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.
 
Pandemic

Sometimes a little event, statement or slice of activity throws just the right amount of light onto a country’s affairs, it captures its mood particularly well. This last weekend (9 – 11 July) in Texas the annual conference took place of the American Conservative Union. It’s called CPAC. (Rumours that none of those in attendance had ever managed to figure out what ‘conservatives’ want to conserve seem likely to be confirmed again this year; and the prize of a shelf of AR-15 rifles and golden playpens will go unclaimed for another year.)

There was a burst of a few minutes of especially troubling nonsense from the speakers on the last day of the event. This and the audience’s response typified where the United States stands in the Summer of 2021. One Alex Berenson was actually lauding the failure of the Biden administration to achieve its target of getting 70% of the population vaccinated by the Fourth of July (although Berenson mistakenly said the target was 90% – but facts no longer matter to these clowns).

The addicts in the audience broke into applause and cheered. To be clear: this group of ill-informed fools concerned only about themselves and their power and wealth commands a national stage attracting international press coverage. Whoops, shrieks, applause and cheers actively celebrated the failure of a measure to save lives in the gravest public health crisis for a century. The result of the refusal – predominantly by little Trump addicts – to protect themselves and others with whom they come into contact will be more illness, more spluttering deaths, yet more grieving by loved ones. But for those at CPAC 2021 that is a very good thing. Freedom to ‘protect their bodies’ has prevailed.

The day after the Fourth of July weekend, when (see below) record numbers of Americans shot one another, 30-year-old Victor Lee Tucker of Palmetto, Georgia, entered a supermarket near Candler Road in DeKalb County in that state. He was asked to wear a face mask. He refused. So he shot dead 41-year-old Laquitta Willis, the cashier. This came at about the same time as the FBI issued a report warning of the possibility that the Qanon conspiracists (one of whose illusions is that the pandemic is a hoax) are likely to become more violent in pursuing their fantasy that Trump was deprived of election victory last year – in part because the severity of the pandemic was exaggerated by specialist experts like Dr Anthony Fauci. Fauci has been living with armed bodyguards for many months now. Fox and OAN have a concerted campaign to destroy him because he advanced scientific analyses of Covid-19 over what the deniers wish to hear. The day after this shooting in Georgia, US public health officials reported that the count of deaths nationally had topped 600,000… the highest per capita in the world. As this month’s ‘Notes from the US’ is published that figure has risen by almost 10,000.

In some states, baby political tribalism has tightened its grip beyond what we would have thought possible when the pandemic began. The fascist and far-right media are elevating their false ‘analysis’ of the pandemic as a hoax; many millions consume this and presumably believe it. Many politicians act on it: the Republican governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, for instance, issued an executive order in mid-June barring public universities and community colleges from requiring students to show proof of vaccination to attend class.

Environment

All the western states have been experiencing record and near-record temperatures for a month or so. Hundreds have died from the heat, whole towns have burned and it has been estimated that a billion shellfish have been literally boiled or roasted to death by the exceptional heat in the southwest corner of Canada.

New data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are at their highest for over 4 million years; measured CO2 levels were averaging 419 parts per million in May, which is roughly 50% higher than pre-industrial levels. Tucker Carlson, in some ways the most powerful and influential person in the United States (his show on Fox ‘News’ reaches a greater number of viewers than any other primetime hour on cable TV) continues to book guests who distort or lie about the reality of human-induced climate change. Most of them still assert that it is a ‘liberal’ plot to take away the wealth of the élite.

Last month’s ‘Notes from the US’ reported on the destructive Line 3 pipeline being built by ecocide company  Enbridge… protests are continuing; indeed they are being stepped up. In mid-June a group of indigenous women who also oppose Line 3 invited Interior Secretary (the equivalent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK) Deb Haaland to see the damage already being caused by the project.

The protesters summarised the scale of the destruction in a letter to Haaland: ‘The Line 3 pipeline project poses a significant threat to water, Indigenous Treaty rights, and worsens the global climate crisis. Line 3 is being constructed in Minnesota on Indigenous lands without consent from local tribes and public officials, and without a federal environmental review’, it says.

Enbridge’s new pipeline route runs across territories in which the Anishinaabe people have land rights (to gather medicines, and harvest wild rice, for example) enshrined in Treaties dating from 1854 and 1855. Construction – or worse, an oil spill – would permanently damage people’s ability to stay alive. Yet towards the end of June, the Biden administration filed a legal brief backing the government’s approval of the project in 2020 under Donald Trump.

A group of young climate activists from the Sunrise Movement ended their 400-mile march from New Orleans to Houston on Midsummer’s Day (21 June). One of the places chosen for a protest on their arrival was the home of local climate denier and all-round destroyer, liar and oppressor, Senator Ted Cruz. Eight demonstrators with the movement’s ‘Generation on Fire’ campaign were arrested on the Texas Republican’s lawn.

In a move that is likely to face opposition from the Republicans – because they think that doing anything to protect the environment is a cunning move by ‘liberals’ to curb their greed and selfishness – Democratic members of Congress introduced legislation at the end of June which would require Joe Biden to declare the wildlife extinction crisis a ‘national emergency’. This move would allow the president to use specific executive powers to stem the destruction of habitats and protect species imperilled by human activity.

