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.
Let’s start May’s ‘Notes from the US’ with some good news about the environment.
In the middle of last month, a federal judge in Alaska ruled that Trump’s executive order of 2017 to open up nearly 130 million acres of the Atlantic Ocean to drilling for fossil fuels was unlawful. This ruling was in response to an appeal after the Biden administration revoked the ruling shortly after taking office.
In the same week, legislation was introduced to prevent any new leases for oil, gas, coal, or tar sands on federal lands from being issued. The Keep It in the Ground Act (2021) was widely welcomed by environmental activists.
On the other hand, the Journal of Applied Ecology published a study in the middle of last month showing how herbicides in common use across the US contain undisclosed ‘inert’ ingredients that are lethal to bumblebees, which – most of us know – are vital to the survival of the Earth and its ecosystems. The disastrous effects of glyphosate are notorious; but apparently, they are not the only highly toxic chemicals wrecking our planet in this way.
And good news about victimisation:
In mid-April the top criminal court in Texas overturned the death sentence of the state’s longest-serving death row prisoner, 70-year-old Raymond Riles; he is an African American who was sentenced to die for murdering a Houston used car salesman in 1974.
Two good moves in Washington state: governor Jay Inslee signed legislation there last month to phase out for-profit prisons and immigration jails. Under House Bill 1090, companies that contract with local, state and federal agencies to make money from incarceration and detention will not now be allowed to renew their contracts. So one of the largest privately-run immigration jails, the GEO Group’s Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, will have to close by 2025.
Then there is some good economic news from Washington state. On a Sunday at the end of April lawmakers there approved a 7% rise in capital gains tax specifically to fund public education. The sale of stocks, bonds, or other capital assets where more than US$250,000 (£180,000) profit is made will now attract that tax; the resulting funds will go to the Education Legacy Trust Account. Anything over US$500 (£360) million will be directed to the Common School Construction Account.
Not so encouraging (though hardly surprising) is the finding of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute that global military spending grew to almost US$2 trillion (nearly £50 million every second around the clock) in 2020 despite the pandemic. Spending by the US, of course, was the highest and accounted for almost 40% of that and was over 4% higher than it had been in 2019.
A government study published at the end of April showed that patients in the US pay double (at times four times as much as) the amounts charged for prescription drugs in other rich countries. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) took retail prices which consumers and insurers paid for 20 brand name prescription drugs in 2020 in the United States. They were 2.82 times higher than in Canada, 4.25 times higher than in Australia, and 4.36 times higher than in France. Biden has announced a ‘social safety-net plan’, though, which excludes proposals from progressives to tackle exorbitant drug costs.
Financial news site Finbold released a report last month that looked at the distribution of wealth in the US over the last three months of 2020. The richest individuals owned nearly 70% of all wealth… property, money in the bank, and stocks etc.
But worse: almost 50% of those assets belong to the ‘top’ 1% – a combined almost US$39 (£28) trillion. Further, the ‘top’ 9% possess almost US$47 (£34) trillion. No wonder that the poorest 50% of workers now earning a wage can only claim to own US$2.49 (£1.8) trillion – just 2% of estimated US household wealth.
Few, if any, anarchists ever expect real change to come from elections and the election process (in the United States). American ‘democracy’ is largely a sham. But there are occasions when those in power wish to prevent or reduce any slim chances of change that might exist. For them being able to vote might just prevent things from getting worse than they (already) are. Just such voter suppression is taking place across the US this year. One of the leaders in this rush to suppress largely the black vote is Florida. Last week Florida governor and Trump addict Ron DeSantis stopped local media outlets from covering his signing of S.B. 90. This new law which makes voting by mail (something which millions of voters in Florida have done for years) illegal. The only propaganda organ which was allowed to watch was the egregious bastion of selfishness, lies, racist, anti-science nonsense, Fox ‘News’, which was given exclusive access to the deed.
Freedom has often cited the highly-respected Costs of War Project. Based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, the Unit is a team of 50 scholars, legal experts, human rights practitioners and physicians. It began work in 2010 and publishes research to promote debate about the costs of the US wars waged on Iraq and Afghanistan – and the related violence in Pakistan and Syria – since 9/11. As Biden announced the US withdrawal from the longest war which it has ever waged, the Costs of War Project estimated that nearly a quarter of a million (241,000) people have died as a direct result of the war; and that the United States has spent US$2.26 trillion (almost £900 each and every second) since October 2001 on the destruction of, and death in those countries.
Republican elected Federal lawmaker, congressperson Marjorie Taylor Greene continues to make a name for herself and for her racist views. Indeed, her campaign has announced that she had raised US$3.2 million (over £25,000 a day) in the first three months in office.
Last month she launched a new White Supremacist caucus under the ‘America First’ banner. One wonders who would come ‘second’ – or ‘third’, or ‘last’ in such a world, and why. She is bringing together a group of far right lawmakers to advance what a flier promoting the group calls a ‘…common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions…”. It re-iterates a by now sickeningly well-known parade of lies and conspiracy theories that the election in 2020 was stolen – presumably by the black and latinx electorates which (Republican lawmakers in) most states in the US are now seeking to disenfranchise by introducing voter suppression legislation.
Her (group’s) ‘nativist’ warning is that ‘mass immigration’ poses a threat to ‘the long-term existential future of America as a unique country with a unique culture and a unique identity’.
This is nicely in line with Fox ‘News’ host Tucker Carlson’s (now that outlet’s most-watched and most influential spokesperson) comments the previous week to the effect that there should be no room for non-Whites in America; indeed, Carlson and the Fox fascist propagandists have it that the Democratic Party is “…trying to replace the current electorate… with voters from the Third World”. It is that same Carlson (he who called Iraqi’s “pigs”) who at the end of April specifically and unequivocally encouraged his viewers to confront those wearing masks in public and call on law enforcement for help if those challenged refused to remove their masks.
There has been fierce opposition to Taylor Greene’s initiative.
Last month the Senate passed a bill to try and reduce hate crimes against Asian-Americans. These have increased dramatically as Trump and the fascist propaganda outlets have insisted on emphasising the presumed origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus at the end of 2019 – rather than joining the rest of the country to advocate a more mature and effective response to dealing with the pandemic. The measure aims to create a position in the Justice Department specifically to tackle such crimes. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, a Trump addict who helped to promote and incite the Putsch on the Capitol on 6 January seems to be in favour of hate, though: his was the single vote against the bill.