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.

Pandemic

On the very day that Republican President Trump was apparently on supplemental oxygen, having contracted Covid-19 as a result of his stupidity and ignorance, the Republican Supreme Court in the state of Michigan ruled that Democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer had acted unlawfully by issuing and renewing executive orders in April of this year to protect people in the state from the pandemic.

Read on for news of an attempt to kill Whitmer (and, it seems, other governors who acted in the same way) for this. Whether or not Trump really was ill, how severe it was, and how it has really evolved are still open to interpretation and doubt.

That same weekend Vice President Mike Pence (who has also refused to guarantee a smooth transition of power if he loses the election) declared his intention to continue his crowded rallies where few, if any, of those attending will be wearing masks or socially distancing. And Attorney General William Barr refused to self-isolate despite his presence at the likely source of Trump’s own contracting Covid-19 – a largely mask-less and crowded event on 26 September in the White House Rose Garden to celebrate Trump’s formal nomination of regressive jurist Amy Coney Barrett for the US Supreme Court. There could be few clearer indications of the obstinacy and pig-headed refusal to face reality than these developments: “We’re powerful males and won’t show weakness”! And just to remove any lingering doubt, one Michael Farris, the CEO and general counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an anti-LGBTQ hate group was also invited to, and seen at, that White House event.

As most of us know, masks (as well as social distancing and hand hygiene) are virtually the only way we have of preventing community spread of Covid-19. Trump politicised masks fairly on in the pandemic in a vain attempt to minimise the crisis so as to improve his chances of re-election. It would have been one thing to use words, exhortations, rallies, images and the momentum which he has with his misguided, selfish and stupid (as in wilfully ignorant) followers.

Quite another thing was the way in which he prevented the (free) distribution of an average two masks to each family and household in the United States (650 million units to a population of about 328 million) once it became clear what was happening and how serious it was going to be. A report recently in the Washington Post, however, suggests that that is exactly what happened. Pence and other officials in his ‘Task Force’ rejected the proposal because it might ‘…create concern or panic…’. It seems, though, as if the Trump gang is quite happy specifically and actively to foment panic by lying about the threat of crime from protestors and to distort, lie about and exaggerate what they see as the adverse effects of Biden’s electoral platform.

It’s also becoming clear that a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) significantly to scale back testing for the virus amongst the general public came not from the CDC’s scientists (who in fact were highly vocal in objecting to its publication, and pointed out errors in its science), but from Trump and his administration. An unnamed official commented, “That was a doc that came from the top down, from [Health and Human Services] and the [White House] task force”. Trump also overrode a directive from the CDC to the effect that mask wearing should be mandatory on all public transport.

Most states in the US are now seeing trends upwards and some of the highest daily totals of cases and deaths since June.

Freedom reported the ten-day-long motorcycle rally held in Sturgis, South Dakota in August. It seemed likely that – given its political slant (no masks) this would be likely to cause multiple and widespread infections. A report published last month suggests that 20% of the subsequent cases on Covid-19 in South Dakota were caused by the event. It is estimated that the cost of treating the probable quarter of a million cases arising from the rally could well be over US1.2 billion (£925 million) even if not a single case is fatal. That is unlikely: at least one death is already known to have resulted from it.

Donald Trump is a callus, sadistic, narcissistic fool. Several times this last month he has excelled even himself. For instance, he actually said in mid-September that the fact that 200,000 people in the US is a “sign of success”, adding: “…If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level that I don’t think anybody in the world would be at”. This is not true (the US is universally acknowledged to have handled the pandemic worse than any other nation in terms of per capita cases and deaths). Nor is it ethical to discount the deaths and suffering in states (in the US blue perversely means Democrat while red is for the Right!) which are unlikely to vote for Trump. Equally unethical was the Trump election campaign’s misuse of a statement by Dr Anthony Fauci, which it took out of context to suggest that he approved of their response. He does not.

At a rally in Swanton, Ohio, on the day when the death toll from Covid-19 in the USA passed 200,000 Trump said that the pandemic was affecting “virtually nobody”. This came a couple of days after one of Trump’s campaigners was booed by his audience for suggesting that those attending might want to consider following the law and wear masks.

In mid-September, The Washington Post reported that Pentagon officials spent almost all of a fund worth US$1 billion (£785 million) which was intended for pandemic relief on jet engine parts, spy satellites, drones, body armour – and dress uniforms for troops instead.

