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.
Oppression
Just as last month’s Notes was being prepared for publication, Secretary of Labor, Alex Acosta finally resigned following the scandal surrounding his support for financier and alleged trafficker in girl children for sex, Jeffrey Epstein. Never mind: there’s always another one along in a minute. Replacing Acosta came the Department’s number two, Patrick Pizzella. Enthusiastically supported by Trump, Pizzella is one of Trump’s many anti-labour appointees. He, too, has questionable links. This time to discredited lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff.
It took mass action a little more than a fortnight to remove Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló. He resigned swiftly after a build up of carefully-targeted and sustained demonstrations by Puerto Ricans who were outraged at leaked messages showing the governor and his gang denigrating his constituents. A corruption scandal didn’t help him either. Imagine how long people – if they put their mind to it – could take to remove Trump too.
Recently accepting a job working in the office of Domestic Policy Council at the White House is one Michelle Moons. She was formerly the White House correspondent for Breitbart, the neo-fascist propaganda outlet which approvingly quoted Nigel Farage recently as saying that despite the …’bitter, twisted…’ left working so hard to undermine the Trump and Brexit victories, the right wing can be cheerfully defiant and… [Andrew Breitbart]… should be ‘happy warriors’; their tail is definitely up.
In mid July Trump welcomed to the White House a handful of highly dubious political allies for a ‘social media summit’. Although Trump repeatedly refused to publish a list of those attending, some couldn’t resist boasting about the ‘honour’ of having been asked and/or being there. So we know it included leaders from conservative think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation and Claremont Institute; the White House also requested the presence of far-right internet personalities and trouble-makers well known for pushing conspiracy theories, lies and disinformation.
Bill Mitchell, for instance, is a radio host who has promoted the extremist QAnon conspiracy theory on Twitter; Ali Alexander is an activist who tried to smear front-running Democrat presidential candidate Kamala Harris by wrongly saying that she is not an ‘American black’. James O’Keefe is an energetic purveyor of lies… his Project Veritas group recently tried to deceive reporters at the Washington Post by planting a stooge who told them that as a teenager she had been made pregnant by failed Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. Charlie Kirk is the founder of the right-wing student group, Turning Point USA – well known for spreading disinformation. Benny Johnson is a journalist/activist who was sacked by BuzzFeed for plagiarism and then demoted at the Independent Journal Review. Although anti-Semitic cartoonist, Ben Garrison, was originally to have been made welcome at Trump’s gathering, his invitation was withdrawn.
Following the war on Afghanistan which began in 2001, the USA engaged in systematic torture, as is well known. But only the last few weeks as this report become public did full details emerge of just how ferocious, illegal and sickening were the actions which Bush, Obama and Trump carried out. The most comprehensive set of first hand accounts yet available, it makes sobering reading.
Towards the end of July Trump announced that he is nominating Eugene Scalia as his next Secretary of Labor. Scalia is the son of the late far-right Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; and previously served as the Labor Department’s principal lawyer under George W. Bush. Eugene Scalia is also a partner in the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher where he has a long history of opposing labor unions on behalf of corporate clients like Walmart. A key ‘achievement’ in Scalia’s legal career so far is in his opposition to the Dodd-Frank financial regulations, which were brought in after the 2008 financial collapse to make such a recurrence less likely. Full steam ahead now for the financiers.
Freedom has reported before on the practices of the United States’ largest television station owner, Sinclair Broadcast Group. And how it obliges the propaganda outlets which it owns to air ‘segments’ in accordance with its own political stances and views. Last month this abuse reached a new low when Sinclair began forcing local stations to broadcast ‘news’ by the right-wing broadcaster’s chief political commentator, Boris Epshteyn. These defended Trump’s recent racist tweets which overtly threatened the group of Democratic congresswomen known as The Squad. As detailed elsewhere in this month’s ‘Notes’ Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York), Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts), Rashida Tlaib (Michigan) and Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) were told that they should “go back…” to the countries “…from which they came…” for disagreeing with the Trump élite – despite the fact that the first three of those legislators were born in the US and the fourth (Omar) was a naturalised US citizen having fled Somalia as a refugee as a partial result of US imperialist activity in the Horn of Africa.
