Notes from the US

Louis Further brings us his latest update from across the pond, rounding up some of the happenings you won’t have heard of in the land of the “free”

Environmental damage

One of the most dangerous appointments which Trump has made is that of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Not only does Pruitt (as well as Trump) deny (the human causes of) climate change; but he has surrounded himself with fellow deniers. “The arsonist is now in charge of the fire department, and he seems happy to let the climate crisis burn out of control,” was the response of the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune. “As Pruitt testified before Congress, it is the legal duty of the EPA to tackle the carbon pollution that fuels the climate crisis, but now he is spewing corporate polluter talking points rather than fulfilling the EPA’s mission of protecting our air, our water, and our communities.”

Pruitt was supported by Trump in removing the ban on highly toxic and damaging pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is known to harm the brains of children. This move was made in the same week as Trump ordered the illegal bombing of Syria for apparently using chemical weapons. This attack took place possibly at the behest of hawks within the “intelligence” services — because they felt they needed to reign him in as he was becoming too close to Russia; it was without governmental approval (although they gave it almost unanimously afterwards). Since Trump has shares in the manufacturer of the weapons used (Raytheon), he will have benefited directly as their value increased after the attack.

Meanwhile the wider administration is estimated to have done away with almost 100 regulations in its first few weeks — to the benefit of Wall Street banks, gun sellers, coal, oil and gas companies and other corporations. These changes have often happened at the behest of lobbyists or industry groups.

As Trump’s efforts further to damage the ecosystem continue, employees at the Department of Energy’s Office of International Climate and Clean Energy were warned at the very end of March not to use the phrases “climate change,” “emissions reduction” or “Paris Agreement” in official communications.

Encouraging Hate

As the wave of hate incidents nationwide inspired by Trump’s presidency grows, he has chosen a leader from one group that has itself espoused violence to represent the US on the international stage. In late March the State Department announced that representatives from infamous anti-LGBTQ hate group the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM) and from the far-right Heritage Foundation will soon represent the US at a United Nations conference on women’s rights.

Attorney General Sessions also hinted in April that he plans to backpedal on attempts to pressure police departments nationwide to curb their violation of human rights — particularly in their attacks on non-white communities.

Meanwhile Trump and the The White House are being criticised after the head of an anti-Muslim hate group visited the White House on March 21st. Brigitte Gabriel is the head of ACT for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center says is the nation’s largest grassroots anti-Muslim group. Its mission is to “… advance anti-Muslim legislation at the local and federal level while flooding the American public with wild hate speech demonising Muslims.” In February, Gabriel also posted a photo of herself posing with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

Racism in Florida

In Florida, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala has received death threats from another government employee after she announced she would not seek the death penalty in any murder cases, including in a case of a police officer’s killing.

After her announcement, the assistant finance director of the Seminole County Clerk’s Office, Stan McCullars, wrote on Facebook, “Maybe she should get the death penalty … She should be tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree.” Ayala is the first African-American state’s attorney in Florida’s history. The Orlando Sentinel reports that from 1877 to 1950, more than 331 black people were lynched by whites in Florida — the most lynchings per capita of any US state.

Shutting sanctuaries

“Sanctuary Cities” are those so designated by their elected officials where law enforcement and local bureaucracy (will) refuse to implement the racist immigration measures introduced by Trump (and Obama before him). Some states, though, are preparing to make such Sanctuary Cities illegal. Mississippi, for example, is preparing an anti-sanctuary cities bill that could well also lead to greater racial profiling.

At the end of last month the Mississippi Senate passed Senate Bill 2710, which forbids state agencies and departments from “adopt[ing], or implement[ing] polic[ies or] order[s] that … limit… or prohibit… any person from communicating or cooperating with federal agencies or officials to verify or report the immigration status of any person” etc.

Trade deals with Africa — sans Africans

In California last month, a three-day African trade conference at the University of Southern California was held without a single person from Africa, after the US government denied the visas of every single African seeking to attend. Organisers of the African Global Economic and Development Summit say between 60 and 100 potential attendees from Africa all had their visas denied. Organiser Mary Flowers said, “I don’t know if it’s Trump or if it’s the fact that the embassies that have been discriminating for a long time see this as an opportunity, because of talk of the travel ban, to blatantly reject everyone.”

With friends like Epstein

Trump’s outrageous statements continue: Alex Acosta appeared before a Senate committee for Labor Secretary after Trump’s first choice, Andrew Puzder, withdrew following reports of frequent sexual harassment and work and safety violations at his restaurants as well as of domestic violence against his ex-wife. A lawsuit is underway to investigate why Acosta chose not to pursue federal charges against billionaire sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, while the former was the US attorney in Miami.

The charges were that Epstein had sexually abused more than 40 underage girls — some as young as 13 years old. Acosta overruled his staff and negotiated a non-prosecution deal with Epstein, who served a 13-month jail sentence.

But Trump likes Epstein, having said “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” A few weeks later allegations of Trump’s own abuse of 13-year-old girls resurfaced in the wake of sex abuse scandals at his favourite TV channel, the Murdoch-owned Fox News.

Executive bigotry

Trump executive orders continue: among the more disastrous ones are those signed in early April which revoke rules from 2014 aimed to protecting equal pay for women. In provocative timing, this was signed just days before Equal Pay Day, Tuesday April 4th. According to data from the Pew Research Center, in 2016 for every dollar (£80p) a white man in the US earns, white women earn 82 cents (66p), black women earn 65 cents (52p), and Hispanic women earn 58 cents (46p). As has become typical in this White House, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, tweeted at about the same time, “#EqualPayDay is a reminder that women deserve equal pay for equal work. We must work to close the gender pay gap!

Breaking another election promise, Trump also unilaterally repealed an executive order from Obama which that helped protect gay people from employment discrimination. Dating from 2014, it prohibited the federal government from contracting with firms that discriminated based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Support

It’s never too early for a poll. Those reflecting Trump’s brief tenure in the Oval Office so far show that neither he nor his administration is popular and that voters are already evenly divided on the issue of impeaching the president. A Gallup poll finds that Americans believe the world at large sees the US more unfavourably than favourably (by 57% to 42%) while a poll by Public Policy Polling showed that, already almost half of those who responded (46%) are in favour of impeachment. That this should be increasingly talked about barely 100 days into his time in office is significant.

Louis Further