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.

As participants in COP26 gather in a couple of weeks, one would have hoped (though hardly expected) that representatives from one of the world’s leading climate destroyers, the United States, were focused on ways to cut emissions, to preserve our natural environment, to protect species; indeed hoped that they were taking every possible step to reverse the trends which are leading to the extinction of life on the Earth.

Such hope is misplaced of course: legislators, public officials and representatives from both political parties are instead squabbling about repatriating potential guest-workers at the US’s southern border who have fled countries wracked by natural disasters and by US imperialism and capitalism. They are spreading (and having to refute) absurd lies about who won the last presidential election; attempting to evade the legal consequences of their failed Putsch directed by the recently-impeached last president. They’re footling about competing for coverage in the media for the latest vapid and inconsequential celebrity and talentless media star.

They’re particularly intent on finding the best ways to do one another down to gain the greatest financial advantage from government spending. Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is one of the two Democrats who are obstructing Biden’s economic agenda. She wants to cut at least US$100 (£75) billion from funding for the climate in the bills at the centre of that effort. The other is Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He has acted all along in the interests of the fossil fuel industry which funds him and which he in turn supports. Manchin started two coal companies in the 1980s. They are now run by his son; so his family’s fortune stands or falls with the fossil fuel industry.

No. Our planet’s survival barely gets a look in.

Republicans

Recent ‘Notes from the US’ have described the extent to which the Republican party has moved further and further to the right since the advent of Donald Trump. This trend continues and is in fact accelerating. Next month’s ‘Notes from the US’ will look in greater detail at the fascist tendencies that are becoming more and more evident in the United States, and examine the use of such a label.

Meanwhile, one example of who – according to the centre of gravity in Republican opinion – belongs to the new Republican camp, and who does not, stands in for many others. On the twentieth anniversary of September 11th 2001 former president George W Bush was by criticised by Donald Trump and the fascist propaganda outlets for the former’s mild rebukes of the insurrectionists.

That’s right, the man who started two wars (on Afghanistan and Iraq), who is responsible for perhaps as many as one million deaths there, who withdrew from the Kyoto climate agreement, who perverted the voting system with Citizens United, who played a major part in causing a world recession; who was guilty of the sort of death and destruction of which Republicans usually approve has begun to be called a RINO (Republican In Name Only) – because he isn’t trumpy enough and too far to the left.

Those who criticise the insurrectionists are themselves criticised. Trump honours only the rioter, Ashli Babbitt, who died on 6 January, and none of those who lost their lives defending lawmakers.

Threats and actual acts of violence inspired by Republican ‘thinking’ and lies are becoming more common: a couple of weeks ago in the early hours of 29 September the Democratic party headquarters in Travis County (Austin is the biggest city there) was unsuccessfully attacked by an opponent with Molotov cocktails. A note threatening further politically-motivated violence was left. This is the most recent in a string of events that began with an illegal attack by Trump supporters on a campaign bus in Texas just days before the election in November 2020. More chilling, though, is that the perpetrators of these (perhaps ‘unofficial’) attacks are openly supported – even praised – by senior Republican officials like Florida senator, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump himself.

It’s not only obvious (party) political rivals who are being targeted. Growing numbers of threats, attacks and examples of harassment by the extra-parliamentary far right are now being reported on school boards, election officials and health workers. On anyone, in fact, with whom members of the Trump cult disagree. FBI spokespeople are now quoted as saying that the Bureau is unlikely to be able to cope with the quantity if present trends continue.

Response

There are some small signs that Biden’s apparatus will resist the idiocy. That many people have had enough: voters overwhelmingly rejected the trumpy attempt to replace the governor of California with a fascist radio host, who is black and yet who wanted to pay reparations to former slave owners as well as to abolish all public health measures for Covid in the state. And some legislators who are abandoning the Republican party because of its pro-death stance on the pandemic, like Dr William Marsh in New Hampshire. 

Then the Biden administration’s Department of Education (DOE) will begin investigating whether the Texas Education Agency is in violation of federal law by barring mask mandates and preventing students with disabilities from safely returning to their schools. The DOE has launched similar investigations in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.

Disability rights concerns are also the focus of lawsuits by parents and civil rights groups around the country, including in Texas, where the mother of an eight-year-old girl with asthma, Julia Longoria from San Antonio, has joined other parents in a new federal lawsuit against the pro death Trump addict, Republican Governor Greg Abbott for his executive order which bans face mask mandates. One family has sued the education authority in Texas where their son’s school is located for failing to prevent him from catching the virus. They don’t want money; they want sane public health precautions to be applied for everyone else.

