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.

Racism

Trump’s and his administration’s hatred of (non-white) immigrants is
fanatical. But it is not so fanatical that Trump’s business won’t employ what are commonly called ‘illegals’ by the racist right: it emerged that some of his properties still use undocumented labour. But they are all fanatical enough for the Department of Homeland Security actually to set up a fake college in Michigan as a trap. The non-existent ‘University of Farmington’ claimed to be a ‘nationally-accredited business and STEM institution’. At the very end
of January eight student recruiters were indicted for conspiracy: they tried to help foreign citizens enrol in the college where they thought they would have gained helpful qualifications. A mere 130 people who attempted to enrol themselves were also arrested.

Last month a prisoner in Arizona died only six weeks after filing a court document showing that he was ‘being killed’ because of inadequate medical care. African-American Richard Washington was 64 and died on 31 January from complications related to diabetes, hypertension and hepatitis C. His clear call for legal help was made on 15 December explaining how prison officials were “actively refusing” to give him the medication which he needed.

There were a few little-noticed developments last month as the Trump-led élite flailed around looking for bogey-people old and new to insult and provoke. They settled – amongst other places – on Iran. First, it emerged that when Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and currently Trump’s personal lawyer called for the overthrow of Iran’s government spoke at the recent Warsaw summit, the group of Iranian exiles to members of which he was speaking, and which paid him, the MEK, had actually been on the US terrorist watch list.

They then, of course, increased dramatically their attempts to destabilise struggling Venezuela. But ‘No War on Venezuela‘ held a well-supported day of action on 23rd February. Media bias makes it difficult really to know what the day-to-day situation is like for most Venezuelans. There are hints that western propaganda greatly exaggerates food shortages, for instance. Support and criticism seem to be expressed along geopolitical lines; and it is to be remembered that Venezuela still has one of the world’s largest supplies and resources of oil for the US to take by violence under the guise of principle or concern for Venezuelans’ well-being. Yet appetite amongst
the public in the United States for such a grab seems low; and opposition to sanctions, another coup attempt, (military) intervention or invasion seems high.

New data from the Pentagon itself show that the US dropped more bombs
on Afghanistan in 2018 than in any other year for at least a decade. Bombing planes and drones unleashed almost 7,400 weapons (or one every
60 minutes around the clock) onto the Afghan people.

Freedom has reported in recent months on the illegal and unethical flouting of local and international regulations which apply to those guest-workers who legitimately seek asylum in the United States: by law they should not be detailed during this process.

In the middle of February riot police in northern Mexico blocked hundreds of migrants fleeing violence, corruption and harsh conditions of all kinds in
Central America when they tried to escape from their detention in an
abandoned factory complex. More than 1,700 have been held in the
maquiladora in the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras since February 5 after the Trump administration adopted a ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy and reduced the number of applications processed each day to only 15. It emerged too that the number of children intentionally separated from their parents as part of Trump’s immigration ‘policy’ is far higher than originally disclosed.

On Valentine’s Day one Goodloe Sutton, editor of the print-only
newspaper, The Democrat-Reporter, ran an editorial with the following
text in response to the recently published Green New Deal by some of
the apparently more progressive sections of the newly-elected Democrats: ‘Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again… Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama… so the KKK should hang them and raid Washington DC.’

Yet another potential guest worker in the United States has died while
in custody awaiting the completion of immigration formalities. An
unidentified 45-year-old man asked Border Patrol agents in Texas for
medical attention twice before his death; he was diagnosed with
cirrhosis of the liver and congestive heart failure, although specific
the cause of his death has not yet been disclosed.

In order to increase the suffering of the Yemeni people the US manufacturer of weapons of mass destruction, Raytheon, is to sell US $1.6 (£1.2) billion worth of arms (Patriot missile launchers) to the United Arab Emirates who will use them against that country’s suffering population in what is now acknowledged as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in a half-century.

The Mayor of Portland (Oregon), Ted Wheeler, asked for an independent
investigation last month after hundreds of friendly text messages were
released between between a Portland police officer, Jeff Niiya, and Joey Gibson, the leader of the far-right group Patriot Prayer. These messages included the sharing of information on upcoming protests organised by progressive and anti-fascist groups. Patriot Prayer is actually the same group which was discovered last August on a rooftop in the city with a cache of guns immediately before a major white supremacist rally. No arrests were made at that time; police instead fired rubber bullets at anti-fascist protesters.

