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.

Covid-19

For a simple, clear, blatant example of the callous idiocy of many members of the United States élite look at what a City Council-member, Guy Phillips, did in Scottsdale, Arizona, on the very same day when the completely predictable resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic reached its equally foreseeable peak (at least 2.5 million cases (possibly ten times that number) and 125,000 deaths) and his own state reached 64,000 cases and 1,500 deaths with almost no hospital capacity in reserve.

(Those figures, of course, have risen dramatically since then, of course: the US now records daily a figure of new cases higher than the total for Wuhan since the start of the pandemic; and the US is likely to be logging one million new cases every ten days by the end of July.)

Phillips actually attended an anti-mask (that’s right, a full-blown, “I deny science”, “My freedoms are more important than stopping the spread of a deadly virus”) rally. Wearing his mask on his face, Phillips mocked George Floyd, mocked his last words, mocked his death (Floyd was, of course, murdered by the police in Minneapolis on 25 May) by saying, “I can’t breathe” several times – to the cheers of the deniers in attendance. This atrocity occurred barely a week after a new study in the journal Health Affairs estimated that as many as 450,000 cases of Covid-19 could have been prevented if states had mandated the wearing of face masks.

Equally appalling was Trump’s continued use of a racist, anti-Asian, term to misdescribe the pandemic’s origins. He offered the two-word abuse (‘kung flu’) at his rally (that’s right, he held a rally attended by over 6,000 spreaders) in Tulsa (Oklahoma) the week before; and then was cheered into repeating the racist slur by a crowd of Republican Christians (also mask-less) chanting it themselves in the Dream City ‘megachurch’ again in Arizona. He happily obliged; to more cheers.

Two groups, the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and Chinese for Affirmative Action launched a new site this month to track Anti-Asian American hate incidents. These are increasing throughout the United States after the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic (and Trump’s racial slurs). More than 2,000 incidents have been noted since March of this year.

One week after that Tulsa rally, a video emerged of members of the Trump campaign staff moving through the BOK arena actually removing stickers which read ‘Do Not Sit Here, Please!’ from seating for the public about to attend; they had been placed there by health officials in the city ahead of the much-reduced crowd’s arrival and entry into the indoor space in a vain attempt to keep attendees safe. The number of cases of Covid-19 in Tulsa has – of course – spiked accordingly since the rally. Now Trump and his ‘education’ secretary, Betsy DeVos, are threatening to withhold federal funding from any schools which do not begin classes in the next few weeks – even as cases continue to rise out of control in the majority of states. Hospitals are at capacity in many places; workers are obliged to operate without PPE; there is no known therapeutic cure; no vaccine; and the symptomatology of the virus is still sufficiently unpredictable for maximum caution not kids-crammed-in-classrooms to be the best approach.

As cases of infection continued to grow in almost all states, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order last month requiring everyone in the state to wear a mask in public where physical distancing of 6 feet wasn’t possible. Immediately, the sheriffs of Halifax County, Craven County, and Sampson County in North Carolina announced that they would not enforce the order.

Racism

Almost a century and a quarter ago – in 1898 – in Wilmington (N Carolina) armed white supremacists removed the city’s multiracial government and replaced the mayor with a former Confederate army officer. The (white) mob burned down Black businesses, including the local African American newspaper. More than 300 African Americans were killed. Last month in Wilmington three police inadvertently recorded a phone conversation which they were having in their patrol car(s): “We are just going to go out and start slaughtering… [the N-word to describe Black people]… I can’t wait. God, I can’t wait… [society needs a civil war to …] wipe them off the f*** map”.

By the end of June Trump seemed to have reached the quite unsurprising and reasonable conclusion that he can no longer win the election in November by boasting about the wonderful economy which he wrongly claims to have created. His alternative now is deliberately to increase racist hate and division. For instance, he recently re-tweeted a video of someone he believed to be a supporter in a golf cart shouting “…white power!” at protesters at a Florida retirement community, The Villages. He thanked the ‘great people’ shown in the video.

At the start of this month, the chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed a report from The Associated Press that some of the military ordered to Washington  DC last month in response to protests following the murder of George Floyd were issued with bayonets – presumably to stab protesters with.

Oppression

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently released a new in-depth analysis of terrorism by the (far) right. ‘Escalating Terrorism Problem in the United States’ examines 25 years of incidents of domestic terrorism; it finds that the majority of attacks and plots come from the far-right… “the majority of all terrorist incidents in the United States since 1994, and the total number of rightwing attacks and plots has grown significantly during the past six years”. The far-right launched two-thirds of those in 2019 and no fewer than 90% (!) of those so far in 2020.

At the end of June – as the CoVid-19 pandemic surged to new heights – the Trump administration decided on a new policy. It allows companies offering health ‘insurance’ to consider themselves no longer legally required to cover the costs of any Covid-19 tests which employers may compel workers to undergo before returning to their jobs. At the same time, Trump asked the US Supreme Court to annul the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’), which – for all its imperfections – is the only source of health coverage for many of the millions who have lost their jobs, largely as a result of Trump’s sadistic handling of the pandemic.

In California, meanwhile, a US federal appeals court judge, William Shubb, ruled that California cannot require such companies as Bayer to include a cancer warning on their glyphosate-based products – even though the World Health Organization (withdrawal from which Trump officially began last week) in 2015 classified the weed-killer as a probable human carcinogen. ‘Free’ speech.

In the middle of June a report from Citizen Lab (a Canadian digital watchdog group) was published. It was the result of many years’ work and detailed how such so-called ‘hack-for-hire’ groups as Dark Basin knowingly targeted literally thousands of progressive advocacy groups and individuals. The latter included journalists, (government) officials, and managers of commercial operations. Amongst those groups and people to be targeted by campaigns of lies, misinformation, espionage and disruption were advocacy groups on six continents for the environment. Particularly prominent were those groups working to expose Exxon’s prior knowledge for several decades of the effects of its fossil fuels businesses. Other advocacy groups so abused included those pushing for climate conservation and net neutrality.

Not a few abominations are being performed while the public’s attention is elsewhere: the US ‘Justice’ Department, for instance, scheduled the judicial murder of four federal prisoners for the first time since 2003. The executions of the men on death-row will begin later in July. And at the end of last month in a major victory for the Trump administration, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the US government can speed up the deportation of asylum seekers without first allowing them to put their case to a judge. This will affect the thousands of asylum seekers whose claims on the grounds of ‘credible fear’ have been denied by immigration officers without a lawyer present. The response of the American Civil Liberties Union sums up the situation: “Today’s SCOTUS ruling fails to live up to the Constitution’s bedrock principle that everyone gets their day in court”.

Environment

Trump’s wrecking of the environment continues as well: The Bureau of Land Management released its ‘preferred plan’ for the area known as the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska at the end of June; it would open about 18.6 million acres of the state for destruction on lease; that’s over 80% of the entire reserve.

Lastly, good news: the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has been in the forefront of opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline won a legal victory last week when a federal judge ordered the project to be shut down while an environmental review took place. Although temporary, the pipeline – as Freedom has reported several times – has proved as unreliable, dangerous and ‘leak-prone’ as was predicted before construction started in 2016.

Louis Further

Photo by Ali Shaker/VOA, Public Domain