Freedom News

Notes from the US

Freedom US correspondent Louis Further reports on the lesser- known happenings in the United States.

Those who still try to see any substantial difference between Democrats and Republicans might want to look at last month’s military spending bill. The majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives – including the entire party leadership – joined Republicans and voted in favour of a massive, US$717 billion (about £63 million every hour) military spending bill, the National Defense Authorization Act. This amount is about 14% more than last year; and, of course, greater than that of any country in the world. There is a very revealing graphic showing just how much and to which countries the United States sells weapons here.
A startling report from the Associated Press appeared at the start of August. It claimed that United States involvement and culpability in its proxy war against the unimaginably impoverished Yemeni people by siding with Saudi Arabia (alongside the UK) is not all it seems. The US-Saudi-UK coalition is actually recruiting al Qaeda fighters to join it in the suffering and destruction. Secret deals have been, and still are being, made with al-Qaeda fighters. Indeed, some of these are being ‘paid off’ to leave strategically important areas of Yemen while others are now allowed to retreat with money and weapons.
After Trump and the gang jumped quickly to abolish Net Neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) went through the motions and asked for public comment. For nearly a year the Commission claimed that its public comment system had been ‘hacked’ during the process of soliciting (and considering?) feedback. That feedback, of course, was overwhelmingly critical. Astonishingly, Commission chair Ajit Pai was recently obliged to admit publicly that there had indeed been absolutely no such breach. This was obviously an attempt to pre-empt a report on the allegations by the FCC’s inspector general.
The emergency services, of course, must rely on the public telecommunications structure. As firefighters in Santa Clara County were battling one of the worst, largest, and most damaging wildfires in California’s history, telecoms giant Verizon actually intentionally hampered firefighting work by dramatically slowing down data speeds for Santa Clara County firefighters… the Fire Department there “should pay more for a better data plan…” Verizon suggested. This is in line with the throttling provisions of the newly enacted measures to abolish net neutrality. As a result Santa Clara County Fire Department Chief Tony Bowden contacted the US District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit making it plain that Verizon’s act “…had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services”.
Trump is well known for hitting out at any source of reporting or opinion which appears not to support his idiocy. In a disturbing new survey from Ipsos at least 43% of Republican respondents who were polled believe that ‘…the president should have the authority to close [such] news outlets’.
Trump hardly cares about poverty, of course. His response to a recent report from the United Nations estimating that more than 18 million Americans (nearly 6%) are living in ‘extreme poverty’ was to call it “exaggerated”. Yet internal State Department emails and documents which were recently obtained by the investigative web outlet, Coda Story, show that the Trump administration ignored advice of its own economic analysts; they knowingly lied to the public about the severity and extent of poverty in the country.
In August a judge in Ohio, John Russo, actually ordered a defendant’s mouth be taped shut in court because he continued to talk when instructed not to. Video emerged soon afterward which showed six deputies surrounding the man, Franklyn Williams, to assault him this way. The outrage happened at the defendant’s sentencing at the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. The video shows Williams speaking as Russo repeatedly tells him to be quiet… “Shut your mouth and I will tell you when you can talk. You got it?”
Three months after Trump administration rashly celebrated the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (which led to outrage among Palestinians and in the wider international community), and after a period in which the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) shot protesters, killing more than 50 people including an eight-month-old baby, Trump announced its intention to cut US$200 (£155) million in Palestinian aid.
But did not stop there: in a recent speech notorious war criminal John Bolton (now Trump’s National Security Advisor) announced that the US is to shut down the mission of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) in Washington. Bolton was the architect of vile and massive repression in Central America in the 1970s and 80s, which included orders to eject suspected freedom fighters from helicopters and into wells. The closure is despite the fact that the PLO is the internationally-recognised representative of the Palestinian people; it opened its office in the US capital in 1994. A “dangerous escalation” is how Saeb Erekat, the PLO secretary general, called the news.
A recent review by the state of Virginia confirmed that the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center strapped immigrant teenagers to chairs and placed mesh bags placed over their heads while they were being held there. Perhaps just as concerning, the State also concluded such treatment was not bad enough to reach Virginia’s legal threshold of abuse or neglect. Earlier in the year the Associated Press revealed that children as young as 14 said they were beaten while being kept in handcuffs and/or locked up for long periods in solitary confinement; and were left naked and cold in the Center’s concrete cells.
In August the US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his intention to create a ‘religious liberty task force’ whose purpose will be to defend the rights of the faithful so as to stop ‘creeping atheism’. Such a force will help to implement the religious liberty guidance which the Justice Department issued last October.
Of the many responses, pointing out, for instance, Sessions’ regressive anti-gay (amongst other) views, that of Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State was simply to explain that “…the event was clearly designed to advance the Trump administration’s twisted and dangerous view of religious freedom, one that uses religion to discriminate and harm others… This event exposed the administration’s real agenda: to preserve the power of Christian fundamentalists”.
We should not forget (how could we) the thousands of children captured and tortured at the Mexican-US border earlier the summer. But one could be forgiven for thinking that it has all been settled. Whether deliberately by policy or amid the day-to-day chaos and scandals of the Trump presidency, numbers released recently by the government itself show that the inhumane family separation practice is still continuing, despite the outrage, court orders and injunctions. In court filings, lawyers for the Trump ‘Justice’ Department admitted that 565 immigrant children remain separated from their parents and are still held in detention centres many weeks after courts ordered otherwise.
Ron DeSantis is a candidate for governor in Florida. A recent campaign video shows him teaching his young daughter to build a wall with toy bricks. This, of course, references Trump’s infamous wall to keep immigrants out of the United States. As if the reference weren’t blatant enough, DeSantis does this while reading Trump’s book, ‘The Art of the Deal’ to his other child, an infant son… “Then Mr. Trump said, ‘you’re fired’. I love that part…” he says to his bored baby.
During the record hot weather this summer, media coverage of what was happening was extensive, as might be expected. But one of the chief root causes – human-induced climate change – was almost totally ignored. A report by Public Citizen (pdf) ‘Extreme Silence’ revealed that in the first half of 2018 barely 7% of cable news reports on the crisis even mentioned climate change; while the same absence was found in 20% of the US’ 50 most widely read newspapers.
At the start of last month the The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will effectively halt and overturn fuel economy measures taken during the Obama presidency. Under those rules, the US seemed likely to double fuel mileage standards (to an average 55 miles per gallon) within less than eight years. Now manufacturers will be allowed to continue selling light vehicles (cars and smaller lorries) inside the US which can average no more than 30 miles per gallon.
Meanwhile the The Democratic National Committee (DNC), the body that runs the Democratic Party, lifted a ban on donations (to the Party) from fossil fuel companies. At the same time – in stark contrast to regulators in other countries working to ban neonicotinoids, the pesticides which poison bees – the Trump administration reversed yet another policy from the previous administration: that which made the use of neonics and genetically modified crops in the US’ wildlife refuges illegal.
In 1934, the Dust Bowl recorded the hottest temperature in May since records began. Earlier this summer, though, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that in May the average temperature in the contiguous US states was 65.4°F; this is 5.2°F above the 20th century average.
Louis Further


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