Saturday, June 2, 2018
By Ed Pilkington
New report finds millions of children are without food and homes, and the prospect of escaping poverty is impossible under Trump.
The Trump administration must pay urgent attention to the shockingly high number of children living in poverty in the US, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty declares in a heavyweight report on the condition of America today – warning of the prospect of the American dream “becoming the American illusion”.
Philip Alston, who acts as the UN’s watchdog on poverty and inequality around the world, spells out in blunt and unremitting terms the damage wrought by child poverty in one of the world’s richest countries. In his findings on conditions in the US, he highlights the personal suffering of millions of children who are left without food, homes and futures and warns that such deprivation is killing the American dream.
He lays out the brutal statistics:
- 18% of American children – some 13.3 million – were living in poverty in 2016, making up almost a third of the total poor;
- more than one in five homeless people are children, including 1.3 million school students who were without a home during the academic year;
- infant mortality, at 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, is almost 50% higher than other advanced nations;
- the US ranks 25th out of 29 industrialised countries in terms of the amount it invests in young children.
“This is tragic and unconscionable, to treat so many children in this way, but it is also a totally self-defeating economic policy,” Alston said in an interview with the Guardian. “The ramifications are clear and considerable – the US is building a future citizenry that is under-nourished, under-educated, under-stimulated, and that in turn will rebound dramatically on the society itself.”
Children who grow up in poverty have very little prospect of escaping from it. That's being locked in
While child poverty has been a pressing problem for many years in the US, Alston warns that policies being pursued by the Trump White House are likely to make it much worse. Food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or Snap, helped almost four million children stay out of the clutches of poverty in 2015 – now Trump is proposing in his 2019 budget to cut the program by almost a third.
Carolyn Miles, president and chief executive of Save the Children US, said the food stamp program was critical for struggling families. “This is certainly not the time to be cutting these benefits in America,” she said.
A new report by Save the Children on the US finds that children in America are at least twice as likely to be poor as children in Norway, Iceland, Slovenia, Ireland, Sweden and Germany. That disparity rises to more than five times as likely to be poor when compared to children in Finland and Denmark.
One of the most insidious aspects of poverty among the under-18s is how it eviscerates individuals’ prospects of advancement, and thus undercuts one of the main glues of American society – the almost universally shared belief in the “American dream” of an equal opportunity to achieve success through hard work and aspiration. Alston points out that the US has one of the lowest rates of social mobility between generations of any rich country – not least because child poverty is so prevalent.
“We know children who grow up in poverty have very little prospect of escaping from it,” he said. “That’s being locked in, here, ensuring the American dream is rapidly becoming the American illusion.”
Some of the most visceral child poverty can be found in rural areas, particularly in the midwest and deep south, paradoxically where a lot of Trump voters live. Carolyn Miles recently returned from Duncan, Mississippi, a small town of about 500 people in the heart of depressed cotton country where a stunning 80% of the children live in poverty.
“This area is completely desolate, it’s a really rough place to live for kids. Families can’t put food on the table every day. Every single child in local schools is on the federal school lunch program, many schools serve breakfast and some even dinner,” she said.
Save the Children works with Mississippi children to try to improve literacy rates. They have found that by the time they start kindergarten at age four, many kids are already 18 months behind the national average educational ability.
“We are trying to get these kids a shot, just to have a chance at an even playing field,” she said.
The paucity of health care and other services, particularly in rural areas, forces parents into having to make painful decisions about how to allocate their meager incomes. Alston, who carried out an official UN fact-finding mission in December that took him to some of the poorest parts of the US, came across a particularly emotive dilemma.
“Parents explained they had to decide between buying their child a Christmas present or saving it for essential food or shoes. There was no money to spare, and anything that was done out of the ordinary, such as buying a present, would penalize the child,” he said.
For some, the president’s efforts to undermine the justice department and the Mueller investigation represent a threat to democracy.
Donald Trump might be doing to the country, and the conversation quickly flips back to Watergate.sk people with deep knowledge of the US justice department about the damage
Following Richard Nixon’s failed attempt to pull the plug on a special prosecutor who turned out to be on to something, the need for investigators to work free from White House interference was recognized by the public and reinforced by elected officials.
But now Trump is president, the public can seem apathetic or amnesiac and the norms governing justice department independence are being tested. Severely.
In interviews, two former assistant attorneys general, law professors and analysts from across the political spectrum used recurring words to describe Trump’s assault on justice: “dangerous”, “alarming”, “high-stakes”.
Some analysts warn that national security has also been endangered, as Trump has undermined public trust in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and intelligence agencies whose work is often conducted in secret and who therefore depend uniquely on such trust to function.