The United States is often called the ‘richest country in the world’. But in mid July about a thousand letters were sent from the Wyoming Valley West School District (the equivalent of an LEA in the UK) in Pennsylvania to the parents of some of the children in its schools. They owed between US10 (£8) and US450 (£360) in ‘lunch debt’. The message was: Pay up or your children could go into foster care.
Freedom reported last time on the state of Oregon: lawmakers prevented a mildly positive environmental measure from passing by… going into hiding. We also said that Oregon is considered a state with equally mildly progressive ideas in its legislatures. In late July it became the first state anywhere in the US to allow students to take ‘mental health days’ – days off school or college etc when management understood that their mental or behavioural health could benefit from a period of absence.
Reports surfaced in Los Angeles last month that the Los Angeles Police Department employed an ‘undercover’ agent to infiltrate and record meetings of the local chapter of the anti-Trump group Refuse Fascism in 2017.
In late July Trump began taking steps to deprive up to three million people of the food stamps, to which they have been entitled until now. Families already in receipt of federal assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programme currently automatically qualify for food support. The Department of Agriculture’s latest move would subject these families to review. In fact about 12% of the US population relies to a greater or lesser extent on food stamps to survive.
One of the characteristics of an élite like Trump’s, of course, is disregard for others and apparent inability to empathise. In late July, the Trump-appointed Attorney General William Barr ordered the federal death penalty to be reinstated for the first time in nearly two decades and directed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule the state murder of a particular group of five inmates. More will probably follow – although it’s expected that legal challenges will intervene.
In late July the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed 13 of Trump’s nominations for lifetime judicial appointments culminating in a lengthy push to reshape the US’s courts and shift them further to the right for many decades into the future.
Such is the atmosphere in the United States at the moment, that few news outlets paid much attention when ‘Operation Clean Sweep’ took place in Boston: as part of a ‘crackdown’ to rid the city of its homeless by attacking them and destroying their property. Amongst the most disgusting acts was one caught on camera where the police simply destroyed three wheelchairs belonging to that community and threw them into a dustbin lorry’s compactor.
Environment
In the middle of July new research funded by NASA produced a report based on the destruction of West Antarctica’s massive Thwaites Glacier (about the size of Britain); it warns that human-caused global warming risks reaching a tipping point that could raise sea levels across the globe by about 20 inches (51 cm) much sooner than previously thought.
At almost the same time, Daniel Rothman, a professor of geophysics at MIT released new data showing that carbon levels today could rapidly be reaching their own tipping point; this would trigger extreme ocean acidification similar to the disastrous phenomenon which contributed to the Permian–Triassic mass extinction occurring about 250 million years ago. Although destruction of the environment matched by a doltish denial of humans’ role in the emergency are hallmarks of the Trump gang (in a surreal speech delivered recently in the East Room of the White House, Trump talked up his record on the environment and his belief that environmentalism is chiefly economics – yet without even mentioning the climate), climate crises certainly contribute to the numbers of emigrants fleeing the increasingly uninhabitable parts of Central America for the United States according to a recent United Nations report.
Chlorpyrifos is a pesticide, widely used, and shown by research of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cause brain damage in children. In 2015 the Obama administration undertook to ban the use of the toxic chemical. But the promise lapsed in 2017. Last month the Trump gang announced that it will remove the ban on Chlorpyrifos. Just to keep things interesting, Trump is also re-introducing the banned, highly toxic pesticide, Sulfoxaflor, back onto the market – presumably to assist the industry at the expense of the rest of us. This is certain to worsen the pollination crisis.
Yet there are many thoughtful and aware people in the United States when it comes to the environment. Many states and cities now ban single-use packaging in an effort to recycle; the same goes for drinking straws… there is no excuse for paper straws, for example. But in an obviously provocative act – and one which is designed to fill the stomachs of marine life, so unimportant to Trump is the world around him, Trump has actually released and is actively marketing Trump straws on his website.
