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.

There are two significant ongoing series of events in the United States this last month, of course.

The still-spreading and still as deadly as ever Covid-19 with its deniers. And the protests after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May.

Then, at the end of these Notes, other damage being slipped in by the Trump thugs while they think no-one is watching.

Also breaking are encouraging developments in Seattle, Washington, where protesters have marked off the Capitol Hill (nothing to do with (buildings in) Washington DC) area of the city to resist interference and state oppression. Capitol Hill is often referenced in the context of its prominent LGBT and counterculture communities; it has seen successful mass protests before – like the Seattle WTO protests in 1999, and Occupy Seattle. CHAZ (the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) is being established commune-style as a developing community: so far protesters have hung signs on the East Precinct… ‘Seattle People Department’… ‘The Property of the People’.

Covid-19

Nothing has really changed about the morbidity and lethality of Covid-19. Except that the right and Trump have been downplaying it. At the time of writing, the numbers of cases in more than half the states in the country are still significantly rising. Over a dozen are now actually recording their highest seven-day averages since the pandemic began. Amongst these are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

Trump, to celebrate, announced at the start of this last week that he will hold mass public rallies in several of these – including Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma (on a deliberately provocative date (Juneteenth, in a provocative location) and Texas. That should get the death count to 250,000 sooner than otherwise planned.

Yes, the US seems to be on an almost unbelievable course: mass collective murder and suicide led by selfishness and stupidity.

Anecdotal, and the work of a malicious and stupid minority, though they may be, examples emerge almost every day of resistance to wearing masks and social distancing as Trump has managed to ‘politicise’ the pandemic in ways both predictable and unexpected.

The large (and traditionally ‘conservative’) Orange County in California to the south of Los Angeles discouraged the wearing of masks and made them statutorily optional a couple of days ago, for instance.

There is by now a clear correlation in the states which relaxed the only measure yet known to mitigate the ravages of Covid-19 – what public health scientists call NPI (Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions)… masks and social distancing – with increasing numbers of cases and their death tolls. As figures come in for the parties, crowding on beaches and open places of entertainment over the public holiday (Memorial Day) weekend at the end of last month, the trend is expected to rise once more.

Indeed, if the deniers, hoaxers and “My freedoms are more important than your health” mob continue as they are doing, it seems probable that their selfishness will ensure that Covid-19 becomes endemic in the USA, possibly indefinitely.

Two attendant possibilities are now being seriously discussed in the country: firstly that when the next spike and second wave of the pandemic arrive and start to sicken and kill untold numbers, there will be increased and possibly unstoppable tension between the deniers, hoaxers and “My freedoms…” mob and public health officials. The latters’ attempts to re-impose what – it has to be remembered – under any other circumstances would be universally acknowledged as life-saving measures (lockdowns, compulsory wearing of masks, stay at home) will both be impossible and so will lead to ‘civil strife’. Indeed, the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said last week that a second lockdown will not happen.

The deniers, hoaxers and “My freedoms…” mob are increasingly reminding anyone who will listen that they are armed. As, for what it’s worth, are the far-right, supremacists, and fascist Trumpers. The scenes we’ve all watched in the last three weeks as police both condone and continue to practice oppressive, brutal and (potentially) lethal acts when opposing the protesters show just how well-equipped Trump’s base may be. And that includes after the election, on 3 November, if (when?) Trump loses and may refuse to leave, claiming election-rigging, national security or that he’s still the best person for the job. It’s significant that many who would have previously dismissed such a scenario as fantasy, seem now to be entertaining the idea – including presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

The deniers, bullnecks and hoaxers are as strong as ever in their insistences. The avatar of this poster on a local community board:

“…one pool open! All pools open! Time to take back control of the pool!! Get your floaty, ice chest, and suntan lotion and be an American! Time to turn the pool red!!… Get your posters and protesters and take the gate at noon Friday. Who has the bolt cutters??? We need patriots to stand up now more than ever!”

shows him with a huge assault rifle (an illegal AR-13) over his oh-so-male shoulders and includes the words: ‘In 1776 The British demanded that we hand over our weapons… We Shot Them’.

The second – probably less likely – fear is that Trump will be able to systematically suppress statistics reflecting the gravity of the pandemic. In some senses (states are ‘miscounting’) that has, though, already begun; he is claiming that “…the virus is now reduced to just the ’embers’ and ‘ashes’ of a spent pandemic.”

Within the last few days evidence has emerged, though, that at least one state, Florida, is actually suppressing and distorting data in earnest. Florida’s former top Covid-19 data scientist was sacked for publishing true and accurate statistics about the spread of the pandemic in her state. She has now launched her own website because the truth was withheld by a state which was actually experiencing one of the highest rates of increase in the country, but is now due to host the convention at which Trump will be confirmed as the nominee for this party.

Trump also tried recently to control social media after Twitter belatedly and insipidly began to tag some (but not all) of his lies as (nothing more than) implicitly misleading.

He also began to suppress data collection from nursing homes.

What’s more, officials in four states (Virginia, Texas, Georgia, and Vermont) admitted that they have been adding two numbers (viral test results and antibody test results) to their totals – thereby skewing the apparent seriousness downwards. Florida and Georgia have been publicly criticised for this.

