I intended an attempt to write something whilst in the warm embrace of the drug last time I was at the clinic, but I couldn’t get the laptop out of my backpack by the time I got high enough for the experiment to be worthwhile. (The notion of getting the laptop out beforehand didn’t occur to me.)
I’m not sure I want to try it again, given the primary object of the exercise is draining the brain of all thought. Hence the Monday-ness of today’s edition is illusory.
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I’ve been rummaging through my browser bookmarks. They don’t go back as far as I’d like, maybe five or six years for the most part, because of a change in computers and a bad case of what do I need all this shit for, but there’s some worthwhile stuff. One item that caught my eye is a small collection of links connected to a U.S. tour by the UN Rapporteur on extreme poverty.
The rapporteur, Phillip Alston, is an Australian lawyer and human rights activist who served as the UN’s poverty maven for six years ending in 2020, traveling throughout the world to report on conditions in multiple countries.
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.
That’s before he really got cooking.
Two weeks isn’t a lot of time to scope out conditions in a country as big as ours, even with an experienced team of investigators, but he crammed a lot of intense experiences into it, and several local publications covered his work as he passed through their spheres of influence.
A United Nations official who tours the globe investigating extreme poverty said Thursday that areas of Alabama's Black Belt are suffering the most dire sewage disposal crisis of any place he has visited in a developed country.
"I think it's very uncommon in the First World. This is not a sight that one normally sees. I'd have to say that I haven't seen this," Philip Alston, the UN's Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said as he toured a Butler County community where raw sewage flows from homes through exposed PVC pipes and into open trenches and pits.
The stories and the substance on which Alston reported were all gathered in December of 2017, too early in Trump’s term for him to have impacted any of it. Pre-existing conditions, one might say. Awful, awful conditions.
I’m bringing the UN report up mostly, I think, so I can say to anyone reading, look, it isn’t just me obsessing about this stuff; it exists outside my head.
Among the really striking aspects of the UN report is how closely it resembles what Bobby Kennedy had to say about poverty in America fifty years earlier, during his tour of some among the more devastated regions of the country. I was a teenager at the time, stunned and repelled by what I was seeing in the paper and on the television.
I had to look away, which I didn’t know at the time was the typical American response, and I felt guilty for looking away.
In those months before he ran for president, Kennedy commanded public attention opposing the Vietnam War and criticizing President Lyndon Johnson.
But he was also preoccupied with the scourge of poverty and hunger, a focus that had taken him to Bedford-Stuyvesant, a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn, and to the Mississippi Delta, where he was seen wiping away tears after venturing into a family’s shack and meeting a child with a distended stomach who was listless from malnourishment.
A year later, when he was actively running for president, a few months before he was assassinated, he was in Appalachia traveling through towns and counties as thoroughly beaten down as the rural south and the northern ghettos he visited the year before.
Now, a year later, Kennedy traveled to eastern Kentucky’s coal country, a region that one local leader told him accounted for 20 of the nation’s 30 poorest counties; where a doctor told Kennedy that 18 percent of the population was underweight and 50 percent suffered from intestinal parasites; where one man, Clister Johnson of Partridge, Ky., told him that he, his wife and nine children survived on a monthly income of $60.
“They’re desperate and filled with despair,” Kennedy told a television reporter. “It seems to me that in this country, as wealthy as we are, this is an intolerable condition. It reflects on all of us. We can do things all over the rest of the world but I think we should do things for people in our own country.”
And of course some progress has been made, but as Alston said about our poor, “40 million live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and 5.3 million live in Third World conditions of absolute poverty.” Likely those numbers are larger now, after Trump, after the dismantling of the expanded pandemic safety net and with the impact of inflation, and before our central bank really starts flaying workers.
This is not a sudden eruption of poverty. It’s not just me, you see? “5.3 million live in Third World conditions of absolute poverty.”
One can question the depth of Kennedy’s sincerity, and one should always question the sincerity of campaigning politicians, but what he saw, what he showed the country, was real. And one can assign an anti-US agenda to the UN Rapporteur if one is so inclined, but what Alston reported is real, including what he experienced as an almost incomprehensible degree of economic inequality.
I’ve been talking about that ad nauseum too, and I bring it up again today for the same reason I brought up the poverty, and Kennedy: we have here two large authority figures authenticating what I say, and validating my frustration about the lack of urgency to address the issues.
And of course that’s what’s behind the recent conversion to an all-socialism-all-the-time channel. When I wrote about human sacrifice the other day, I didn’t mean it figuratively. People are dying every day because keeping them alive isn’t profitable. It’s baked into the system. So why would anyone want to preserve that system?
And of course the answer to that is that nobody does want to preserve it; nobody reading this does, anyway, probably. It’s just that acting it against seems overwhelming, which is a sane response.
And that’s why I keep suggesting the easy out of joining a socialist organizationor just subscribing to a socialist periodical. If nothing else you'll have the satisfaction of adding a few lines to your FBI file.
“I don’t wanna make any money, folks; I just love to sell socialism.”
“Music, sweet music, I wish I could caress, caress …” I was listening to St. Vincent’s “Daddy’s Home” album when I started this piece, then Beach House with “Once Twice Melody.” Beach House is one of those groups that is decidedly of a specific genre and not of any others. I don’t know what that genre is, but they’re dead in the center of it.
And that’s all we got, comrades. Be well as you can be.
Your basic point about the state of US society's treatment of the poor is beyond dispute. Your adoration of Bobby Kennedy I will ascribe to your youth at the time it was acquired. Bobby was as complete a political opportunist as any American political figure you can name. Don't forget he started out in the service of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee and Joe McCarthy and as total an anti- Communist (socialist) as you can imagine. His adoption of concern for the poor was in the service of finding a platform to challenge Lyndon Johnson and later Hubert Humphrey for the presidential nomination and his resistance to the Vietnam War followed on his supporting his brother's accelerating the staffing of "advisors" begun by Eisenhower. He was also at his brother's shoulder in promotion of the Bay of Pigs and the surveillance and concern of Martin Luther King and King's "radicalism" threatening southern support for the Kennedy administration.
I subscribed so I could feel free to say all of that.
I once again urge you to get behind the welfare state and abandon socialism which is overwhelmingly rejected by the voters in this country. It is even more toxic than "defund the police", one of the most misguided political slogans of all time.
Other than that, my Monday has been OK.