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.

Youth

Young people’s opposition to élites’ refusal to address and denial of the potential for climate catastrophe has continued to make the news worldwide. School children and students have not been inactive in the United States either. But they are also in the firing line from one of Trump’s most destructive, unprepared, corrupt and least well qualified henchpeople: education Secretary Betsy DeVos. At the same time as she planned to remove funding for the Special Olympics (which Trump actually overturned), DeVos proposed huge cuts of US$7 (£5.3) billion in funding for schools and colleges. This would hit minorities, poorer families, the disabled and those interested in pursuing what’s left of art education the hardest.

Last month the Trump administration released its budget proposal for fiscal year 2020, in which it proposes a parallel onslaught on the arts and humanities. If passed, it would shut down the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). This is the third year in a row that the administration has proposed eliminating (those) cultural agencies. In addition, the administration proposes to do away with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; to reduce funding for cultural exchanges at the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs; to eliminate several programmes at the US Department of Education such as the Arts in Education program, Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

Oppression

Just one day before the Christchurch massacre, and on the same day as a paper poster in New York with the face of one of the more thoughtful Supreme Court judges, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was defaced with anti-Semitic obscenities and a death threat, Donald Trump made overt threats to his political opponents. In an interview published on the far-right website Breitbart, Trump taunted his political opponents saying… “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

The behaviour of Trump and his gang has often been very unadult and characterised by reprisals, as well as racist and oppressive. Earlier this month Secretary of State Pompeo revoked the entry visa for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda. Whatever the official reason given, this must actually be because of Ms Bensouda’s planned investigation into possible war crimes committed by American forces and their allies in Afghanistan. After all, how could America be ‘made great again’ if its terrorists are exposed?

By the middle of April Trump was planning somehow to place immigrant guest-workers in so-called sanctuary cities as punishment for their more compassionate approach to the rich resources (Trump has suppressed data which proves conclusively, for instance, that the immigrant workforce is not a drain on the economy, but actually a net contributor) which incomers to the US represent.

In the same week as the Washington Post’s running tally of Trump’s lies indicated that he now utters one outright lie or misleading statement almost once an hour around the clock, Trump made two particularly alarming false statements about wind-power (against which he seems to have a particular prejudice): firstly, that it would prevent the nation’s TV audience from watching unless a gale were blowing; and secondly, that the noise from wind-power turbines causes cancer.

Law

Trump, of course, is beset with multiple law suits, inquiries and investigations. These have a range of likely outcomes. They are also likely to be met by just as many ways in which his administration pushes back, rejects, ignores or even claims that he does not have to comply with each. He has flatly refused, for example, to make his tax returns public – despite being required to do so by law.

On the one hand, anarchists are sceptical about laws. On the other, though, reports which started circulating in the middle of April about Trump’s misuse and selective use of laws to his own ends would suggest that it can’t be long before he is impeached or indicted – if the rest of the élite enforces the law. Although we’ve said that often before. This time it’s been suggested that Trump would pardon acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan if the latter faced legal action by following the former’s illegal order illegally to close the US southern border.

Propaganda

Trump is relying more and more with far right radio stations (so-called ‘hate radio’… if you haven’t actually heard them, it’d be quite an eye-opener). Fox news, owned by the Murdoch empire, leads the way on television. Most Fox ‘news’ programmes are entirely supportive of Trump the honest, hard done-by individual, Trump the great reformist president and Trump the skilled policy-maker determined to stop wave after wave of ‘liberal losers’ determined to frustrate white capitalism by their insipid and pointless tolerance and compassion.

In early March, journalist Jane Mayer wrote a punchy piece in the The New Yorker pointing out just how close the White House has become to Fox. She suggests both that Fox is the closest that the US has to a ‘state’ propaganda outlet; and – again, worth suffering a few minutes of if you can – her piece goes a long way to explaining why and how Trump still has as much support as he does. Indeed, a poll held by CNN towards the end of last month shows Trump’s approval rating hitting 43% with voters and 42% with all adults.

