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UN expert says Trump worsening US income inequality

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
UN special rapporteur Philip Alston visits a homeless camp in Los Angeles, California, on December 4, 2017.

The United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has blasted the growing income inequality between the wealthy and poor in the United States, insisting in a new report that the world’s richest country “is now moving full steam ahead to make itself even more unequal.”

The UN human rights office in Geneva said Monday that Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur who acts as a watchdog on extreme poverty around the world, prepared a report on the US that faults "successive administrations" in the White House for failing to uphold treaty commitments to economic and social rights.

Alston, an Australian-born human rights practitioner and law professor at New York University, specifically criticized the $1.5 trillion tax cuts that US President Donald Trump has declared as a key accomplishment of his administration, saying the plan "benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality."

Alston said the tax overhaul that passed the Republican-controlled US Congress in December will ensure the United States remains the most unequal society in the developed world.

Alston, who was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, built the report around a two-week trip to the states of California, Georgia, West Virginia and Alabama, as well as Washington, DC, and the US territory of Puerto Rico.

Extreme poverty in the United States, however, is not new. Alston said US policies since former President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s, including the so-called war on poverty, have been “neglectful at best.”

The international law scholar said invested interests in the US have made a “political choice” to preserve acute poverty in the country.

"At the end of the day, however, particularly in a rich country like the United States, the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power," Alston wrote. "With political will, it could readily be eliminated."

Ultimately, he concluded that American democracy is being "steadily undermined" by individuals and organizations in that hold power. He criticized "caricatured narratives" that elevate the rich to the drivers of economic progress, and stereotypes that paint the poor as "wasters, losers and scammers."

Alston called on the United States to "decriminalize the poor." He cited findings by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that judges in 26 states had issued arrest warrants for alleged debtors at the request of private debt collectors, saying such moves were illegal and violated human rights standards.

He decried how the world's biggest economic powerhouse neglects its poor. "The United States already leads the developed world in income and wealth inequality, and it is now moving full steam ahead to make itself even more unequal," he wrote.

"The way in which people living in poverty are treated across the US system amounts to a violation, in effect, of their civil and political rights," he said. "The Trump administration is frantically exacerbating the situation, but it's true that much of what I describe pre-dated it."

Almost 41 million people in the US, or 12.7 percent, live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and children account for one in three poor, according to government data.

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