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A 7-year-old girl in the US needs food, blanket and a toy. So, the little girl wrote to Santa, “This Christmas I would like a ball and a food. I need a [blanket].”

A “1st grader asks for food, blanket in heartbreaking letter to Santa” headlined Good Morning America report by Morgan Winsor in mid-December, a winter day, said:

“Ruth Espiricueta, a first-grade teacher at Monte Cristo Elementary School in Edinburg, Texas, asked her students this week to write a letter to Santa Claus about something they want and something they need, after a lesson about the difference between the two. [….]

“The 7-year-old girl wrote to Santa, ‘I have [been] good this day. This Christmas I would like a ball and a food. I need a [blanket].’

“‘I never expected for students to ask for things we usually take for granted,’ Espiricueta told ABC News. ‘I was heartbroken because no one should ever go hungry or be cold on winter nights.’

“The next day, Espiricueta asked the student about her letter to Santa. The girl said she wanted a ball, rather than a doll, so both she and her brother could play with the toy. She told the teacher she wanted eggs for food.

“‘I had no idea she was going through hard times being that she is always at school with a big smile,’ Espiricueta said of her student. ‘Her act of unselfishness made me realize that I needed to share this with others.’

“The girl was not the only student to ask for basic necessities in her letter to Santa, Espiricueta said.

“‘Unfortunately, there are other students that as part of their needs they included food, towels, blankets, pillows, bed, clothes, shoes and a stove,’ the teacher told ABC News. ‘Some of my students were not even excited about Christmas because they know that their parents cannot afford to buy a Christmas tree or gifts for them.’”

Citing 2016 data from the US Census Bureau the report further said:

“More than one in five children in Texas – about 22.4 percent – live in poverty”.

Espiricueta, according to the report, couldn’t bear the thought of her own child going hungry or cold. She shared a photo of the letter on Facebook, hoping to help the students and their families. People immediately offered to donate to the student as well as to others at the school. The letter inspired the principal at Monte Cristo Elementary School to start a donation drive, with a goal of collecting 724 blankets to give to each student. So far, 616 blankets have been donated.

The story from the “land of liberty” doesn’t conclude there in Texas.

A 93-year-old lady had to spend two nights in a jail as she allegedly failed to pay rent.

A “93-year-old woman spends 2 nights in jail after eviction from senior housing” headlined Huffington Post report by Hilary Hanson said on December 16, 2017:

“Florida authorities released an elderly woman from jail on Thursday after police arrested her for allegedly not paying rent at the senior housing community where she had lived since 2011.

“Juanita Fitzgerald spent her 94th birthday on Friday in a motel room, The Orlando Sentinel reports. The day before, she had been released from Florida’s Lake County Jail, which is where police took her after she was evicted from her home at the National Church Residences’ Franklin House in Eustis. The facility accused her of refusing to leave.

“[…] Fitzgerald told WFTV reporters earlier this week that she did not understand why she was being evicted.

“Bodycam footage from the arrest showed her screaming and sliding to the ground in an apparent attempt to avoid being taken away. A police report obtained by The Miami Herald noted that Fitzgerald had told officers, ‘Unless you carry me out of here, I’m not going anywhere.’

“Franklin House spokeswoman Karen Twinem told the Sentinel that Fitzgerald was evicted ‘based on her refusal to pay rent’ and that the complex had been trying to work with Fitzgerald ‘for months’ to ‘get her to agree to get more help so she could live in a situation that was more suitable.’

“Fitzgerald countered that she had previously attempted to pay rent that the facility rejected, though Twinem has said Fitzgerald only presented a partial rent payment.

“While some headlines described Fitzgerald as being ‘handcuffed’, the police report stated that she was transported to jail without handcuffs because of her age. However, on Friday the senior citizen showed the Sentinel bruises and scratches on her ankles that she said were from prison shackles. A jail spokeswoman told the site that it was typical for inmates to wear restraints, but could not confirm anything specifically about Fitzgerald’s case.

