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May 12, 2015


(Ann McFeatters of Tribune News Service recently published an article in which she rightly decried the high rate of infant mortality and maternal deaths in our nation’s capital and in our country. I am using the statistics she has provided in her report; the commentary is mine.)

Washington D.C. ranks 25th out of 25 at the bottom of the world’s wealthiest capital cities in terms of economic disparity. Babies in the city’s poverty-stricken Ward 8 are 10 times more likely to die than babies in far wealthier Ward 3. Just blocks from the White House and the Capitol, babies are dying at a rate that is similar to those born in the capitals of such Third World countries as El Salvador and Cambodia. How could such a thing happen in America?

It could happen and is happening because babies at risk are not getting regular medical checkups, are born prematurely or have mothers struggling to feed other children or without the education to know how to care for infants. Wage inequality and lack of medical care and lack of opportunity for poor mothers is thus translated into deaths of their babies. Save the Children’s 2015 global health report ranks the United States an appalling 61st globally in maternal health, worse than any other developed country in the world.

The report goes on to find that American women have the highest risk of dying in or just after childbirth of women in all developed countries, and that a pregnant American woman or one who has just given birth is 10 times more likely to die than a pregnant woman or new mother in, for instance, Poland. Worse, the United States has fallen two slots behind last year’s report in maternal health, children’s well-being, education, economic and political status. We now rank 33rd among the 179 countries whose statistics were evaluated. These findings are beyond grotesque; they are horrible and absolutely unacceptable for the world’s richest country and must be reversed, both in our nation’s capital and in the nation at large.

How can we pretend to be a First World country when in one area after another our performance can only be classified as that of a Third World country? Why does the “richest country in the world” find itself in 61st place in global maternal health? Are Wall Street profits more important to our survival than the survival of our own people and their progeny? Is the political assurance to the 1 percent’s growing slice of the economic pie so essential to the nation’s well-being that the deaths of women and babies are to be treated as mere “collateral damage” on the road to the 1 percent’s further myopic and uncaring pursuit of wealth?

Given the above, let’s see how Republican politicians are responding to such outrageous and intolerable factual findings. The Republican-led Senate just passed another austerity  bill which over time cuts $5.3 trillion in federal spending, including $600 billion from income security programs such as school lunches, nutritional assistance for poor mothers, tax credits for the working poor and food stamps. This bill, if enacted, would assure us that women and babies will die at an even greater rate than now as Republican politicians seek the bottom of the barrel in social spending in order to free up money for tax cuts to be spread out to their Wall Street patrons via amendments to the internal revenue code and, of course, expansion of the continuing stream of “campaign contributions” from their superrich patrons.

If there is an adjective below abominable, this would describe such Republican political ventures into Third World policy choices in order to further enrich the already engorged superrich while the real economy the rest of us lives in remains mired in malaise in the throes of wage and wealth inequality, crumbling infrastructure, inadequate medical care, overpriced education, outsourcing, bank frauds, monopoly drug pricing and other such under-regulated rip-offs, and if the reader thinks that this is a bad situation and couldn’t get worse, get this:  Senators Cruz and Paul voted AGAINST the Republican bill  because they didn’t think the proposed legislation made deep enough cuts in social programs! Unbelievable!

Stiglitz in his latest book (“The Great Divide”) touches on the issue here under discussion. He writes: “Inequities in health care, then, are still with us, beginning even before birth. The poor are more likely to be exposed to environmental hazards, and mothers have less access to good prenatal care. The result is infant mortality rates that are comparable to those in some developing countries alongside a higher incidence of low birth weight (systematically correlated with poor lifetime prospects) than in other advanced countries. Lack of access to comprehensive health care for the 20 percent of American children growing up in poverty, combined with lack of access to adequate nutrition, makes success in school even less likely.”

Apparently libertarian Senators Cruz and Paul (who are pretending to be Republicans) are not satisfied with a mere 20 percent poverty rate among American children; they by their votes are opting for a higher poverty rate. They should be asked on their campaign trails for the presidency just what they think the optimum poverty rate should be for American children, i.e., 30 percent? 80 percent? How about 100 percent? These two are deep into the Gilded Age ideology of 1880 monopoly and Wild West economics of zero government and “every man for himself” which characterized a frontier mentality that has long since passed into history.

America was once reputed to be a country which takes care of its own, and particularly those most vulnerable. The Senate bill makes it clear that that day is gone and that we are now on track to deny help to those who need it and lavish help on those who don’t. Any lingering sense of altruism has been replaced by raw political purpose of politicians and greed of their patrons. So what happened to America? Who speaks for the babies and women destined to die as a result of the almost homicidal intent undergirding such obvious hatred for the underclass as demonstrated by the Senate’s vicious legislative offering? Children of all classes are our future. How smart is it to impoverish their future since our future is at stake as well? Is social cohesion on its last legs? Policy-makers should be careful; they may have a tiger by the tail.    GERALD     E


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