One incident which nicely epitomises the immaturity and highly partisan nature of the response of many people in the United States to the global pandemic is the vandalising – no fewer than five times in as many days – of a sign in a Chicago suburb which displays the death count from Covid-19 in the US. Spray paint has been used to deface the memorial to the over 200,000 people who have died.

Still, officials in the city of Henderson, Nevada, recently issued a US$3,000 (£2,350) fine to the venue which saw Trump’s huge super-spreader indoor rally there this time last month for violating that state’s COVID-19 guidelines. It was the one where thousands attended, most without masks; and Trump – when asked about it – seemed to ignore everyone else and said that he was on stage and so couldn’t catch the disease.

Environment

In the middle of last month, a new study published by a team of climate scientists made it clear that – unless prompt and rigorous efforts to minimise the emission of greenhouse gases are taken now -‘Earth is on track for some of the strongest, fastest climate change the planet has ever experienced’. Easily one of the most comprehensive investigations of its kind, the report, which used chemical analyses of ancient sediments to derive information about the climatological record of the Earth, finds that we are moving towards levels of temperature not seen in in the last 34 million years.

Ryan Maue is a former ‘scholar’ at the right-wing Cato Institute. He is also a climate change denier who has been a prominent critic of scientists working to avert the coming catastrophe – including highly respected Dr James Hansen and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Towards the end of September Trump nominated Maue to take up the post of chief ‘scientist’ at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Trump himself, though, has had a complete change of heart! At the beginning of September, he signed an executive order extending a ban on oil and gas drilling. That’s right. Good for him! But wait. The ban only applies to eastern parts of the Gulf of Mexico near Florida’s beaches, and the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. Those are areas packed with Trump’s supporters and who are – strange to say – on record as having expressed opposition to offshore drilling. Furthermore, Trump’s pal, Lindsey Graham is facing a tough re-election challenge in South Carolina. So no change of heart after all.

This is more like the good old destroyer of life: Trump’s administration is about to remove protections throughout the United States afforded to grey wolves. The animals, whose populations are declining, no longer have protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, parts of Oregon, Utah, and Washington state. In Idaho alone, almost two wolves or pups are killed every day throughout the year. Andrea Zaccardi, a senior lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “It’s sickening to see how wolves have been slaughtered in Idaho once federal Endangered Species Act protections were lifted… if wolves are delisted nationwide, this cruelty could extend to all wolves within our country’s borders. This treatment of our nation’s wildlife is unacceptable”.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages 244 million acres of federal lands in the United States, or 10% of all land plus 30% of the nation’s minerals. In an extraordinary development on 25 September a federal judge, Chief District Judge Brian Morris of the US District Court of Montana, ordered the acting director of the BLM, William Perry Pendley to step down. Morris forbade Pendley to exercise any more authority because he has served unlawfully for more than 400 days. This ruling, which took effect immediately, followed a lawsuit brought by the Democratic governor of Montana, Steve Bullock and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Morris also ruled that Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, cannot pick anyone else to the head of the Bureau of Land Management until after the upcoming general election in November. Pendley began his illegal tenure at the BLM as the fifth temporary director after Neil Kornze left less than a year into the Trump administration. Trump nominated Pendley in July 2019. Pendley is a conservative activist who denies the reality of climate change and the existence of depletion of the ozone layer.

Racism

Freedom has often reported on Brown University’s carefully and intelligently constructed ‘Costs of War’ project. In a new report from that source, it is suggested that the United States so-called ‘war on terror’ has now displaced as many as 59 million people.

The Racist-in-Chief, Donald J Trump, passed an executive order on 23 September preventing such federal personnel as contractors, those in the military and trainers from running anti-racism, anti-sexism and other forms of diversity training. We know that such sessions and courses can at times be ineffective. Nevertheless, this was an act of supreme bigotry. Trump wrote in his accompanying Tweet: ‘Americans should be taught to take PRIDE in our Great Country, and if you don’t, there’s nothing in it for you!’ This was in the context of Trump’s attempt to ‘revise’ history: in the formal text of his executive order: ‘Our Founding documents rejected… racialized views of America’. In fact, the original US constitution marked the legal worth of Black people as ‘three fifths’ that of whites.

This is while even Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security states in a draft report that white supremacists will remain the most ‘persistent and lethal threat’ in the United States at least until 2020 over and above the threats from overseas terrorists.

