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.

 
Environment

More disturbing news: Robert McNabb from Ulster University is one of a group of scientists who have discovered (and recently published) just how quickly glaciers are now melting. That’s more than 30% faster than they were as recently as 15 years ago. Caused by human activity, the disaster is affecting glaciers in Alaska, Iceland, the Alps and the Himalayas the most.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have new data. In May levels of carbon dioxide averaged 419 parts per million. That is the highest level in over 4 million years – about 50% higher than pre-industrial levels.

Those standing up for saving the planet are getting more vocal in the United States. In northern  Minnesota, for instance, more than 100 water protectors were arrested last week during the biggest act of civil disobedience so far in their campaign to stop the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. If the project were finished, Line 3 would carry over three-quarters of a million barrels of Canadian tar sands oil each day (that’s almost ten barrels every second – around the clock) through indigenous land and fragile eco-systems. Lakes, rivers and wild rice beds could all be destroyed. They won’t have it easy though: in mid-May, Protestors had to gather at the state Capitol of Michigan in Lansing to deliver ‘eviction notices’ to the ecocidal Canadian oil transport company, Enbridge. That was because the company defied an order from the governor, Gretchen Whitmer, to shut down its Line 5 pipeline.

In a victory for… almost everyone who works on the land (or – conceivably – who eats fruits and vegetables therefrom): at the end of April, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban all uses in food of the toxic pesticide, chlorpyrifos, which is linked to memory loss and developmental harm. The EPA has 60 days to revoke all such food use.

Racism

Last month the Pentagon confirmed (to the news outlet Vox) that contractors in the US are continuing to help Saudi Arabia maintain its warplanes despite President Biden’s pledge to end (such) support for Saudi Arabia’s devastating six-year war against Yemen.

Trump and his addicts in the fascist propaganda outlets have consistently blamed the Covid-19 pandemic on ‘Asians’, particularly ‘China’, which Trump has his own way of pronouncing so as to mock, emphasise and disparage at the same time. As a result, hate crimes which assault, injure and kill Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have increased dramatically in number and ferocity in the last year and a half. In mid-May, the House of Representatives passed legislation aimed at addressing this. It comes as little surprise that over 63 Republican congresspeople (almost a third) actually voted against the law.

Actions that are based on science to help others now warrant attacks. So infantile, ignorant and lethal has been the response of many Trump addicts to the pandemic and those trying to mitigate its effects that legislators in Colorado have had to pass a law banning the publication of personal information about healthcare workers. That could now compromise their safety. Members of this sector in that state have continually received threats for working to save lives and provide care and help. The new law now makes such ‘doxing’ (sharing someone’s private information) a misdemeanour with a jail sentence of up to 18 months and a fine of US$5,000 (£3,500).

Texas often does things differently. And religious fanatics in Texas more differently still: The Rod of Iron Ministries in central Texas worships with AR-15 assault rifles (that’s right, those often used in mass shootings). That must be something of which Christ would have approved without reservation. The Rod of Iron Ministries also advances MAGA politics. The church is led by one Hyung Jin ‘Sean’ Moon. He attended the Putsch on January 6 at the US Capitol one of whose aims was another obviously loving and Christian action: to hang Mike Pense. 

Unfortunately for the Trump addicts who staged the riot only five people lost their lives. Moon (son of the much larger Unification Church’s Reverend Sun Myung Moon) and his followers believe that Donald Trump is doing God’s work and wholeheartedly support him. To further their (and presumably Trump’s) aims the church has now bought a 40 acre compound near the town of Waco, famous for its mass suicide at the incitement of yet another cult leader, David Koresh and his Branch Davidians sect.

Many people in the United States would like to see an end to gun violence, or at least some measures taken to attenuate it. But it’s different for the élite in Texas: that state already has some of the loosest gun laws in the US… it’s already legal to carry rifles in public without a licence. Now legislators in Texas have passed a bill that will allow most people to carry concealed handguns without a permit. Before this, it has been necessary for anyone with such a weapon to have a licence, training and be subject to background checks. The Texas Senate has voted to drop restrictions. Expect more mass shootings, ‘drive-bys’ and deaths. It must be what the legislators want. And, as if on cue, in the very same week, someone carried out yet another mass shooting in San Jose, California: nine people died. Last weekend (11-13 June) alone violence in Texas, Georgia and Illinois brought the rise in mass shootings throughout the country this year to nearly 300, or almost one every 12 hours.

A week or so later a federal judge overturned the ban on AR-15 assault weapons in California; it has been in place since 1989. Such rifles are often used in mass shootings. US District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego fell for the growing fetish for ‘personal freedoms’ and felt that the right to slaughter is more important than any kind of restriction which might preserve life. One wonders whether the freedom-lovers who approve of and bring this kind of legislation about also assert that their ‘freedoms’ are being infringed because they have to drive on the right-hand side of the roads have to pay for groceries or can’t choose the day they want their rubbish collected.

Sometimes it seems as though the hatred and callousness of some lawmakers are unlimited: The Republican Governor in (again) Texas, Greg Abbott, is taking steps to revoke licences for state child care facilities that shelter unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the United States – after that country has persistently and consistently wrecked their countries, it is to be remembered. If Abbott succeeds, children and teenagers will have to stay in immigration jails that are run by the Federal Customs and Border Protection agency and at temporary unlicensed sites, which are notoriously overcrowded and not equipped to care for them. San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro tweeted, “This is a cruel political tantrum at the expense of children.”

