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

Trump’s wrecking of the Earth continues.

In August, the Trump administration announced that it had re-approved the use of ‘cyanide bombs’ to kill wild animals on public lands. These M-44 devices, whose status Trump alone changed, actually cannot safely be used by anyone – at any time: they kill both pets and smaller animals indiscriminately.

The permanent extinction of multiple species seems assured now that the US federal government has formally announced plans to ‘overhaul’ the Endangered Species Act. This actually became law in 1973 – against the odds – during the administration of Richard Nixon. It has been widely credited with preserving both whole ranges of animals themselves, and with contributing to greater biodiversity.

Trump will now remove automatic protections for threatened species – because he believes it’s more important to ‘consider’ economic factors (profits for the élite) than the preservation of life. What’s more, the extent to which scientists (employed by the government) can discuss and set climate change-related protections will be yet further limited by this move.

As always, though, environmental groups, Democratic lawmakers and attorneys general have lined up to fight what the Sierra Club is already calling the ‘Trump Extinction Plan’. The International Fund for Animal Welfare, for instance, said: ‘The most comprehensive assessment of biodiversity ever completed was released earlier this year and shows that more than one million species are at risk of extinction. These species are inextricably linked to our own well-being, livelihoods, economies, food security, and overall survival. Gutting key protections of the Endangered Species Act is precisely the wrong action for the US to be taking’.

We reported last month on the Trump ‘straw initiative’: his deliberate attempt to belittle, dismiss and anger environmentalists by trying to promote plastic products – including drinking straws. At the same, time an announcement from Trump encapsulated much of what makes him the appalling disaster that he is. As the trend worldwide seems to be to move away from plastics – at least in thoughtful circles – Trump touted his support for a new plastic manufacturing factory which Royal Dutch Shell has been planning and building in Pennsylvania. In fact he should take little ‘credit’ for the factory: it’s been in the works since 2012. The plant comes with the promise of over US$1 billion (£828m) tax credits from the Pennsylvania’s taxpayers. It will also use a byproduct of fracking to make the pellets used in the production of many different kinds of plastic. So he lied about its origins, yet talked up the benefits to the rich without acknowledging the downsides for everyone else on Earth.

Common sense tells you that fracking is a mistake; and has and will continue to have huge negative consequences. New research by a scientist at Cornell University explains that – in addition to the obvious disasters in which the process results – the fracking boom in the US and Canada during the last ten years is largely to blame for a huge rise in methane in the Earth’s atmosphere: between 2005 and 2015 the amount of shale gas produced each year rose from 31 billion cubic meters to 435 billion… or 50 million cubic feet each and every hour around the clock.

Another report in the journal ‘Scientific Reports’ was published last month: it showed that adverse human impact on the seas worldwide has almost doubled in just over a decade; and could double again soon unless concerted action is taken globally now. A team from the Universities of California Santa Barbara and Stanford examined data from between 2003 and 2013. The team’s members examined the extent to which 21 marine ecosystems were affected by such human activity as fishing, land-based pollution, and shipping – as well as climate change. Nearly 60% of the world’s oceans have been damaged by those human activities.

Opposition to Trump’s wreaking agenda there is, though; and lots of it: A coalition of 22 states and seven major American cities sued the administration in mid-August over its replacement of the Obama-era ‘Clean Power Plan’ with Trump’s ‘Dirty Power’ rule, the current administration’s so-called ‘Affordable Clean Energy (ACE)’.

Amidst the predictable hoggery of the G7 summit last month in Biarritz, Trump lied about why he missed the climate meeting… both the people he said he was meeting did attend. At the same time as he expressed his interest in ‘buying Greenland’, he seriously suggested dropping nuclear bombs on hurricanes to stop them damaging the United States.

He clearly doesn’t understand or couldn’t care less about the planet. In late August he took two measures further to destroy the eco-system: plans were announced to make it easier for oil and gas companies to pollute the atmosphere with methane gas: regulations brought in by the Obama administration are to be removed. Methane is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases contributing to the global climate crisis having 80 times as much potential to trap heat as carbon dioxide.

As the Amazon burns due largely to greed and the promotion of destruction by the Fascist régime there, which Trump supports, he announced that he will now allow and encourage the destruction of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest, Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has been ordered to exempt the 16.7-million-acre forest from restrictions put in place during the Clinton presidency. Amongst those reacting, Earthjustice pointed out that the forest is a significant buffer against climate change… ‘The Tongass stores hundreds of millions, if not over a billion, tons of carbon, keeping the heat-trapping element out of the atmosphere’.

Oppression

You may have read news items on the following series of events at the beginning of this month. But a summary bears repetition. As hurricane Dorian approached the southeastern areas of the United States, Donald Trump announced repeatedly – and wrongly – that Alabama could definitely be affected. At first (scientists and experts at) the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued clear, polite and politically neutral clarifications of Trump’s error, misunderstanding or ignorance of the facts. NOAA is the Federal governmental agency whose remit includes responsibility for researching, examining and disseminating weather information – including warnings and alerts. It does so through its colleagues at the National Weather Service. This process includes hourly updates on hurricanes to inform the public and other agencies so that they can take appropriate: reduction of alarm where possible; evasive and preparatory measures where necessary too. These bulletins are frequent enough for mistakes to be corrected quickly, and for those in the public eye working from them to move on.

