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North America

Notes from the US

North AmericaLouis Further brings us his latest update from across the pond…

In the United States making money out of criminals is nearly as huge a business as crime itself is. In mid-February a new scandal of crimes committed by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), one of the biggest private prison companies in the world, came to light as they agreed in the previous week to pay US$1 million (£600,456) to the state of Idaho. They made up or otherwise falsified thousands of staff hours to boost their profits at one of their notoriously dangerous prisons. While guard posts were unstaffed, CCA claimed nearly 5,000 hours. Further, an audit ordered by the Idaho Department of Corrections was conducted by auditing firm KPMG; it found that CCA had left ‘more than 26,000 hours of mandatory guard posts unstaffed or inadequately [staffed]’.

In Arizona in late February, hundreds of people protested outside the state Capitol demanding that Governor Jan Brewer veto a bill effectively to legalise discrimination against LGBT people. The bill passed both houses of the state Legislature the previous week and would allow businesses to deny service to LGBT customers, diners and clients by citing religious beliefs! Brewer did use her veto; but the final fate of the measure, or that it was passed at all, still give cause for concern. It’s similar to ones that have failed in Idaho and Kansas recently; there is also such a measure under consideration in Utah.

Primary school teachers in Chicago took a courageous stance against the destructive role of testing in late February: they voted unanimously to boycott upcoming state-mandated tests. About 40 teachers at Maria Saucedo Elementary Scholastic Academy (!) will refuse to administer the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) in favour of real teaching.

Vindictiveness is never very far from politicians’ minds: in early March Obama nominated Debo Adegbile to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Widely respected in general, Adegbile is also known for his role in the legal defence of imprisoned Black Panther Mumua Abu-Jamal, who was wrongly convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1982. That was enough for seven democrats to join republicans and defeat the nomination by 52 to 47.

The slaughter in Afghanistan and Iraq continues: a report from the Afghan government suggests that as many as 14,000 Afghan soldiers have died – most in the last three years – as a result of the US invasion. In February alone more than 700 Iraqis died in the war that’s ‘over’ there.

One of the contractors responsible for surveillance systems on Israel’s ‘Apartheid Wall’ along the West Bank (Elbit Systems) has won a contract worth US$145 (£86,750) million to provide similar technology for the United States’ border with Mexico. The deaths of those trying to cross north into the United States across that border at the hands of US patrols continues to draw attention from time to time; most recently because a family was shot dead for throwing stones. Now a report from law enforcement has emerged with evidence that agents have been deliberately stepping in front of the lorries transporting migrants away from poverty in order to justify shooting them when they don’t immediately stop.

Following a series of environmental disasters in West Virginia, as reported in last month’s Freedom, 100,000 gallons of toxic coal slurry poured into nearly six miles of the state’s rivers near Fields Creek at a processing plant owned and run by Patriot Coal in mid-February. But Federal prosecutors issued more than 20 subpoenas to North Carolina’s environmental agency towards the end of the month as part of a criminal probe into a coal ash spill by Duke Energy, where North Carolina governor Pat McCrory worked for 28 years. This was just as yet another storm pipe burst around the same time at the Eden coal ash dumping pond, also owned by Duke Energy; this time it sent a huge discharge of arsenic and lead-laden waste into the Dan River, which is still heavily polluted after a similar spill earlier in the month.

Then in New Mexico over Valentine’s Day weekend a deep-earth repository for nuclear waste dumped beneath the earth’s surface and stored in salt formations on ground sacred to native Americans seems to have sprung a leak. Unusually elevated amounts of radioactive particles were found under ground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad. Even a Department of Energy spokesperson, Roger Nelson, commented: “I believe it’s safe to say we’ve never seen a level like we are seeing. We just don’t know if it’s a real event, but it looks like one”. Kathy Wanpovi Sanchez, Environmental Health and Justice Program Manager for Tewa Women United, an indigenous organisation based in northern New Mexico, said, “Since the detonation and creation of first atomic bomb in New Mexico, we the people who live in close proximity of storage and creation of these weapons have been in a state of fear”.

Towards the end of February an unknown quantity of crude oil was poured into the Mississippi River, causing a 65-mile length of the waterway to be closed for several days: an oil barge collided with a tug boat between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

American terrorists’ use of drone attacks is one of the more cowardly tactics which they employ. In the same realm is the planned use of ‘seismic testing’ in a 300,000 square mile area in the Atlantic Ocean stretching from Delaware to Florida. In the élite’s quest for fossil fuels the technique includes the use of air-gun blasts which represent a lethal threat to 39 species of marine mammals with six endangered species of whales (including North Atlantic Right Whale, whose total population may be only 450). Exploratory ships towing a battery of air-guns will emit acoustic energy pulses into the seafloor 100,000 times more intense than what one would experience if standing near a jet engine. Marine life doesn’t stand a chance.

Those who draw attention to deficiencies, though, beware: Donna Busche was manager of Environmental and Nuclear Safety for the San Francisco-based URS Corporation. This is a subcontractor hired by the federal government to clean up a former nuclear weapons site in Hanford, Washington, the most contaminated in the United States. She was sacked in mid-February after blowing the whistle on the dangerous conditions at the site, at least the third senior official to lose their job.

What’s more, Idaho became the seventh state in early March to operate an ‘ag-gag’ law whereby it’s illegal to film any farm or agricultural site without permission. The ban was introduced after activists in the state filmed workers stamping on cattle, beating, dragging and even sexually abusing them at a dairy farm.

Louis Further

Tewa Women United:

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