“Fitzgerald was released from jail on her own recognizance on Thursday. Since then, she’s been meeting with the Mid Florida Homeless Coalition to find permanent housing.”

These incidents are embodiments of “liberty” in the capitalist country proud with its affluence and freedom: anyone and everyone “have” the space and scope to move upward, to flourish, which is basically different from the political and distribution system the working classes dream with and struggle for their program for socialism.

No; the story doesn’t conclude with tales of a child and an old lady. And, the incidents are not sporadic. The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), one of the leading public policy centers in the US, says:

“About 15 million children in the US – 21% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold […] [O]n average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 43% of children live in low-income families.”

“Most of these children”, according to the NCCP, “have parents who work, but low wages and unstable employment leave their families struggling to make ends meet.”

“Poverty”, the center said, “can impede children’s ability to learn and contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Poverty also can contribute to poor health and mental health. [….] Research is clear that poverty is the single greatest threat to children’s well-being.”

Hence, opportunity is not available for all in the land of “opportunity” as poverty impedes basic ability of many, especially of the children.

An “A journey through a land of extreme poverty: welcome to America” headlined report by The Guardian verbalizes a few more bitter truths as the UN’s Philip Alston, an expert on deprivation, tried to know facts on the 41 million persons, a people, living in poverty in the US. The figure is bigger than population of many countries sermonized by the US-masters.  The Guardian-report by Ed Pilkington on December 15, 2017 looked into those facts as the UN expert was on a mission into the, as the daily described, “dark heart of the world’s richest nation”.

Following are excerpts from Ed Pilkington’s report as Pilkington was walking along the UN expert’s journey through the clumsy lanes of poverty:

December 5.

We are in Los Angeles, in the heart of one of America’s wealthiest cities, and General Dogon […] is our tour guide. [….] Professor Philip Alston [is moving on].

General Dogon, himself a veteran of these Skid Row streets, strides along, stepping over a dead rat […] and skirting round a body wrapped in a worn orange blanket lying on the sidewalk.

The two men carry on for block after block after block of tatty tents and improvised tarpaulin shelters. Men and women are gathered outside the structures, squatting or sleeping, some in groups, most alone like extras in a low-budget dystopian movie.

We come to an intersection, which is when General Dogon stops and presents his guest with the choice. He points straight ahead to the end of the street, where the glistening skyscrapers of downtown LA rise up in a promise of divine riches.

Heaven.

Then he turns to the right, revealing the “black power” tattoo on his neck, and leads our gaze back into Skid Row bang in the center of LA’s downtown. That way lies 50 blocks of concentrated human humiliation. A nightmare in plain view, in the city of dreams.

So begins a two-week journey into the dark side of the American Dream.

[In the US] 41 million people officially live in poverty.

Of those, nine million have zero cash income – they do not receive a cent in sustenance.

Alston’s epic journey has taken him from coast to coast, deprivation to deprivation. Starting in LA and San Francisco, sweeping through the Deep South, traveling on to the colonial stain of Puerto Rico then back to the stricken coal country of West Virginia, he has explored the collateral damage of America’s reliance on private enterprise to the exclusion of public help.

The UN special rapporteur himself put it: “Washington is very keen for me to point out the poverty and human rights failings in other countries. This time I’m in the US.”

In the country, […] wealth inequality […] is already the most extreme in any industrialized nation, with three men – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet – owning as much as half of the entire American people.

“Look up! Look at those banks, the cranes, the luxury condos going up,” exclaimed General Dogon, who used to be homeless on Skid Row and now works as a local activist. “Down here, there’s nothing. You see the tents back to back, there’s no place for folks to go.”

California epitomizes both the vast wealth generated in the tech boom for the 0.001%, and the resulting surge in housing costs that has sent homelessness soaring. Los Angeles, the city with by far the largest population of street dwellers in the country, is grappling with crisis numbers that increased 25% this past year to 55,000.

Ressy Finley, 41, lives in a tent for more than a decade. She keeps her living area, a mass of worn mattresses and blankets and a few motley possessions, as clean as she can in a losing battle against rats and cockroaches. She also endures waves of bed bugs, and has large welts on her shoulder to prove it.