Tucker Carlson is one of the least savoury far right commentators with a long history of ill-informed and pointed, duplicitous nastiness. He is now the host of a prime time TV ‘news’ show on one of Fox’s many channels available in most areas of the US. Just one day after audio of Carlson using explicitly misogynistic language was posted online by the group Media Matters for America, the nonprofit released new audio recordings of Carlson making racist and homophobic remarks, attacking Iraqi people, black people, LGBT people and immigrants.

The comments were made on a radio program called ‘Bubba the Love Sponge Show’ between 2006 and 2011… “Iraq is a crappy place filled with a bunch of, you know, semiliterate, primitive monkeys. … But I just have zero sympathy for them or their culture, a culture where people just don’t use toilet paper or forks.” The same recordings also reveal Carlson saying white men “created civilization” and that immigrants should “have something to offer,” such as “being hot or smart”. A few days later more audio was made available of Carlson calling rape shield laws “totally unfair” and defending underage sexual encounters if the minor is a male and the adult is a woman, and describing women as “extremely primitive”.

Fox News (to repeat: the channel which has the greatest influence on Trump) did not comment.

Fox also has Jeanine Pirro. Her show was not broadcast as usual on Saturday 16 March – apparently because of her widely criticised commentary attacking Congresswoman Ilhan Omar for her religion (she is a Moslem) and critique of Israel’s actions in Palestine. Trump tweeted in Pirro’s defence a couple of days after the Christchurch massacre, at the same time as he “did not know enough” about it to attribute that event to white supremacist terrorism. In mid-April, however, he released a video on Twitter implying that Omar supports the deaths on 9/11.

The right wing National Rifle Association (NRA) is closely associated with oppression, violence, bigotry and supporting (far-)right regimes – like Trump’s. It made news last month, too, for some of its associations outside the US. An undercover investigation by Al Jazeera English discovered that NRA officials actually advised members of Australia’s own far-right ‘One Nation Party’ over their attempts to reverse Australia’s strict gun control laws. A transcript of that advice shows just how crude it also is. Lars Dalseide (NRA’s Media Liaison and Spokesperson): “You have somebody who maybe leans to your side that worked at a newspaper, or maybe he was covering city hall or a crime reporter. We want to print up stories about people who were robbed, had their homes invaded, beaten, or whatever it might be, that could have been helped had they had a gun. And that’s going to be the angle on your stories. And that’s what he’s got to write. He’s got to put out two to five of those a week.”

It emerged last month that the US Customs and Border Protection agency compiled and deployed a list of 59 (mostly American) reporters, lawyers and activists who were to be stopped for questioning and if necessary detained when they visited or crossed the border between the US and Mexico at checkpoints in the San Diego area; at least 21 of them were arrested and accounts quickly began to surface of lawmakers and other prominent figures having staff detained.

Environment

As Trump’s dictatorial wrecking continues, credible reports emerged in early April that Trump has significantly decreased (or even abolished) funding for a conservation programme instituted under Obama to tackle climate change, flooding and species extinction. Scientists working for the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives explain that over half of the two dozen or so groups which make up that conservation collective have now either been dissolved or put on indefinite hiatus. Congress, on the other hand, approved renewed funding for the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.

A new report was published by Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project with alarming findings showing that waste from hundreds of coal-fired power stations across the United States has contaminated groundwater in 39 (that is nearly 80% of) states with unsafe amounts of toxic chemicals including arsenic, lithium and mercury. In some cases these have leached into local drinking water supplies. It should be noted that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) whose job it is to oversee and prevent such threats is now run by Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist.

It’s hard to see any other motive for the Trump administration’s proposals to end protection for grey wolves in the lower 48 states under legislation for endangered species than sheer callousness and/or an attempt to provoke. The move was announced early last month prompting critics to point out the dangers. There are believed to be fewer than 5,000 such animals left… the Western Environmental Law Center said that “…allowing people to kill wolves in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana has already stunted recovery in those states. Applying this same death sentence to wolves throughout the contiguous US would nationalize these negative effects, with potentially catastrophic ripple effects on ecosystems wherever wolves are found today.”

