From our US correspondent:
Republicans throughout the United States have the wind behind them in their supremacist agendas nationally in Washington DC and in the states locally. In Missouri, for instance, the white Speaker (chairperson) of the state legislature silenced a black representative who was trying to draw attention to the ways in which Republicans have redrawn voting districts in neighbouring Mississippi. There majority white Republicans have approved a bill to set up a separate court system and an expanded police force for the city of Jackson, which is 80% African American. The fear is that – if passed – the legislation will put the state’s public safety commissioner, who is currently white, in charge of the police there; that local judges would be hand picked by Mississippi’s Supreme Court chief justice, who is white; and that prosecutors and public defenders would be selected by the state attorney general, who is white. The mayor of Jackson, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, said that the moves “…remind[ed her] of apartheid.”
Representative Marlene Terry commented on the silencing of her colleagues in Missouri; she said in frustration “There is a lot of racism going on here. It’s racist to not allow him to speak. We have to have permission to ask questions on the floor. There’s a list that has to go around. You know, we’re trying to work with them. And it’s not working out.”
‘Notes from the US’ reported last month on an openly fascist organisation in Ohio which actively supports and pushes neo-Nazi ideas as part of its homeschooling project. At that time, the Ohio Department of Education was ‘investigating’ Dissident Homeschool, which is based in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Many of those who knew about the group expected the state’s officials to act against a body that advocated adulation of Hitler and what the Department itself described as ‘hate-filled, divisive and hurtful instruction’ adding that there was ‘absolutely no place’ in Ohio’s schools for such an approach – including in its home-schooling community.
As February’s ‘Notes’ was being published, the fascists got a pass, though: both police and sheriffs in Upper Sandusky Police Department told inquirers that there were no current investigations into either the group or its leaders, Logan and Katja Lawrence. The Department of Education also explained – in effect – that they believe that promoting and perpetuating anti-semitism, hatred, and bigotry aiming to make ‘wonderful Nazis’ out of the children with whom they are working are “not… wrong.”
Towards the end of February the Lawrences’ spoke publicly about their ‘enterprise’. To the unapologetically fascist website associated with the far right and white supremacist National Justice Party they claimed that the adulation of Hitler was just a “fun… extra”; Katja Lawrence said, “I am deeply committed to giving my kids a positive, pro-White education.”
Earlier this winter both polar ice regions reached their lowest recorded levels. The European Climate Change Service published satellite images and weather station data drawing our attention to the scope and severity of the catastrophe in a time of exceptional winter warmth.
But that is not something which concerns the Republican-led US House of Representatives. During a ‘hearing‘ last month those lawmakers made it plain that they are actively considering legislation which will advance the destruction of the Earth by ‘Big Oil’ in what they’re calling a ‘major new initiative’. That ‘initiative’s name, though, misleads and deceives… ‘Unleashing American Energy, Lowering Energy Costs, and Strengthening Supply Chains’ is how two House subcommittees (Energy and Commerce) are hiding their destruction. The Republican-controlled committees are considering over a dozen bills that would rescind, weaken and dilute existing environmental regulations and – if passed – would increase and diversify the production of fossil fuels.
Marc Boom is director of federal affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In reaction to the ‘initiatives’ he pointed out that the “…vague and seemingly benign title disguises an oil, gas, and coal industry wish list of 17 bills to turn back the clock towards weaker environmental laws, more unbridled development of the fuels that drive climate change, and endangering communities across the country.”
During his State of the Union speech last month President Biden made it plain that he is not particularly concerned about the United States’ role in pushing the Earth towards inhabitability either. He deviated from his speech to contradict himself about relying on fossil fuels, saying “…We’re still going to need oil and gas for a while…”, at which Republican lawmakers – cocooned in a trough of ignorance and nationalist bigotry – applauded. Late last week western states experienced yet another instance of climate instability. No-one in government is paying attention, though as the any millions of people began yet another ‘mop up’ from a yet another sign of climate collapse (the so called ‘atmospheric river‘). Biden has also approved the disastrous Willow project which will release an estimated 250 million metric tons of Earth-destroying carbon emissions into the atmosphere over the next three decades – that’s nearly six metric tons a minute, around the clock.
