Notes from the US

Freedom’s long-running US correspondent Louis Further does his monthly roundup of some of the lesser-known stories that have emerged over the last few weeks.

This month the trial in Minnesota of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd has dominated the mainstream media. Fox, OAN and other fascist propaganda outlets have tried to pick away at the edges of what ought to appear like a just result if it were somehow to put an end to police racism. They both try to exaggerate reported ‘failings’ of Floyd himself as if whatever those may have been justified his killing, and they tacitly support the ‘Blue’ and ‘White’ Lives Matter counter-movements which risk obscuring the more pressing issues. At the same time, polls suggested that more than half of all Republicans asked still believe that the election was ‘stolen’ from Trump and that the current presidency, congress and senate are illegitimate. Amongst these was one Sidney Powell, a lawyer for Trump. When sued by Dominion Voting Systems for US1.3 billion (£945 million), her response was, wait for it: that no one should have believed her repeated false claims… “No reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact…”, her lawyers said.

Racism

Most (43 of 50) US states have now introduced legislation designed to suppress black and LatinX votes. The Brennan Center has a detailed breakdown. States are also opposing racial justice in novel ways: at the beginning of March, the senate in Kentucky passed a bill that makes it a crime to ‘taunt a police officer’. In Georgia, it is now illegal to offer drinking water to those queuing up to vote. Whilst Freedom readers are unlikely to become too excited about elections, the fact that the élite in a state of 10 million people can act blatantly to remove the rights mainly of its Black population because Georgia voted for Biden not Trump in last year’s presidential election and returned two Democrat senators thus tipping the US Senate in their favour is still an affront. As Georgia’s governor (Covid-denier and Trump addict Brian Kemp) signed the new racist measures into law a painting could be seen behind him depicting a slave plantation. Unless you were outside the chamber as one of the representatives of the Georgia legislature, Park Cannon, was. For knocking on the door there she was arrested – although charges were eventually dropped.

Asian Americans continue to experience increased numbers of incidents of taunting, harassment, threats, assaults and deaths. After the (possibly racially-motivated) shootings by suspect Robert Long at spas in the Atlanta (Georgia) area, one of the sheriff’s spokespeople, a captain, Jay Baker, was removed from the case after insensitive remarks which appeared designed to exculpate the shooter: “[Long] was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did”; then racist posts and images were found on Baker’s Facebook page promoting shirts that called the novel coronavirus an ‘IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA’ – that’s the exaggerated and offensively distorted pronunciation of ‘China’ promoted by Trump.

The school board of Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Florida intends to change the school’s name because of its racist connotations. Comments captured by CNN at a recent hearing for the families of students attending the school epitomise much current ‘thinking’ of local residents: “Jesus himself never condemned slavery” was the highlight, while a suggestion that because it was Blacks who had sold Africans into slavery, so it was effectively the fault of the slaves that they found themselves in the situation which they did and that local ‘communists’ were wrong to try and respect them and make any kind of change.

Biden’s administration is playing its racist part too: it has been widely criticised for plans announced last month to continue turning away asylum applicants at the border between Mexico and the US. This is a policy instituted by Donald Trump.

Oppression

Just one week before the mass shooting (the seventh in as many days) in Boulder, Colorado last month a state judge blocked ordinances in that city which barred assault weapons and large-capacity magazines… exactly the weapon used by the assailant. The ruling was in obvious deference to the National Rifle Association. The NRA, despite a slew of recent scandals, is still a powerful lobby for far-right, destructive and selfish causes.

In 1976 the US Supreme Court re-introduced state murder (the death penalty). Over two dozen states have yet failed to abolish it again. Until last month Virginia was one of them; its judiciary has been responsible for 113 killings since 1976. Virginia has now become the first state in the South to outlaw capital punishment.

Mass shootings and gun massacres have increased now that people have begun to ‘lose interest’ in the global pandemic and are denying it in ever greater numbers. Even so, statistics show that close to 20,000 people died from gun violence across the country in 2020. That’s over two each hour around the clock – more deaths than in any year since at least the beginning of this century. The sale of guns has also increased dramatically – by 64% in 2020 alone, where almost one gun is legally sold to someone in the United States every second around the clock.

Covid-19 has hit the homeless particularly hard, of course. The élite doesn’t care, naturally. Towards the end of March in Los Angeles, a dozen people protested the violent police eviction of hundreds of people without homes who had taken refuge in the city’s Echo Park area. These included one reporter with the ‘LA Times’ and two with the outlet ‘Knock LA’. Organisers for the encampment point out that there is a severe shortage of permanent and affordable housing options in the country’s second-largest city by population (four million).

A study published at the end of last month by the Institute for Policy Studies shows that if workers across the United States had received pay increases comparable with the bonuses granted to employees on Wall Street in the period between 1985 and 2020, workers’ minimum wages would now be a little over US$44 (£32) an hour, instead of the current paltry US$7.25 (£5.25). The legal minimum wage has not been raised since 2009. In fact, when increased costs of living are taken into account workers on minimum wage are now proportionately worse off today than they were over a decade ago.

