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

In the middle of last month Trump did something which can best be described as highly provocative, destructive and regrettably consistent with the mind of a maniac: he had the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announce new rules for the ingredients of school lunches. Although the vast majority of nutritionists argue for more fruit and vegetables in our diets, USDA Deputy Under Secretary Brandon Lipps announced a move towards pizza and fried potatoes instead of plant-based menus. School lunches are the only supposedly nutritious meal which many children take in a day, so high is the level of poverty in the United States. It looks as though the fact that this major step backwards was an attempt to insult the previous presidential administration: the rule change was made on the birthday of Michelle Obama; she was well-known for advocating healthier eating, especially for the young. For Trumpers that’s tantamount to taking away freedoms.

The city of New York together with 15 state attorneys general filed a lawsuit at the same time in response to the Trump administration’s attempt to gut the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. It’s that same Agriculture Department with its new requirements for ‘SNAP’, which would remove an estimated 688,000 people from the scheme.

An analysis released in the middle of January shows that six banks (JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) were able to avoid paying a combined total of US$18 (£14) billion worth of taxes last year (2019 for 2018) as a direct consequence or Trump’s tax cuts. Trump’s response? “Will you say, ‘Thank you, Mr. President,’ at least? Huh? I made a lot of bankers look very good”. So absurd must this be considered that the Treasury Department’s inspector general has begun an investigation into Trump’s tax breaks.

Also in the middle of last month a new study published in the Journal of Gerontology emphasised the impacts of poverty and material inequality on quality of life. ‘Socioeconomic Inequalities in Disability-free Life Expectancy in Older People from England and the United States: A Cross-national Population-Based Study’ is based on data from over 25,000 adults in the UK and US who are aged 50 and older. It points to a conclusion that being rich can add about nine ‘healthy’ years to a person’s life.

A key aspect of fascism, of course, is the control of the media and what people are allowed to read. In the middle of January The Missouri Library Association announced its concern about a new bill, Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act (H.B. 2044), which has been introduced in that state’s legislature. The bill would create committees across the state with the power to jail librarians for making such material available as those committees consider ‘inappropriate’. Locally elected ‘parental library review boards’ would be able unilaterally to remove books from library shelves which they decide are not suitable for young readers. Any infractions of such censorship would cause the state to lose some funding; individual librarians would have to pay fines of up to US$500 (£385) or be sentenced to up to one year in jail.

Another pillar of fascism is to have – and act on – the belief that whatever you think and do cannot be challenged as ‘wrong’. In one of the single most important effective outcomes of last month’s impeachment cover-up in the United States Senate, Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, (he who was recently on record as describing Trump as corrupt) actually advanced yet another defence of his client. His legal opinion firmly binds the President’s own personal interest to the national interest. They are now – for Trump and the Republicans more generally – one and the same thing. We shall see how this works as Trump’s approaches.

Dershowitz and Trump argue that the latter ‘knows’ that his re-election is indisputably what’s best for the country; so it has to be achieved at all costs. So… whatever Trump does to secure a second term is – by definition – in the national interest. It follows that, say, should Trump decide to abolish voting in the ‘swing states’ where the margin of votes could yet deprive him of re-election in nine months’ time, there is no longer anything (in the legal or legislative milieus) which anyone who disapproves of such an action can now do to prevent that. And – presumably – if this were challenged by a second or subsequent impeachments the Senate would again acquit. This despite a pronouncement on the day before the coverup was closed and Trump was acquitted by a Department of Justice judge, James Burnham, in a federal court. He said that the ‘preferred’ remedy for obstruction by the White House was… impeachment.

Racism

At about the same time as Trump was eulogising ICE (Immigration ad Customs Enforcement) for its work in keeping ‘Mexican criminals’ out, agents at the border turned away a six-year-old girl who was ill and seeking medical help, which had previously been approved, and scheduled with doctors in Philadelphia. This now puts the life of the child, who has Downs Syndrome and a heart condition, in danger. The move does, however, confirm nicely to Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) border policy.

Several stories emerged in January of the state of California’s callousness towards the homeless. At the end of the second week, for instance, members of the advocacy group ‘Moms 4 Housing’ were forcibly evicted from a home in Oakland (near San Francisco) in which they were living. This was only a few hours after community members turned out in force to offer support for the coalition of homeless, which has been working to end the housing crisis in the Bay Area. The coalition’s Twitter feed said, shortly after the arrests: ‘We’ve built a movement of thousands of Oaklanders who showed up at a moments notice to reject police violence and advocate for homes for families… This isn’t over, and it won’t be over until everyone in the Oakland community has a safe and dignified place to live”. The group was occupying a home on the city’s Magnolia Street that had been bought in foreclosure by property speculation firm, Wedgewood, Inc.

Environment

The report of the results of a new survey by Climate Change Communication, part of the Yale School Of Forestry & Environmental Studies, shows that the proportion of those in the US who say they are ‘alarmed’ by climate change has increased by 300% in just the last five years. It now stands at 60%.

A letter from Larry Fink, the CEO of money management firm BlackRock in mid January represents a small victory for the climate and its activists: the company announced that it would now ‘prioritize the climate crisis’ when deciding on investments and strategies. BlackRock is the largest investment firm in the world; it deals in assets of around US$6.96 (£5.4) trillion. Bill McKibben co-founder of 350 Action responded, “This is a massive victory for a small band of fighters”.

Early in January, the United Nations released its draft proposal to counter threats to biodiversity. To co-incide with this, the Center for Biological Diversity made its own, local, contribution in a new report suggesting a strategy for a US-focused ‘visionary action to save life on Earth’. It lays out specific steps for the United States to help end the global extinction crisis. The cost would be US$100 (£77) billion. Does that seem like a lot? Unlikely to be found? An improbable and unaffordable sum? It’s roughly the budget for the US military for 12 hours.

~Louis Further

Photo: Sarahmirk, CC BY-SA 4.0