At the end of last month the control (and – it’s now feared – the dispersal) of almost 250 million acres of public lands was handed to a former Reagan administration official called William Perry Pendley. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt appointed Pendley as acting head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The trouble is that Pendley has argued that all federal lands should be sold to fossil fuel and other corporate interests and not maintained for the benefit of all.
Racism
On the same day as he began mass forced repatriation (which looks like this) of non-white guest workers seeking asylum in the United States – many as climate and economic refugees hoping to avoid impossible living conditions created by Trump’s predecessors – Trump publicly and purposefully inflamed racial hatred and fear by proposing that non-white (lawmakers) who disagreed with him should also be removed. His ignorance and hatred seemed to fail to take into consideration that three of the women he was obviously referring to (and exhorting to “go back where they came from”) were born in the United States (one, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, barely a dozen miles from where Trump himself was born); and that the fourth (Ilhan Omar) was a refugee herself from Somalia, yet another country which US imperialism has long striven to impoverish and oppress.
We should be clear about what Trump did on the weekend of 14th July. And we should not overlook the fact that most members (and nearly all of the leaders and senior figures) of his Republican party either remained silent or applauded his conduct – thereby (implicitly) confirming that such actions are ones they approve of. Yes, this is behaviour which no longer surprises us as Trump’s megalomania strengthens weekly. But it must shock us and must not be deemed ‘acceptable’ just because it’s familiar to us.
This also resulted in shouts of “Send her back!” unchecked by Trump at his rallies in the following weeks. At a public meeting held by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York a few days after Trump’s filth, leaflets were handed out at the door by opponents carrying the same message. Barely ten days later, two officers in the Transportation Security Administration were placed on leave after a racist display (stuffed gorillas and a noose) was found inside a TSA workstation at Miami International Airport.
Let’s be in no doubt: as white supremacist and avowed racist neo-Nazi, Andrew Anglin, wrote on his Daily Stormer site, “…This is the kind of WHITE NATIONALISM we elected him for… And we’re obviously seeing it only because there’s another election coming up. But I’ll tell you, even knowing that, it still feels so good.”
The Daily Stormer is the same outfit which a federal magistrate judge last month ordered to pay over US$14 (£11) million to a Montana woman who was the object of an anti-Semitic hate campaign by Anglin in 2016, forcing her and her family temporarily to leave their home.
Maybe there is some sort of warped advantage to this new low: it has revealed – indeed brought into sharp relief – just how many lawmakers (Republican) share Trump’s opinions. Many tried to claim that to tell black women born in the US to go back to their ‘own’ bad countries (they can’t) was not racist. Some pretended they hadn’t seen (or ‘studied’) Trump’s comments properly! Others said he was misunderstood. The majority simply said he was right to say what he said.
Only four (out of 199) voted to condemn Trump for his offence in a House vote the following week. At the same time Republican Senate hopeful Kris Kobach said he would have to “…think about it…” and that it “…depended who else was running…” as to whether he would support Trump if he stopped trying to deny his racism and admitted it.
A week later Senator Ron Johnson (Wisconsin) distorted the whole thing by saying on TV that it used to be OK to say to someone “Love it or leave it” in the 1960s… so that somehow made it OK.
Then the next week, Trump increased action based on his hatred for and fear of non-white immigrants by bringing in a new fast-track deportation process forcibly to repatriate those whom the élite wishes by bypassing due process in the immigration courts. Immediate repatriation – regardless of what those so abused might face on their return – is now possible for any guest workers (who, it has been repeatedly proven, add to the economy – let alone the richness of the country) to be deported instantly. It is expected that the step will be opposed in the courts.
Then at the end of July Republican Senator Rand Paul ‘offered’ to buy Rep. Ilhan Omar a ticket to visit Somalia in order for her to “…come back and appreciate America more…”
Later last month members of a community in Hermitage, Tennessee, succeeded in preventing ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents from taking a man into custody. They formed a human chain around him and his son so that the father and son under attack could exit the van and re-enter their home. The ICE agents left the scene but locals say they’re ready to help again should they return.