She receives no formal income, and what she makes on recycling bottles and cans is no way enough to afford the average rents of $1,400 a month for a tiny one-bedroom. A friend brings her food every couple of days, the rest of the time she relies on nearby missions.

She cried twice in the course of our short conversation, once when she recalled how her infant son was taken from her arms by social workers because of her drug habit (he is now 14; she has never seen him again). The second time was when she alluded to the sexual abuse that set her as a child on the path towards drugs and homelessness.

Robert Chambers occupies the next patch of sidewalk along from Finley’s. He’s created an area around his tent out of wooden pallets, what passes in Skid Row for a cottage garden.

He has a sign up saying “Homeless Writers Coalition”, the name of a group he runs to give homeless people dignity against what he calls the “animalistic” aspects of their lives. He’s referring not least to the lack of public bathrooms that forces people to relieve themselves on the streets.

LA authorities have promised to provide more access to toilets, a critical issue given the deadly outbreak of Hepatitis A that began in San Diego and is spreading on the west coast claiming 21 lives mainly through lack of sanitation in homeless encampments. At night local parks and amenities are closed specifically to keep homeless people out.

Skid Row has had the use of nine toilets at night for 1,800 street-faring people. That’s a ratio well below that mandated by the UN in its camps for Syrian refugees.

“It’s inhuman actually, and eventually in the end you will acquire animalistic psychology,” Chambers said.

Of all the people who crossed paths with the UN monitor, Chambers was the most dismissive of the American Dream. “People don’t realize – it’s never getting better, there’s no recovery for people like us. I’m 67, I have a heart condition, I shouldn’t be out here. I might not be too much longer.”

San Francisco, December 6.

About 70 homeless people were quietly sleeping in pews at the back of the church, as they are allowed to do every weekday morning, with worshippers praying harmoniously in front of them.

More than 500 anti-homeless laws have been passed in Californian cities in recent years. At a federal level, Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who Donald Trump appointed US housing secretary, is decimating government spending on affordable housing.

Perhaps the most telling detail: apart from St Boniface and its sister church, no other place of worship in San Francisco welcomes homeless people. In fact, many have begun, even at this season of goodwill, to lock their doors to all comers simply so as to exclude homeless people.

As Tiny Gray-Garcia, herself on the streets, described it to Alston, there is a prevailing attitude that she and her peers have to contend with every day. She called it the “violence of looking away”.

That cruel streak – the violence of looking away – has been a feature of American life since the nation’s founding. The casting off the yoke of overweening government (the British monarchy) came to be equated in the minds of many Americans with states’ rights and the individualistic idea of making it on your own – a view that is fine for those fortunate enough to do so, less happy if you’re born on the wrong side of the tracks.

Ronald Reagan set the trend with […] tax cuts, followed by Bill Clinton […] decision to scrap welfare payments for low-income families is still punishing millions of Americans.

The cumulative attack has left struggling families, including the 15 million children who are officially in poverty, with dramatically less support than in any other industrialized economy. Now they face perhaps the greatest threat of all.

Lowndes County, Alabama, December 9.

[I]n [this] Black Belt, […] many families still have no access to sanitation. Thousands of people continue to live among open sewers of the sort normally associated with the developing world.

Here the hookworm is sucking the blood of poor people, in the home state of Trump’s US attorney general Jeff Sessions.

A disease of the developing world is thriving in the richest country.

The open sewerage problem is especially acute in Lowndes County, a majority black community.

Despite its proud history, Catherine Flowers estimates that 70% of households in the area either “straight pipe” their waste directly onto open ground, or have defective septic tanks incapable of dealing with heavy rains.

When her group, Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (Acre), pressed local authorities to do something about it, officials invested $6m in extending waste treatment systems to primarily white-owned businesses while bypassing overwhelmingly black households.

“That’s a glaring example of injustice,” Flowers said. “People who cannot afford their own systems are left to their own devices while businesses who do have the money are given public services.”