But the Biden administration announced last week that it plans to turn a private prison in Pennsylvania into a for-profit ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) gaol. It will be able to hold more than 1,800 people and run by the GEO Group, one of the United States’ largest private prison companies. Similarly, Biden’s actions on the environment have been largely negative.

Pandemic

In the week before the ‘Notes from the US’ was published in September, Joe Biden announced his latest set of steps to tackle the crisis, which has now taken more than 700,000 lives in the United States where nearly 14% of the population have been infected.

These steps were published as – according to data from the New York Times – 25% of hospital intensive care units across the United States are now over 95% full. In July that figure was only 20% (of all ICUs) and in June it was 10%. The numbers of daily deaths are each comparable with the entire death toll from the attacks on 9/11.

Deaths in the United States in the first nine months of 2021 alone (the year in which vaccines became available) surpassed the total number for the whole of 2020, when they were not. This is largely due to the unvaccinated asserting their ‘freedoms’.

Opposition to saving lives and to keeping people in the country safe and well is firmly on the increase.

To be clear, all states already mandate an array of vaccinations, public safety measures and enforce quite reasonable laws, codes and rules… not to drive when drunk, to drive on the right, to wear seat belts etc. There are mandates not to attack and kill people in other ways. And to pay for goods and services bought.

Yet those who resist, litigate against and generally decry the public health measures which were announced by Biden on 9 September – but were conceived and advised by an cohort of expert epidemiologists and virologists – are plainly saying that more deaths, more illness, more infections, a greater strain on the rickety health ‘service’ in the United States are preferable to a Democrat directing them to follow what in any other set of circumstances most sane people are used to doing worldwide. Indeed, like many countries, the United States has a tradition of protecting its citizens by requirements that they be vaccinated which began soon after the Revolutionary period in the 1770s.

But because the pandemic was originally denied by their cult leader, Donald Trump, and because he minimised the impact and severity of Covid-19 and still holds the vast majority of those who are unvaccinated (and seem set to remain so indefinitely) in thrall, their position is “my body, my choice” – and everyone else Get lost!

Instead of devoting time, money and energy in the public sphere to at least diminishing the effects of Covid-19 – many Republican governors are pushing falsehoods, lies, supremacist ideas and disinformation in order to advance an authoritarian agenda which will so clearly, at best, disadvantage the majority. The latest example: a couple of days ago, lunatic trump-cult governor, Greg Abbott, actually banned any employer in Texas from implementing any mandate to require life-saving Covid-19 vaccine mandates. Infections, overflowing hospitals and deaths are sure to follow.

At the same time, (prime-time hosts on) Fox ‘News’ and its acolytes like OANN and NewsMax have stepped up their anti-vaccination disinformation campaign. They claim that attempts to vaccinate as many people as possible are “…only the beginning…” of massive government control; that everyone will soon be forced to act, conduct themselves and speak a certain way due to the wicked Democrats’ communist tendencies. Supposedly medically qualified ‘experts’ shout at the audiences nightly about how natural immunity and antibodies are preferable to vaccines; how vaccines kill those who take them; how they have been found to contain the virus and rfd chips. And the rest…

We’ve seen the devilish work of Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, before in these pages. On the day on which last month’s ‘Notes from the US’ was published he actually held a ‘press conference’ in his state which was aimed to push the ‘protecting Florida’s freedoms’ nonsense. Speaker after speaker used the microphone to broadcast misinformation and lies… “…the vaccine changes your RNA…”, “…they’re taking away our freedom and liberty little by little, it’s-they’re using the vaccine for cover…” and so on.

DeSantis’ Florida has now begun fining counties and cities which mandate vaccines for government employees or businesses. This is in direct contravention of the Biden health plan referred to above. Each fine will be US$5,000 (£3,613).

Then there’s De Santis’ pick for Florida’s Surgeon General. That’s the state’s top public health official, chief medical doctor and most powerful provider of health education to the public, and advisor to state officials. One Dr Joseph Ladapo has been named by the pro-death Trump addict governor for that post. Ladapo was a professor of medicine. But one who is opposed to mask and vaccine mandates and who has attacked concern over the pandemic (which has killed nearly five million worldwide) as ‘Covid mania’ and who has compared eating fruit and vegetables to the benefits of vaccination. At the same time, De Santis announced a change in policy, which should not surprise: based on what he calls a a ‘symptom-based approach’, pupils in Florida who are exposed to Covid-19 will now be encouraged back into schools to infect their classmates and staff – provided they are apparently asymptomatic. Quarantining is being abandoned.

