Louis Further: Notes from the US

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Elections hold only a morbid fascination for anarchists, we know they achieve little. But when events like those of last November threaten to change the state of affairs in the most powerful country in the world as radically as they do, there are points to be noted.

In the first place of course, Trump’s opponent (hawkish Establishment figure Hillary Clinton) won something in the region of 3 million more votes than he did. Secondly, an initiative cooked up by one of Trump’s operatives, Kris Kobach, called Crosscheck disenfranchised an unknown — but probably very large — number of voters across the country. Ostensibly a list to track (and imprison) “illegal” (or double/duplicate) voters, its matching algorithms are actually flawed. For instance Michael Anthony Brown is not the same person as Michael Timothy Brown; nor Michael Johnnie Brown. But Crosscheck wrongly excludes all three such voters from voting because their names seem similar. This exclusion process is skewed, of course, towards black and Asian families, those less likely to vote Republican. Thirdly, the efforts to have the results in several key states (where Trump “won”) recounted were stymied by the legislators and élite officials there leaving even the extent of alleged Russian interference in the election unclear.

But it goes further: in the state of North Carolina Democrat Roy Cooper beat Republican Governor Pat McCrory by only 10,000 votes last November. Instead of accepting the result (its narrowness itself a result of voter suppression) the outgoing administration passed hurried measures in the middle of December to strip power from the state’s incoming governor. In a legislative session surely without precedent, Republicans scrambled to hash out literally dozens of new bills (apparently during a special session of the General Assembly in North Carolina which was supposed to be considering relief for Hurricane Matthew victims). This will deprive the new governor of his power to appoint officials, to legislate in some areas and to be effective. This may well be a taste of what Trump proposes nationwide.

Ten days or so before the holidays, President-elect Trump announced arguably his most egregious pick for a senior cabinet post. Although the job of Secretary of State is one of many announced last year between the election and next week’s inauguration which will require congressional approval, the very fact that the CEO and chair of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, has been proposed is particularly scandalous.

Rex Tillerson

Tillerson has worked for over 40 years for — since 2006 as head of — one of the world’s largest and most destructive corporations. It knew about the effects of its business on the climate since the early 1950s — yet has consistently suppressed their own research and findings and denied the connections. Exxon Mobil has close commercial ties to Russia and Putin, who represented the company’s interests in Russia during the regime of Boris Yeltsin. Tillerson has refused to condemn the regimes responsible for appalling human rights violations for and with which ExxonMobil works. It seems naïve in the extreme to believe that — if confirmed — Tillerson could separate his (company’s) business interests from those of US imperialism; or curb its belligerence for the same reasons. Or to think that such a powerful political office with Tillerson at its head can do anything but immense harm to the environment.

Then as the new Congress began its session in January, it emerged that the new (almost all white male) cabinet is likely to be not only the richest in US history and the most corrupt, but also one which attempts to have its members confirmed (the first hearing began on January 10) without full scrutiny. However much the élite always tries to subvert reasonable norms of suitability for office, there are at least usually nominal checks and balances. In this administration’s case, though, much larger concerns are being expressed by opponents (a Gallup poll at the start of this month confirmed that fewer than 50% of Americans are confident of Trump’s ability to handle an international crisis (46%), to use military force wisely (47%) or to prevent major scandals in his administration (44%)): clearances on nominees’ ethics and necessary background checks were incomplete at the time the process began for several of Trump’s most prominent Cabinet picks.

It is not clear whether nominees will actually (have to) divest of businesses which represent conflicts of interests. In some cases, the forms which they are required to complete don’t have enough room for the wealthiest to identify all their business interests. Nor has the Office of Government Ethics either the time or resources to carry out the necessary processes to determine the nominees’ eligibility. The leader of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, wrote in a letter to Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, “This schedule has created undue pressure on OGE’s staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews.” As concern grew over Trump’s own conflicts, Shaub took the unusual step of publicly voicing his concerns specifically on Trump himself.

A new website, corporatecabinet.org, has been set up to expose the upcoming corruption and conflicts of interest. Corruption – it seems – is even more blatant during this process: the hearings for education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos have had to be postponed although it was reported earlier this month that her family has already given a total of US$250,000 (£205,300) to five of the very lawmakers on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee who will oversee DeVos’s confirmation hearing.

Just before Christmas more than 500 workers at one of Trump’s hotels (in Las Vegas) won what the President of the AFL-CIO trade union, Richard Trumka, called an “inspiring victory” by successfully negotiating a new four year contract from this month (January 2017). It will guarantee “annual wage increases, a pension, family healthcare, and job security” according to the UNITE HERE union, of which the Culinary Workers Union and Bartenders Union (to which the workers belong) is part. Trumka added, optimistically, “… in two different ways, the[se workers] have proven we can take on the powerful and win, even when the boss is running for President of the United States. UNITE HERE members are setting the standard and proving that collectively we hold the power to make the rules of this economy work for working people.”

Dakota

In mid December a leak was discovered in a pipeline just 150 miles from the indigenous water protectors’ camp against the Dakota Access Pipeline which had gone undetected for an unknown period of time — certainly days, and possibly weeks or longer. Over 170,000 gallons of crude oil were flowing unchecked into a tributary of the Little Missouri River and into a nearby hillside.

As some of those “appointed” to manage the water systems in Flint and Detroit, Michigan, and responsible for poisoning many thousands of water users there finally faced prosecution before the Holidays, a report published by Reuters journalists M B Pell and Joshua Schneyer found that almost 3,000 different localities throughout the US from Texas to Pennsylvania have had levels of lead in their water from two to four times higher than those found in Flint over the period from 2005 to 2015 — with little or nothing being done about it.

Coercion

In mid-December regulations (which must be complied with by January 1st 2018) came into force in Oklahoma effectively requiring businesses to advocate the limiting of (women’s) reproductive rights. The so-called Humanity of the Unborn Child Act specifically aims to “achieve an abortion-free society.” Private businesses must post anti-abortion signs in their lavatories and washrooms with wording based on a template such as: ‘There are many public and private agencies willing and able to help you carry your child to term and assist you and your child after your child is born, whether you choose to keep your child or to place him or her for adoption. The State of Oklahoma strongly urges you to contact them if you are pregnant.”