Small American flag recovered amid World Trade Center debris at the Fresh Kills Landfill. 9-11 exhibit at the East Tennessee History Museum. 2003 Smithsonian photo by Hugh Talman.

Louis Further: Notes from the US

Our US correspondent Looks at lesser-known stories of the month, including the Trump administration’s latest climate messes, racist policymaking and gun law easing …

  • In a press interview in the aftermath of the two hurricanes in September, Harvey and Irma, Trump adviser Tom Bossert yet again implicitly wrongly asserted that the human cause of climate change is either “unknown,” or not relevant. He said: “Causality is something outside of my ability to analyse right now. I will tell you that we continue to take seriously the climate change — not the cause of it, but the things that we observe.”
  • A report released in the middle of September by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke shows well how little Trump and his crew care for the Earth. It recommends that the administration significantly remove protections to allow drilling and exploitation by big business of numerous national monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine, Cascade Siskiyou in Oregon, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico, Gold Butte in Nevada and marine monuments in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This could mean the despoliation of hundred of thousands — if not literally millions — of acres of land.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an administrator, Scott Pruitt, with an appalling record on the environment — and was one of several members of Trump’s cabinet involved in yet another brewing corruption scandal. He apparently used extremely costly private planes for government business. In early October he also announced that the “war on coal” is over and that full-scale ruination from coal-fired power stations can now go ahead again, after a temporary halt by the last administration.
  • In September Trump picked Michael Dourson for the second most powerful post at the EPA. He should know about the area for which he has been asked to be responsible: he has previously been hired as a consultant by industrialists involved in the manufacture and/or use of 30 of the chemicals, reviews of which he may now become responsible for. Dourson’s own consultancy, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA), was paid by — amongst others — Dow Chemical, CropLife America, the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute, Koch Industries. Although scientists and other regulators were consistently concerned about threats posed by these companies’ ‘products’, evaluations completed by TERA failed to agree.

Racism

  • Although anarchists do not endorse a simple crime-punishment model, it is instructive to see yet another example of how crimes committed by the ruling class and their agents routinely go unaddressed. In mid-September the Department of Justice announced that there will be no federal charges against six police officers from Baltimore who were involved in and/or responsible for the killing Freddie Gray in April 2015. He was the African-American man from Baltimore who died after receiving major injuries to his spine while being carried in the back of a police van.
  • The Department of Homeland Security is planning to collect information from social media about every immigrant now living in the United States. This will include users’ social media handles, anything which they share on social media and their online search results. The change is expected to go into operation on October 18th.
  • However unbalanced, unrealistic, racist, delayed, unlikely and ultimately pointless it sounded, prototypes for the Trump anti-immigrant wall have begun in San Diego, California. Contractors working for the Customs and Border Protection agency are already building eight different examples of what might follow; each one is between 18 and 30 feet high and costs $500,000 (£373,400). The total cost of a nationwide barrier has been estimated at $38 (£29) billion, which is almost ten times the belated loan (not aid) offered to the residents (US citizens, although not white) of Puerto Rico.
  • In a perhaps obscure development in early October in New York a judge rejected charges against a protester (Cristina Winsor) in the Black Lives Matter movement. The disturbing aspect of her case is that the New York District Attorney’s (DA) office passed the case to the New York City Police Department’s Legal Bureau for prosecution. Winsor (who was acquitted on charges of disorderly conduct and walking in a roadway) explained why this was so disturbing: “I discovered that instead of being prosecuted by the DA, I was going to be prosecuted by the NYPD Legal Bureau. So, that is, to me, a real conflict of interest, because it should be separate: The NYPD should arrest people; they shouldn’t arrest and prosecute people… My fear is that it would make people more and more afraid to put themselves out there and express themselves in the streets and that we’d be moving closer to what we would call a police state.”

Oppression

  • In the same week as Trump announced that the war in Afghanistan would be stepped up and 3,000 more soldiers sent there, a new annual military budget of $700 (£518) bn was proposed. This amounts to the equivalent of about £5 for every child, woman and man in the country every single hour, 24 hours a day 365 days a year.
  • Threats against — and actual attacks in — American schools are commonplace, of course. At the end of August at Great Valley Charter School in Modesto, California Jackson Riley was sent home for having told a teacher that if he removed his Rücksack it would explode. His parents received a letter explaining that their son was suspended because he apparently intended to “threaten, intimidate or harass others.” The father, Ian Riley, responded that his interpretation of the alleged incident was that Jackson wished to protect others by stabilising (imaginary) explosives. Jackson Riley was five years old.

Violence

In the same week at the worst mass shooting in (recent) US history in Las Vegas, lawmakers continued their preparations for two bills to slacken gun laws. One of these would remove long-standing restrictions on silencers. Such equipment would be allowed despite the fact that those at the event where nearly 60 people were killed and over 500 injured were alerted to the massacre by the sound of gunfire from the nearby hotel above them. Also in legislation during the autumn is a measure which would allow people to lawfully carry concealed weapons across state lines — even into those States which do not permit concealed carry.

Louis Further