Two representatives from Illinois, Marie Newman (who remarked, “Day by day, the number of animals in the U.S. facing extinction grows, creating a national emergency that needs to be addressed”) and Jesús ‘Chuy’ García are supported by nine other legislators from the lower house in bringing forward the Extinction Crisis Emergency Act. It would ‘require all federal agencies to prioritise building back health wildlife populations, protect critical habitat, and integrate climate change concerns into the recovery of endangered species.’

Oppression

A new report by Public Citizen finds that over 50 major US corporations paid no federal taxes at all in 2020, and have together spent US$450 (£324) million on political lobbying and campaigns since the 2016 election cycle. Even more telling, those same companies actually received tax rebates: US$3.5 billion, or nearly £7 million collectively each day throughout the period.

Prison officials in Arizona revived a decades-old gas chamber last month for inmates whom they are preparing to murder. In it, they are planning to use hydrogen cyanide, which is the same deadly gas as was used by the Nazis at Auschwitz and other extermination camps in the 1940s.

The huge cohort of Trump addicts seems to be thinking along similarly deadly lines – even aside from their refusal to be vaccinated. At a rally for QAnon conspiracy theorists and Trump addicts early last month ex-President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, called for a military coup d’état to overthrow the US government similar to the coup in February in Burma that killed hundreds of people.

Although tolerance and understanding of others and others’ points of view, values, origins and cultures has never been a strong point of many in the United States, viciousness, violence and worse have certainly increased in the last five years as Donald Trump’s own intolerance, narcissism, greed and destructiveness have struck such a chord that ‘Me First’ approaches have gained widespread mainstream acceptability. In the weekend before last months’ ‘Notes from the US’ appeared, several incidents typified that.

On 3rd June Winston Smith, a 32-year-old black father of three was shot dead by members of a US Marshals Fugitive Task Force in Minneapolis. That was bad enough. But over the weekend of 12, 13 June a crowd of peaceful protesters held a vigil for Smith. One Nicholas Kraus must have felt that such a vigil was wrong, perhaps that black people don’t deserve to live; and/or that – even if they do – reacting to their murders at the hands of the police is illegitimate. So Kraus deliberately drove his car into the gathering, killing Deona Marie Erickson, a mother of two small daughters, and injuring three others. This was at the same time as Lara Trump went on Fox ‘News’ to urge residents of Texas to buy guns in order to keep out the (non-white) guest workers fleeing (economic and social) oppression in their Central American countries, which is caused largely by US economic policies over the past century.

The United States Supreme Court has made several decisions in recent weeks which can be described as progressive; or, at best, it has not ruled negatively as many times as Trump and the Republicans hoped it would when they slammed through ‘conservative’ appointments during the last administration.

Significantly, the Court rejected the third and most recent major effort to abolish the mildly helpful healthcare measure, ‘ObamaCare’ (the Affordable Care Act); it extended protection of free speech for students; and the Court ruled that a group of Muslim men could use a federal religious freedom law to seek monetary damages from federal agents who allegedly placed them on the no-fly list as retaliation because they refused to act as informants against members of their religious communities.

One possible explanation for this is that the right/conservative judges on the Court are actually less in agreement with one another than the Republicans who so contentiously put them there hoped; and that they are unable (or unwilling) to work together.

This was not the case towards the end of last month, though, when the Court ruled six to three that a labour law in California violated the constitutional rights of property owners by giving union organisers access to workers on privately owned farms during their work breaks. Perhaps of greater consequence, the ruling sets a precedent (and US law is based on precedent as it is in the UK) by striking down a central provision of another labour law dating from 1975 – the first in the US to recognise agricultural workers’ rights to collective bargaining. In a statement, the United Farm Workers said, “The Supreme Court ruling makes a racist and broken farm labor system even more unequal for farmworkers…  This decision denies workers the right to use breaks to freely discuss whether they want to have a union.”

Nor did the Supreme Court’s ruling on 1 July help: it is alarming that it is now legal to make massive contributions to political parties and their election funds anonymously. The Supreme Court upheld a challenge to a donor disclosure requirement in California by far-right billionaire Charles Koch. This means that the rich can now hide behind anonymity and ‘freedom’ to privacy under the first amendment in order more easily to sway the outcome of elections by significantly increasing parties’ powers to flood the media with disinformation and lies in the interests of big business and repressive (aspiring) legislators.

Then, throughout the CPAC conference (see above) cards were circulating which carried a ‘…seven point plan to restore Donald J. Trump in days, not years…’ They’ve now fixed a date for this (seriously): in the week in which the next Notes from the US will be published, on 13 August. Again, all of this must be taken – as well as with more than the proverbial pinch of salt – with the usual rider that, as anarchists, we hold out no hope for elections other than that they might sometimes prevent really bad things from happening. Whatever the cultists have up their sleeves for August, severe and systematic voter suppression – if not resisted – could well result in a return of an openly Fascist party to power in 2022, which would be sure to do nothing about – indeed is sure to undermine efforts to ameliorate – the climate catastrophe and the increasingly dangerous pandemic.