Less than a day after NOAA’s factual correctives, Trump had produced a map purporting to prove that he was right about Alabama all along and they were wrong. He summoned journalists to the Oval Office to flap his map at. And he (or someone on his staff: the Washington Post apparently has evidence from an insider that it was Trump) had ‘extended’ the possible path of Dorian on this incorrect and misleading map of Trump’s using a felt tip pen. When this was also refuted by the specialists – equally calmly and impartially, Trump instructed his commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, to whom (the head of) NOAA reports, actually to retract the Agency’s correction and concoct ‘evidence’ supporting Trump’s error and his publication of misinformation – rather than expose The President’s error (or his acceptance of misinformation, perhaps as a result of his lack of geographical knowledge).

Of course there were calls for this too to be put right, and for the truth about Alabama’s exclusion from visual representations of the hurricane’s path to be preserved. These came from NOAA’s scientists’ Trade Unions, and from some politicians, as you would expect. Calls for resignations too. Satires of Trump’s stand abounded; as did fact-based attacks from the thoughtful. And of course outrage from the right at anyone undermining Trump, the great ‘statesman’ [sic].

Few are likely to be surprised; few are likely to change their position or voting intention next year because of Trump’s conduct. But ‘Sharpiegate’ would seem to be nicely symptomatic of the current state of affairs: the distortion of the way the government is led and run – even assuming that you already disbelieve in its institutions (in the US). And the appalling elevation of one incompetent racist’s narcissism over all else. Especially when the more important aspect of the severity of Hurricane Dorian (its exacerbation by the climate crisis) is largely ignored by almost everyone responding to it.

Last month the Trump administration began the highly dubious process of bypassing lawmakers in Congress to deprive low-income families (the ones who need it most) of food. The US Department of Agriculture proposed a new rule which would prevent about three million people from getting and using food stamps.

A new study was published last month revealing that over the past 40 years, salaries for the most highly-paid executives in the US have increased by over 1,000%. What’s more, the heads of the 350 largest companies take home almost 280 times more than does the average worker. The report’s co-author Lawrence Mishel said that today’s CEOs would hardly notice a change in their quality of life if their salaries were significantly reduced: they have an average salary of US$17.2 million per year – or nearly £40,000 a day!

In the middle of August (still very much a holiday month in the United States) Trump asked the US Supreme Court to make it legal to sack transgender workers. The basis of the ‘Justice’ Department’s legal argument was that the Civil Rights Act is limited to offering protection for employees based on their ‘biological sex’. Next month, on 8th October, the Supreme Court will hear these arguments (clearly outside the spirit of the Act) in the context of a case which has reached the Court involving a transgender woman who was indeed dismissed from a funeral home in Michigan after advising her employers of six years that she is planning to transition.

A new book by one of the nation’s foremost civil liberties lawyers powerfully describes how America’s constitutional checks and balances are being pushed to the brink by a president who is consciously following Adolf Hitler’s extremist propaganda and policy path from the early 1930s, when the Nazis took power in Germany.

In ‘When at Times the Mob Is Swayed: A Citizen’s Guide to Defending Our Republic’, Burt Neuborne contends that America’s constitutional foundation in 2019, an unrepresentative Congress, the Electoral College and a right-wing Supreme Court majority are not positioned to resist Trump’s extreme polarisation and Republican Party power grabs. However, its second chapter, ‘Why the Sudden Concern About Fixing the Brakes?’ extensively details how Trump mimics Hitler’s pre-war rhetoric and strategies.

Neuborne doesn’t make this comparison lightly. His 55-year career began by challenging the constitutionality of the Vietnam War in the 1960s. He became the ACLU’s (American Civil Liberties Union) national legal director in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. He was founding legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School in the 1990s, and has been part of more than 200 Supreme Court cases and Holocaust reparation litigation. Worth taking seriously.

Racism

Last month at Boone’s Camp Event Hall in Booneville, Mississippi, a couple of mixed race was turned away from the venue in which their wedding was to have taken place because the owner said that such a union went against her Christian beliefs.

Jimmy Aldaoud (aged 41) was born in Greece but lived in Detroit until Trump’s gang deported him last month – to Iraq. He had never been to Iraq and did not speak Arabic. The move – aptly described by Hisham Melhem (a columnist at the Arabic news service, ‘Annahar’) as ‘Cruelty for cruelty’s sake’ – resulted in Aldaoud’s death from complications with diabetes which could not be treated under Aldaoud’s new circumstances.

In the middle of last month Trump – still acting on his own initiative, dictator-like, as though he were not supposed to defer to the wider body of lawmakers – announced an arbitrary new rule to make it more difficult for legal, documented, guest workers with low incomes to stay in the United States. The so-called ‘public charge rule’ would penalise immigrants legitimately seeking benefits including Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers. Immigration officials would in future be able to deny green cards and visa applications members of such families. Those on lower incomes or who have not yet benefited from formal education could also be denied permanent status if officials ‘thought’ that they might in the future, perhaps, need public assistance.

Trump’s hatred and fear of non-white people manifested itself in two shocking (but not surprising) comments for which he was responsible at the end of last month: as hurricane Dorian approached Puerto Rico (still feeling the results of his (government’s) lack of action after Maria in 2016), Trump tweeted: “Wow! Yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end? Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all time record of its kind for ‘anywhere'”. He seems to think it’s the islanders’ fault that hurricanes approach their part of the United States. He is lying about the dollar amount – on both counts, by the way.

At the same time Trump announced plans unilaterally to divert much-needed money for those in the region who are subject to the disasters which are in part the result of the climate emergency that he denies. This will keep more brown-skinned refugees out of the country. And he has ended the ‘medical deferred action’ programme, which allows immigrants with serious health conditions to stay in the US to receive appropriate treatment after their visas may have run out.

At the same time, an official re-election campaign email from Trumpactually has the message that ‘This is our country, not theirs’ when alluding to policy suggestions by the progressive Congressperson, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – who was born here, is a US citizen and yet is not white.

~Louis Further