Walter, a Lowndes County resident who asked not to give his last name for fear that his water supply would be cut off as a reprisal for speaking out, lives with the daily consequences of such public neglect. “You get a good hard rain and it backs up into the house.”

That’s a polite way of saying that sewage gurgles up into his kitchen sink, hand basin and bath, filling the house with a sickly-sweet stench.

Round the back of Walter’s house the true iniquity of the situation reveals itself. The yard is laced with small channels running from neighboring houses along which dark liquid flows. It congregates in viscous pools directly underneath the mobile home in which Walter’s son, daughter-in-law and 16-year-old granddaughter live.

It is the ultimate image of the lot of Alabama’s impoverished rural black community. As American citizens they are as fully entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s just that they are surrounded by pools of excrement.

Guayama, Puerto Rico, December 10.

Puerto Rico’s plight is rooted in the indifference with which it has been regarded since being acquired as a spoil of war in 1898. Almost half of Americans have no idea that the 3.5 million Puerto Ricans on the island are US citizens, which adds insult to the injury of the territory having no representation in Congress while its fiscal policies are dictated by an oversight board imposed by Washington.

Nor do most people appreciate that the island has twice the proportion of people in poverty (44%) than the lowliest US state, including Alabama (19%). The hurricane Maria, some estimates suggest, has pushed the poverty rate up to 60%.

“Puerto Rico is a sacrifice zone,” said Ruth Santiago, a community rights lawyer. “We are ruled by the United States but we are never consulted – we have no influence, we’re just their plaything.”

Looming over the community is a coal-fired power plant built by the Puerto Rican branch of […] a […] multinational. The plant’s […] huge mound of residue from the combusted coal […] rises to at least 70ft like a giant sandcastle.

The mound is exposed to the elements and local people complain that toxins from it leach into the sea, destroying the livelihoods of fishermen through mercury poisoning. They also fear that dust coming off the pile causes health problems, a concern shared by local doctors who [find] a high incidence of respiratory disease and cancer.

“It kills the leaves of my mango tree,” said Flora Picar Cruz, 82. She was lying in bed at midday, breathing with difficulty through an oxygen mask.

Studies of the pile have found perilous levels of toxic substances including arsenic, boron, chloride and chromium. […]

The multinational told The Guardian that there was nothing to worry about, as the plant was one of the cleanest in the US having been […] built to avoid any run-off into air or sea. That’s not what the people of Guayama think.

Almost 200,000 have left for Florida, New York and Pennsylvania since the hurricane, adding to the more than 5 million who were already on the US mainland. Which gives a whole new meaning to the American Dream – anyone can make it, so long as they abandon their families, their homes, and their culture and head off into a strange and forbidding land.

Charleston, West Virginia, December 13.

In West Virginia […], [m]echanization and the decline of coal mining have decimated the state, leading to high unemployment and stagnant wages. The transfer of jobs from the mines and steel mills to Walmart has led to male workers earning on average $3.50 an hour less today than they did in 1979.

If sewage is the abiding image of the burden of the Black Belt, then a mouthful of rotting teeth is West Virginia’s.

Doctors at Health Right, a volunteer-based medical center in Charleston that treats 21,000 low-income working people free of charge, presented the UN monitor with a photograph of one of its dentistry clients.

The man is only 32, but when he opened his mouth he turned into one of Macbeth’s witches. His few remaining rotting teeth and greenish-blue gums looked like the festering broth in their burning cauldrons.

One woman was found to have nothing but 30 roots in her mouth, all of which needed surgery.

People are jailed for years because they cannot afford bail awaiting trial; private detectives are used to snoop on disability benefit claimants; mandatory minimum drug sentences are back in fashion. Tenants in subsidized housing are living in fear that they will be evicted for the slightest infraction – the list goes on and on.

The UN special rapporteur’s tour was done.

