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Haley to Sanders: UN Report Decrying Poverty in America Is 'Ridiculous' and 'Misleading'

Nikki Haley at a United Nations Security Council meeting

WASHINGTON -- UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that a UN report declaring that "contempt for the poor" is growing in America along with wealth inequality was “politically motivated” and “misleading.”

After the initial report from United Nations' special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston was issued earlier this month, Sanders and 19 other Democrats sent a letter to Haley urging that the administration take heed of the report and present an action plan to combat poverty.

"We believe the massive levels of deprivation outlined in the report – as well as the immense suffering this deprivation causes – are an affront to any notion of the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," the lawmakers wrote. "Given the breadth of poverty outlined in the report, these rights are simply illusory for millions in this country."

Alston, an Australian law professor who has served in the role since 2014, went on a fact-finding mission for the UN Human Rights Council across the U.S. in the first two weeks of December. 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, D.C., for his study.

The United States' "immense wealth and expertise stand in shocking contrast with the conditions in which vast numbers of its citizens live," the report stated. "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 among OECD countries and the highest obesity levels in the developed world."

Alston called those stats and policies behind them "cruel and inhuman" and said Trump administration policies seem "driven primarily by contempt, and sometimes even by hatred for the poor, along with a ‘winner takes all’ mentality... contempt for the poor has intensified under the Trump Administration."

In a letter to Sanders dated today, Haley told the senator that "poverty is an issue the Trump administration takes very seriously," and "being able to provide for one's self and family is empowering, both economically and spiritually."

Haley said she was "deeply disappointed" in Alston's report and branded it a waste of UN funds. "There is no question that poverty in America remains a serious concern, but it does no one any good to inaccurately describe its prevalence or its causes," she wrote. "It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America."

American elected officials, she continued, "engage on poverty issues every day" while some other governments around the world "knowingly abuse human rights and cause pain and suffering of their own people" and in Burundi a person makes about $280 a year.

"Rather than using his voice to shine a light on those vulnerable populations, and so many others, the Special Rapporteur wasted the UN's time and resources, deflecting attention from the world's worst human rights abusers and focusing instead on the wealthiest and freest country in the world," Haley continued.

In a letter response to Haley, Sanders said he'd like to sit down with the UN ambassador to discuss the issue.

“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. But what is important to note about poverty in America is that it takes place in the richest county in the history of the world and at a time when wealth and income inequality is worse than at any time since the 1920s,” he wrote. “As it happens, I personally believe that it is totally appropriate for the UN Special Rapporteur to focus on poverty in the United States.”

Sanders noted that "more than 13 million American children live in poverty, more than 1 in 5 homeless individuals are children and the United States has the highest youth poverty rate and infant mortality rate among comparable nations."