The watchdog, Accountable.US, published a report earlier this month which examined how the two dozen or so largest oil companies in the United States made US$290 billion (about £450 million a minute) profit in 2022. Although this ‘free’ money could have been used to stop world hunger and pay off all medical debt in the US, it was used to destroy the Earth and further enrich the companies’ shareholders. The major wreckers, BP, Shell, and Chevron more than doubled their net income.
Nevertheless the US House of Representatives supports such action: last month its members approved a bipartisan resolution to ‘denounce the horrors of socialism.’ Every Republican voted in favour – effectively – of massive profits for the few and as much inequality as possible. They were joined by 109 Democrats
This time last month PEN America published a report detailing the sharp increase in acts of censorship in schools and colleges across the United States. The Republican Party at the state level is the main perpetrator. Nearly 90 educational gag orders were introduced in the first six weeks of 2023 – almost two a day. The main areas of suppression are, unsurprisingly, educational initiatives which stood a good chance of otherwise enhancing pupils’ understanding of sexuality and gender. Censorship now variously prohibits teaching about race, racism and its role in American history. Instead educators are being told to work with conspiracy theories, lies and ill-informed prejudices where matters of tolerance, acceptance and compassion for everyone in diverse and pluralist communities would normally go. Again, almost needless to say, Florida figures prominently in what are – Yes – perceived vote-grabbing moves by concentrating on ‘culture wars’. Such moves prioritise fantasy and deceitful nonsense, which thoughtful people won’t need long to dismiss. Meanwhile the damage done to young learners who are consequently deprived of a rounded education is real and potentially permanent.
Notorious far right governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, continues to lean closer to fascism in his legislative agenda. Towards the end of February his administration announced a bill that would remove the power to run the state’s schools from education professionals and replace them with the Republican governor’s political appointees. It would also prevent colleges and universities from spending their money and resources on diversity, equity and inclusion (‘DEI’). Such programmes – often educationally sound schemes that genuinely attempt to promote tolerance and understanding across the campuses of higher education – often have the practical result of encouraging acceptance by students (and staff) of the members of educational communities from all backgrounds, races, gender identities and social classes. This bill would also move all decisions on hiring policy and hirings themselves into the hands of each institution’s board of trustees. These are selected only by the governor and his appointees.
Actually using that silliest of silly terms for the bigoted, ignorant and selfish, ‘woke’, on its own website, the Florida Department of Education (which is staffed by adults) explicitly boasts its endorsement of supremacist intolerance… “Florida College System presidents reject ‘woke’ diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), Critical Race Theory ideologies and embrace academic freedom“.
DeSantis has also given us a taste of the kind of censorship and suppression of ideas with which he and his gang don’t agree in one institution in Florida. They have chosen to make an example of New College in Sarasota. DeSantis first hand picked the college’s board of trustees. Then last month he had them terminate the work of the college (which is a small liberal arts college with a largely progressive student body with a large LBGTQ+ community) in diversity, equity, and inclusion. He had the board close the office that oversees such work, the Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence at New College. The board voted nine to three simply to send the message to students, staff and families that tolerance is wrong.
DeSantis seems to have a rare talent when it comes to picking such appointees. Last month the governor of Florida announced that one Ron Peri will be one of five people who will oversee the Reedy Creek Improvement District where the entertainment company, Disney, operates in the State. Peri is a former pastor based in Orlando, the CEO of The Gathering – a Christian organisation which focuses on outreach to men. ‘Outreach’ may be a bit of a euphemism: in 2022 Peri called homosexuality ‘evil‘. But then he does have a remedy: drink less water because tap water could be making more people gay.