The US-rural areas experience a disproportionate share of the poorest population. Rural Poverty in the United States (Ann R. Tickamyer, Jennifer Sherman, and Jennifer Warlick, (eds.), Columbia University Press, August 2017) looks at the issue. In the areas of food security, healthcare, homelessness, inequality, gender, environment, the situation is no different.

Do these facts, not from labor press, but from the mainstream, present a better picture than the regular picture available in the Third World countries, which are energetically advised by diplomats from the land of plenty and by economists from the World Bank? None from these dignified two groups feel embarrassed with this derogative reality in people’s life. Probably, they imagine that these facts are totally unknown to all Third World-citizens. That imagination leads them to deliver poverty-fighting prescriptions to societies other than theirs. An interesting reality: I know everything-you know nothing-I don’t know you know a few embarrassing facts of mine. The reality, complete with appropriation and distribution systems, turns more interesting as it empowers a group of persons to put a shameless public face while they preach gospel of capitalism and denounce political initiatives of working class. In this reality in winter, gifts – food and blankets – from Santa are the immediate survival-mode. A pitiful life the system compresses many into!

Farooque Chowdhury, a Dhaka-based freelancer, has not authored/edited any book in English other than Micro Credit, Myth Manufactured (ed.), The Age of Crisis and What Next, The Great Financial Crisis (ed.), and he does neither operate any blog/web site nor any facebook nor similar accounts.

3 Comments

  1. Sally Dugman says:

    Yes, it is a terrible, heart wrenching situation that you describe, Farooque. It is one in which we must all, whom are capable, rise up and help, and not just at Christmas, but YEAR-ROUND!

    My sister told me that many of the starving children (where they don’t have food banks like ours in MA) fear and dread the holidays since they can’t get the one adequate meal a day that they have then since school is out of session. (The meal is the free voucher given, school lunch.) How sad is that?!

    So my sister, as a teacher, stepped up to help fill the gap. …

    Preventing Starvation By Filling Backpacks

    Any amount of income above these amounts listed below translates to one’s family presumably not being in poverty in the USA. So no or very few government benefits accrue for those involved in low income status if above the federal impoverishment guidelines. To put it all in a realistic perspective, let’s look at the monthly cost for a one …

    We do have food banks to also help in some locations:

    Putting Food On All Tables – Countercurrents
    Jun 29, 2017 – Worcester County Food Bank (WCFB) is the region’s leading anti-hunger organization distributing over 6 million pounds of donated food and grocery …. My daughter, as a young child, and I used to donate our time at the central Massachusetts, USA food bank and Janet Ward, this food bank’s founder and …

    We also have others, who believe as we do:

    My Congressman, Congressman Jim McGovern, spent his birthday this year walking forty miles last month so as to raise $10,000 USD for the western MA food bank. He went to my daughter’s school, Worcester Academy, that has the motto:” Achieve the honorable.”

    My friends shelter people in Worcester, person after person in their home, out of a sense of duty and love as honorable Catholics. … We all when caring do whatever we can, but the need is so daunting across the USA and the wider world. … So we just all have to keep working hard — that’s all.

    Being True Unto Your Heartfelt Beliefs! – Countercurrents
    http://www.countercurrents.org/2017/12/13/being-true-unto-your-heartfelt-beliefs/
    Dec 13, 2017 – Founders of the Saints Francis & Therese Catholic Worker community. The founding members of the SS. Francis & Thérèse Catholic Worker. Back row: Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, Justin Duffy, Scott Schaeffer-Duffy. Front row: Carl Siciliano, Sarah Jeglosky, Dan Ethier.

    This homeless 97 year old woman in the wheelchair, crying in the rain and pictured at the following link outrages me. It is the shame of our nation, presumably the wealthiest in the world. Such sights (and I have seen them in NYC, SF and elsewhere) break my heart to the point that I try to help always as much as I can, but am limited in resources.

    Are You Desensitized To The Homeless Now? | Babysteps Ministry
    Babysteps Ministry800 × 600Search by image
    Today I saw a homeless woman in the city of Kirkland in a wheel chair. She was crying, had an umbrella to protect her from the heavy wind and rain and …