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Notes from the US

Louis Further’s regular roundup column with analysis and news from North America that you might have missed.
Violence and the Dakota pipeline
Illegal, vicious, violent and punitive measures continue to be taken by the élite against the water protectors resisting attempts to build the Dakota Access pipeline across sacred lands in the central north west of the United States. Sophia Wilansky, for instance, was severely injured during one police attack with a concussion grenade.
Other assaults by law enforcement, state and private resulted in a lawsuit by a group of lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild against Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, Morton County and other law enforcement agencies, arguing they are using excessive force.
As the resistance deepened, police attacked the protectors with rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, water cannons in subfreezing temperatures, sound cannons, explosive tear gas grenades and concussion grenades, injuring hundreds of people.
At the end of November what had been unsubstantiated reports emerged as videos from the protectors were sent to some of the few progressive radio stations left in the USA detailing the use of chemical warfare as aircraft equipped with crop spraying equipment was deployed on the encampments in early morning acts of terrorism.
The many skeletons in Trumps new cabinet
If ever evidence were needed that the élites use political office almost exclusively to feather their collective nests, this election season in the United States provides it. If anyone doubted that Trump is a narcissist bully, and not someone who is pledged to effect ideological shake-ups in Washington, then they should look again at the cabinet members whom he has picked by mid-December.
Many of these are subject to ratification by lawmakers next year, of course. But there could well be three members of the military in Trump’s cabinet. Retired (though not for long enough to qualify, according to the law) general John Kelly is to lead the office of Homeland Security – the equivalent in some ways of having a soldier as Home Secretary in the UK.
At the very end of November billionaire Steven Mnuchin was chosen to be treasury secretary. Mnuchin has strong links to Wall Street, where ten years or so ago his hedge fund played a role in the housing crisis which preceded the recession. Owner of IndyMac, Mnuchin oversaw the foreclosure on the loans of 36,000 families – mostly elderly residents trapped in reverse mortgages. The same bank was also accused of racially discriminatory lending practices.
Meanwhile the stocks of some companies surged including the largest private prison contractor, the discredited Corrections Corporation of America (which recently changed its name to CoreCivic)… up 43% since Trump’s victory and another for profit incarcerator, GEO Group, up 21%. The stocks of several manufacturers of weapons of mass destruction also rose after the election – including Raytheon, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
As we said last time, although Trump himself may have ‘softened’ on some of his more alarming threats made during his campaign, those whom he is choosing to surround himself – in his cabinet – give, if anything, even greater cause for concern.
Although schools have greater autonomy in the United States than they do in the UK, the post of education secretary is an important one. Trump has picked the billionaire Betsy DeVos for the post. She is a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. She has – for many years – supported charter schools, which are the (rough) equivalent of Foundation (formerly grant-maintained schools) in England and Wales.
DeVos advocates the divisive system of vouchers for private and religious schools. Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers; she said, “In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatising, defunding and destroying public education in America”. DeVos’s father-in-law is the co-founder of the fraudulent pyramid marketing company, Amway, and an established supporter of right wing causes. DeVos’s brother is none other than Erik Prince, founder of the mercenary firm, Blackwater.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a member of Trump’s transition team; in late November he accidentally revealed a possible ‘strategic plan’ for the Department of Homeland Security. Significantly, it includes ideological ‘extreme vetting’ in the form of a test for immigrants aiming to enter the United States, and the reinstatement of the discredited registry for immigrants from majority-Muslim countries. After 9/11, Kobach actually helped to design the registry – known as NSEERS (the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System). Before the Department of Homeland Security abandoned the program in 2011 after declaring it ineffective, over 10,000 Muslims were deported and over 80,000 spied on as a result.
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is to be attorney general. A former prosecutor elected to the Senate in 1996, Sessions has consistently supported anti-immigration legislation. In 1986 he was nominated by Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship. But the necessary confirmation failed because of Sessions’ history of racist comments, including reportedly saying he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “…OK until I found out they smoked pot…”
Lieutenant General Michael Flynn is to be national security adviser. His anti-Muslim views are notorious… he once called Islam a ‘cancer’ and said that ‘fear of Muslims is rational’. Flynn was a key adviser to Trump during his campaign this year, when he refused to condemn Trump’s proposed use of torture. Flynn also serves on the board of advisers for ACT for America – an anti-Muslim organisation which has been designated as a hate group by the widely respected Southern Poverty Law Center.
That’s the same group which reported almost 50 hate crimes each day across the country in the first ten days since Trump’s election – mostly verbal and physical attacks, intimidation and harassment against Muslims, immigrants, African Americans and women. These were reported most commonly in schools.
Still unclear is the president elect’s final current stance on climate change, which he has described as a ‘Chinese hoax’. But one senior Trump adviser, Bob Walker, is reported as saying that there is no need for NASA to do what he has previously described as ‘politically correct environmental monitoring’, and that the space agency’s climate research programme will be scrapped.
What’s more, the transition team has compiled a lengthy (nearly 75 questions) survey for the Department of Energy… an unusual move. Amongst the questions are ones asking for the names of all employees and contractors who have attended conferences where climate change policy was dealt with, asked for all emails and documents pertaining to those conferences. This move seems aimed at identifying civil servants who have expressed any kind of concern about humans’ role in carbon emissions, climate science research and clean energy.
For health Trump picked Georgia Congress-member Tom Price. Chair of the House Budget Committee, Price is one of the leading opponents of Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which began to extend health coverage to some poorer members of society. He is in favour of privatising the senior citizens’ health scheme, Medicare; opposes abortion; and has voted to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Price is also an opponent of marriage equality, who has repeatedly voted against measures to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
To a key environmental post – the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – comes Scott Pruitt. He is currently the attorney general in Oklahoma, where he has proved loyal to, and active on behalf of, the fossil fuel industry. It’s widely expected that Trump intends that Pruitt dismantle the few steps taken by Obama to counter climate change (which Pruitt denies, of course); and to wreck much of the already ineffective EPA itself. Rick Perry would be Energy Secretary: he’s a a bombastic Texan Republican with a record of scandal and disgrace who remains in thrall to the fossil fuel industry.
And so on: Ben Carson was a rival to Trump as a presidential candidate. He once called fair housing a “failed socialist experiment” and has no experience either in the area of (housing) policy, or indeed running such a large (public) department. Indeed, he said that he did not want to take such a position, and is famed for his off-the-cuff inaccurate, mendacious and false statement. He has officially been nominated to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Much of Trump’s money is in land and housing.
Andrew Puzder has made his name and his millions by serving rotting, tortured, dead animals to consumers who know no better as a ‘fast “food”‘ executive. He is against raising the minimum wage and has even claimed that wages are too high as part of his advocacy of a range of right-wing trickle-down economic policy. He will be the next labour secretary.
As several mayors and police chiefs in cities in the United States announced that they would refuse to carry out Trump’s planned deportation measures after he becomes president in January, spontaneous protests erupted in numerous cities – particularly in schools. Within a week of the election, students in Boulder, Colorado, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, Seattle, Silver Spring, Maryland, and on the campuses of several universities including the University of Connecticut and the University of Texas had walked out of classes with such chants as “Not My President” and “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist U.S.A.” This has not lasted long; and it remains to be seen where the (next) lines of resistance originate as Trump is inaugurated and his manic ideas start to be enacted.

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