Louis Further: Notes from the US

Freedom’s US correspondent rounds up of some of the lesser-known stories that have emerged over the last few weeks, including the first leak of the Dakota Pipeline, racist telephone hotlines, Trump incoherence, the courting of Duterte and resistance against healthcare changes, starting with the education sector …

US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has scrapped some protection for the majority of students who take out loans for their education. These were set up by the Obama administration and went some way to fending off predatory “rogue” loan servicers. DeVos has made much of her fortune by owning, profiting from, running and advocating such companies. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, commented:

Secretary DeVos — with the stroke of a pen — has reinstated the Wild West of student loans where servicers get to play by their own rules, and borrowers get fleeced… Her decision rescinds the most basic protections student debtors have when dealing with servicers, like expecting their bills to be accurate and their payments to be processed on time. And she’s opened the door for rogue operators such as Navient, which overcharged service members and veterans millions of dollars, to win even more lucrative government contracts. If Secretary DeVos were serious about curing America’s trillion dollar student loan crisis, she would strengthen, not rescind, these protections

In moves that can at best be described as petty and mean-spirited, Trump also announced in early May that two initiatives funded by Michelle Obama will now be abolished (or at best significantly slashed … the White House was typically obscure, or unsure about the second). The first is the former First Lady’s well-intentioned attempts to make school lunches more nutritional with more grains and fresh ingredients. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced on May 1st that those meagre standards would be dropped now in the interests of … “Mak[ing] School Meals Great Again.” In the second, the White House is set to discontinue the “Let Girls Learn program”‘ (in its current form) — an initiative helping to provide educational opportunities for young women in developing countries.

Environment

Opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), on which Freedom has often reported, remains strong, even after it went into production this month. The company responsible for the project was revealed in April to have spilled millions of gallons of drilling fluids into nearby wetlands in another of its efforts to make money from the earth. Worse still, the very thing which protesters were assured was not possible and which was a major reason for the opposition to the plan all along did in fact happen before the pipeline was operational: in early April – according to the Environmental and Natural Resources own website — DAPL had its first leak. At a pumping station in South Dakota 84 gallons of oil leaked near Tulare Township in Spink County, fewer than 110 miles from Lake Oahe, which supplies Sioux tribes with water.

Then on April 13th, Houston-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) dumped 2 million gallons of drilling fluids into wetland next to the Tuscarawas River in Stark County. The very next day 50,000 more gallons of drilling fluids were released into wetland in Richland County in the Mifflin Township. Both spills took place as part of the installation of the 713-mile Rover Pipeline, planned to move fracked gas from southeastern Ohio to distribution points in western Ohio, Michigan, and Canada. Jen Miller of the Sierra Club in Ohio commented, “These disasters prove that the fossil fuel industry is unable to even put a pipeline into use before it spills dangerous chemicals into our precious waterways and recreation areas.”

At the end of April, almost unbelievably, the Trump administration removed the pages on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website all reference to climate science page. Less than a month later, EPA  administrator, Scott Pruitt, dismissed half of the members of an EPA scientific review board so as to make it possible for new appointees from the very industries which the agency is supposed to control and monitor. The move co-incides with Trump’s attempts and plans to cut EPA funding, weaken environmental regulations, put climate change deniers in charge of (these) government agencies, and drastically defund and destroy climate change projects and research.

Abuse

The first Supreme Court judge to be nominated by Trump, Neil Gorsuch, lost no time in revealing his true colours in mid April when he cast the deciding vote allowing the state of Arkansas to kill a convicted man, Ledell Lee, who maintained his innocence until the end.

In a controversial move, the executors in Arkansas had been rushing to kill as many as 11 prisoners, an unprecedented number) before either the drugs to kill them or the death warrants authorising the killings expired. Witnesses and monitoring groups are calling for a probe as those being killed appear to be undergoing suffering amounting to torture while the drug — never intended for the purpose — takes effect during the killing process.