Tax avoidance, tax evasion, just not paying… these are probably inevitable in any tax collection system as complex as those in highly industrialised and centralised countries like the US. No-one knows for sure how much tax is not paid when the law says it should be. It is clear, though, that the wealthiest in the United States seem to be hiding and not paying up to 20% of what they have. A new report from the National Bureau of Economic Research also found that tax not paid by the wealthiest 1% of US residents accounts for about a third of all unpaid US taxes.

Greed has dire ecological consequences too, of course: in mid-March a report, ‘Banking on Climate Chaos 2021’ was published by a collection of climate organisations. It reveals that 60 of the world’s largest banks – including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citibank in the US – have invested US$3.8 trillion (£22 each second) since The Paris Agreement was signed in operations which destroy the Earth with fossil fuels.

Pandemic

Variants such as the B.1.1.7 are now causing a new surge in the numbers of infections and deaths. Yet it seems unlikely that the pandemic will be ended in the foreseeable future despite the widespread availability of vaccines. Deniers are as vocal as always. Far fewer people in the United States than are necessary ever to stop the spread of Covid-19 will take the vaccine, making it likely – or even probable – that ignorance, political bias and stupidity will consign the country to a semi-permanent pandemic environment. Once again, far-right propaganda outlets watched, visited and read by millions consistently aim to cast doubt on the safety of vaccination.

In the middle of last month, a poll published by NPR/PBS NewsHour (public radio and TV) and Marist (The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, New York) suggested that nearly half of those (men) who identify as Republican and/or voted for Trump last November will either not opt for, or will refuse to take, the vaccine against Covid-19. Of course this is a small, but statistically significant (1,227 adult respondents) snapshot barely four months since the vaccines became available. 

Medical advice could become more insistent, and (even anecdotal) evidence and feedback of the success and harmlessness of the vaccine could exert an increased influence on those living by their ignorance and stupidity at the moment. But with fascist propaganda outlets like Fox and OAN persistently broadcasting lies and misinformation about the pandemic, its causes and seriousness, and about the efficacy of its remedies, it’s unclear how the over 70 million adults still addicted to the Trump cult will add truth and common sense to their assessment of how to conduct themselves with respect to the pandemic – particularly when the basis for such conduct is essentially a selfish one: “…the health and well-being of others is not my concern; the pandemic is a hoax, we’ll do what Trump tells us…”.

Public Citizen is a well-respected consumer advocacy group. In the middle of last month, it published a report, ‘Unprepared for Covid-19: How the Pandemic Makes the Case for Medicare for All’. It argues persuasively that if the US health ‘care’ system were based on need not greed, were less fragmented and cumbersome, far fewer people would have become ill and died than have so far suffered as a result of the US response to the pandemic. Up to 40% of Covid-19 infections in the United States and 33% of deaths from the virus can be plausibly assigned to the fact that health ‘insurance’ (really a way for the insurance companies to profit directly from disease and illness) is almost always provided by employers; but the waves of layoffs caused by Covid-19 have deprived (and continue to deprive) former workers of coverage.

Public Citizen’s report draws on an analysis published at the beginning of the month by Stan Dorn and Rebecca Gordon of Families USA. It suggests that, ‘…Under Medicare for All, everyone would have consistent coverage regardless of their employment status or employer…’.

Over ten years old, Medicare for All is a scheme described as ‘single-payer’ because the costs of essential healthcare for all residents are covered by a single public system. It is consistently ridiculed, obstructed, misrepresented, mocked and generally prevented from becoming law in Congress session after Congress session because its opponents taunt its proponents as ‘socialists’ or ‘commies’, it operates well in Canada and can be compared with the UK’s National Health Service. The idea that health and wellbeing are (human) rights and should be available to everyone regardless of their ability to pay is too much for ‘conservatives’. The rich and powerful would rather assert their own ‘freedom’ and impose illness and death on others in its name. Dogma causes deaths. And as more and more states ‘open up’ prematurely, more and more gatherings take place without precautions (masks and distancing in particular) in the interests of preserving the ability of the selfish not to be told what to do, the suffering and death seem likely to continue indefinitely.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court provided yet another example of this by striking down as illegal (Democrat) governor Tony Evers’s mask mandate. Widely acknowledged as the most effective measure partially to suppress the spread of (now especially the dominant variants of) Covid-19, wearing masks – uncomfortable and restricting though they are for most – is good public health practice. For the selfish and Republicans of that state, however, political dogma and allegiance to the Trump cult are more important than saving lives. The numbers of infections and deaths continue to rise, But the Texas Rangers baseball stadium has opened at full capacity. The same is true of many theme parks. The US Supreme Court joined in last week by overturning a ruling in California that disallows religious gatherings (in homes) in the interests of restricting the spread of the virus.

The right-wing ‘reaction’ to measures to prevent the spread of the virus continues to fall in with addiction to the Trump cult: in Florida, early this month Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order to ban the mandated use of Covid-19 passports – even before any kind of praxis or protocol has emerged. The Order – which took immediate effect – acknowledged the availability of vaccines. But cites ‘freedom’ as a reason for not taking them up. Deaths, choking and gasping for breath will follow.

 
Louis Further