Notes From the US

Louis Further’s monthly column for Freedom was written shortly before events in Charlottesville, where a white supremacist, allegedly Unite the Right supporter James Field, drove his car into a crowd of anti-fascists, killing one and injuring 19. The idea of driving cars through protesting crowds has become an increasingly popular fantasy in “alt-right” circles in recent years, and represents a major attempted escalation of far right violence in the already febrile atmosphere of Trump-era politics.

Environment

In the middle of July a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the Earth is entering (or may already have entered) its sixth mass extinction judging by ‘current trends of population declines and extinctions’. In fact the report states that ‘…population extinctions today are orders of magnitude more frequent than species extinctions…’. Co-authors Gerardo Ceballos, Paul Ehrlich, and Rodolfo Dirzo suggest:

When considering this frightening assault on the foundations of human civilization, one must never forget that Earth’s capacity to support life, including human life, has been shaped by life itself. When public mention is made of the extinction crisis, it usually focuses on a few animal species (hundreds out of millions) known to have gone extinct, and projecting many more extinctions in the future.

But … our maps … suggest that as much as 50% of the number of animal individuals that once shared Earth with us are already gone, as are billions of populations. Furthermore, our analysis is conservative, given the increasing trajectories of the drivers of extinction and their synergistic effects.

Although the report acknowledges that there are many causes for the ‘biological annihilation’ which has increased dramatically in recent decades, the ‘ultimate drivers’ are ‘human overpopulation and continued population growth, and overconsumption, especially by the rich’. A similar report, part of the National Climate Assessment — and disparaged by Trump — confirms this.

Trump continues to appoint inappropriate people to important posts in science. In late July climate change denier, conservative radio host, and former Trump campaign co-chair Sam Clovis was nominated for the top science job at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Aside from the obvious poor match between Clovis (who has no (advanced) qualifications in the field) and the responsibilities of the job, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), has forcefully suggested that for Clovis to serve as the USDA’s undersecretary for research, education, and economics is illegal because the 2008 Farm Bill specifically requires the president to nominate a person for that post ‘…from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics…’ Clovis has, for instance, published almost no academic work.

At the start of August the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would waive several environmental regulations “… in order to expedite building security-related barriers and roads along the nation’s border with Mexico near San Diego …”. Xenophobia, hatred and impracticability  before the Earth.

At the same time, the environmental group Mighty exposed the extent to which the meat industry is responsible for polluting the sea in the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes with toxic chemicals (in manure and fertiliser). This is resulting in huge ‘dead zones’: these toxins cause algal blooms; they decompose and deprive the water of oxygen; this causes fish and other wildlife to die. It is thought that more than 8,000 square miles (the size of El Salvador) in the Gulf of Mexico now form such a ‘dead zone’.

March to war

Ex-oil chief and Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is about to close the part of his Department’s operations responsible for overseeing issues related to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Todd Buchwald is presently in charge of the Office of Global Criminal Justice. He has now been told that he would be reassigned to another role within the State Department. A former US diplomat, David Scheffer, commented, “This sends a strong signal to perpetrators of mass atrocities that the United States is not watching you anymore”.

As speculation about Trump’s corruption (in the election and ties to Russia) continues unabated, towards the end of July, he announced a massive plan to repeal or otherwise abolish hundreds of regulations passed in the Obama era which were intended to protect both workers and indeed anyone relying on anyone else – especially their employers. Over 800 planned and existing safeguards due to be nullified apparently include everything from product safety standards for mattresses’ flammability, to precautions necessary for workers’ safety when on building sites.

Although Trump failed — as usual — to notify others of his whim which (tries to) discriminate against transgender people in the US military, whether or not that is actually ever implemented, the Department of Justice shortly afterwards launched separate attack on the LGBTQ community by arguing in a legal brief that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect gay workers from discrimination.

