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

We start with Canada. Maybe activists in the United States could learn from protesters to their north. Canadian National Railway announced last month that it will shut down its transnational train services because of blockades to stop the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Shutting down its Eastern network means that (for logistical reasons) no cross-country trains will be able to run either. The route of the Coastal GasLink pipeline also crosses indigenous Canadian land and would do immense damage to the environment there and elsewhere.

Young members of the Sunrise Movement took action at the start of last month to show that, “Enough is Enough!”: 20 teenagers were arrested at the US Capitol for taking part in an action demanding that senators back the Green New Deal. Those arrested, including a 13-year-old, were part of larger climate action by over 150 middle- and high-schoolers calling for the lawmakers to “step up or step aside.” John Paul Mejia (17) from Miami said, “Instead of leaving our classrooms for our day off, we are bringing our classroom to the capitol because our government is failing to protect our generation, and we’re terrified.”

There was also a victory for climate activists at the end of last month. A jury in Portland, Oregon, refused to convict five members of Extinction Rebellion who blocked railway tracks used by – amongst other companies – Zenith Energy Corporation to transport oil. The activists’ defence was that their action was necessary (in order to preserve the Earth). Ken Ward, one of the ‘Zenith 5’, said: “When citizens are told the truth about the climate crisis – which is the first of Extinction Rebellion’s demands – they take appropriate and responsible action, as our jury did, and we thank them.”

Researchers at Brown University have been analysing six and a half million tweets from the period before and after Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement in June 2017. The study suggests that automated Twitter bots are making a substantial difference to the spread of online misinformation about the climate crisis. Bots tended both to approve of the president for his actions and to spread misinformation about the science of the climate crisis.

Meanwhile a study published at the beginning of February in the journal ‘Nature’ found that extracting and using fossil fuels could well emit up to 40% more climate-heating methane than previously thought. This strengthens yet further the argument that humans’ contributions to temperature rise is abnormal.

Trump, of course, neither knows much about nor cares for the preservation of the environment. In a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque in Washington earlier this month he took a step towards destroying other countries’ biospheres. Trump insisted that Colombia resume toxic spraying on its coca crops – in order, really, to make him look good to his followers for being tough on drugs (and foreigners). The operation was suspended in 2015 because the herbicide used contains the highly damaging glyphosate, which is produced by Monsanto. There are claims that it cause cancer in humans, and pollutes the soil.

A jury in Missouri awarded a peach farmer over US$265 (£204) million in compensation for years of crop losses because the weedkiller, dicamba (also produced by Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in 2018), drifted onto his land.

Oppression

The Governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, and the state’s Attorney General, Mike Hunter, recently announced that the state will again start to murder its citizens convicted of certain crimes using a three-drug lethal injection mixture of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

In early February Donald Trump quietly took steps to cut a scheduled pay rise for millions of federal workers – from 2.5% to 1%… he said he needs to “…keep[ing] the nation on a fiscally sustainable course.”

According to ‘The Wall Street Journal’ ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) have spent over US$1.2 million (£923,000) to track and arrest undocumented immigrants using cellphone data. It seems as though the Homeland Security Department buys cellphone location data from a company based in Virginia called Venntel. That data is drawn from cellphone apps like games and weather apps which ask the user’s permission to access their location. The abuse began in 2017, it is alleged.

The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago announced the results last month of a poll which it had recently conducted on health care. An estimated eight million people living in the US have used crowdfunding to pay for their premiums and costs with one and a half times that many using such online sources and schemes for someone else.

Racism

A report last month from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) shows that incidents of white supremacist materials being spread across the US rose by 120% in 2019. That was the second year in which the circulation of racist and nationalist posters and banners has more than doubled. One Texas-based group, though, was responsible for two-thirds of all such propaganda.

