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

With the proviso that anarchists can’t really get too excited about legislatures and lawmaking by the élite, support your chin before reading about goings on in Oregon late in June and earlier this month.
Oregon has the reputation of being a broadly ‘liberal’ state, many of whose voters care about climate catastrophe. So too – on paper at least – does the Democrat majority in Oregon’s state congress. A cap-and-trade proposal modestly to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 was introduced in Oregon state’s legislature last month.
Republican senators, who are in the minority, felt the need to block the measure; they wanted instead to continue to destroy the planet for themselves and their children. Voting the measure down is arithmetically impossible because of the numbers of seats held by the parties. So 11 of the minority decided to absent themselves from the Senate altogether in order to render their legislature inquorate.
State troopers were sent to round up the errant senators. Evasion continued. And at least one of the Republican senators (one Brian Boquist) issued semi-publicly what sounded very much like a threat. If pursued, he said, he would shoot any member of the police force sent to compel him to return to the Capitol… “Send bachelors and come heavily armed”, Boquist said.
But it gets worse: neighbouring Idaho and some areas of Oregon are plagued by white militias and far-right paramilitary groups. Some of these have declared their support for the climate deniers. They prepared themselves also to prevent the legislature from passing legislation of any kind which attempts to address climate catastrophe – however minor. Presumably this is because they see such moves by ‘the liberals’ as re-enforcing the ‘Chinese hoax’ which Trump as declared climate catastrophe to be; and moves to deprive them of their rights to trash the Earth.
After a week, the Republican gaggle did return; but so late in the legislative session that there is no chance of the bill’s being passed. Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger said, “Our mission was to kill cap-and-trade. And that’s what we did.” Destructive dogma and disastrous ignorance one; environment and the future of the planet nil.
In late June the New York City Council voted to declare a ‘climate emergency’, joining over 650 municipalities in 15 countries who have also made the symbolic declaration. This was just a day or two after the New York state Legislature passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, an ambitious bill planning for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. And a week or so before over 7,000 colleges and universities worldwide similarly declared a climate emergency.
As the Trump dictatorship grows ever bolder and more destructive, it emerged last month that he is planning to reclassify any radioactive waste which undoubtedly poses a very high risk. He’ll now simply call it ‘low risk’ instead. The aim of jeopardising lives is to try and save up to US$40 (£32) billion in the cost of cleaning up at nuclear weapons production sites around the US. In a statement, the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “The Trump administration is moving to fundamentally alter more than 50 years of national consensus on how the most toxic and radioactive waste in the world is managed and ultimately disposed of.”
It’s bad enough that animals are reared, tortured and slaughtered at all. And small comfort that their suffering and death are supposed to be monitored in the interests of preventing health risks to those humans who will not yet refrain from eating them. Now – presumably to increase the profits of the cattle-killing industry – the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is reportedly planning to remove inspections in the slaughterhouses from those best-placed to try to minimise illness to cattle-consumers and place that responsibility in private hands. Then the notorious Tyson Foods has requested a waiver to allow its own employees to conduct more inspections at the plant in Holcolm, Kansas, where it carries out the animal abuse and slaughter rather than relying on US Department of Agriculture food safety inspectors.
Freedom has often reported on Brown University’s ‘Costs of War’ project. In a new report published last month, which single institution, country, individual or industry bears the responsibility for the greatest amount of greenhouse gas production and emission was named. In wars alone in the 16 years since 2001, the report’s authors calculate, it has been US military to whom such a responsibility must be assigned. A staggering 1,212 million metric tons (or well over 2,000 thousand tons an hour around the clock) of the greenhouse gas CO2 – more than all the oil emissions from Sweden or Denmark – has been produced and belched by the US war machine into the one atmosphere which we all have and share.
As Freedom reported at the time, in 2014 a dozen people died and almost 100,000 residents of the city of Flint, Michigan, were left without drinking water for fear of lead poisoning when city and state officials deliberately switched Flint’s water supply to a source which they knew to be deadly (the Flint River). It was announced last month that all criminal charges against the eight remaining officials responsible and awaiting trial for their crimes have been dropped.
Former President Obama’s administration planned a modest change to reduce the carbon emissions allowable for coal-fired power plants. Although some plants had already started to work on reducing pollution, in 2016 the Supreme Court blocked the regulation. Government statistics showed that – if implemented – the Obama Clean Power Plan would probably have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by up to 32% compared with 2005 levels; it might have prevented 3,600 premature deaths a year; it could have lead to 1,700 fewer heart attacks, and 90,000 fewer asthma attacks. Trump’s EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), however, announced in late June that states can now set their own carbon emissions standards for coal-fired power plants. The Agency itself acknowledges that such a change could result in 1,400 more premature deaths by 2030. This move is to be seen as part of Trump’s war on and wilful destruction of the atmosphere in furtherance of his corrupt and disastrous promise to help the coal industry, ignorance about ecology and fetish to undo everything he can of that dangerous communist, Barrack Obama.
CNN – now broadly critical of the Trump administration – conducted two interviews with top Trump officials in mid-June to try and push them on their position on the climate crisis. Vice President Pence was deliberately evasive to each of the interviewer’s attempts and refused to acknowledge the crisis and humans’ part in causing and exacerbating it. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was more snide and immature still: he cited what he sees as ‘weather patterns’ saying only, “…it rained yesterday, it’s a nice pretty day today…”. Both these men are supposed to be at the forefront of protecting the people they were elected and paid by residents of the US to protect.
Trump’s idiotic recklessness is one of his trademarks, a juvenile attempt to ‘prove’ that he is both above norms such as the low, and immune to criticism from those who still adore his way of doing things – regardless of the consequences. If there is an element of risk, Russian roulette, and/or potential disaster to spice the adulation he craves, so much the better. There is most definitely risk in his latest lunatic move with the Department of Agriculture: data collection for its annual Honey Bee Colonies report has been suspended. Even taking the fog of ignorance and distortion through which Trump operates into consideration, it seems unlikely that he is unaware of the alarm expressed by the scientific community in recent years about the decline of the bee population and the likely catastrophic effect this will have on humanity. So, one has to assume that his move also contains a dose of provocation.