The question is whether Trump’s snips and snaps at the norms of justice department independence represent some greater dislocation: a constitutional crisis of some kind or even an erosion of the rule of law in America, as some commentators have posited.
In recent weeks, Trump has escalated his war on his perceived foes in the Department of Justice (DoJ), which hosts the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating alleged collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign officials.
That investigation, Trump has informed his Twitter followers, is the work of a “criminal deep state” engaged in a “WITCH HUNT” originally engineered by none other than Barack Obama.
If the Trump-supporting public is bothered by that kind of freewheeling conspiracy talk, there’s little sign of it. The president’s average approval rating is hovering close to 42%, pretty good for him. But others are deeply bothered by Trump’s seemingly nonstop provocations directed at the FBI, the attorney general, the intelligence apparatus and other DoJ agencies.
On Thursday, Trump casually granted a pardon to the race-baitingconservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to campaign finance charges. The pardon was taken as a potential signal to former associates not to “flip” and cooperate with federal prosecutors – because even if they are convicted, a pardon may be waiting.
In an interview aboard Air Force One, the president mentioned he was considering pardoning other boldface names with “unfair” convictions.
“We’ve never had a president attack the intelligence and law enforcement agencies that work for him in this way,” Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor and former assistant attorney general under George W Bush, said in an email. “He’s attacking them in order to discredit the Mueller investigation. But the baleful impact on those agencies’ morale and on public trust in them unfortunately extends far beyond that investigation.”
While whispers of a “constitutional crisis” are in the air, many mainstream analyses reject that idea, pointing out among other things that the Mueller investigation continues full steam ahead, no matter how much Trump might whine about it. The bad news is that it doesn’t take a constitutional crisis to constitute a national emergency, said Eric Posner, a University of Chicago professor specializing in constitutional law.
“I think the problem with thinking about this in terms of crisis is that we should be concerned about what Trump is doing whether or not there ever is a crisis,” Posner said. “It’s perfectly possible, for example, that Trump could undermine Mueller’s investigation without causing a constitutional crisis.
You could slide into an authoritarian regime without a real crisis ever taking placeEric Posner, University of Chicago
“I think what people are worried about, when you look at other countries that have slid into authoritarianism, what has happened is that the leaders of those countries have proceeded incrementally, and so when he does some things initially that people didn’t resist, that enhances his power. Once he has more power he can do more things, take more action.
“And you could slide into an authoritarian regime without a real crisis ever taking place, and I think that’s what people should be focusing on.”
‘Things subtly changing’
Shortly after Trump’s election, Amy Siskind, a former Wall Street executive, started a website called The Weekly List, seeking to catalogue news stories documenting “eroding norms under the current regime”.
The site, which Siskind said gets up to a million visitors a week and which this year produced a book blurbed by current Trump target Samantha Bee, bears this tagline: “Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.”
“At my book events, again and again, people tell me ‘you’re keeping me sane’,” Siskind said. “There’s such an effort at gaslighting, that this is not happening. Then at the end of the week people are able to sit down and read all the things that happened.”
Two recent Trump provocations have proven particularly incendiary. First, he cooperated with Republican congressman Devin Nunes and others in a campaign that led to the disclosure of the identity of an FBI informant. Then, Trump ordered the justice department to investigate its own investigation – of him.
“I hereby demand,” Trump tweeted, “that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DoJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”
David Kris, founder of Culper Partners consulting firm and a former assistant attorney general under Obama, warned that Trump’s continued assault on norms of justice department independence rose to the level of a threat to the rule of law.
“None of what we’re seeing in my view is at all normal and a lot of it is very dangerous,” said Kris.
“The norm of apolitical law enforcement, and the norm of intelligence activity under law, including honest bipartisan congressional oversight, as well as basic norms like conflict of interest and the White House staying out of particular investigations – all are essential elements of the even more fundamental value of the rule of law,” Kris said. “Which is itself essential to any modern functioning democracy. So the stakes are very high.”
Goldsmith, who has diagnosed and debunked ‘The Cycles of Panicked Reactions To Trump’, said that “there are bad things going on in our country” but that the infrastructure of justice was holding up so far.
“Despite Trump’s onslaught, his political appointees, all of whom he could fire, have continued to support the Mueller investigation fully and the investigation carries on to Trump’s intense displeasure,” Goldsmith wrote. “That is an amazing testament to justice department’s independence.
Trump has certainly violated norms, but whether they erode will depend on what happens after Trump leaves
“As for norms eroding, Trump has certainly violated norms, but whether they erode will depend on what happens after Trump leaves.”
The question of the elasticity of norms – will they bounce back or are they forever dented? – is one that occupies Kris and others.
