Notes from the US

Louis Further looks at wealth disparity, institutional racism and environmental issues in the Land of the Free for this month’s column

Freedom regularly picks up examples of inequality, of course. But a recent statistic is truly staggering. Credit Suisse Research, no less, published a report reflecting the way things stood in terms of income distribution in 2016. It found that those men (they are all men) in the five “lowest” deciles (ten equal groups divided according to wealth) of the world population own about $410 billion (£322bn) in total wealth. But the world’s richest five men owned over $400bn (£314 bn) combined. Each man owns almost as much as 750 million other people.

Racism

In mid-June a man from Tennessee was sentenced to a jail term of 20 years for plotting to burn down a mosque, a school and a cafeteria in the state of New York. Last February he was convicted in Chattanooga (Tennessee) for recruiting people to carry out arson attacks and otherwise to violate civil rights. Not all that unusual unless, like Robert Doggart, the man from Tennessee in question, you are a former Tennessee congressional candidate.

At the same time in late June as the New York Times published a quite shocking list of Trump’s lies, the DHS (Department for Homeland Security) announced that a significant federal grant of $400,000 (£308,680) to one of the country’s few but successful groups dedicated to opposing white nationalism, Life After Hate, was to be withdrawn.

As part of the testimony for Trump’s pick for the Transportation Department’s top lawyer, Steven Bradbury (formerly he served in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel), Senator Tammy Duckworth put her finger on it when she commented of Bradbury, “You were an architect of the legal justification for detainee abuse in the form of waterboarding and other forms of torture. In my opinion, that alone should disqualify you for future government service. And while you’re nominated to serve at the DOT and not at Justice, your willingness to aid and abet torture demonstrates a failure of moral and professional character that makes you dangerous regardless of which agency you serve in.”

On the same day, Time magazine made a formal request to Trump to remove from six of his properties several fake (they never existed, they were never published) framed copies of a Time magazine cover featuring him. The next day, Trump sent two hateful and sexist tweets about TV co-hosts for MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, while the pair was on the air. It’s a widely-respected, semi-analytical show which is critical of Trump. He said: “I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low IQ Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came … to Mar-a-Lago three nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!” Top Republican and House Speaker, Paul Ryan, said that the “crude messages” were inappropriate. Trump was also caught on camera using sexually harassing and offensive language to an Irish reporter. His proposed budget for 2018 would cut nearly 250 full-time positions from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission staff which clearly defines just such behaviour.

A new report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) suggests that – despite internal disorganisation and fractured membership – The Ku Klux Klan is still active in 33 states and ‘…still poses a threat…’ to US society. In the last year the number of active KKK groups has grown slightly in the last year: over half the current Klans now in existence have been formed within the last three years.

Environment

In early June the water protectors who made such a convincing case against the greed and destructiveness of those behind the Dakota Access Pipeline were able to celebrate what the Standing Rock Sioux Chair, Dave Archambault, called a “very significant victory.” A Federal judge ruled (pdf) that the safety evaluations made by the Army Corps of Engineers were insufficient. They were ordered to “reconsider” their analysis of the risks to both the environment and the public which the pipeline carrying crude oil poses. US District Judge James Boasberg wrote that the Corps “did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.”

Several minor but welcome laws to promote clean water and prosecute those who polluted waterways were passed during the Obama administration. In late June head of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), Scott Pruitt, announced that the Trump government intends to abolish one or more of these — for instance the Clean Water Rule, which requires oil companies specifically to have plans for the prevention of oil spills; and to recover from such spills in the inevitable case that they occur. The Act has also attempted to stop companies dumping waste into protected waters. Trump has also announced a push to increase nuclear power.

Meanwhile Nathan Donley of the Center for Biological Diversity commented on a recent move by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to place glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s weed killer, Roundup) on its list of chemicals known to cause cancer, saying: “California’s decision makes it the national leader in protecting people from cancer-causing pesticides.”

An important new report from the Carbon Majors, CDP (formerly known of the Carbon Disclosure Project) and the Climate Accountability Institute reveals that over 70% of all global emissions are produced by only 100 companies. It’s not hard to guess who they are, with the petroleum giants at the top.

Dissent

A round up of bills proposed, in passage or measures enacted reveals that almost half the states in the US now have attempts to criminalise dissent — most of them new since Trump’s election:

Heckling is to become a crime in North Carolina thanks to a promise from State Senator, Dan Bishop.

As reported previously here, North Dakota, Tennessee and Florida have written legislation that would give immunity to motorists who hit protesters. While both Iowa and Mississippi have bills under consideration to make ‘blocking high-speed roads’ a felony (more serious criminal offence).

In North Dakota various steps were taken during protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline … one makes it illegal for demonstrators to cover their faces. And now Missouri, Washington, Georgia, Nebraska, and Montana are working along parallel lines. In Minnesota there is a bill under consideration which would allow a state or local government to bring a civil lawsuit against anyone otherwise convicted of participating in an ‘unlawful assembly’ so as to recover costs for what the bill calls ‘public safety response’.

Wisconsin has a bill planned to penalise “anyone under the jurisdiction of the institution who engages in violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, obscene, unreasonably loud, or other disorderly conduct that interferes with the free expression of others.”

A lawsuit has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) accusing the police in Washington DC of using sexual abuse to punish some of those arrested after protests at Trump’s inauguration in January. Four plaintiffs were allegedly stripped and sexually molested as other officers laughed.

Louis Further


Pic: DAPL pipeline under construction near New Salem, North Dakota by Tony Webster 

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