One of the few promises so far kept by Trump was establishing his racist telephone hotline (the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office, or VOICE) to report “Criminal Aliens.” It didn’t go as planned, though: as soon as it went live (the Department of Homeland Security chief, John Kelly, introduced it at a press conference refusing to take questions), it was flooded with spoof, fake and joke reports — of “UFOs” “extraterrestrials” and First Lady Melania Trump.

Media

Moves have also begun to be discussed where Trump would curtail free speech and tighten the libel laws so as to prevent criticism of him in the mainstream ‘media’. This might well be good for Trump in that it would curtail disasters like this.

Trump’s not known for an ability to speak clearly and cogently. His characteristic narcissism and ramblings aside, he gave a classic “interview” to Julie Pace of the Associated Press recently that contained these comments when asked about his move from business to politics:

You have to love people. And if you love people, such a big responsibility. [unintelligible] You can take any single thing, including even taxes. I mean we’re going to be doing major tax reform. Here’s part of your story, it’s going to be a big [unintelligible]. Everybody’s saying, #Oh, he’s delaying.’ I’m not delaying anything. I’ll tell you the other thing is [unintelligible]. I used to get great press. I get the worst press. I get such dishonest reporting with the media.

That’s another thing that really has — I’ve never had anything like it before. It happened during the primaries, and I said, you know, when I won, I said, ‘Well the one thing good is now I’ll get good press.’ And it got worse. [unintelligible] So that was one thing that a little bit of a surprise to me. I thought the press would become better, and it actually, in my opinion, got more nasty…

And when tackled on whether he would be the greatest president ever:

Well he said, you’ll be the greatest president in the history of, but you know what, I’ll take that also, but that you could be. But he said, will be the greatest president but I would also accept the other. In other words, if you do your job, but I accept that. Then I watched him interviewed and it was like he never even was here. It’s incredible. I watched him interviewed a week later and it’s like he was never in my office. And you can even say that.

Foreign affairs

Drone strikes on the population in Yemen continue: the Pentagon owned up to no fewer than 80 in March and April alone with a typical attack on the last day of April, where five people were killed.

And as for the attack on Syria on April 7th, which killed at least 14 people, including nine civilians, that was just “after-dinner entertainment.” So said US Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, while speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference on 1st May.

It ought to have come as no surprise that Trump would invite the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte to visit the White House. But it still does: in Duterte’s so-called war on drugs thousands of people have been extrajudicially killed by police and vigilantes; many held and tortured in secret jail in Manila, where release can apparently be bought by bribing the police there. It’s widely speculated that the real reason is to smooth the process of deals relating to Trump’s new properties in Manila.

Administration matters

In early May the Los Angeles City Council joined three other California cities, Cambridge (Massachusetts) and Charlotte (Vermont) by unanimously approving a resolution for Trump’s possible impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanours because he appears to have violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits those holding federal office from receiving payments from foreign governments. That was before the Comey scandal and threats from Trump, after which week talk of impeachment is growing daily.

Trump’s counterterrorism adviser, Sebastian Gorka, is apparently being dismissed from the White House because of his links to a Hungarian far right Nazi group. Jewish newspaper ‘The Forward,” has also reported Gorka supported an anti-Semitic and racist paramilitary militia in Hungary while he served as a Hungarian politician.

It was reported in early May that the Sinclair Broadcast Group is about to purchase Tribune Media for US$4 (£3) billion deal. This would give Sinclair control of over a third of the local TV stations in the US. The move follows immediately after Trump’s choice, Ajit Pai, to head the FCC (Federal Communications Commission – the rough equivalent of the UK’s Office of Telecommunications, Oftel) dramatically revised upwards any remaining limits capping the number of stations which one corporation can control. The chair and former CEO of Sinclair, David Smith, is active in Republican politics and supported Donald Trump’s campaign.

Health

 

As Trump’s efforts to replace the already less than satisfactory Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) with something worse for patients, legislation has been introduced in California to create a universal healthcare bill. The Healthy California Act (SB 562). If enacted this would offer patients coverage in treatment as inpatients, outpatients, for emergency care, dental, vision, mental health, and nursing homes care. Potentially every California resident would benefit. Its growing support now includes that of the National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association.

Louis Further

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