A good friend works the late shift in a 24-hour diner near here. During the slow hours, the diner is a stopping place for homeless people. For the last couple of nights, one particular homeless man has come in. Last night he handed over a grimy five dollar bill and ordered some eggs & bacon.
Halfway through eating it he stood and asked for a take-out box. When handed it, he walked around the nearly-empty diner, scooping into it all the scraps and leftovers from plates that hadn’t been cleared, then left.
Such scavenging is strictly against the house rules; but my friend studiously ignored it. She’s become particularly permissive since she met up with two young women camping out behind the dumpster in the back parking lot.
She met them during the recent dry weeks. Then the rains came for several days, often pelting and blowing, and the young women left. We’re in the third week of another dry spell, and newcomers are here, crouched behind a different dumpster by the gas station up the block. They sweat through the mid-nineties days and scrounge for food that’s enroute to becoming trash.
Which brings me to Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the UN, who just threw a fit because that body’s poverty investigator (aka special rapporteur) after making an extensive study trip cross the nation, dared to call for examining poverty in America.
“It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America,” Haley wrote in a letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Thursday. “In our country, the President, Members of Congress, Governors, Mayors, and City Council members actively engage on poverty issues every day. Compare that to the many countries around the world, whose governments knowingly abuse human rights and cause pain and suffering.”
Why “ridiculous”? Because, she said, there are other countries which have higher poverty rates than ours. (True enough, but that doesn’t feed our hungry or homeless. Read the article for her short “Whatabout” list of countries; interesting that they were places populated by dark-skinned children of God.)
This outburst was not surprising. For that matter its deep roots in southern hypocrisy were easy to expose. Haley is the former governor of South Carolina, which has long been among the states with the highest rates of poverty. Further, it is the runaway leader, Numero Uno for decades, in slurping up federal welfare.
Last year, for instance, South Carolina received almost eight dollars in federal payments for every one dollar the IRS collected there. It’s also in the top ten states for the percentage of residents getting food stamps.
And its poverty figures show some familiar skews: it’s among the top 8 for child poverty, and top 11 for working women who are still poor.
But who could forget race? As you might expect, Haley’s home state is a pace-setter here too. This chart lists poverty by ethnicity:
There’s another key indicator, the proportion of citizens living in mobile homes. Here South Carolina is in front again, beating out even my state:
Nonetheless, Haley declared that
“I am deeply disappointed that the Special Rapporteur used his platform to make misleading and politically motivated statements about American domestic policy issues,” Haley said. “Regrettably, his report is an all too common example of the misplaced priorities” of the United Nations.
Well, tell it to the guy who asked for the takeout box at my friend’s diner. Speaking of whom, he mentioned that he was taking his box of scraps back to the tent camp down near Exit 13 on the Durham Freeway. Was he going to share it there, or keep it and try to stretch it through the long hot day, unless he dozed off and the rats got to it? He didn’t say.
I know that camp. Drive past it almost every day; less than a mile from my house. As such places go, it’s been relatively innocuous. After the last spell of rain, most of the tents seemed to disappear. Besides the downpours, the state had posted a sort-of eviction notice, telling them to clear out or face arrest. A few left; others said they had nowhere else to go. As of yesterday, the tents were back, and no one has yet been arrested.
The camp will probably be cleared soon; nearby property owners will relax. Then it will reassemble somewhere else. The latest report from HUD says homelessness in the US is declining as the economy strengthens; but such numbers are suspect, and disputed for me by data gathered by my own eyes.
Nevertheless, Haley’s indignation is all too common, especially among our current rulers. The UN report clashes with the official story that America is being made “great again”, and poverty ipso facto is on the way out, or doesn’t actually exist, except maybe for welfare cheaters, (or Republicans indicted by rogue federal prosecutors).
Perhaps I’m not doing her justice here. But in gauging her reaction, beyond Palmetto hypocrisy, there’s the fact that the Special Rapporteur on poverty was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, which Haley had just taken the US out of.
Most observers saw the US departure as a way of deflecting its criticisms of Israel. But reviewing Haley’s outburst about its investigating US poverty suggests that there may be more to her agenda here.
Her target, by the way, is Philip Alston, a noted law professor with human rights expertise. And it’s not hard to see why Haley would despise his report, given this excerpt from his oral summary of it:
I turn now to my report on the United States. My starting point is that the combination of extreme inequality and extreme poverty generally create ideal conditions for small elites to trample on the human rights of minorities, and sometimes even of majorities.
The United States has the highest income inequality in the Western world, and this can only be made worse by the massive new tax cuts overwhelmingly benefiting the wealthy. At the other end of the spectrum, 40 million Americans live in poverty and 18.5 million of those live in extreme poverty. In addition, vast numbers of middle class Americans are perched on the edge, with 40% of the adult population saying they would be unable to cover an unexpected $400 expense.
In response, the Trump administration has pursued a welfare policy that consists primarily of
(i) steadily diminishing the number of Americans with health insurance (‘Obamacare’);
(ii) stigmatizing those receiving government benefits by arguing that most of them could and should work, despite evidence to the contrary; and
(iii) adding ever more restrictive conditions to social safety net protections such as food stamps, Medicaid, housing subsidies, and cash transfers, each of which will push millions off existing benefits.
For example, a Farm Bill approved yesterday by Republicans in the House of Representatives would impose stricter work requirements on up to 7 million food stamp recipients. Presumably this would also affect the tens of thousands of serving military personnel whose families need to depend on food stamps, and the 1.5 million low-income veterans who receive them. . . .”
“Misleading”? “Politically motivated”? “Patently ridiculous”?
Bernie Sanders didn’t think so: “You are certainly right in suggesting that poverty in many countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi is far worse than it is in the United States,” Sanders said. “But … as it happens, I personally believe that it is totally appropriate for the U.N. Special Rapporteur to focus on poverty in the United States.”
And never mind Haley & the UN, or Alston and Bernie. Tonight my friend will be back at the diner, gathering her own data. She hasn’t talked to Philip Alston. But I bet she could give him quite an earful; along with some good waffles.
Or for that matter, she could tell Haley a thing or two as well.