Freedom has reported before on the nasty deeds of Florida governor Ron DeSantis and his gang. He’s at it again: last month, Florida House Bill 233 was signed into law. Nearly 40 public colleges and universities in Florida are now required to conduct yearly surveys of their students’ and lecturers’ (political) beliefs. Under the law, students will be allowed to make recordings of staff without their consent. Ostensibly to ensure that all views have equal purchase during the education of those attending higher education in the right-wing state, it’s obvious that the real purpose of HB 233 is to identify those who do not fall in line with Republican ideology; this includes – according to a recent poll – a belief held by 70% of Republicans that Trump did not lose the presidential election in November and that Biden’s presidency is illegitimate and to be resisted.

One of the things which the inevitably imperfect governor of California Gavin Newsom has done during his term of office is to take measures that have been amongst the most effective in the entire United States to keep those residents who would listen in California safe during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. He imposed an early lockdown which undoubtedly saved many thousands of lives; he adhered to the science and allowed virology and epidemiology to inform the state’s official guidelines and mandates thereby lessening the spread, severity and number of deaths in the US’s most populous state and in the world’s seventh-largest economy. Informed people are grateful for this.

The ignoramus and selfish right, on the other hand, see his actions as clipping their wings, as infringing their freedoms. For them, the health and survival of other people is not a concern. So on 14 September this year, Newson faces a ‘recall’ election to remove him from office. His chances do not look good. There is also a precedent for this: in 2003 Gray Davis faced the same recall; and was replaced by a tenth-rate macho climate change denying ‘actor’. Rumours that Newsom’s successor is likely to be a mauve hedgehog have not been confirmed – or denied – by the recall effort’s backers.

The right and ‘freedom’ mob constantly assert their right to carry guns. In the weekend (2, 3 4 July) before and over Independence day (Sunday 4th July) these proud gun owners slaughtered one another – and innocent bystanders – at the rate of one almost every half hour around the clock. That’s right: they celebrated making America great again by carrying out over 400 shootings resulting in the death of nearly 250 people.

Racism

The Republican élite continues to find ‘bogeypeople’ to blame for all the world’s ills. At the moment, massive ‘invasions’ by people from the south are near the top of the list. After all, they’re poor; they’re (mostly) “Drug dealers, criminals, rapists”, as Trump said on launching his presidential campaign; and – worst of all – their skins are darker than the skins of true American patriots. Anything to keep them out.

The fascist media outlet One American News even has an animated ‘ticker’-type display which it uses as a backdrop to some of its racist coverage of the ‘threat’ posed by ‘illegals’.

So it should come as no surprise that Republican South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is to deploy 50 members of the South Dakota National Guard to patrol the border between the United States and Mexico (at the request of Texas Governor Greg Abbott). Noem, by the way, criticised (Republican) governors at CPAC for being pro-active with measures to protect its residents from Covid; in effect, that is, for saving more lives than she would have liked.

The northernmost point of that border (San Diego) is over 2,000 kilometres from the southernmost point of South Dakota. The deployment to keep the ‘illegals’ who are swamping true white American culture out is being paid for by a billionaire donor to the Republican party: Willis Johnson, who lives in Tennessee.

Over the July 4 weekend, a group of about 200 white supremacists openly marched through Philadelphia chanting – in addition to the lie that the election was stolen – ‘Reclaim America’. In other words, members of fascist groups are now allowed to pursue their ‘platforms’ ignored and unchallenged – and at times encouraged – by the Republican Party under the leadership and with overt support from Donald Trump.

Not long afterwards an Ohio police chief resigned after he was caught on camera putting a Ku Klux Klan sign on a black officer’s desk in his department.

If you have ‘policies’ based largely on hate and ignorance, you have to have bogeys. For the ‘conservative’ right in the US this summer, it’s CRT (‘Critical Race Theory’). The fascist agitators are whipping up indignation at the quite legitimate and long-standing narrative which explores and explains ways in which systematic bias, privilege and racial oppression are built into the fabric of (public) life in the United States… and are not some sort of occasional aberration accidentally surfacing now and again, as if unconsciously, unexpectedly and (so) of little or no consequence. The academic basis for CRT is 40 years old.

OAN and Fox are leading the charge to foment objections to what most thoughtful people will find little to object to – except, perhaps, that CRT is too tolerant of the real origins and effects of racism. Outraged parents are now being booked repeatedly for the primetime shows to decry the notion that everything is not as it should be where racism and oppression based on race is concerned. The move to ban – particularly – honest teaching of history in schools and colleges is rapidly gaining ground. The Civil War, they insist, must be taught without reference to slavery!

Last week the State Board of Education in Florida voted unanimously to ban the teaching of CRT in Florida’s schools. Another example, presumably, of allowing the state’s residents to exercise their freedoms – along with the right to infect everyone else with Covid-19 by refusing to wear masks and be vaccinated. And an excellent way to equip young people in Florida to understand their world; and to extend tolerance and understanding to the nearly 20% non-whites who make up its population.

 
Louis Further
 

Image: CPAC (Feb 2021), by IK, public domain.