Then an astonishing episode which revealed in the middle of last month that the state which ‘pioneered’ the premature removal of safety measures, Georgia, posted a block graph on their website which appeared to show a downward trend; the taller columns were on the left tapering off nicely to lower ones to the right. Until, that is, you actually read the dates in the legend along the foot of the X-axis (weeks). They were not in order – but rearranged. Not by date; but specifically – and misleadingly – by the values of the Y-axis highest to lowest!

Perhaps lawmakers in Pennsylvania were emboldened by this. According to Representative Brian Sims, members of the Republican leadership knew that (other) congresspeople there were testing positive for Covid-19 and were quarantined; but they failed to advise other members.

Deniers

As the denial movement grew, one fear was that ‘the authorities’ would support it. That is, after all, what has happened – and is still happening – against protesters on the streets after the murder of George Floyd.

One of the first such cases emerged when an officer, Greg Anderson, with the Port of Seattle Police Department posted a video on Instagram on 6 May 6. In the clip, Anderson is wearing his uniform in what appears to be his police car. He explicitly encourages other police persons to disregard stay-at-home orders and refuse to comply with the law in order to ‘protect Americans’ constitutional freedoms’. As Anderson was ‘placed on administrative leave’ his defiance quickly attracted nearly a million views.

A shop selling flooring supplies near Los Angeles now goes out of its way to encourage hugs and handshakes. The owner of a camping site in Wisconsin has explained that she will treat clients arriving with masks as committing a robbery, and act accordingly. Kevin Smith owns the Liberty Tree Tavern in Elgin, Texas. A poster on the front door of his bar reads, ‘Sorry, no mask [sic] allowed’.

No-one is allowed into one petrol station in Kentucky if they are wearing a mask. Also in that state, a group of protesters held a rally outside the Democrat governor, Andy Beshear’s residence, at which they hung an effigy of him on a tree.

When you have hundreds of thousands (millions?) who think like this, it’s hard to see developments and outcomes which will lead to mass survival; even harder to see how the climate catastrophe can be avoided if (even a (sizeable?) minority of) people in the United States have anything to do with it:

“If you’re scared, stay indoors. Your health is not my concern. My freedom to do as I want is being taken away by people like you. You think you can tell the rest of us what to do. Try looking at real estate in Venezeula [sic] or China then. They are Nanny states. At least I can still do what I want in America”.

[Typical local community discussion board]

Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s mostly (though not exclusively) Republican voters who seem to find it the hardest to understand what a virus is; and how it spreads; and not to appreciate (probably because they don’t know – and would dismiss as ‘fake news’ if they were told) that such NPI measures have been the standard operating procedure since 1918/19. A recent Gallup poll showed that 42% of Republicans understood that SARS-CoV-2 is deadlier than Influenza B. This contrasts starkly with 90% of Democrats.

Several governors (Republican and Democrat) have actually made tearful appeals on the broadcast media for people in their states to wear masks – only to be ridiculed by Trump and his own propaganda outlets.

George Floyd and Black Lives Matter

At times – especially with the entry after 25 May of affective values entering the domain: love, empathy, altruism, togetherness, solidarity – current developments are encouraging. This is clearly bigger, more widespread and more significant than any ‘protest’ movement since 1968. But corresponding backlashes and oppression by the state now seem inevitable. The USA’s élite has no recent precedent for knowing how to respond to such united and determined opposition.

That’s why fears of great force by what Noam Chomsky recently suggested may appropriately be called ‘friendly fascism’ may prove not to be exaggerated. All the elements of control and reliance on a willing mass of ‘armed avengers against anarchy’ seem to be in place to put down anything which the élite feels may carry one or both of two threats. The first one would expect: what they see as ‘disorder’. The other is more frightening still: that the protests make Trump look bad… in the eyes of his supporters because he is not being tough enough; and/or because his ‘inaction’ could risks his losing the election.

This was posted – in all caps, originally – on the same community forum as before in the context of the pandemic:

“This movement is not about freedom or liberty from oppression. The Chinese communist party has paid $100s of millions to US ‘news’ media: CNN, MSNBC, NYT, Wall Street Journal, Washington Times [sic: the poster would be more likely to hate the Washington Post]. The complicit leftist controlled media are using lies and censorship to divide the American people. It is about completing the divide and conquer goals of the obamanation regime. It is about getting control of every aspect of your life and your life itself !

It is time for all freedom loving Americans of all colors, ethnicity, religion, creed and politics, who support the constitution, to stand together to fight this anarchist rebellion.

United we stand, divided we fall!”

Instances of real police aggression, of course, have grown since Freedom published its special report recently.

There are credible first-hand descriptions and tallies of what, frankly, should not have come as surprises here and here. That these have been filmed and circulated must suggest to reasonable people that the police doesn’t care. Indeed, that they have the support of Donald Trump… in a tweet on 9 June he actually suggested that the assault in Buffalo (NY) by police of 75-year-old Martin Gugino was staged. (Updated statements by Gugino’s lawyer confirm that – as a result of the assault on him – his brain is now injured.) That’s right, Trump got this fantasy from the trashy tinpot little neo-Fascist TV station, One America News, on which Freedom has reported before. But Trump’s tweet comes on the heels of the resignation of all 57 members of the squad responsible in support of the two most prominent police assailants. Equally suggestive that the élite knows no bottom to the depths it will sink to is the denial, apparent ignorance and unconcern for Trump’s action. Again, CNN detailed Senators’ responses immediately afterwards here.

