The last ‘Notes from the US’ dealt with the latest developments in the pandemic in detail. As the number of case in the USA passes the total in all of Europe and many hospitals in the trumpy states run out of beds entirely – largely because of the refusal by the MAGA death cult addicts to give up their ‘freedoms’ and be vaccinated – you can be sure we’ll return to this in a fortnight.
If you want just one snippet relating to Afghanistan – other than being asked to remember the originators of the current inevitable disaster, Blair, Bush, Cheney, Rove and Rumsfeld in 2001 – you might like to look at a report that Erik Prince (owner of the Blackwater mercenary/terrorist outfit who advocated privatising the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq) has begun charging US$6,500 (£4,725) for a seat in his own private airlift from Kabul.
Thoughtful observers now see the Republican party as almost wholly in thrall to a neo-Fascist ‘ideology’ personified by the delusional yet dangerous, Donald Trump. Not a single Republican, for instance, voted in favour of the ‘John Lewis Voting Rights Act’ this week – a measure which seeks, essentially, to outmanoeuvre the multiple voter suppression legislation being enacted in many states to disenfranchise non-white and working class voters.
The main thrust of the party’s ‘policies’ are: denial that Trump lost the last election; denial that he incited a coup attempt on 6 January (it was a routine “tourist visit”, for instance); denial that the Covid-19 pandemic is still a huge threat to the well-being, health – indeed the survival – of millions of people in the US; and unapologetically racist. As for any kind of response to the climate catastrophe: “It’s a hoax; it just doesn’t exist”; or – to quote Larry Elder, the candidate who may well find himself in charge of the world’s sixth largest economy this time next month if the results of the vote to recall the governor in California go his way – “It’s a crock”
At the local, ‘grass roots’, level there are tens of millions of people addicted to the Trump cult; they too believe that he did win the election – and that he will be re-instated to the office of Presidency… ‘soon’. And, however much anarchists rightly look at party politics and elections askance, it should not be assumed that the sort of tensions created and worsened by such conspiracists with their ‘post truth’ stances in several high-stakes arenas are not without risk.
Ahead of the 2020 presidential election the US Post Office began to take measures at Trump’s direction to sway the voting in his favour by deliberately slowing down the passage through the postal system of such items as postal ballots. Mail-in votes were more likely to yield counts in Biden’s favour because Democrats acknowledge the perils of voting in person due to Covid-19 and so are less willing to vote in person during a pandemic.
Now, despite probably producing what critics say is a small financial return, extensions and finalisations of those ‘reforms’ have been announced. They will hit the elderly and low income families the hardest. They include a contract for a company, XPO Logistics, in which Postmaster General Louis DeJoy previously served as an executive and in which he continues to have financial ties worth US$120 (£87) million over the next five years.
It was firearms dealer Andrew Clyde, the Georgia Republican, who compared the scenes of the Putsch on 6 January that we all saw on live TV to a “tourist visit”. Clyde neither backed down nor revised what he said when questioned by the Select Committee investigating the event, whose sessions Clyde refused to watch.
A fervent Trump addict, Clyde has consistently refused to wear a mask in Congress. As a result he has racked up thousands of dollars in fines, which he also refuses to pay.
In the US it is possible to have one’s employers withhold money from one’s salary against eventual tax liability for the current year. This was originally designed to simplify and make more secure the processing of taxes due to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service, the equivalent of the HMRC in the UK). But Clyde has used this system and increased the amount of money withheld by his employers (the US Congress, or… taxpayers at large) to the maximum. He ends up receiving the minimum amount of actual salary allowed having the Congress’s Human Resources/Payroll retain all the rest. This makes it impossible for the House of Representatives to collect said fines because they can only currently do by docking his salary. If Clyde lives long enough, he’ll get all of that money back as tax refunds and the House will never collect the fines – imposed, it must be remembered – as a result of his selfishness in refusing to help save lives and prevent sickness.