Such moves as these – if enacted – are prompting many observers to offer the opinion that DeSantis would make a far viler president if he were successful in his bid for election next year. Such conclusions can be readily supported, for example, by DeSantis apparent historical arguments for the preservation of slavery (!) in his first book. He has recently published a new one full of such dangerous selfish cant.
Then on this next one you can take your pick: Nearly a dozen more states are now planning legislation to censor drag shows. Is that more egregious than the hypocrisy of Republican governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee, who signed such a censorship bill into law a couple of weeks ago after allegedly having previously (albeit apparently 45 years ago) taken part in one? Well, perhaps it needs twice as many hypocrites because their ‘first thoughts’ were so long ago to match one destructive piece of legislation? OK, then add the same double standard from a lawmaker in Texas.
Another lawmaker from Tennessee, Republican Paul Sherrell, suggested earlier this month that ‘hanging by a tree’ (the punishment that met many thousands of black people as they were lynched in his state and others until the middle of the last century) could be added to a bill dealing with methods of execution in Tennessee.
Abortion pills are still legal in some states in the US – even after last year’s Supreme Court decision to threaten and jeopardise women’s lives. Earlier this month the large chain of retail chemists, Walgreens, announced that it will no longer dispense abortion pills, even in those states, after receiving pressure and threats from Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion groups.
As part of his bargaining to have personal power as Speaker of the House of Representatives in January, it has emerged, Kevin McCarthy secretly promised to release the security tapes of Trump’s attempted insurrection in the Capitol on January 6 2021 to the press. What wasn’t made clear at the time that by ‘press’ McCarthy meant one of the most mendacious, poorly-informed, racist, fascist advocates, Fox ‘News’s most prominent prime time host, Tucker Carlson. After he and his network had been in possession of more than 40,000 hours of footage for about three weeks, Carlson used his prime time hour of lies and distortions to try and suggest that the last two years’ worldwide reporting on the events of January 6 were distorted by the Left for political reasons. And that there was no attempted coup. Even relatively cursory analysis reveals that Carlson and Fox’s use thereof was highly selective, deliberately misleading and totally dishonest. Yet for many people who watch Fox so as to have their ideas reinforced the excerpts and the sloppy commentary offered by Carlson and his network may well go some way minimise the violence and seriousness of the events as well as to defend the Trump and the mob which he goaded into the attempted Putsch. If Carlson and his crew say that January 6 was a ‘sight-seeing tour’ (!) often enough, they will be believed by those who want to believe it.
Indeed the most senior member of the Capitol Police, Chief Tom Manger, accused Carlson and Fox of “cherry-pick[ing]” from the footage so as to present “offensive” and “misleading” conclusions about the attack. After Fox’s first ‘digest’ of the tapes last week, Manger was reported as saying, “Last night an opinion program aired commentary that was filled with offensive and misleading conclusions about the January 6 attack.” He added that – contrary to what Carlson claimed – Fox did not contact the police department for “context”. Manger’s full comment read: “The program conveniently cherry-picked from the calmer moments of our 41,000 hours of video. The commentary fails to provide context about the chaos and violence that happened before or during these less tense moments.”
A few hours earlier Republicans in Georgia’s House of Representatives confirmed the likelihood that a new law will shortly be on the statute books in that state. It had already passed the Georgia Senate 32-24). Amazingly, the new law actually gives legislators such far-reaching oversight over local prosecutors that anyone carrying out an investigation of which the (Republican) members of their state legislature disapprove can be removed from office mid-investigation. Not only is it to be noted that the state’s second in command, lieutenant governor of Georgia, Republican Burt Jones, is currently under just such investigation. But also that the aggressive – and apparently well-intentioned – District Attorney for Fulton County, Georgia’s largest county, Fani Willis, is now apparently in the concluding stages of investigating former president Trump for his attempts in Georgia to overturn the 2020 election.
Image: Rod Webber