“I think the answer depends a lot on what happens next,” Kris said. “I think we can count on President Trump to keep pushing as hard and as long as he can to do what he believes is in his self-interest regardless of these norms. And if in hindsight it is perceived that he ended badly in part because of that, then others will be deterred from using the same tactics in the future and we may even see a strengthening of some of these norms.
“This is what happened after President Nixon’s misconduct in Watergate, the rule of law and independent norms were strengthened.
“On the other hand, if Trump continues to profit, and is perceived in hindsight as having benefited from these quite radical norm violations, then we can expect future holders of the highest office of the land to engage in the sincerest form of flattery available.
“It depends, in short, on how this comes out. We’re engaged right now in a very high-stakes experiment.”
Despite several bad omens, hiccups and uncertainties election season has finally arrived. Electoral machine has started rolling. Election Commission has announced schedule for the general elections of 2018 and count down for July 26, the polling day, has started. National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies have completed their constitutional term for the second time in the 71 years history of Pakistan, although the elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was removed by the Supreme Court (like Yosuf Raza Gilani of the PPP in 2012) through a judgement that did not impress the legal experts. Federal government, that was almost moribund at the hands of a creeping coup, finished its innings in a quiet grace under Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.Abbasi’s patience, humility and composure in the face of constant affronts and pin pricking by the putschists was remarkable and was appreciated even by his opponents.
There are a few factors that set the forthcoming general elections apart from the previous ones. Although Pakistan has experienced a controlled democracy after Zia-ul- Haq’s martial law in 1980s but the civilian leaderships relentlessly struggled to maintain a semblance of democratic system. However, after the success of the creeping coup that has been unfolding since 2014, the shadow of authoritarianism has deepened to an extent where even the facade of democracy is vanishing. Freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental ingredient of a democratic system. But Pakistani media has come under severe constraints during the last few months. Media groups that weren’t ready to dance to the tunes of the deep state experienced excruciating squeezes. Unlike the civilian governments that put pressure on media by using black laws and rules the deep state doesn’t even care about the pretence of recourse to any legal procedure. It goes for strangulating dissent by resorting to crude fascist like methods. Prime Minister of Pakistan, the chief executive of the country and the Information Minister were helpless. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court took the matter up but to no avail. One of the media groups that was targeted some time ago was ultimately forced to have “ compromise” with the forces that be. Another well known group has been targeted recently and is currently at the receiving end of relentless attack.
The other serous issue of the human rights is that of the enforced disappearances. There are thousands of reported cases of the missing persons and the civil executive and judiciary have totally failed to make any headway in resolving the issue. Court orders for production of the abducted persons remain ineffective as the concerned security agencies deny their involvement in enforced disappearances. New cases are being reported from different parts of the country while the old ones aren’t resolved. This situation creates fear and helplessness that can be extremely unsettling for ordinary citizens even for living a normal life let alone taking part in free and fair election.
The significance of a level playing field for all political parties contesting elections cannot be ignored for holding free and fair elections. In Pakistan there have been complaints in the past about the attitude of the state institutions towards different political players. During the last elections, the electoral campaign of the relatively progressive political parties was brazenly attacked by terrorists. ANP bore the brunt of these attacks. The election campaign of PPP and MQM was also disrupted by terrorist onslaught. The state had clearly failed in providing security to the aforementioned political parties during the elections. But this time round not so very subtle political engineering seems to be the name of the game. Defeating Muslim League (N) in the forthcoming election appears to be at the top of agenda. Every trick in the book is being used to malign and demonise it. Lots of efforts have gone into encouraging desertions from the so called ruling party over the last few months. Herding electable candidates to PTI, that has emerged as the new king’s party, and controlling media in its favour, seem to be the main strategies for achieving desired results in elections. The main focus of the political engineering by the deep state is on the Punjab because it is not only the main political base of Nawaz Sharif but winning Punjab also means winning Islamabad.
Be that as it may, this bleak situation is not without its silver lining. There are at least four new factors in the political situation that can turn the tables on the political engineering of the deep state. One, Nawaz Sharif, the three time elected Prime Minister, with a large scale following in the country, particularly in the key province of Punjab, has decided to challenge the political role of the deep state. Spending long years in politics, both in the government and in the opposition, he is the most experienced politician in the country. Now when his party is not any more part of the system, he can speak more openly about and give details of the creeping coup against his elected government. Moreover, the deep state can’t cross certain limits against its opponents in the Punjab because most of the army also comes from the same province. Two, contradiction between the deep state and the elected representatives in the government is an open secret by now and the common people know as to who calls the shots in making important decisions. As we know the popular movement recently launched by PTM didn’t raise a single slogan against the PML (N) because they knew that the state policy which hurt the Pashtuns wasn’t shaped by the ruling party. Nawaz Sharif has successfully projected his victimhood at the hands of the forces of dictatorship among the masses. Business classes in general and Punjabi bourgeoisie in particular has come to believe that the deep state has thrown Nawaz Sharif out because he was taking the country from the geo strategic of the Cold War to the geo economic of the 21st century. Hence their sympathies for him.