The IPCC report which the UN Secretary General António Guterres called “… a code red for humanity” came and went earlier this month with scarcely any reaction from the media or lawmakers – except indications from the Republicans that they will oppose any and all efforts to act on the catastrophe.
States of ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought (the two most severe conditions) exist across 93% of the west of the United States; this is an all-time high. Indeed, over a dozen heat records were broken in July as a fast-moving wildfire burnt the town of Lytton, Canada practically to the ground one day after it recorded the nation’s all-time heat record.
In last and this month’s extreme heat condition in the northwest of the United States and (south) west of Canada it has been estimated (by Chris Harley, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia) that more than one billion seashore animals lost their lives as a result.
A little further south the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon began on 6 July in the Fremont-Winema National Forest and on private lands near the town of Sprague River. According to one of the most consulted and reliable sources for information about such incidents, InciWeb, it’s been burning at the rate of 1,000 acres each hour, around the clock. That is to say that an area greater than the size of Bedford is destroyed every week. In the first ten days the amount of land the Bootleg fire covered was equivalent to that of the whole of Oxfordshire. What meteorologists are calling giant ‘fire clouds’ are now aflame above the burning areas; these are dangerous columns of smoke and ash which can grow up to six miles in height and are visible from more than 100 miles away.
The Center for American Progress analyses the make-up, beliefs and actions of national elected representatives. It points out that in the current Congress there are still 139 elected officials (109 in the House of Representatives, or one quarter; and 30 senators or just under one third) who deny the advent of the climate crisis and challenge the established scientific consensus on its causes.
Nor is it hard to see why. Steven Koonin was one of a very few guests invited onto Fox ‘news’ (which is estimated to regularly attract more viewers than any other cable news network) to comment on the climate catastrophe. He said, “Climate change is a farce created by the media and the politicians it benefits… It’s a fiction of the media… and the politicians who like to promote that notion.”
Joe Biden promised to prioritise progressive environmental measures. So far, he’s actually issued well over 2,000 Earth-destroying permits to allow drilling for fossil fuels on public and tribal lands… a rate faster than either Trump and Obama did.
Similarly, Democrat senator Joe Manchin (he who is effectively supporting the Republicans in Congress by refusing to vote against the filibuster which prevents many progressive legislative measures from being enacted) has introduced an Energy Infrastructure Act which would subsidise dirty (fossil fuel) energy to the tune of US$95 (£69) billion. Friends of the Earth called the bill, which plans to spend 70 times as much on ecocidal energy as on renewables, a “Kick in the gut”.
This month the Biden administration did reverse former president Trump’s decision – on which Freedom reported – not to ban the toxic chemical chlorpyrifos, allowing it to be sprayed on food crops causing harm particularly to children.
Florida’s murderous governor Ron DeSantis this month slashed state benefits for those without work, plunging many more families into further economic difficulties on top of the health crisis which he is making worse by refusing to promote or allow proven measures to protect residents in his state from Covid-19.
Qanon still has influence as well: Matthew Taylor Coleman is a 40-year-old surfing school instructor from Santa Barbara in California. In mid August he admitted killing his two young children (a two-year-old son and 10-month-old daughter) because Qanon had told him that they were “going to grow into monsters so he had to kill them”.
Chief liar and Fox ‘News’ prime time propagandist Tucker Carlson delivered his entire show for a whole week from Hungary recently, touting its regime as an ideal model for the United States… tough on immigrants, serious about ‘private enterprise’ and anti-progressive socially. Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson was one of the first to fall in line and remark, “…there are so many positive things about what they’re doing in that country…”
ProPublica managed to get hold of a significant amount of data from the Internal Revenue Service which shows how little US billionaires pay in income tax compared with their wealth – usually single digit percentages; often nothing. Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Michael Bloomberg, for instance, all typically pay less than 3.5% as their collective wealth grew by tens of billions of dollars.