Oppression

One aspect of government as an idea that anarchists maybe would hope for is that, as long as it continues to exist, its actions be as well-informed as possible. In the 1970s in the United States a system of federal advisory committees was set up to make the government’s job of seeking and using expert advice as transparent and effective as possible – in theory at least. No legislator is ever going to be expert in every field… scientific, psychosocial, artistic, mathematical, historical, biological, medical, sociological and so on. Yet these are all areas in which the government – for good or ill – has say and sway. Currently in the US there are about a thousand such advisory committees whose members inform, guide and report to over 50 government agencies. Intentionally unambiguous guidelines are in place – thanks to this system – regarding the extent to which legislation is supposed to be based on data, on announcing meetings, attempting to ensure public access and record-keeping and so on.
Last month, though, (you’ve guessed it) Trump announced that he would – by his own personal edict – be effectively destroying the formal system of advising regulators on practically every area of federal policy. He signed an executive order directing each agency to ‘…terminate at least one-third of its current…’ advisory committees by the end of September this year.
This is to be seen in the light of his avowed policy to dismantle as much government regulation as possible in order to leave the way open for greater profits by business and induce greater fear in the population as the consequent dangers of unbridled planetary destruction affect more and more people as a direct result.
Last month the State of West Virginia passed a bill which would ban strikes by teachers. This is widely seem as a move to take revenge on the profession for the many walkouts which it had to stage last year.
The élite routinely harvests its citizens’ data, obviously. This includes collecting facial recognition and other personal data at airports; and there is no way for travellers to decline to be spied upon. Now it has emerged that massive amounts of such personal information has been stolen from a subcontractor, Perceptics, from the US Customs and Border Patrol and is being distributed on the Dark Web.
In 2015 one of the most infamous providers of so-called ‘gay conversion therapy’ in the US, the Jonah Group, was found guilty of ‘unconscionable commercial practices’. A court order was issued for it to close its operations down. Last month, however, Jonah was found to be in breach of this court order and still operating, having re-opened its offices under a new name. Jonah will now – in theory – be obliged to pay a US$3.5 (£2.8) million fine.
Night after night after night the propaganda channels in the US berate the Russians for interfering with (elections in) the US. The far right also denies that – even if it happened (which it should not have done) – Trump had anything to do with it, although the Mueller report said differently, of course. Trump then welcomed foreign intervention – provided it explicitly criticised his opponents. In mid-June the New York Times reported that the Trump administration had planted – and was continuing to plant – cyberterrorism ‘tools’ in the Russian power grid system – presumably to make sure it gets maximum purchase on Russia’s dealings, including – it seems – its elections.
Towards the end of June the Supreme Court made it harder for journalists to access commercial information under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. The Committee to Protect Journalists almost immediately commented on the ruling: “In order to hold institutions to account, journalists often need to petition the government to make documents public. Today’s ruling will undermine the ability of reporters to access the information they need to do their jobs and is a blow to the transparency of the United States government.”
Anarchists, of course, don’t get very excited about elections – where one portion of the élite replaces another. A couple of related developments in the US last month, though, are indicative of how far these élites will go to retain their powers to destroy and oppress. The Supreme Court ruled by a majority of five to four that it has ‘no role to play’ in rectifying and/or reversing the attempts in recent years by Republicans in particular to gerrymander boundaries and other components of the election process in its favour. A day later the government’s own Election Assistance Commission reported that between the 2016 and the 2018 elections individual states removed the registration records of more than 17 million voters.
Barely a week after a black woman from Alabama was charged with manslaughter after miscarrying her own child following an incident last year in which she was shot by a man who has now been freed, 24-year-old Shaquille Dukes, a black man being treated at an Illinois hospital, was racially profiled by white police officers while he was walking in the ward when hooked up to an IV drip… they suspected him of stealing hospital equipment.
In the course of the week before this edition of ‘Notes from the United States’ was published, Trump and his administration entered somewhat new territory – yet again. Shortly after effectively exercising a veto over whom the UK can and cannot have act as their ambassador in Washington, new aspects of the administration’s immigration ‘policy’ made news.
Allegations increased in number and severity of sexual abuse from migrants awaiting entry to the US in order to secure their own safety. Their desperation originates, of course, in the need to as flee from oppressive regimes and extremely adverse economic conditions – not to mention local climate disaster – in Central America. These are in large part created and exacerbated by the United States. At least one account was verified by the national broadcaster NBC. Given Trump’s phobia and hatred of non-white (men), and declared intention of separating immigrating families as a deterrent, it’s not surprising that this received no comment from the government.
Trump did, though, then refuse to dismiss, or even to censure, his Labour Secretary, Alex Acosta, for supporting billionaire Jeffrey Epstein over the latter’s alleged rape and trafficking of girl children. Acosta had previously allowed a lenient plea deal in Epstein’s favour. Trump tacitly accepted Acosta’s claim that “…today’s world treats victims very, very differently.” This is not surprising: Trump is on record as saying “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side”. Although not explicit, it is hard not to see the president of the United States covertly approving of paedophilia. Acosta eventually resigned.
At the same time, one of Trump’s companies cancelled an event which it had been planning to hold: a golf tournament with a Miami-area strip club at his Doral, Florida, resort on the weekend, 13, 14th July. Given Trump’s lasciviousness, that seems unlikely to have much if anything to do with a federal appeals court panel’s judgement at the same time dismissing a lawsuit claiming that Trump had violated the Constitution by collecting profits from government guests at his hotel in the nation’s capital, the so-called ’emoluments’ clauses of the US constitution to stifle corruption.

