16 December 2017   Leave a comment

Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, issued a statement yesterday which summarized his understanding of extreme poverty in the United States.  His office did an extensive study of the topic which was very similar to studies it has done in several other countries as part of the UN mission to understand the link between poverty and the violations of human rights.  Thus far, there have been very few references to the report in any of the large news media in the US although it has received extensive reporting outside the US.  The study was grim.  Among the findings:

  • By most indicators, the US is one of the world’s wealthiest countries.  It spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan combined.
  • US health care expenditures per capita are double the OECD average and much higher than in all other countries. But there are many fewer doctors and hospital beds per person than the OECD average.
  • US 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
  • Neglected tropical diseases, including Zika, are increasingly common in the USA.  It has been estimated that 12 million Americans live with a neglected parasitic infection. A 2017 report documents the prevalence of hookworm in Lowndes County, Alabama.
  • The US has the highest prevalence of obesity in the developed world.
  • In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
  • America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, ahead of Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Cuba, Thailand and the Russian Federation. Its rate is nearly 5 times the OECD average.
  • The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.
  • The Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty ranks the most well-off countries in terms of labor markets, poverty, safety net, wealth inequality, and economic mobility. The US comes in last of the top 10 most well-off countries, and 18th amongst the top 21.

The report deserves a close read and much wider dissemination.  It is unlikely that the US will take any steps to assure that its citizens are aware of how serious a problem extreme poverty is in their country.


The far-right Freedom Party has been offered the cabinet posts of foreign, interior and defense in a coalition with the Conservative Party in Austria.  That coalition creates the first far-right government in Europe in the current wave of enthusiasm for nationalist parties.  The Freedom Party is skeptical of pro-immigration and pro-EU policies which are quite similar to the positions of the National Front Party in France, the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, and the Alternative for Germany Party in Germany.  But those parties have not thus far been successful in joining a government coalition.


The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, delivered remarks at the UN which accused Iran of violating a broader interpretation of the Iranian nuclear agreement.  She was quite explicit in suggesting that the agreement should not be interpreted solely in terms of uranium enrichment and the delivery of nuclear weapons:

“It’s really important that you be here today, because we have a story to tell, and the story is a very important one. And it’s not just important for the United States, it’s important for the entire international community. As President Trump announced on October 13, the United States is taking a new approach to Iran by focusing on all of the regime’s destabilizing behavior. That means we are focused not just on the nuclear program.

“We’re also taking a hard look at Iran’s ballistic missile program, its arms exports, and its support for terrorists, proxy fighters, and dictators.”

It is unlikely that any of the other partners to the agreement (Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) believe that this interpretation is valid.  The question is whether the US interpretation will be used as a reason to tear up the agreement.  Some fear that the interpretation might be the basis for greater hostilities between the US and Iran. 

Posted December 16, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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