It would be hard to think of something more blatantly racist. But Trump managed it. Just a day later at a rally in Minnesota Trump (implicitly) advocated eugenics (although it’s doubtful whether he’s heard or understands the term). Speaking to his supporters in Minnesota, President Donald Trump said: “You have good genes. You know that, right? You have good genes. A lot of it’s about the genes, isn’t it? Don’t you believe? The racehorse theory. You think we’re so different? You have good genes in Minnesota”. Carin Mrotz is executive director of Jewish Community Action; she responded immediately, “For Minnesota Jews, it’s chilling to hear this language, which echoes the ‘race science’ used by the Nazis to justify the extermination of so many of our ancestors”.

This comes at the same time as senior aides to Trump were reported (in the Washington Post) as saying that Trump had complained to them that “African Americans have themselves to blame in their struggle for racial equality” and that he “…could never understand why first lady Melania Trump wanted to go to Africa…”; then that “…Jewish people are only in it for themselves”.

Trump didn’t leave things there, though. He called the teaching of critical race theory a “form of child abuse”; and he reiterated his opposition to the Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘1619 Project’, which re-examines the legacy of slavery.

These comments came in the same week as when reports began to emerge of hysterectomies being performed on prisoners without their consent. A nurse at a Georgia Immigration and Customs Enforcement prison, for example, cited the Irwin County Detention Center is one such institution. A jailed migrant said, “When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp… [as if] they’re experimenting with our bodies”. Reports of the practice elsewhere followed.

It is opportune now not to forget the crisis manufactured in the Middle East by the United States. The people of Yemen, especially, are suffering almost unimaginably because of cuts to international aid from the United States and its allies. Millions are facing famine after years of bombing in their country by the US-backed Saudi war machine. The US is also benefitting from weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and completely ignoring the impact on civilians.

Oppression

Trump gave his most blatant indication so far that he may not leave office if the result goes against him. Speculation has been growing during 2020 that the man believes he has some sort of Divine Right to use the office of the United States presidency for his own personal gain. Few can know for sure what he will actually do after the beginning of next month as the election results come in. It’s almost certain that nothing will be clear on the night of Tuesday 3 November – as usually happens with a largely electronic voting process.

This year those concerned to save lives and prevent more illness by requiring voters to cast their vote in person have arranged for mail-in votes to be provided. This system is an equivalent which is no more nor less valid than in-person voting. After all, in 2016 nearly a quarter of all votes were cast remotely. But Trump knows that more of his opponents than supporters are likely to vote this way – largely because of the high number of Covid deniers who won’t use the mail-in system in order to assert their ‘liberties’ of standing in a queue near other people who believe in the hoax.

Trump – as usual – first raised doubts as to the legitimacy of mail-in ballots. These doubts are spurious and unfounded for there is no evidence of fraud when votes are posted. Next, he took measures nationwide to degrade the postal service. In some ways he feels that this will both prevent his opponents from voting at all; and will strengthen his case that mail-in voting is ‘dangerous’. So Trump’s comments on 23 September were rather startling both for those who believe in the ‘democratic’ system under which the president who loses the election leaves office without any kind of – at least public – resistance; and for those who appreciate just how vital it is for Trump to be permanently disabled.

The senior White House reporter at Playboy, Brian Karem, asked Trump: “Will you commit to making sure there’s a peaceful transferral of power after the election?” Karem asked at the ‘press conference’ that day. The only answer anyone in their right mind can give (whatever they may privately wish and hope for – expect even) is “Yes, of course; that’s the law”. Instead – in a move which appeared to be encouraging the militias and armed supporters – Trump replied: “We’re going to have to see what happens, you know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster”.

The Guardian revealed within a day or so that pro-Trump right-wing activists in Oregon had planned to use violence when attacking protesters in Portland. They allegedly even discussed political assassinations. Leaked transcripts of conversations between members of a group called Patriots Coalition provide the evidence for this – with comments like… ‘I’m waiting for the presidential go to start open firing’.

Even cursory attention to the Fascist propaganda poured out by Fox and the like will make it plain that there is more right-wing opposition to, and (violent) action against, the protesters now than for a long time. Tucker Carlson, Fox’s top pundit, has a guest most nights pushing the false narrative that BLM and similar movements are staging what Fox is increasingly calling ‘insurrection’. Republican Senator Rand Paul (also Kentucky) called the aims of the Black Lives Matter movement ‘terrorism’.