Oppression

Extracting information from political prisoners and using it against them is now officially legal in the United States. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (a Saudi national who has been accused of complicity in the attack against the U.S.S. Cole off the Yemeni coast in 2000) has been tortured for four years at multiple secret sites across the world. He is now imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay where he faces the death penalty if found guilty. A judge ruled in early June that information obtained under torture can be used in the case against him.

In early June, the FBI demanded that the newspaper ‘USA Today’ provide it with information (the IP addresses and phone numbers) about everyone who had read an online article published in February about the killing of two FBI agents. The FBI issued a subpoena that ‘USA Today’s owner, Gannett, comply ostensibly in order to assist the agency with its investigations.

Florida is leading the way in repressive, harmful and hurtful laws and measures to push its pro-Trump offensive. In addition to aggressive measures to suppress the black vote, at the beginning of June Florida became the largest state to impose a ban on transgender women and girls in school sports. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill on the first day of Pride Month. Florida now joins at least six other states – all with Republican governors. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) points out more anti-trans bills have passed this year than in the previous 10 years combined.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Arkansas chapter filed a law suit late last month challenging moves in that state (Republican lawmakers are acting in similar fashion nationwide) to deprive transgender young people of healthcare – merely because of their gender identity. James Esseks, director of the group’s LGBT & HIV Project, said that the law would cause ‘Catastrophic Harm’ if it goes into effect on 28 July.

The position of the Republican Party with respect to Trump, the pandemic, the election and the Putsch on 6 January this year is becoming clearer by the week. For the majority of spokespeople and lawmakers in the GOP Trump is still the legitimate and legal leader – and a damned good one at that. The pandemic has been exaggerated and was largely ‘designed’ to unseat Trump last November by ruining the economy which he skilfully steered towards unprecedented strength. He did win the election and anyone who says otherwise is to be expelled from positions of power. And – perhaps best of all – when Trump incited his mob to march to the US Capitol and (implicitly) urged them to kill his vice-president that was… wait for it… to quote Representative Andrew Clyde (Georgia) a group of tourists. Clyde said “…there was no insurrection… the House floor was not breached… If you didn’t know the TV footage was from Jan. 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit”.

The Republican Party in Georgia has given us – amongst other horrors – Marjorie Taylor-Greene. She recently compared being asked to wear masks to the Holocaust. It’s hard to think that her offensive muck did not inspire the owners of a hat shop in Nashville, Tennessee. They – in good denier spirit – sold badges proudly affirming their wearers’ love of freedom with the words, ‘Not Vaccinated’. That was bad enough. But the badges resembled the yellow Star of David that Jewish people were forced to wear by the Nazis in 1930s and 1940s Germany.

And Brian Kemp, a Trump addict and denier of many truths, wasn’t far behind. Taking effect a couple of weeks ago on 31 May an executive order to further degrade the health of young people in his state was signed by that state’s governor. It is now illegal for schools to require pupils to wear masks.

The same order from Kemp also eliminates rules for restaurants, bars, conventions, child care facilities, live performance venues, and other organisations. Previous executive orders eliminated regulations for camps and sporting events. So the one measure, other than vaccination, which has been proven to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus is being prohibited overtly to indicate allegiance to the Trump cult. It’s understandable, though, when you have prominent Republicans doing this kind of thing.

As usual, this has nothing to do with (public) health and everything to strengthen tribal identity amongst the addicts.

The majority of Republicans who scuppered an attempt to look into what happened when the Capitol was attacked by Trump addicts (10% of whom – according to some sources – had ties to the US ‘military’) did so in order to polish their Trump badges and make sure they shone for when he returns, presumably in the mid-term elections in a year’s time. Although he is convinced that he’ll be re-instated this August.

Much of what motivates the ill-informed must come from ‘outliers’ like one Sherri Tenpenny from Ohio. She stated this last week in a hearing in the Ohio House of Representatives: “The COVID-19 vaccines make people magnetized. They can put a key on their forehead, it sticks. They can put spoons and forks all over them, and they can stick.”. Tenpenny is a doctor.

As the number of cases and deaths from Covid-19 predictably began to grow again at the end of May and into the beginning of June, there was an increase in the number of states whose authorities felt it necessary to offer material prizes to the reluctant deniers who seemed to lack enough common sense to save their own lives – and the lives of others. That’s right, many states are now having to bribe those who live there to take the one step which was so longed for ever since the height of the pandemic over a year ago. The vaccinations, of course, don’t offer immunity. They lessen the potential severity experienced by anyone catching the virus.

In typically American fashion, at least one state – West Virginia – is offering weapons as prizes. West Virginia governor Jim Justice announced a fortnight ago that a rifle and shotgun giveaway will be part of the state’s new COVID-19 ‘vaccine incentive’ program.

Rumours that other Republic states have decided to offer residents bows and arrows if they pledge not to put steel eating utensils in mains electricity sockets, and are contemplating giving away parachutes to those who have refused to hire them for sky-diving sessions over Charleston airport are believed to be… exaggerated.

Louis Further


Photo: Peg Hunter, published under CC BY-NC 2.0.