Events like this one become known about because they make the news. They may be the exception not the rule across the United States as a whole. But they should not be considered unrepresentative of the trumpy states where it’s plain that most hospitals are working at, or above, capacity. Nor should the comments of Alabama governor Kay Ivey be ignored. She and her party will “…fight against Biden’s measures…” (which she called nonsense) “… for businesses, our hardworking men and women, and our American liberties…”.

In Idaho one Dr. Ryan Cole has referred to Covid-19 vaccines as ‘needle rape’ and the ‘clot shot’. He has pushed ivermectin and falsely claimed there’s no efficacy in wearing masks. Was he struck off the register of competent doctors? No. Last month Cole was appointed to serve on Idaho’s influential Central District Health Board by a vote of twelve to seven. And is set to stay there until September 2026. By 22 September Idaho had joined a growing number of states forced to ration care (the euphemism is ‘crisis standards of care’) because of the pressure on hospitals caused by people who have refused to be vaccinated.

In other words, those in Idaho who go along with their Central District Health Board and refuse to submit to ‘needle rape’ so as to assert their ‘freedoms’ could well be responsible for the death of patients who now have to compete for care, resources, staff and facilities in hospitals to which they would want to be admitted. If non-Covid patients are deemed likely to die anyway by the algorithms introduced under the ‘crisis standards of care’ – again: because of the selfishness of those who have not taken the ‘clot shot’ – those vaccinated patients with other needs will be allowed to die.

Specifically, in the week when the death toll in the United States from the SARS-CoV-2/Covid-19 pandemic surpassed the number of deaths caused by the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic which lasted from February 1918 to April 1920, Natalie Wester and Jose Lopez-Guerrero met friends at a restaurant and bar in Rowlett, a small town about 20 miles northeast of Dallas. Because their young child has cystic fibrosis, not only had the couple rarely been out during the pandemic, but they also wanted to take every precaution – including wearing a face mask. After half an hour a waitress came to their table and explained that – for political reasons – they would have to REMOVE their masks. Texas, remember, is a trumpy state following the death cult. In March this year Governor Greg Abbott lifted the mask mandate in that state making it legal for businesses of any type to open at 100% capacity without precautions. And of course Texas has one of the highest death and infection rates in the United States.

Meanwhile the number of physical reprisals – threats and those actually carried out – on public officials acting to promote the preservation of life and good public health is increasing. For example, The National School Boards Association (a national body representing the elected members of school districts (the equivalent of LEAs in the UK) across the United States) has had to ask the White House and the Department of Education to help protect its members, staff and schools as the number of intimidatory attempts by the pro death mobs to defeat such policies has risen since schools re-opened this autumn.

Again, although rare, more and more cases are being reported like this one, where deniers, trumpers and those with far right sympathies are using physical violence – and even murder – to make their point. Children are being threatened and intimidated, and shop workers stabbed. Again, one would hope, these are uncommon incidents which attract public attention because they are unrepresentative of the majority of people’s daily lives. But they are increasing in number and those responsible are serious and determined… and are egged on by the fascist propaganda outlets and some public figures. Disinformation, lies, denial and quackery are not limited to the media, social media and Republican cultists now though: a new trend has emerged where pro-death spokespeople are touring the country to spread dangerous nonsense in the hope of gathering more followers.

Oppression

As guest-workers continue to make their way out of countries in Central America, the economies and quality of life of which the United States has played a large part in degrading, immigrant justice advocates continue to warn of a humanitarian crisis at the border with the US. More than 10,000 Haitian asylum seekers, for example, were recently forced to sleep in a temporary camp underneath a bridge in Del Rio, Texas. They arrived there only after trekking for thousands of miles along dangerous routes across South and Central America and Mexico. At the same time the Biden administration resumed deportation flights to Haiti while the country is barely even beginning to recover from the catastrophic earthquake there in August, which left thousands without water, food, shelter and medicine. Guerline Jozef, co-founder of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, said, “We are in utter disbelief … Hours after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake, President Joe Biden released a statement saying that the United States was a ‘friend’ of Haiti. A ‘friend’ does not continuously inflict pain on another friend.”

