I was Skyping with a friend in the US yesterday, and somehow we got onto the topic of people who live on the streets. He made the comment that you almost never see them in New Zealand. They are there of course. One of our biggest problems is a shortage of housing, especially at the lower end of the market in Auckland. (Excuse me for a sec – “Tweets” – I have to use that word in the first paragraph to get a top SEO score!)

During the conversation I told him that people living on the street still got a benefit. (It’s NZ$501 per fortnight.) A person living on the street is also eligible for things like free healthcare. There’s no one in New Zealand who gets nothing. To him, that was surprising and he wished his country was the same. To me it’s surprising that the richest country in the world fails so many of its people.

By coincidence, I came across an article in the Guardian today. ‘A journey through a land of extreme poverty: welcome to America’ by Ed Pilkington is a sobering read. Pilkington followed UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, on a journey through the US. Alston’s final report went to the UN yesterday.

The article includes this statement:

[Alston’s] fact-finding mission into the richest nation the world has ever known has led him to investigate the tragedy at its core: the 41 million people who officially live in poverty.

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

Nine million people get nothing! NINE MILLION! NOTHING!

Those people live on the streets. There’s nowhere else for them to go. Their lives are unimaginable. How about this for example:

Skid Row [Los Angeles] 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.

One of the people living on the street is Robert Chambers. He had this to say to Pilkington and Alston:

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

He has been living on the streets for almost a year, having violated his parole terms for drug possession and in turn being turfed out of his low-cost apartment. There’s no help for him now, he said, no question of “making it”.

“The safety net? It has too many holes in it for me.”

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.”

Sad as it is, you expect there to be people like that in a Syrian refugee camp. It shouldn’t be happening in the USA.

In San Francisco, there’s a Catholic church (St Boniface’s) that allows homeless people to sleep in its pews on weekday mornings. Excellent! That is what Christianity should be about. However:

It was a rare drop of altruism on the west coast, competing against a sea of hostility. 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.

Even before it reaches its conclusion, the article says this:

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.

Countering that has been the conviction that society must protect its own against the vagaries of hunger or unemployment that informed Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson. But in recent times the prevailing winds have blown strongly in the “you’re on your own, buddy” direction. Ronald Reagan set the trend with his 1980s tax cuts, followed by Bill Clinton, whose 1996 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.

As Alston himself has written in an essay on Trump’s populism and the aggressive challenge it poses to human rights: “These are extraordinarily dangerous times. Almost anything seems possible.”

There’s a lot more of course, including the fact that the tax cuts planned by the Republicans will not only make things worse, they will disproportionately hurt African-Americans.

Then there’s the fact that hookworm still exists amongst blacks in the South. Hookworm transmitts via human waste, and should not exist in a modern country. It was thought to be gone from the US, but it’s thriving in Alabama. In that state, suburbs where mostly black people live frequently don’t even have a proper sewerage system. Human waste apparently often bubbles up into sinks. There are not even any waste pipes for sewage – just open drains.

It’s not just people of colour of course. Alston also went to coal-mining country. West Virginia gives us this:

Before he ran for the presidency, Trump showed scant interest in the struggles of low-income families, white or otherwise. After almost a year in the Oval Office, there is similarly little sign of those campaign promises being kept.

Quite the contrary. When the UN rapporteur decamped in Charleston, West Virginia on Wednesday as the final stop in his tour, he was inundated with evidence that the president is turning the screws on the very people who elected him. …

If sewerage 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. (See pic above.)

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.

This reminds me of the horrific debtors prisons in Britain of two centuries ago, and the time when the Church could punish people there:

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; Jeff Sessions is scrapping federal rehabilitation schemes for those released from prison; tenants in subsidized housing are living in fear that they will be evicted for the slightest infraction – the list goes on and on.

The full report will be available to the public in May 2018. I expect it will be damning, but I have little expectation that the Trump administration will address any of the issues.


Political Tweets

The reality of the GOP Tax Plan.


Why are these two systems even connected? Even in a government building in the world’s richest country, the infrastructure is crap! (Groan! ????)
(Via Ann German.)


Quite honestly, I can see her point. I sometimes feel like this when I get less so families can get more. However, I’m poor too. If I had more, I’d be happy for it to go to support those less fortunate them myself. Especially when it’s kids.
(Via Ann German.)


Coulter got this hilarious response …


Then this …


And this …


I don’t know if this is true but if so, it’s worrying.


Mueller Time Tweets

For the sake of the whole world, I hope so. It doesn’t just affect USians when they get a bad president.


Human Rights Tweets

Good work India! Another step on the path of separation of Church and State.


How did I know he was a Republican before I saw that part of the pic? I’m sure there are Democrats with such sick attitudes too, but they are not elected as representatives of their party.


Another powerful man is heading for a downfall.


Very cool.


History Tweets

Very cool as well!


I’d never heard of her!


Paleontology Tweets



Literature Tweets

I like it!
(Via Ann German.)


The wonderful Christopher Hitchens died six years ago yesterday. (It was 2011, not 2015 as in this tweet.) I miss his commentary on current events, and can only imagine what a wonderful counterpoint he would be to Trump.


Entertainment Tweets

Over and over it appears that George Clooney really is a genuinely good guy.


Scenic Tweets

Canada’s looking great! (I had a penfriend in Banff as a teenager. She sent me some local fudge once, which was absolutely delicious! I wonder what happened to her? Buried under a snowdrift?)


Japan really knows how to do this stuff!


Typical British scene.






Science Tweets

Very cool.

Maths Tweets

Yes, there is such a thing as fun a mathematics tweet! (And we shorten that to “maths” in New Zealand, not “math”.)


Space Tweets



And more Wow!


Marine Tweets

This is very sad.


A different way of looking at the world.


Other Animals Tweets

This lovely eighteen minute video from Wildlife Aid in England is about the rescue of owlets, a bat, and a fox cub.


Not something I’ve ever seen before!




Insect Tweets

I’ve said this before: insects look like I think aliens will look like.


This is a good looking one!


Not so sure about this one though.

Bird Tweets

I love owls. I hope all these hatch and fledge!


Something else I’d never heard of.


He’s my human. not yours!


Dog Tweets

That’s my bed!!!


Very cute!


A cat wouldn’t have fallen!


What a great gif!


Cat Tweets

The perfect cat house! This is so cool!


Kittens playing! One of the best things in the world!


That look of confusion cats get sometimes is so cute!





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