Freedom News

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.

Deniers, hoaxers, refusers, takers of aim. The new year began with hardening of stances by the élite, their ‘official’ groups and the racist, misogynist authoritarians whom they support. There is a mood of ‘doubling down’ and of the powerful – and those who would obtain, and cling to, power – at local and national level – determined to “take the country back”.

Fox ‘News’, for instance, announced that Jesse Watters, the host who advocated the assassination of Anthony Fauci, is to be rewarded with his own regular prime time (7 pm) weekday slot on the network.

Meanwhile the all but official Republican line – vigorously supported by Fox, OAN and the rest – is that the ‘Insurrection’ on 6 January last year was really led by BLM, Antifa and the FBI. That the election in November last year was stolen, and any Republican running for office this year (and in the future) had better swear to that. And that vaccines are medical tyranny for a pandemic which is essentially over – despite the fact that in the first week of January a quarter of all hospitals in the US asked reported that they were unable to function, and that number of new infections on a seven day average was three times as many as it was this time last year.

Oppression

Last month we mentioned North Dakota’s Republican governor, Doug Burgum, as he tried to ban something from being taught in his state’s schools which… was actually not being taught in his state’s schools. This time it’s the turn of South Dakota, where that state’s governor, Kristi Noem, and her daughter are involved in a scandal. Noem appears to have given her daughter an extra chance to correct work in an exam required for her to obtain her estate agent’s licence.

A few days before Christmas in Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s most populous city, teachers were asked to humiliate themselves in a spectacle where a carpet covered in dollar notes was laid out at an ice rink for them to scramble for – literally. Professional teachers crawled about trying to grab as much money as possible – to pay for classroom essentials. This at the same time as Congress was poised to pass a ‘defence’ budget of nearly $US778 (£590) billion.

A sure sign of authoritarian régimes is banning books of which the élite disapproves. This is different, of course, from discussing and advocating a guided response (which may, out of respect, include judicious removal) of books that promote racism, sexism and other views of the world which (deliberately or unconsciously) disadvantage or offend students in schools.

That is not what is happening in many states now. In Oklahoma, for instance, a bill was proposed at the end of last year by (Republican) state senator Rob Standridge to give parents the right to have books removed from schools which cover gender identity. This would, of course, insult, offend and maybe even endanger LGBTQ+ kids. Equally disturbing, is the enforcement model for the state’s Senate Bill 1142. It would only require one parent’s objection – and not necessarily a parent of a child attending the school in question – for the process of censorship and removal to be initiated. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is the bill’s ‘bounty hunter’ provision for the parent(s) to collect US$10,000 (£7,400) each day that the book remains in a school library after the first complaint.

Around the one year anniversary of the Putsch last year, on 6 January, the fascist media and fringes like this joined ‘press conferences’ like this to augment and intensify their revisionist narratives of the event and its true origins. As frightening as they were worthy of Goebbels, OAN and Fox devoted many hours to having guests push the idea that what happened on January 6 2021 was really a ‘peaceful prayer meeting’ infiltrated by Antifa and BLM and others “out to overthrow Christian America”. That it was conceived and conducted by the FBI itself; by Black Lives Matter, and Antifa: they changed their T-Shirts behind the bike-sheds on arrival so as to blend in with the true Trump supporters; then went full bore into the Capitol by the thousands.

Far more useful was the emergence of an apparently carefully-researched and compiled dataset which ought to prove an invaluable resource for some time to come.

As part of trumpy states’ efforts to continue – entirely without evidence – the unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from their cult leader, last year Republicans in the state of Arizona engaged a small firm with the unlikely name of Cyber Ninjas to try and make the case and so underpin nationwide efforts to subvert the results.

The outfit had no experience of data analysis, let alone of election audits; it appeared to be of the type operating out of a garage or one of the directors’ bedrooms. Arizona’s stunt nevertheless attracted much attention, endorsement and encouragement. Particularly from the fascist propaganda outlets… OAN even sponsored the ‘fraudit’; although it should be noted that OAN itself is only able to keep afloat because its operation is subsidised by telecom giant, AT&T.

Many on the right were (literally) counting on results from the efforts by Arizona Republicans and Cyber Ninjas. It was announced last week, however, that the latter is to cease ‘trading’. This move comes at the same time as a judge in Arizona’s Maricopa County held the company in contempt, ordering it to pay US$50,000 (£37,000) a day in sanctions because it had not provided records related to the so-called audit to the Arizona Republic.

Most Republican legislators have consistently voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. In this – it has emerged recently– they are being aided by over US$8 (£5.9) million in campaign donations from corporations and trade groups. Even after the January 6 Putsch.

Racism

Last month the US House of Representatives passed a bill which will attempt to combat Islamophobia; it will create a special office within the State Department and is seen by most as innocuous as well as necessary. Not a single Republican voted in favour.

As the Republican party tries to frighten people by calling anyone who holds progressive or compassionate views ‘communists’ (probably with little idea what the term really implies in political science), fellow actual Fascist, governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis introduced a bill last week to re-inforce racist movements within his state.

The rather un-adult name he chose is the ‘Stop W.O.K.E. Act’ because he and the racist right cannot (or will not) understand what being aware of others and caring about their wellbeing can possibly mean. Hence the attempted ‘w*ke’ insult. Unhappily, DeSantis had the gall to quote Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as he introduced the… wait for it, ‘Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act’. This would resist attempts to teach the history of racism, and ways to combat it in his state; so it will continue to advance the Supremacist cause.

Last week nine colleges throughout the United States, most of whose students are black, received bomb threats, resulting in their campuses being evacuated and/or put on lockdown; no bombs were found.