On the same day as the US legislature voted down an attempt by some of the newer, ‘fresher’, members of Congress to address the climate crises, a study from the International Energy Agency reported that global greenhouse gas emissions rose to their highest level ever in 2018: more than 33 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide gasses were released into the atmosphere, causing global CO2 levels to rise by 1.7% in 2018; emissions from the US rose by almost twice that amount.

Although likely to be challenged by Trump and his gang, District Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled at the end of March that Trump’s executive order promising to allow oil and gas companies back into protected regions by overturning a ban on offshore drilling in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic from the Obama era is unlawful because it violated a federal environmental law. He has, though, issued an executive order yet again to give the disastrous XL pipeline the go-ahead.

Racism

Hurricane Maria devastated large parts of Puerto Rico as long ago as September 2017. A recent study by the Universities of Michigan and Utah found that federal aid to Puerto Rico arrived more slowly and was less than the amount of aid received by Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma; those states are likely to vote for Trump in 2020. Nor has Trump yet acknowledged that more than 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico. And his administration is still stalling on funding for hurricane relief for Puerto Rico. Indeed, Trump recently said that the US State was getting “too much” help. Now it seems that Puerto Rico has started to reduce the number of food stamps in an attempt to preserve the life-saving programme. This could harm as many as 1.4 million Puerto Ricans – including hundreds of thousands of children and elderly people.

Although US ‘aid’ is often a double-edge sword, being tied to processes designed to produce a net outflow from the recipient countries (back) into the apparent donor (the USA), there are times when untied aid can be welcome: in those countries, for instance, trying to provide for their citizens whose lives have been made worse by US imperialism and pillage – such as many Central American states. At the end of March Trump ordered all aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to be cut. At the same time he described the closing of the US-Mexican border as a potential ‘money-maker’. Fox meanwhile described Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as ‘Mexican countries’.

In July 2016 Barack Obama issued a belated and barely sufficient order that civilian casualties in drone strikes which were carried out by the CIA and US military were to be reported. Not curtailed. Just reported. In early March Trump revoked this order.

Freedom has regularly tracked the work of the respected Southern Poverty Law Center and its (yearly) tallies of the number of hate groups in the United States. The Group’s latest estimate is that this total has now reached a record high of just over 1,000. Since Trump launched his campaign in 2015 openly promoting racial hatred the number of hate groups has jumped by 30%.

Whether or not Julie Kirchner is actually appointed as the new head of Citizenship and Immigration Services as part of Trump’s purge there to promote ever more vile policies on immigration, asylum and refugees, it is a sign of the times that credible sources say that Trump is actively considering the appointment. Kirchner previously worked at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which espouses white supremacist views and is identified as a hate group by that same Southern Poverty Law Center.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a report in the HuffPost presents real evidence that seven current members of the US military are members of the white nationalist group, Identity Evropa. That group was founded by a former marine and took part in organising the deadly rally in Charlottesville in 2017 – the event, you’ll remember, which had “good people on both sides”, according to Trump.

In Texas, a Houston-area county official criticised a local judge for speaking Spanish on television at the end of last month. Harris County judge, Lina Hidalgo, was giving updates in both English and Spanish about a chemical fire that was burning at a petrochemical plant in the Houston suburb of Deer Park. The press conference was live-streamed on the Facebook page of Houston’s CBS affiliate, KHOU. To which a Chambers County commissioner, Mark Tice, posted the comment, “She is a joke. English this is not Mexico.” Harris County is 43% Latino; nearly half of its residents speak a language other than English at home.

The majority of reliable and informed sources (including many of the government’s own) now accept that the biggest threat to peace and security in the US comes from white nationalist terror groups (and neither Muslims nor Latinos). Indeed civil rights groups and security experts nevertheless maintain that membership of white supremacist groups is on the rise. Yet reports began to circulate at the start of this month that the Department of Homeland Security actually disbanded its domestic terrorism unit last year; and that its analysts were assigned elsewhere.

Louis Further