Notes from the US: Biden’s friendly bombs

Freedom’s long-running correspondent Louis Further offers his monthly round-up of news from across the Pond.
 
In the last month, the new presidential administration led by Joe Biden has given several indications of the direction in which he will take US foreign policy. Some of these give cause for concern. For instance, officials have reaffirmed the ‘strategic defence partnership’ between the US and Saudi Arabia. This is in spite of Biden’s apparent moves to end the devastating war in Yemen in which the Saudis play a major role; and in spite of Saudi Arabia’s appalling record on human rights. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin apparently assured Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the US remains committed to protecting Saudi Arabia’s borders against attacks from Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Shortly afterwards, the state-owned arms manufacturer in Saudi Arabia signed a deal with US weapons of mass destruction company, Lockheed Martin, to form a joint venture.
 
Floyd on trial: As the jury was being selected in Minneapolis for the trial of Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd in May 2020, reports surfaced in Los Angeles that a member of the police force there made and circulated a Valentine’s Day card this time last month with the words, ‘You take my breath away’. This is clearly a mocking reference to Floyd’s death: like many other young black men murdered by the police, Floyd was heard to say “I can’t breathe” as he was being choked and suffocated by Chauvin. The defendant’s lawyers are expected to suggest that the murder was justified because of reported aspects of Floyd’s character.

Environment

In particulates: A report published in ‘Environmental Research‘ suggests that burning fossil fuels – especially coal, petrol, and diesel particulate matter – is much more serious than has been accepted until now. Such emissions, the journal indicates, account for almost 20% of global deaths annually.
 
Wolf slaughter: For some people in some states cruelty and destruction know no limits. Wisconsin, for example, is a state which actually has a ‘season’ during which endangered wildlife can be hunted, trapped, maimed, tortured and murdered. Leaving aside the destruction of life, those guilty of such pursuits further compromise the eco-system on which they too rely. This year’s ‘hunting season’ in Wisconsin actually took more wolves’ lives, caused more suffering and did more environmental damage than previous years. In the last week of February hunters in the state murdered 216 grey wolves; this is over 80% higher than the number of animals allowed to be slaughtered by state rules. This caused the season to be closed. Notably, all the murders took place in just 60 hours.

Trump

As quickly became clear after Trump’s acquittal last month at his trial in the US senate for insurrection, his future seems likely to be tied to that of the Republican party. Within days, for example, it emerged that the Putsch was a much better co-ordinated event involving allies of the impeached ex-president than at first reported. The New York Times, for example, explains how at least six people who were part of the mob that entered the Capitol worked as security staff for convicted (but pardoned) Trump ally Roger Stone. Both this gang and Stone are linked to the far-right Oath Keepers. HuffPost is reporting that at least 57 state and local Republican officials were at the Capitol insurrection, and almost all have faced calls to resign. Only two have so far done so. Both these were arrested for taking part in the riot. In one case, a Florida county commissioner, Joe Mullins, sponsored buses to transport people to Washington, D.C. In the lead-up to January 6, he said on a local radio program, “Maybe there are some liberals I’d like to see their heads cut off [sic].”

Oppression

Abortion: Just after Valentine’s day lawmakers in South Carolina passed a sweeping bill to ban almost all abortions in the state. This is at a time when residents there are facing major crises in health and economics. Last week the governor of Arkansas signed a near-total abortion ban into law.
 
Billionaires’ bonanza: Freedom has reported before on the way in which the rich have exploited the Covid-19 pandemic for their own (financial) gain. As cases in the United States neared 30 million – roughly 10% of the entire population – new data from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) shows that the nation’s billionaires have managed to increase their collective wealth by US$1.3 trillion (or £2,500 billion every day) since the start of the pandemic. Together America’s 664 billionaires are now estimated to be worth US$4.2 (£2.9) trillion – as the majority of families in the country are suffering financially and legislators in Washington DC are unwilling to offer them financial help. No Republicans, for example, supported the recent bill to offer aid to the population as a result of the pandemic.

Pandemic

The response in Texas to the Covid-19 pandemic in some ways typifies that of the US as a whole. At the beginning of March the Governors of several states – including Texas – removed measures which are known to help stop the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The pandemic has already killed over half a million people across the country. Per capita this is the highest (worst) number of deaths for any nation worldwide and amounts to almost as many dead in the US as were killed by the country’s involvement in the first and second world wars, Korean war and Vietnam war combined.
 
Epidemiologists know that infections and deaths will increase disproportionately in such states. Whatever the Trump and other denier cults say, until sufficient numbers of people are vaccinated, failing to wear masks and distances will keep the R0 metric above one; for every infected person – regardless of their political beliefs – more than one other will potentially become infected and spread the disease. It’s actually very simple. Indeed, on 2 March, Texas’s test positivity rate was higher than 12%, which is three times the national average. The state now ranks 46th in the US for the percentage of residents there who have had at least one dose of vaccine. Fewer than 10% of Texans are fully vaccinated. But Texas Governor Greg Abbott is a Republican ally of Trump; he wants to curry favour with him by putting Texans’ ‘rights’ not to wear masks above the public good.
 
There are, of course, many in Texas who are aware of the folly of this. Owners and managers of shops and restaurants, for instance, continue to require masks on their premises. This has led to their being harassed, threatened and vilified. Because Picos, a restaurant in Houston, serves Mexican food, the Richards family who owns the business started to receive hate messages through social media recently. Threats were made that Picos’ staff would be reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Note that Abbott wrongly suggests that ‘immigrants from south of the border’ bring Covid-19 into Texas as the Biden administration relaxed Trump’s discriminatory and racist controls.)
 
But it gets worse: lawmakers and officials in the city of Austin (the state capital) voted to maintain its citywide mask mandate so as to protect its inhabitants. So the Texas (Republican) Attorney General, Ken Paxton, sued Austin city officials.
 
Paxton and the Texas élite will use the courts to ensure that as many people as possible become sick and die from the spread of Covid-19. This in order to comply with a fascist cult.
 
Meanwhile in Florida Governor Ron DeSantis continues his plan to defend the rich and powerful at the expense of the majority of the population in the state. He has ordered that vaccines for Covid-19 be distributed mainly to wealthy white Floridians. In particular to those who live in two planned communities with links to the billionaire Uihlein family, which is one of the Republican party’s largest donors.
 
Further, DeSantis (a long time Trump addict and Covid denier) threatened to prevent vaccines from being distributed to communities who criticise his actions: “But, look, I mean, if Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, then we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it, and we’re totally happy to do that.”
 
A decent and civilised society recognises the need for extraordinary compassion in response to extraordinary events such as a global pandemic. Late last month, though, a federal judge, US District Judge John Barker, appointed by Trump in Texas (the state whose public energy policy sees its electricity grid decoupled from that of the rest of the country so as to avoid regulation) said “although the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so does the Constitution”. Barker was supporting property owners who had objected to moves by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Health and Human Services to introduce a moratorium on evictions for those so severely affected by the pandemic that they are unable to pay their rent.
 
Texas and Florida are not the only places where pseudo political ‘strategies’ stand in for cultish stupidity. In Idaho, a ‘Burn the Mask’ rally was held last week. Children were also encouraged and actually directed to participate as a crowd of selfish locals attempted to act out the usual right-wing refrain that masks deprived them of their ‘freedom’. Lawmakers joined in and officially supported the gesture.
 
~ Louis Further
 
 

Pic: Bombed school in Yemen, by Felton Davis