Set aside for a moment your objections to the ‘routine’ abuse of animals in the ‘service’ of the police. Riverside County in California has one of the largest and highest profile training camps for police dogs. More than 300 police forces use its K-9 facilities. But it’s the facility’s name that attracts attention: Adlerhorst. Adlerhorst (‘Eagle’s Nest’) was the bunker complex built in the 1940s to house Hitler and act as his secret command post during the last winter of World War II. It was eventually bombed by Allied forces but will always be associated with protecting the fascist leader. David Reaver is the California site’s owner. He refuses to change the name despite numerous court cases against him for his cruelty to dogs and for the offence given by implicitly glorying Nazism.
Last year in March the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) made the use of electric stimulation devices (ESDs) on children illegal. The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Massachusetts has so far been the only institution in the US to use them – on children on the Asperger’s-autism spectrum. In the middle of last month, however, a federal appeals court overturned the FDA’s ban. This means that – barring further appeals in higher courts – the JRC can resume electric shock treatment on the 55 (of 300) people for whom use is now authorised again.
Freedom reported regularly on the far right billionaire Koch brothers during the Bush era. Although David died, Charles is still at it. A new report by two pressure groups – ‘UnKoch My Campus’ and ‘Save Our Schools Arizona’ details the aims and tactics of the Koch network essentially to abolish non-profit schools after first destabilising them and deliberately throwing them into crisis.
The procedure is simple: members of the network pay US100,000 (£72,000) or more a year to undermine pupils’ opportunities to learn by seeding its members onto school boards (governors in the UK), distributing ‘sub standard’ textbooks, waging ‘culture wars’ against progressive and otherwise accurate curricula, spreading disinformation about the climate crisis, and promoting charter schools – high-fee exclusive élite, the equivalent of ‘academies’ in the UK.
Arizona now has one of the lowest spending per pupil in the United States; one of the lowest averages for teacher pay, and some of the largest class sizes. But over 15% of all pupils are enrolled in charter schools in Arizona. Thanks to a move in July by Republican governor Doug Ducey, schools can now be fined up to US$5,000 (£3,600) and teachers lose their licences if they explore the ways in which ‘…students’ race, ethnicity, or sex determines their character…’
Arizona, of course, is the first – and most vocal – state to push the Big Lie (that Trump won the last election) by holding a sham ‘audit’ of ballots, overseen by a company with no experience in the field and whose CEO has publicly made conspiratorial and false comments in support of the delusion. On the day (23 August) when the ‘results’ of the ‘fraudit’ were to be published a delay was announced because several of those involved were ‘very sick’ with Covid! There was no let-up, though, in the many threats sent to the official/original vote-counters in Arizona – to “slaughter your families”, for example, if they and elected officials in Arizona did not support the attempt to overturn the election results in the state.
DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a law created in 2012 to extend a temporary reprieve to undocumented guest workers who arrived in the United States as children. Often describe as ‘Dreamers’, some are obviously now adults. DACA has an element of tolerance and humanity in that it shields certain members of these families from deportation. The right, fascist groups and Republicans have long wanted to advance their racist and xenophobic agenda by attacking DACA.
Their cause was given a significant boost last month when federal judge Andrew Hanen in Texas declared DACA illegal and stipulated that no new applicants can be accepted. Although not immediately applying to the hundreds of thousands of current permit holders, this racist ruling puts them back into the horrifying legal limbo which oppressed them until DACA was enacted.
Meanwhile the US Supreme Court made yet another ruling that potentially forces the Biden administration to follow – within just seven days from Tuesday, 24 August – Trump’s racist ‘Remain In Mexico’ plan whereby those seeking asylum in the US must await processing and admission to the US in Mexico instead of availing themselves of the greater safety and (presumably) elevated likelihood of a smooth passage in their new host country.
Many public figures on the far right refuse to take the global pandemic and its deadly effects seriously. That is unless they can blame immigrants for the rise in Covid Delta cases. Examples include the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick and Texas senator Ted Cruz.