher unions, but the gop greed finally pushed the teachers to unite without a union and manage to demand better pay and working conditions.

    I believe the teacher revolts are the very beginning of much larger revolts against the greedy corporate executives.

  12. I must say that when I first heard about this UN report yesterday my first thoughts were of complete revulsion as well as embarrassment. This report codifies what many of us have been saying, actually keying, for a long time beginning not coincidentally with the election of 2010 where with the election of so many right wing Republicans with their nihilist thinking to the Congress of the United States. While we already had problems with income disparity and the lack of compassion and assistance to the poor and impoverished in this country at that point it went into hyper drive. We can’t, however, just blame these Republicans since we have contributed to this travesty by losing sight of the very things that a supposedly Christian nation would be attentive to, things that are so basic and yet so hard to attain apparently. Compassion and the ability to see all Americans regardless of their “station in life” as being equal partners and members of the team have gone flying right out the window.

    While a good deal of Americans will write off this United Nations report as coming from an organization that is run by communists and other enemies of this country they would be wrong, even in that sort of thinking, to disregard its findings. It shows just how far this country is from its original moorings and the ideals that we espouse to the rest of the world and also what we’re supposed to be living up to here at home. It shows just how false what we’re saying to the rest of the world and the model that we are supposedly showing them as being the right way to go in terms of governance is off the mark, way off the mark. They would be right to not pay attention to us since we cannot even live up to our own ideals why should they seek to emulate us?

    This adds another dimension to the overall catastrophe that we’re facing in terms of governance and the internal cohesion of this country glaringly obvious regardless of what our feelings are. No one’s going to fix these things accept us and we have to all collectively take a good long look in the mirror and think about just how lopsided our social development is and continues to be. We also have to accept the fact that we have collectively allowed through our voting into power a thoroughly rancid rendition of a once viable political party and very likely the worst President in the history of the Republic that seem to collectively relish the thought of warring against people that often for reasons way beyond their control find themselves impoverished. In many ways this says more about us than it does about them where we have allowed this to happen and now see it and bemoan the fact that it has. Once again, as it seems with a whole host of our current problems we have ourselves to blame often when we don’t even realize it. We are supposed to be good stewards of this country and its government and we have shirked that responsibility thoroughly and this is what we end up with and it’s in full view of the entire world. It’s really hurtful to imagine that this great beacon of liberty as it is so often been called is on the verge of being extinguished by those that are supposed to keep it lit.

  13. Capitalism is based on a simple idea that can be stated as: if you can make more money at someone else’s expense, you must. What started as an economic system that sought application in a very limited way, as a means to direct business resources in competitive markets, became a religion with all of the attendant cultural trappings.

    Like all religions it abhors change. It’s has a hierarchy. It has bibles. Like the famed camel outside the tent it oozes in at every opportunity until it finds worship. It contains the seeds of it’s own destruction as it goes in the only direction it is able to, towards extreme belief and application. Karl Marx it turns our was wrong about Communism but prescient about Capitalism.

    It has jailed us and we are unable to even see the possibility of freeing ourselves. Talk about addiction.

    I believe that the one opportunity we have to eventually break its chains is to first remove it from politics which can be done by relatively straightforward campaign finance law changes but first we need to find politicians who are also free of addiction to it.

    They are so rare among the Republican Party as to be virtually impossible to identify.

  14. The revolution is coming but I fear from dystopian beginnings as nature’s immune system deals with the contagion that Capitalism inflicts on it. We might not be able to throw off the chains of the wealth worship that we fell victims to but life doesn’t really need us to survive and will reach a point where our religion and nature’s reality part company and we are so powerless against her reality that it won’t be a “fair” fight at all.

    We see now the first contact of the forces on the news almost daily as fires and floods and disease and droughts, all evidence of more energized climate are made so by the fuel waste that we pour in unfathomable quantities into the thin layer of gases that we occupy. We can no more stop that than the sun rising because our worship of wealth will not permit us to.

    So we will get beat down in ways that we can scarcely imagine and all through the bad times Capitalism will be singing its siren song that it cannot be beaten. It’s power pales in comparison to the Universe however and there is not the slightest chance that it and we will win a single battle much less the war.

    If any survive they will be appropriately and thoroughly humbled and in the best case if least probable scenario will rebuild from the wreckage.

  15. I was just viewing an article on Phoenix Arizona and it ‘water problems’, which brings us some very interesting questions concerning those who are close to freshwater sources. See I live on a wetland pond off of recreational waters up in Northern Minnesota, yes I am aware that out of 7.5 billion people I am one who owns land and adjoins a fresh water source – you can drop a canoe in our pond and with a couple of portages canoe all the way to the St. Lawrence Seaway. And we live within Reservation and National Forest boundaries – we are not rich but compared to some folks we are filthy rich. Here at the age of going on 66, I am aware of a world that is growing much too big for its ready resources. We are killing the natural resources at an ever exponential rate. And old white men sit playing a game of he who dies with the most toys wins. Well FUCK THAT! I personally think it is about time we just admitted we damn well don’t want a living viable world – PROVE ME WRONG! And that we really don’t give one ant’s ass iota worth of care for our fellow man as a species! Because you are going to have to change a lot of things in this world to prove otherwise to me! Just look at the present clown show – tell me we are a ‘great nation’. I dare you!

  16. It is true that we are headed in the wrong direction, and under Trump at an accelerating rate. We have apparently decided that (in direct contradiction of what we hear from politicians on their stumps) it is more important that the few amass great wealth than that the many manage to exist. In the long run that is not going to work, but as my favorite economist John Maynard Keynes famously noted at an economic conclave where one of the participants made such a suggestion > “Yes, and in the long run we will all be dead.”