The racist obsession of Trump and his gang with immigrants from Muslim
and Central American countries (both of which have been plundered by
his predecessors and their mignons) became yet harder to take seriously when, in late February, a court case in Maryland further emphasised the real threat: from white nationalism. Federal investigators found a cache of weapons and ammunition in coastguard Christopher Paul Hasson’s home; they had been stockpiled to launch a huge domestic terror attack targeting politicians and journalists. Hasson advocated ‘focused violence’ in order to ‘establish a white homeland’ even planning ways to ‘…kill almost every last person on earth.’ Although full details are still emerging several weeks later, and although there can be incomplete proof that Hasson’s could ever
have been carried out as planned, evidence presented to the court re-inforces theories that (such) nationalism is a far greater practical thread than those targeted by Trump. Indeed, after remaining silent about the find for several days, when asked at a press briefing Trump’s only response was that, “It’s a shame.”

March in the United States began with incidents of extreme racism in
two schools: images appeared on social media from an off-campus party
during which students from a California secondary school arranged red
plastic cups into the shape of a swastika and saluted Hitler. Then from Alabama a video containing profanities and racial slurs with drunken calls for extermination implied lynching. Trump condemned neither as the racist right propaganda outlets continued their rants about non-white immigrants and their crimes.

Oppression

Protests have begun to take place in the north and northeast of the
United States to draw attention to the conditions which were endured
by prisoners during the Polar Vortex which the country recently experienced partly as a result of human-created climate change. For instance, 1,600 prisoners were held at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn without heat, hot meals or electricity.

Judges are overtly political roles in the United States. Although not elected, they are appointed by the federal and state ruling élites. While attention was largely focused on Venezuela, climate crises, the Russia investigations, Trump’s sleights of hand with his financial empire and a clutch of law suits against him, his businesses and family, no fewer than 44 of his federal judicial nominees were presented for approval to the Republican-controlled senate towards the start of February. Even cursory research into their voting, ruling and sentencing record shows that the most charitable tag they can be said to carry is ‘conservative’.

More accurately, they typify the far right ideology which has grown
markedly in vigour and influence in recent years. Mazie Hirono (Democrat senator from Hawaii) summed up the threat succinctly in her comments during the hearing: “…too many of these nominees have spent their careers opposing the rights of women, minorities, the LGBTQ community, and Americans who need affordable healthcare.” After repeating some choice extracts from several of the nominees’ comments and rulings – such as these-, she linked their consistently right-wing stances to such far right
groups as the Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation. Their appointments will be for life.

A report from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project (CBP) last month found
that 66% of the almost one thousand personal bankruptcies that were
filed between 2013 and 2016 which it examined were caused by medical
bills, that families were unable to pay.

Freedom has reported before on the scandal of predatory loans known as
‘payday’; loans taken out – usually in desperation by the poor against
their next pay cheque at exorbitant rates of interest (400% is not
uncommon). Last month Trump-appointed Consumer Financial Protection
Bureau (CFPB) director Kathy Kraninger announced a new plan
significantly to weaken – and in some cases to abolish – regulations which have gone some way to protecting consumers from predatory payday
lenders.

There are – obviously – many major health crises in the United States:
malnutrition due to poverty and caused by the overwhelming power and
wealth of (junk) food manufacturers to push their muck; substance
abuse; avoidable deaths due to poverty and income equality; lack of
access to (clean) water as a result of aggressive and unrepentant
polluters; and many others. In the generally conservative-voting state
of Arizona (48% of those who voted did so for Trump in 2016; in 2018
his ‘performance’ was implicitly approved of by numbers 10% higher
than that), they see things differently: for legislators in Arizona an
apparently even more pressing public health crisis is… pornography.

Last month the state legislative committee on Health and Human
Services passed a measure to declare pornography a ‘public health
crisis’. Ignoring, though, any whiff of the fact that woman are
systematically exploited, representative Michelle Udall introduced
‘Resolution 2009’ because she believes that watching porn ruins your
health and provokes extreme and violent sexual behaviour.

A new report from the Washington Post reveals the extent of police oppression: one person, committing a crime or not, is shot dead by police across the United States roughly every eight hours, around the clock. Or about 1,000 a year – an annual figure that has remained steady since 2015.