At around the same time, Biden also broke his promise when his Department of ‘Defense’ announced that the United States is to sell half a billion dollars’s (£364 million) worth of arms to human rights abusers, Saudi Arabia.

Texas is one of an alarming number of (southern) trumpy states leading the way to remove as many rights as possible… the ban on abortion there being the most egregious example so far. But the former Solicitor General in Texas, Jonathan Mitchell, who crafted that law isn’t finished yet. In mid September he filed a brief with the US Supreme Court in the hope that it will overturn the decisions from 2003, Lawrence v. Texas and from 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges. These tightened and extended gay rights.

It also seems likely that multiple contingent challenges will be mounted to Roe v. Wade, which established women’s rights to their own health, including abortion. Mitchell described Lawrence and Obergefell as being “as lawless as Roe” and “court-invented rights to homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage.” His response to criticism that ‘when’ (in his opinion and hope) the Supreme Court does make abortion in the US illegal, then women “worried about needing an abortion… can just stop having sex.” At about the same time as this action, state Representative Webster Barnaby filed House Bill 167 in Florida closely modelled on Abbott’s misogynistic abortion law in Texas. Other states are expected to follow.

Fox ‘News’ has no time for immigrants, of course. It used the behaviour of the Customs and Border Control operatives to continue the anti-immigrant practices of Biden’s predecessors as a stick to beat him with. But they didn’t stop there. They went much further. So much further, in fact, that you should look away now if you find the vile supremacist muck from the foul Tucker Carlson in any way disturbing. Carlson is estimated to get a nightly viewership of over three million. Echoing the KKK in speeches from the 1970s, cable television’s most influential and powerful spreader of lies and rubbish actually spent large portions of his prime time show in late September unambiguously accusing Biden of promoting the influx of a “rabid mob” of non-white refugees from Haiti as a ‘replacement’ (Yes, he used that very term) for what he called ‘legacy’ Americans (that is, whites), which would lead – as Ron Johnson, senator from Wisconsin, has also often said – to the wrong kind of America. Trump subsequently used his regular air time on Fox to stir up hatred against the Haitians for “carrying AIDS into our country”.

The Kaiser Family Foundation published a poll last month that makes disturbing reading. Well over half (55%) of those Republicans who were asked apparently think that immigrants and tourists are the cause of the current (state of the) pandemic in the US. While less than a third (32%) blame the refusal of so many to get vaccinated or barely a quarter (28%) attribute the highest death and infection rates (in proportion to the population of the United States) to the public’s failure to wear masks or maintain social distancing. More evidence that supremacism and scapegoating of immigrants is now very much mainstream on the right.

Environment

On 4 October California declared a state of emergency because of a massive oil spill off its southern coast. This was caused by a breach in a pipeline operated by Amplify Energy Corporation five miles from shore. Up to 150,000 gallons of crude poured into the Pacific Ocean – the equivalent of several thousand barrels. In the same week the Biden administration actually announced that it will proceed with its plan to open up 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to new drilling for fossil fuels (oil and gas). There is to be an auction this time next month for the rights to destroy more of the ecosystem and habitat on which all life on earth relies.

In mid September, a coalition of conservation groups sued the Biden administration for the US Department of the Interior’s (roughly the equivalent of the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs in the UK) recent rule which lets fossil fuel companies jeopardise polar bears and walruses while searching and drilling for oil and gas in the Southern Beaufort Sea.

A survey conducted by Friends of the Earth shows that a tiny amount of misinformation spread by climate catastrophe deniers and right wing interests is ever checked and flagged as such by those who publish and host it. During the devastating storms which did so much damage in February this year in Texas, for example, Facebook labelled fewer than 1% of posts suggesting that wind energy (rather than the state’s reliance on fossil fuels) was to blame for the power outages in the state as inaccurate, misleading or false. The report contains a mass of meticulously-researched and substantiated, though extremely depressing, data showing just how widespread and (hence) how detrimental to public understanding of the severity of the climate catastrophe mis- and disinformation was on the platform, and how – given Facebook’s failure to flag falsehoods – it is likely that those who do not supplement their understanding of the issue outside Facebook with reliable information will fail to realise how serious the crisis is.

 
~ Louis Further
 

Pic by Peg Hunter, published under CC BY-NC 2.0.