Louis Further: 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.

Environment

  • In the middle of January the local government in New York City announced that it is to sue five fossil fuel companies (BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell) for their responsibilities in worsening global warming. The suit comes not long after Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, announced plans to divest the city’s public employee pension fund of some US$5 (£3.69) billion in fossil fuel income.
  • In mid-January the majority of the National Park Service Advisory Board resigned to protest against the fact that Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, has not met them even once since Trump took office one year ago. Tony Knowles, the Board’s chair and a former governor of Alaska, said: “The department showed no interest in learning about or continuing to use the forward-thinking agenda of science [when it comes to] the effect of climate change, protection of the ecosystems, education”.
  • Trump approved a tariff of 30% on imported solar panel materials – in order to appear to be pursuing the fatuous aim of “Making America Great…”; the results will actually be to slash thousands of jobs in the industry and halt its momentum towards providing alternative energy sources to those run on petro-chemicals.

Economy

  • The right wing propaganda outlets in the US have been quick to point out a handful of companies that have issued small bonuses to (some of) their employees as a direct result – apparently – of last year’s tax ‘reform’. What they have not reported on, though, was a more representative outcome. How small this minority is. The largest private employer in the country, Walmart, announced in the middle of January that it would increase the company-wide minimum wage from US$10 (£7.25) to US$11 (£7.97). What it didn’t add was that the company is simultaneously closing over 60 of its Sam’s Club stores and actually sacking thousands of workers.
  • The notorious far right billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, stand to save between US$1 billion and US1.4 billion (between £710 million and £1 billion) in income taxes every year after the new tax law passed in December.

Racism

  • The Pentagon announced in mid-January that it is widening the scope of what it considers a legitimate strategy for nuclear weapons to include retaliation in cases where a cyberattack is believed to have taken place or may be imminent.
  • Less than a week after Trump referred to Haiti (as well as El Salvador, and African nations) with an obscenity, the Department of Homeland Security took the next step in his racist (anti-Haitian) immigrant agenda specifically by preventing Haitians from applying for certain temporary work visas.
  • Meanwhile in party politics, in a local election (that for a place in the US House of Representatives in Illinois’s 3rd Congressional District) one Arthur ‘Art’ Jones is the only Republican candidate. Jones is a Holocaust-denying white supremacist on record as saying “…it’s time to put America first… [the Holocaust]… is the biggest, blackest, lie in history.” A Trump supporter, Jones is a former leader of the American Nazi Party. He now leads a group called the America First Committee. He is also on record as opposing interracial marriage and integration in schools; he has said, for example, “I don’t believe in equality, period”. Jones opposes abortion rights and gay marriage as well as the adoption of children by gay couples; he supports permits for members of the public to carry concealed firearms. Although highly unlikely to win in November, he is rightly identified as the Republic Party’s official candidate.

Corruption

  • In mid-January a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy was arrested by FBI agents for allegedly running a drug trafficking scheme in which he hired other police to provide physical security for drug dealers.

Oppression

  • As controversies and scandals, abuse and lies raged around the Trump government in mid-January, the Senate passed a bill to reauthorise and even expand the government’s spying reach on digital communications without a warrant. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s response was typical: “The Senate just approved (65-34) an appalling bill to extend Section 702—one of the NSA’s most powerful spying tools. While nominally directed at foreign intelligence surveillance, this bill actually violates Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights to privacy”.
  • With much of Puerto Rico still devastated by last September’s hurricane and the island’s infrastructure still largely uncared for, Governor Ricardo Rossello, in mid-January announced a plan to privatise the island’s electricity authority in order to benefit shareholders and the already rich.
  • It’s always risky, of course, to bandy phrases like dictator and fascist around in the context of even a ‘leader’ like Trump. But in his unguarded moments, he does seem to want to be taken as such. For instance in a speech which he gave at a factory near Cincinnati, Ohio, at the beginning of February he effectively accused Democrats of ‘treason’ for not clapping while he spoke. Indeed, during his State of the Union speech the week before to the joint session of Congress, he said that he noticed that many Democrats were failing to applaud him. He first said that this was ‘un-American’. In that crowd at the factory, though, someone shouted out that such behaviour was treasonous. To this, Trump replied, “Yes, I guess, Why not”!
  • The question is often asked, “How is it possible that Trump continues to get away with it?!” A couple of his comments last month may give a clue: who could possibly object to the idea, for instance, of faulty libel laws which are intended to enrich liars? Trump said: “Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace… We want fairness.” So if you’re predisposed to support the status quo, hear the media propaganda advising you to adhere to it everyday, then you’ll take such comments (and one he made at the same time to the effect that his energy plan was for “lots of energy””, whereas everyone else just wants windmills) at face value and be quite satisfied. Most people – in other words – take what he says at face value.
Louis Further