This nicely reflects a telling clip (this time by MSNBC ) of a whole slug of Senators being asked to comment on Trump’s use of tear gas on protesters to clear the way for his ‘photo-opportunity’ (that’s right, the one where he held the bible upside down) outside a church near the White House so as not to show that he was a coward for being led into the bunker there three days earlier before police in Washington DC extended the barriers to keep protesters further away from his residence. Trump’s excuse that he was ‘inspecting’ the bunkers was later contradicted by Attorney General Willian Barr.

It emerged this last week that state patrol troopers in Minnesota and police officers in Minneapolis slashed the tyres of dozens of parked cars late last month during protests in order to strand demonstrators, medics, and journalists.

What is not so assiduously reported is the aggression shown by the right and white supremacists against the protesters. It’s not hard to get the impression that there is a huge ‘constituency’ fully armed and waiting to use their weapons. It can be assumed that – like all of us – some exaggerate. But the intent seems to be there.

On the night of Sunday 7 June in Virginia, a man who admitted to being a leader of the Ku Klux Klan was arrested for driving his car into a group of protesters. Harry Rogers was charged with assault and battery. The same day in Seattle an African American man was injured when a man drove into a crowd of protesters and actually opened fire. The driver, Nikolas Fernandez, was held on suspicion of assault in the first degree. In Bakersfield, California, in no fewer than three cases, drivers also ran into protesters. On the Saturday before Rogers’s action, a 55-year-old African American, Robert Forbes, died after being hit earlier in the week by a white driver. No charges have been filed.

In his much-publicised visit to a Ford factory in Michigan, where Trump yet again failed to wear a mask, he threw out what is widely being seen as a racist ‘dog whistle’ to the swiftly-emerging fascist cohort of supporters by praising the “good bloodlines” of that company’s notorious anti-Semite founder, Henry Ford.

Economics

In all of this we must, though, spare a thought for the poor billionaires and very rich: the US Department of Labor itself released figures at the end of last month showing that (even when over 40 million workers are newly unemployed) they are doing better than ever. And a new analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), suggests that the combined net worth of America’s billionaires rose by almost half a trillion dollars (their total wealth is estimated at US$3.4 (£2.8) trillion) in the same 10-week period.

Environment

A study by researchers at the University of Michigan and Tulane University and which was commissioned by the conservation group, Center for Biological Diversity, was released at the very end of April. This was when workers in animal slaughterhouses were dying in droves because the virus was passed amongst them so quickly. The report shows that, if consumers in the US halved their consumption of animals, it could prevent 1.6 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Trump’s determination to leave as little of the environment undestroyed as possible continues: while the rest of the world is trying to fight a pandemic, he has been introducing new rules which will allow hunters in Alaska’s nature reserves to shoot bears and wolves as well as their cubs and pups – even when they are sheltering or hiding in their own homes and dens. Luring these animals with food and then murdering them in cold blood will also now be allowed. Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director for the Center for Western Priorities commented that this was: “…amazingly cruel… just the latest in a string of efforts to reduce protections for America’s wildlife at the behest of oil companies and trophy hunters”. Prentice-Dunn did not comment on whether it was to be hoped that as many hunters would in turn be mauled, disabled or permanently eliminated by the wild animals they seek to destroy.

Trump continues to direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to demolish, repeal and otherwise neuter measures which could protect the Earth. Under the pretence of protecting the economy, he signed an executive order earlier this month which will loosen the requirements for the impact on health, and of potential pollution to be taken into consideration, when new infrastructure projects are proposed.

A couple of days earlier, the EPA announced new curbs to states’ powers to reject fossil fuel projects as destructive to the environment. These threats to life came at the same time as the National Academy of Sciences published a report indicating all too clearly that the loss and extinction of 500 ‘bellwether’ land animals proves that the Sixth Mass Extinction is now well underway. Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University, one of the research team, warned: “The conservation of endangered species should be elevated to a global emergency for governments and institutions, equal to the climate disruption to which it is linked.” Gerardo Ceballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, who led the research, put things just as starkly: “We are facing our final opportunity to ensure that the many services nature provides us do not get irretrievably sabotaged.”

Last week Trump significantly slashed remaining protections for the USA’s only maritime ‘monument’ (area of special and/or outstanding scientific interest) in the Atlantic Ocean: fish can now be killed for pleasure in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

And to finish on a small but equally deadly and disgusting note, last year Donald Trump’s eldest son and grandson (both also called ‘Donald’ for some reason) decided that it would be fun to go and kill some rare mountain sheep in Mongolia. The cost to the animal kingdom was inestimable. The cost to taxpayers in Secret Service protection was more than US$75,000 (£59,000).

Louis Further


Photo: Hungryogrephotos, Public Domain