Pandemic

As expected, in the past six weeks the Omicron variant has spread at exponential rates throughout the United States.

Two horrifying statistics made history this last week: the highest number of infections (1.48 million – which is just under 20 each second around the clock) ever; the greatest number of hospitalisations (137,000 – nearly a hundred each minute).

This is against a background of denial, refusal to take the right steps at least to prevent the spread of the virus – and a barrage of deliberate disinformation (at best of minimisation) by lawmakers, on the fascist and far right media outlets and social media.

Republican lawmakers all across the United States have already passed – or are in the process of passing – laws which restrict the ability of health authorities to require masks, promote vaccination of residents and to follow other measures which would prevent illness and death.

Typical is Ohio. It’s one of almost two dozen states which now restrict or prevent public health officials and specialists from helping those who live there to stay as safe as possible. Franklin County’s health commissioner is Joe Mazzola. The powers of his health department  – to compel people to wear masks, for instance – were recently removed: “We’ve not been able to put in place the policy that would protect our community,” Mazzola said.

As reported several times in ‘Notes from the US’ recently, the governor of Florida Ron DeSantis has pushed hard to advance the death cult by removing (and/or attempting to remove) any and all sane public health measures to mitigate the devastating effects of Covid 19. Trumpers in that state were holding Florida up as en example of the success of a ‘me first’ policy, where the right to infect other people now takes pride of place. By the end of the year, the number of infections in Florida were up by nearly 950%. Children are suffering far more than in the numbers which their age group (5 to 11) represents as a proportion of the population as a whole.

Earlier this week, DeSantis’ state of the state address included the following: “Florida has become the escape hatch for those chafing under authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions.” In fact the state has reported 62,000 deaths (roughly a hundred each day since the pandemic began), with positivity cases and hospitalisations through the roof. By any metric such ‘policies’ as DeSantis is guilty of pushing are responsible for massive illness, suffering and death.

Early last month DeSantis suggested that his state may pay the fines of businesses that break the law by refusing to protect their workers and communities and implement the federal vaccine mandate. He’ll pay for it with Covid relief money signed into law by Biden.

After Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Twitter account was suspended because of her lies about Covid-19, she did the rounds of the fascist TV outlets, which all supported her to the hilt… “There’s no crisis”, “It’s medical fascism”, “Abolish Fauci” etc.

At the same time, attacks on vaccination stations increased.

Cause and effect?

Possibly.

Certainly the Californian man (Thomas Apollo) who was arrested last week for attacking a COVID vaccination clinic in a largely Republican area south of Los Angeles got his ideas from somewhere.

Apollo entered the mobile clinic run by the group, Families Together of Orange County, and started punching two workers. One of them was taken to hospital with serious injuries. Apollo accused workers there of being “murderers” who were “making people sick”… exactly what Taylor Greene posted on Twitter before her account was closed.

As largely Trump-supporting Republicans protest more and more vocally and publicly against what they see as ‘medical tyranny’, the far right and fascist propaganda outlets continue to excrete their disinformation hour after hour… “Masks do not good”, “No-one has a right to make me change how I behave”, “the fauci flu is a hoax” and so on.

So pervasively successful is all of this that – despite the fact that the winter of 2021/2022 is turning out to be more deadly and disease-ridden than that of 2020/2021 – recent polls like this one suggest that fully three quarters of unvaccinated Trump voters (in 2020) will “never” get even one dose. Barely a third of adults in the US are fully (two shots + one booster) vaccinated.

‘Notes from the US’ reported in August 2021 how Dr. Michelle Fiscus was sacked as the Medical Director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunisation programmes in Tennessee Department of Health for seeking to advance sensible public health measures in response to Covid-19. Last month she and her husband were forced from their home because of attacks ranging from taunts to death threats. The death cult in trumpy states is growing weekly.

According to many sources, the supply of Covid testing kits – available for a short time last year at (local) chemists – has now all but dried up. Whether or not Omicron is actually less severe in its effects (at least to the vaccinated) than it is transmissible is still in doubt. What is not in doubt, though, is the net effect: even were it to turn out that infections from the Omicron variant are 75% less severe than those of Delta, the strain on hospitals and healthcare is far more than four times as great.

As feared, the right-leaning Supreme Court last week moved to ban the public health measures (vaccine mandates for certain sectors and sizes of operation) introduced by Biden last year. With three quarters of all hospitals now reporting (or expecting soon to have to cope with) critical conditions in caring for the record number of Covid cases, this decision will mean much more suffering and death as the incentive to avoid infection is all but eliminated.

The ‘individual freedoms’ argument, of course, is a spurious one: in 1905 a decision by the Supreme Court established a legal precedent which has been upheld many times since. Where it is in the best interests of public health, compulsory vaccination does not offend individual rights.

It should also be remembered that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the United States’ equivalent of the Health and Safety Executive in the UK, has long had rules in place which oblige employers to watch for, monitor and take steps to mitigate – or, ideally, eradicate – hazards and dangers.

These have to include becoming ill and potentially dying from a deadly virus.

In overturning the Administration’s insistence that employers do their part in defeating Covid, the Supreme Court would appear to be deliberately working against this common sense principle.

However influential pronouncements by individual judges on the Supreme Court may or may not be to the wider public who hear them, it was certainly wrongheaded in the extreme for two of the Court’s more ‘conservative’ members, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, to remove their masks during the session and make the misleading comments which they did casting doubt on the efficacy – and even the safety – of Covid vaccines.

Two of the attorneys, by the way, who argued in favour of extending the death-by-policy moves which the decision represents had at least one thing in common: they both had Covid.

Louis Further

Image by Tyler Merbler, published uder CC BY 2.0.