In early July the governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee, signed into law a proclamation to make Saturday 13 July ‘Nathan Bedford Forrest Day’. Forrest was the Confederate Army general and slave trader who became an early member of the Ku Klux Klan. Tennessee already throws its official support behind such figures… 19 January is ‘Robert E. Lee Day’.
As Trump and his administration announced that it plans to block nearly all migrants from seeking asylum in the United States (a new violation of both domestic and international law), it would be easy to throw up your hands in horror and write the entire country off. That would be wrong, of course. For instance, two new surveys published at exactly the same time counterbalance any revulsion at what the foul élite is intent on doing. They showed conclusively that a majority of those polled knew that the wars waged by the US on Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the US military campaign in Syria were all ‘not worth fighting’.
Then in mid-July the House of Representatives voted to block Trump’s move to bypass the legislature and allow the sale of US weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates… over US$8 (£6.4) billion worth of Raytheon precision-guided weapons systems, often used to slaughter civilians in countries of which the US disapproves.
Sometimes racism like that which Trump and his gang peddle can be indirect: Monica Crowley was picked by Trump last month as the chief spokesperson at the Treasury Department. Earlier in her career Crowley apparently tried to join in the smears aimed at black president Barack Obama. She (wrongly) stated that he was an ‘Islamic’ (he’s a christian) community organiser trying to push the US into Sharia law; she endorsed Trump’s movement to claim that Obama was neither born in the US nor a legitimate citizen and so unable to assume office; and she tried to suggest that these – and other – facts would lead to Obama’s being essentially a ‘secret enemy of America’.
Reports began to emerge at the end of July that Trump campaign strategists were so pleased with the response to Trump’s accelerating racism by his likely supporting voters that they propose actually to build his campaign for 2020 specifically around it. At the same time news outlets are reporting that acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is also quietly ‘building an empire for the right wing’ and exhorting Cabinet members to push for a radical and rapid deregulation agenda throughout all areas of government.
Katie Hopkins is the latest fellow racist to be retweeted as part of Trump’s rants against non-whites. Trump seemed to be pleased by Hopkins’ words: “Call me what you wish. Islamophobe. Bigot. Racist. Vile. It matters not. What matters is the fight back for our Christian culture we desperately need to defend.”
When Trump takes an action which on the surface of it looks ‘innocent’, it almost always is not: a navy seal, (a member of the US Navy’s main special operations force, part of the Naval Special Warfare Command) Eddie Gallagher, was prosecuted for multiple war crimes which included shooting two Iraqi civilians and fatally stabbing a teenage prisoner. The prosecutors received medals for ‘doing the right thing’. In order to make the point that such racist conduct in Iraq is OK, Trump recently ordered those medals to be given back.
In a show of breathtaking aggression, not to mention obstinacy, Trump ordered raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency a couple of days after likely Trump-inspired shooters had massacred mostly Latino families in El Paso earlier this month. One Trump supporter in a separate incident on the day Trump visited the city was arrested after brandishing a knife; he had a loaded gun, ammunition and a bag of white powder and a large banner portraying Donald Trump as Rambo and stickers on his car for the far-right conspiracy website InfoWars. Food processing plants in Mississippi were targeted; 680 workers were detained – really for no more than not being white and having fled to the US because of the damage inflicted on their homelands by (previous) US terrorists.
It was the biggest single-day, one-state sweep in US history and appeared to be targeting particularly workers who, in 2018, had won a large (US$3.75 (£3) million) sexual harassment, national origin and race discrimination lawsuit against Koch Foods. Although some of those detained were later released (why detain them in the first place?), one of the most telling descriptions of what happened to families described children finishing their first day at school and finding themselves without parents to go home to; babies and toddlers who had to remain at daycare because their parents and/or guardians were not around to pick them up; and children crying for their parents. The reaction of many in the establishment was that the immigrant families should not have come to the US in the first place.
Trump, meanwhile was boasting of his reception by those whom he visited in the two cities where the atrocities (which he tried to link to the likes of Antifa) happened. He actually managed to turn that into a reference to himself: “I was here three months ago. That place was packed… That was some crowd. And we had twice the number outside. And then you had this crazy Beto. Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot, they said his crowd was wonderful.”
And so it goes on…
Louis Further