At the same time as a transcript emerged of Trump’s telephone call in January with Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, proving that the former had lied about its contents, the White House was forced to admit that Trump did not in fact receive a call from the head of the Boy Scouts of America thanking him after his controversial speech (highly and inappropriately politically-charged, it was quickly likened to a Fascist rally) in July to about 40,000 boys at the National Scout Jamboree.

NBC News reported in early August that, once mineral resources had been announced in Afghanistan, Trump became furious in a briefing with members of his administration and national security advisors demanding that the US do more to exploit those minerals, likening waging war to renovating a restaurant.

Racism

We are all rightly horrified at terrorist attacks by members of Middle Eastern militant groups. But it needs to be continually born in mind how many deaths are caused by terrorists from the US and its allies. For instance comparable civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria, directly resulting from – usually air – strikes totalled almost 80 a month during Obama’s administration. Since Trump took office that figure has risen to an average of a dozen deaths a day

Court hearings took place in July in Arizona to decide whether a ban on ‘ethnic studies’ in schools in Tucson is legal. Freedom reported in 2010 on a law banning teaching or classes designed to reach or help specific racial groups. This had the result of eliminating Tucson’s ethnic studies programmes and banning certain books from schools… these included ‘Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years’, ‘The Tempest, ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ and ‘Chicano!: The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement’.

Late in July a 16-year-old Mexican teenager, Cruz Velazquez, died after agents from the US Customs and Border Protection service told him to drink from a bottle of liquid methamphetamine after he was stopped at the border near San Diego. They used the tactic of ‘daring’ him to drink from the bottle in order to see whether he was lying about its contents. The agents did not test the liquid first; nor have they been disciplined – despite the repeated prime-time broadcasting of a video of the murder on television.

In August the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took the extraordinary step of issuing its first ever travel advisory. It warned black people to avoid the state of Missouri, suggesting that their safety cannot be guaranteed. This follows legislation which prevents workers from suing individuals responsible for racial bias; it also makes it very difficult for workers to win racial discrimination claims against businesses. The NAACP statement reads, ‘Individuals traveling in the state are advised to travel with extreme caution… SB 43 legalises individual discrimination and harassment in Missouri and would prevent individuals from protecting themselves’.

Government

In late July the director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub Jr., resigned saying that the Trump administration (which announced at the same time that it plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, making it look like a version of the otherwise ditched Trans-Pacific Partnership) has undermined ethical standards so severely in such a short time that the United States is now “…pretty close to a laughingstock…”.

As attempts in Congress to pass laws replacing Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) flounder, it may be difficult for observers to understand why millions of voters still support a system (and president, legislators) who are working hard to deprive them of their own health care – which could conceivably result even in their loss of life. In the first place, it’s because they are kept largely ignorant of the real reason why such legislative moves are taking place at all – doctrinal reasons aside, it’s so as to remove the tax commitments imposed by the ACA on the rich minority. Secondly, because these up to potentially 20 million people currently relying on the ACA have been brainwashed into thinking that Trump and legislators must surely be acting in their interests and that their apparent abhorrence of dogma (including government over-reach) is invariably a good thing.

Why? Because such testosterone-driven rhetoric (“We will make a good healthcare system”) as Trump displayed for months, night in night out this time last year during the long, long election campaign, inevitably erodes any distinction between a rhetorical promise and what actually happens. What’s more, to challenge the president is unpatriotic, the greatest crime of all for Americans to commit.

Freedom often reports on the huge disparities between workers’ and managers’ pay and salaries. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that while wages for most workers in the US have hardly risen in several decades, the CEOs of the country’s largest firms have experienced a huge rise between 1978 and 2016: 937%. Those members of the elite made an average of $15.6 (£12) million in salary and parallel compensation, which is almost 275 times that of a typical worker.”

Louis Further


References

Economic Policy Institute: www.epi.org
Mighty: www.mightyearth.org
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: www.naacp.org
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: www.pnas.org
Union of Concerned Scientists: www.ucsusa.org