Even though parts of it were blown over in recent storms, and even though Trump lies about the extent of his ‘beautiful wall’, its construction goes ahead. In Arizona, for instance, the contractor hired to build a stretch of the wall to keep those with skin darker than Trump’s out of the US began his work by wilfully and knowingly destroying a sacred Tohono O’odham burial site, Monument Hill. This is located partly within the Roosevelt Reservation to the west of the border town of Lukeville. The site was previously used for religious ceremonies; its cultural significance can be traced back hundreds of years. As if that weren’t enough, crews have also been pulling up and destroying saguaros and other protected varieties of cactus.

The United States own agency, US Central Command, admitted that in 2019 the country was responsible for dropping more bombs on Afghanistan than in any other year since the Pentagon began keeping a record in 2006. The total is nearly eight times as many as in 2015. Destruction from US warplanes amounted to 7,500 bombs, or one nearly every hour around the clock. This admission came around the time at the very end of January when Trump announced that he was to relax restrictions on the use of landmines; so it is now expected that Trump can theoretically use landmines anywhere in the world.

Jackie Lacey is the DA (District Attorney) in Los Angeles County. She is supposed to uphold the law. She has been criticised for her handling of cases involving police brutality. On the day before a primary vote at which she is seeking re-election a video shot by Melina Abdullah, an organiser with Black Lives Matter and professor at a local university, was made public. It shows Lacey’s husband pointing a gun at Abdullah and other activists, who had arrived at the Laceys house to oblige the DA to keep her promise to talk with them about the brutality; the video also includes the law officer’s husband’s threat, “I am going to shoot you. Get off of my porch.”

That Trump and his gang should politicise COVID-19 was, alas, inevitable. One of the most egregious examples came just at the beginning of March. Senator Tom Cotton (Arkansas) is well known for his belligerence and hawkish stances. He issued this statement threatening to ‘hold accountable those who inflicted [the coronavirus on the world]’: “The Wuhan coronavirus is a grave challenge to our great nation. We are a great people. We rise to every challenge, we vanquish every foe…” A subsequent tweet made it clear that his statement was directed at China.

Economy

One claim repeatedly made about Trump’s performance since he came into office is that he has done well for the economy; that whatever else you may think about him, he has built a ‘strong economy’.

Not so.

Set aside the fact that meaningful economic swings take a lot longer than the three years during which he has been President to make an impact – good or bad. Set aside that the United States is many trillions of dollars in debt.

And then look closely at what his apparent economic ‘benefits’ are actually costing the rest of us.

His latest tax scam to redirect money to the rich will cost the vast majority of the nation about US$2.3 (£1.8) trillion over the next 10 years. Then look at the inherited cost of George W. Bush’s tax ‘cuts’; they cost more than US$4 (£3) trillion over the same length of time. What’s more, the wars which the United States has waged on the Middle east have cost almost US$6 (£4.6) since 2001.

The irony – of little surprise – is that when such vital reforms to the health ‘care’ system as those outlined by candidates in this year’s presidential race are proposed, reforms which might save all life as it now struggles to exist on Earth (the Green New Deal), the first question which is almost invariably asked is, “How much will it cost?”

Something as innocuous as Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax proposal, which the rich would hardly notice (an increase of barely 2% in what they would owe) could (in theory) allow the country to make such necessary and life-changing provisions as universal care for every child to the age of 5; could raise the wages of those providing these; could provide free college for all public technical schools, 2-year colleges and 4-year colleges; could abolish student loan debt for 95% of those with such debt; and could allot a hefty sum (US100 (£77) billion) over 10 years to combat the opioid crisis; it could make what Warren’s supporters are calling ‘Down payments’ on both the Green New Deal and Medicare for All.

Donald Trump hit a new ‘milestone’ last month. The government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington announced that – after over three years in which the group has been monitoring Trump’s conduct – it can now be confirmed that he is responsible for at least 3,000 conflicts of interest between his businesses and his position as President. These include trying to influence public policy through lobbyists, foreign governments, and members of Congress.

~Louis Further