Racism

Trump’s refusal to provide refugees and asylum-seekers with basic sanitation continues; last month Freedom reported on his denial of legal resources, education and recreation facilities at the border. In the middle of June this abuse was challenged in court. But Sarah Fabian, a lawyer for the ‘Justice’ Department, argued before a three-judge panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that the government is not required to provide toothbrushes, soap or beds to children whom they have detained at the border. Just as foul a position by Trump has been revealed in more than one report that some 250 infants, children and teenagers have been locked up for up to a month at a Border Patrol station near El Paso, Texas without adequate food, water and sanitation. (Those) children have apparently been fed uncooked frozen food or rice and have gone weeks without bathing or clean clothes. Statistics continue to emerge every few days indicating that numbers are higher and conditions worse than previously admitted.
Katharine Gorka is the wife of far right Hungarian-British commentator, Sebastian Gorka, and currently a Homeland Security adviser who previously wrote for the far-right outlet Breitbart. She is well known for her anti-Muslim views. In mid-June Trump invited her to become the new press secretary at the Customs and Border Protection agency. While at the DHS, Ms Gorka played a major part in cutting funding to groups assisting people who want to leave white supremacist groups; while Sebastian Gorka left the White House in 2017 after his ties to a Nazi-allied group and racist paramilitary militia were made public.
Then, some good news: (immigrant rights) activists are celebrating in New York. After almost two decades of organising and protests, a new bill allowing undocumented guest workers and residents to obtain driver’s licenses passed into law in mid-June. Ana Maria Archila of the Center for Popular Democracy tweeted, “For as long as I’ve been an activist, we’ve been trying to win drivers licenses for all [New York State] residents. This fight is about the freedom to move without fear and the right to return to our families at the end of day. Today democracy came alive and delivered justice. #SiSePuede”.
As support for California senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris grew, the Trump family’s basic and seemingly incurable racism stepped up a gear with a retweet by the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., from the ‘alt-right’ reading, “Kamala Harris is not an American Black. She is half Indian and half Jamaican… It’s disgusting.” This is not dissimilar from Trump’s racist slurs against Obama from 2013 onwards.
Louis Further