    That critical insight suggests that we cannot wait forever to correct today’s injustices, but how?
    There are alternatives to revolution.Thus we have managed to vilify Marx for the ages not because his factual observations were incorrect but because his medicine wouldn’t work, so shall we apply the “medicine” of revolution to the obvious evils being foisted on us today?

    Revolutions often invite criminals and psychopaths to their ranks and the intent and purpose of such revolution becomes lost in hosts of unexpected consequences, so while revolution is an alternative, those who would organize such a means for reform should do so very carefully lest the cure turn out to be worse than the disease.

    With all due respect to Keynes’s admonition and in the hope that we can keep our country’s democracy afloat until fall, I recommend that we use our efforts and energy to apply the medicine of the ballot box in November to effect change and bring some sanity back to governing, and if we fail, to then consider the alternatives to what’s next on Trump’s list – which may include a Hitler-like burning of the American Reichstag in his quest for all power.

  17. With Dr. Ben Carson (with his boss’s blessing) raising the rents on low-income housing by 20% or more, and with Congressional Republicans’ elimination of the health care mandate (fewer healthy people will purchase insurance, so more poor people will find it unaffordable – Trump will have decimated the Affordable Care Act), it will soon be a criminal offense to be poor in America. We’ve been heading in that direction since the Reagan administration. With Trump, we are picking up speed. Poor people once employed coping strategies of sending more family members to work or borrowing money at usurious rates to put food on the table. Those possibilities have now been exhausted, and they will be succeeded by the only remaining approach – homelessness. I’d recommend that you read The Nation’s current issue on housing, but it will just make you more disgusted and embarrassed that you live in a country that has adopted the most ignorant approaches available for addressing problems.

    How any American can be proud of wealth with income inequality at current levels is a moral (or amoral) mystery to me. If this is capitalism at its best, we need to trade it in for a system that works for a higher percentage of our population. Any system that can make Trump rich and keeps teachers and social workers poor is rotten to the core. FDR based his approach to fiscal problems on taxing people who had lots of money. That works. We now prefer to tax people who have little or nothing and give tax breaks to the rich. That doesn’t work. Wouldn’t a return to FDR’s fiscal policies improve our chance of making a little progress?

  18. There’s a middle class that struggles to take care of themselves and their families. They work at their jobs( sometimes boring & tedious) sometimes tense & iffy, but they do it. They pay their bills, including health insurance, housing, utilities, food, clothing, transportation, taxes, education & everything else they need for their families. They exhaust themselves with their efforts to maintain. When they hear of others in need some herald a protective response to their hard earned place! They have nothing left to give from their resources. This defensive posture needs to be seen for what it is, and not exploited for political purposes. The middle class needs relief too. Corps. & banks are being set free to have their way again, with big brother being dismantled more every day!

  19. But now comes an update from a distinguished international legal scholar who is the United Nations special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights. Philip Alston visited several deep pockets of poverty, from Los Angeles to West Virginia and Detroit to Puerto Rico, at the end of 2017. His report (UN General Assembly Doc. A/HRC/38/33/Add.1, May 4, 2018) is a devastating indictment of the government that underscores the large and growing contradictions between the American Dream and reality. Alston told The Guardian that Trump’s policies amount to “ a systematic attack on America’s welfare program that is undermining the social safety net for those who can’t cope on their own. Once you start removing any sense of government commitment, you quickly move into cruelty.”

    Yes, poverty and hopelessness harbor their own brand of cruelty, but now our runaway capitalism is exacerbating it to the point of vicious classism – worse than mere class warfare, because it is actively hostile toward the poorer classes. This is the “formula” upon which the Russian Revolution was created and conducted. Today’s collection of lamentations is a clear indication that we are absolutely failing as a society and at least 33% of us want to speed the process of failure along.

    We’ve all discussed the causes of these inequalities and the looting of the New Deal by Republicans. We know that the GOP has been trying to undo anything and everything that invests in people, including their latest scum-raking adventures in trying to overturn the ACA without a viable alternative.

    Yes, the revolt will come. When enough people are hungry enough and hopeless enough, the revolt will occur. I expect it before the end of 2018…at least the beginnings of it. The Democrats will win back the House, but if they don’t get a veto-proof majority in the Senate, it won’t matter.

  20. as i mentioned a few days back commondreams.org had two related stories. to the UNs
    study.. even npr didnt say much,as it should have been a front line story, but im sure
    niki hailey desented,and it didnt move.

  21. Barbara; interesting article, thanks so much. At least we placed better than I expected but nothing to brag about.

  22. To all of those calling for revolution I regret to inform you it has already begun and we now have a President who exemplifies all that is wrong with society as a result.

    When the Democratic Party starts to really address the issues facing the common people of this country and connecting to them it might actually make it possible to expose the lies that people believed and still believe that allows Trump to exist. Democrats need to shed the centrist approach that Clinton created and get back to their roots of representing the people and not the businesses that provide their funding. Remember it was Clinton who allowed the neutering of Glass-Steagall which played a role in the 2008 meltdown. It was Hillary who provided no message to the common man that made them want to vote for her.

    I voted for Hillary not because I liked her, not because she inspired me, not because she was a woman, not because the “glass ceiling ” needed to shatter; but simply because the alternative was MUCH worse. To Trump’s credit he took the identity politics of the far left and weaponized it to prey on the fears of people who felt marginalized by the system. The same people that the UN report addresses. Now how do we convince these people that the Emperor wears no clothes and prevent Pence from becoming President while restoring the checks and balances to our Government and faith in the rule of law? How do we transform the revolution from blindly supporting Trump to one that actually addresses the actual inequalities of our warped capitalistic system?

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