In Los Angeles in late September protests mounted after the judicial inaction following the murder of Breonna Taylor by police in Louisville, Kentucky, were met with violence from counter-protesters: at a peaceful march for BLM on 24 September, for example, there were two separate attacks on the marchers by drivers in vehicles resulting in hospitalisation. A police officer in Seattle who was captured on video rolling his bicycle over the head of a protester lying in the street was put on administrative leave.

Trump’s latest attempt to ram through a Supreme Court replacement for the recently-deceased Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a naked attempt to stack the odds in his favour after the election. He hopes that the many challenges to election results which do not go Trump’s way will do so when they reach the Supreme Court. Many such litigations are said to be in preparation. Once Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed (the Republicans refused to entertain hearings to confirm Obama’s nomination for a Supreme Court judge in an election year, of course) the court will be stacked 6-3 for the foreseeable future in favour of repression, intolerance and regressive affects in many areas of life in favour of the rich and powerful. Indeed, Amy Coney Barrett may well have a hand in repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obama’s attempt to extend health care ‘insurance’ to the less well off) thereby depriving even more people of healthcare than Trump has been able to do since 2017; in reversing Roe v. Wade on abortion; in further restricting immigration of non-whites from countries whose economies the US has degraded and/or destroyed; in promoting intolerance of lifestyles in the workplace which are disapproved of by employers; and in promoting massacres and mass shooting by upholding individuals’ rights to slaughter others by carrying guns.

Donald Trump is not someone one would want for any kind of colleague or friend, obviously. He stooped to yet another new depth last month when he publicly mocked and celebrated the injury of a TV news anchor working for MSNBC, the outlet Trump likes the least. While Ali Velshi was covering recent protests, he was hit by a rubber bullet fired by the police. At one of Trump’s super-spreader rallies in Minnesota, he mocked the anchor (whose name he consistently gets wrong and his injury), saying: “I remember this guy Valshi [sic]. He got hit in the knee with a canister of tear gas and he went down. He was down. ‘My knee, my knee’. Nobody cared, these guys didn’t care, they moved him aside… And they just walked right through. It was the most beautiful thing… No, because after we take all that crap for weeks and weeks, and you finally see men get up there and go right through them, wasn’t it really a beautiful sight? It’s called law and order.”

Trump’s intentions to rig the election by fear and degrading the mechanics are becoming clearer by the day. He’s pushing the idea that a victory for Biden will result in an influx of non-white refugees, the ‘destruction’ of the suburbs and massive unrest by bearded ‘liberals’. But he’s not alone. His allies in the attempts to downgrade and otherwise compromise the process of voting are becoming busier. Covid-denier Greg Abbott is the governor of Texas. On 1st October he issued a ‘proclamation’ that there must only be one drop-off location for mail-in ballots in each of Texas’ 254 counties… the state has more than any such administrative units. This means that the voters in Harris County (population four and a half million) must all travel to one location if they want to deliver their ballot in person, rather than turn up on election day in the midst of a pandemic with many people in the state refusing to wear masks; or trust their ballot to the already heavily nobbled postal ‘service’.

Lastly, this month’s cold porridge award goes to Attorney General William Barr, whose Department of ‘Justice’ has designated three cities – with councils, oppressive police forces and taxation to benefit the rich etc as ‘anarchist jurisdictions’. Perhaps if the cities of New York, Seattle and Portland had better education systems, those who besmirch the sacred term ‘anarchist’ in reaction to protests (what the said Department terms ‘violence and destruction of property’) might think again. It has also emerged within the last couple of weeks that the same ‘Justice’ Department has worked with Homeland Security to tap, intercept and otherwise spy on legitimate protesters during their actions this year. They are doing this by cloning. The government steals a phone’s unique identifiers and copies them a device of its own so that communications (whose privacy and integrity are protected under the law) can be illegally intercepted by Trump’s government, elected on a minority, remember. One consequence of this callous idiocy will almost certainly be to deprive the most needy in those cities of billions of dollars in federal funds. New York Attorney General Letitia James described the move as ‘illegal’, commenting: “This designation is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to scare Americans into voting for a commander-in-chief who is actually incapable of commanding our nation”.

Louis Further

Photo: Paul Becker, published under CC BY 2.0