One of the rituals which all schoolchildren are obliged to follow is the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’. Once a day classes stop and pupils stand and recite it in all solemnity, right hand over heart while observing the stars and stripes flag. An 11-year-old attending Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Florida, refused recently: to his mind the flag is racist and the national anthem offensive to black people. After a rather abusive response from the supply teacher in the class at the time, and some predictably somewhat bravado rejoinders from the child, local police were called, arrived and arrested the boy.

New figures released last month may surprise anyone who believed Trump that he would ‘drain the swamp’, which he implied meant to rein in big corporations. In 2018 the major US banks earned an extra US$28 billion (£40,000 a minute) in profits.

The Associated Press has reported that the government in the United States has shared the controversial Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) (commonly known as the watch list, which has proven to be inaccurate and biased) with nearly 1,500 private organisations including universities, detention facilities, and hospitals.

Firdapse is a drug used to treat an admittedly rare neuromuscular disease. It used to be available free of charge from the last manufacturer to market it. The pharmaceutical firm Catalyst now charges US$375,000 (£287,357) a year for the same drug.

Labour

New data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics last month are
encouraging: it shows that a greater number of workers (500,000 – a
figure which could, of course, count some strikers twice) in the
country went on strike in 2018 in a major stoppage than in any year
since 1986.

Freedom has reported on two teachers’ strikes recently. In West
Virginia last month, teachers there had barely launched a state-wide
strike over an education ‘reform’ bill which Republicans legislators
were trying to pass to legalise Charter schools, which are currently
not allowed in the state before the bill was dropped. Charter Schools
are high fee schools intended to provide ‘exclusive’ education for
privileged and wealthy families.

Workers in have been fighting for a minimum hourly wage of US$15
(£11.46). They declared victory towards the end of February when
newly elected Democratic Governor JB Pritzker signed a law which will
in fact slowly achieve that figure from the US$8.25 (£6.30) which it
is at the moment.

Environment

Visitors to this site and readers of the paper before it will remember
the promises made by oil company TransCanada that there would be no
spills from the Keystone Exel pipeline which runs from Alberta to
Texas; and that neither residents along its length need worry about
pollution of drinking water nor the many environmentalists who
protested be concerned about (consequent) local or national damage and
destruction. Yet, as predicted, in the middle of February TransCanada
itself admitted yet another oil spill – this time in St. Charles County, Missouri, near the Mississippi River. At the same time a new study counted 137 oil spills in the US in 2018 alone.

In their years in office various presidents have brought statutory
protection to varying acreages of wilderness within the United States:
Carter in the 1970s to 54 million, Clinton to just over a tenth as
much, Obama to over 500 million, even Bush junior to nearly 215
million (his father and Reagan predictably to none). At the mid point
in his term Donald Trump has actually removed over two million acres
of wilderness leaving them open to destruction and needless exploitation.

Last month a federal court in North Dakota rejected as ‘baseless’ a case brought by fossil fuel giant Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) against Greenpeace and other environmental and Indigenous activists for protesting against the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in 2016.

District Judge Billy Roy Wilson dismissed all claims against all defendants; one of these was  Krystal Two Bulls, who commented:
“This is what happens when greedy corporations go after Indigenous
women grounded in the power of prayer, the power of relationship
building, and the power of collective organising.”

To say that the environment is not a priority for Trump and his crew
would be an understatement – except where there is money to be made
for the élite by wrecking and exploiting it. In a new move, the White House recently set up a new committee to examine – believe it or not, and despite warnings from the Pentagon dating from as far back as the Bush years – whether climate change poses a threat to national security. The head of this committee is the Princeton University professor emeritus, William Happer. One of Happer’s more… interesting statements is that to increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will be to benefit humans. One theory explaining Happer’s (imminent) appointment is that his complete denial of climate change would undermine findings by the national security
community which rightly highlight the threat to human safety of climate change.

As several of the more vocal far right propaganda stations ridicule moves from some lawmakers to take action on climate change (and one candidate for 2020 runs specifically on such a platform the governor of Washington state Jay Inslee), Trump actually appointed ex-coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Martin Hayden, vice president of policy and legislation at Earthjustice, accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican party of putting “…the wealth of a few over the health of the many by confirming the coal industry’s favoured Wheeler-dealer to what used to be the leading environmental enforcement post in the federal government.”

~Louis Further