Broad sections of society are prepared to forget Nawaz Sharif’s past mistakes and judge him on what he stands for today. Three, the growing international isolation of the country on the question of extremist violence is a source of concern for most of Pakistanis and they know that Nawaz Sharif, like most of other political leaders is opposed to appeasement of extremism and terrorism. Four, last but not the least the growing role of social media has changed the rules of engagement when it comes to control over media and public opinion. Welcome to election 2018 (that’s if they are held!).
–CJP asks AGP about govt’s plan to recover money used to rig 1990 general elections, to hear case on June 6
–Seals report of federal cabinet’s meeting on AGP’s request that it be kept confidential
The Supreme Court (SC) on Saturday issued notices to 21 people, including former army generals and senior political leaders, connected to the Asghar Khan case.
The 21 individuals include deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Javed Hashmi and Abida Hussain, and former army chief General (r) Mirza Aslam Beg and former director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen (r) Asad Durrani. The court has also summoned officials of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
Hearing the Asghar Khan case at the SC’s Lahore Registry, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar asked Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf if the federal cabinet had decided to implement the court’s verdict issued in the case in 2012. The AGP responded that the former government had decided to act upon the court’s decision and had directed the FIA to continue the investigation.
The CJP also asked Ashtar how the federal cabinet planned to recover the money that had been spent on manipulating the general elections in 1990. Ashtar, however, did not give a specific answer and requested the CJP to seal the report of the cabinet meeting that he had submitted to the court as it was confidential. Justice Nisar granted this request.
In 2012, the apex court had ordered the federal government to take necessary legal action against Gen (r) Beg and Lt Gen (r) Durrani for their role in ‘facilitating’ a group of politicians and political parties to ensure their success in the 1990 elections, by paying them millions of rupees.
The hearing of the case was adjourned until June 6.
At the last hearing on Friday, the CJP said that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government ‘ran away’ from its responsibility to come up with a plan of action against former army generals accused of manipulating the 1990 elections, by leaving the Asghar Khan case matter into the hands of a sub-committee.
Nisar questioned the deputy attorney general (DAG) about the cabinet’s decision on the case to which he was told that the matter would be briefed upon by Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf Ali. However, Ashtar was absent from court.
Nisar questioned the deputy attorney general (DAG) about the cabinet’s decision on the case to which he was told that the matter would be briefed upon by Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf Ali. However, Ashtar was absent from court.
“This is such an important case and the attorney general is least bothered. This the performance of the attorney general’s office,” a visibly irritated CJP said, as he summoned the AGP to appear in court on June 2.
Earlier on May 31, the CJP had expressed similar dislike over the federal government’s failure to make a breakthrough in the Asghar Khan case.
“Why hasn’t the federal cabinet done anything regarding the Asghar Khan case verdict?” Chief Justice Nisar asked, adding that he could not comprehend the government’s nonchalance towards such a serious case.
Nisar had further said that the court after giving its order on the case had rejected review petitions of Gen Beg and Lt Gen Durrani. “Now, the implementation of the verdict remains. To-date the federal government did not do anything,” he lamented.
On October 19, 2012, the apex court had issued a 141-page verdict, ordering legal proceedings against Gen (r) Beg and retired Lt Gen Durrani in a case filed 16 years ago by former air chief Air Marshal Asghar Khan.
Khan, who passed away in January this year, is being represented in the Supreme Court (SC) by Advocate Salman Akram Raja.
Khan had petitioned the SC in 1996 alleging that the two senior army officers and the then-president Ghulam Ishaq Khan had doled out Rs140 million among several politicians ahead of the 1990 polls to ensure Benazir Bhutto’s defeat in the polls.
The Islamic Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), consisting of nine parties including the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), National Peoples Party (NPP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), had won the 1990 elections, with Nawaz Sharif being elected prime minister. The alliance had been formed to oppose the Benazir Bhutto-led Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
In 1996, Khan had written a letter to the then SC chief justice Nasim Hassan Shah naming Beg, Durrani and ex-Habib Bank Sindh chief and Mehran Bank owner Younis Habib about the unlawful disbursement of public money and its misuse for political purposes.
The 2012 apex court judgement, authored by the then-chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry, had directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to initiate a transparent investigation and subsequent trial if sufficient evidence is found against the former army officers.
That investigation is yet to conclude.
In May 2017, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) had said it would approach the SC over the FIA’s failure to follow through on the apex court’s order in the case.