Notes from the US: Anti-Semitism enshrined in law

In perhaps Trump’s more startling act of discrimination yet, it was announced recently that it will now be legal for adoption agencies to refuse to help same sex couples and potential parents where one or both partners are Jewish.

This is officially an extension of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which in 2014 made it legal for corporations to deny certain types of health coverage according to their owners’ religious beliefs.

The Supreme Court set this recent precedent when Miracle Hill Ministries, a Christian foster care agency in South Carolina, refused to work with many applicants who did not share its beliefs. In this case: a Jewish woman eager to mentor children in foster care. This now means that Anti-Semitism is now officially the policy of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

DoI really have to?

The US Department of the Interior (DoI) is the rough equivalent of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK. It has a responsibility, a duty, to respond to inquiries made (usually by members of the public) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The DoI recently announced, however, that – in a move obviously seen by many as a reduction in transparency – it now wishes to ignore any FOIA request which it decides are too difficult to bother with. It says that – after a relatively short period for public consultation by which it is not bound – ‘The bureau will not honor a request that requires an unreasonably burdensome search or requires the bureau to locate, review, redact, or arrange for inspection of a vast quantity of material.’

Kentucky abortion ban

Although previous such attempts to outlaw abortion have been reversed by federal courts, state lawmakers in Kentucky has introduced a bill which would effectively outlaw abortions – even when foetal anomaly can be shown, and in cases of rape or incest. Kentucky already has only one abortion provider left for the entire state.

Family values

Although the oppressing élite’s family members may not be fair game for criticism, a development announced in the middle of last month shows the environment of hate and intolerance in which they operate: Second Lady (the wife of Vice President Mike Pence – he who would be top dog if and when Trump is impeached) Karen Pence is to return to teaching art at a school where employees are obliged actively to oppose LGBT lifestyles. The school in Springfield, (Virginia), prevents teachers from engaging in or condoning ‘homosexual or lesbian sexual activity’ and ‘transgender identity’.

Shutdown and out

The first [ed. ???] government shutdown triggered by Trump was selective: in mid-January the Department of the Interior thought nothing of recalling dozens of furloughed federal employees to assist the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management in Trump’s wrecking of the local environment as he grows ever more determined to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans. Furthermore, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell actually introduced a bill (The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (S.109)) permanently to restrict any federal funds going to abortion care. The legislation would also have prevented abortion care in federally funded medical facilities – even those sanctioned by their subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Racism

Unambivalently flouting the law, the Trump administration announced late last month that it is about to begin forcing legitimate asylum seekers (back) into Mexico as their cases are processed in the United States. Court challenges followed on the heels of this announcement, which is effective immediately.

Lies, damn lies and statistics

Government reports are often fairly accurate and so contradict policy. This has been particularly true, of course, since Trump took office. In January of this year (2019), however, Trump appeared to have the best of both worlds. Not long into the new year the Department of ‘Justice’ (DoJ) actually admitted that it had made significant errors in the way in which – one year earlier, in January 2018 – it had published a report attempting to link terrorism and immigration.

In fact the two greatest threats to civil society in the United States have long been established – and widely acknowledged by all but the least well informed – as climate change and white supremacist violence. When asked to retract or edit the report, ‘Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States’ (which was released to support Trump’s travel ban of March 2017 which barred entry to citizens from six majority Muslim countries), the DoJ refused. The report wrongly conflates arrests with convictions; it misrepresents the timespan it covers; and it misleadingly counts people charged with non-terrorist related offences.

Hailing the k-k-King

In mid-January Steve King took his seat in Congress, not long after causing fresh outrage by his white supremacist views. the Iowa Republican commented to the New York Times that he didn’t feel that such terms as ‘White nationalist’ and ‘white supremacist’ were offensive.

Declining to condemn this when asked, Trump chose instead to send a blatantly racist tweet about Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Senator who had announced her potential candidacy for president in 2020 a fortnight earlier. He is fixated on Warren’s Native American heritage. Making fun of an advertisement streamed from her own home, Trump jibed: “If Elizabeth Warren, often referred to by me as Pocahontas, did this commercial from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb, it would have been a smash!”

The same day he quoted a blatantly white nationalist column written by Pat Buchanan: “The United States, as we have known it, is going to cease to exist… The more multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual America becomes — the less it looks like Ronald Reagan’s America — the more dependably Democratic it will become. The Democratic Party is hostile to white men, because the smaller the share of the US population that white men become, the sooner that Democrats inherit the national estate.”

Hating being called hateful

As Trump himself sponsors more and more acts of petty reprisal, the right-wing and anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) took out a lawsuit of dubious merit in January against the venerable Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). CIS wants to have itself removed from the SPLC’s highly trusted and respected list of hate groups. The Alabama-based SPLC defines a hate group as an organisation whose activities or statements ‘attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.’ The CIS seeks to reduce immigration (to the United States).

MLK shame

The day set aside to commemorate the life and achievements of Martin Luther King fell on 21st January this year. Three things happened that weekend indicative of the state of racial bigotry.

First, a judge in Arizona handed down guilty verdicts to four activists from the humanitarian group No More Deaths who had left water and food in the fierce Sonoran Desert for refugees and migrants travelling to the US as guest-workers. The helpers could serve six months in prison. Catherine Gaffney from No More Deaths said, “This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but people of conscience throughout the country. If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?”

Then, as if to corroborate Gaffney’s sentiment, Trump and Pence stayed all of two minutes when they visited the MLK memorial in Washington.

To conclude, Trump implicitly endorsed the action of a group of Catholic high school students from Kentucky wearing red ‘Make America Great Again’ hats who had taunted Omaha elder Nathan Phillips by denying the validity of press coverage censuring those responsible for the confrontation. A day later he invited the students (by then the objects of criticism for their actions from a wide spectrum of opinion) to the White House!

Labour

Over 30,000 teachers in the US’s second-largest school district (equivalent to the LEA in the UK), Los Angeles, struck for nearly a week last month for higher wages and more support in the classrooms as the District’s management refused to use its nearly $2 billion (£1.6bn) reserves. The deal which was eventually reached includes a 6% rise for teachers and a gradual decrease over an (unspecified) number of years in class size. Action involving educators in Colorado begun not long afterwards.

Meanwhile, Monsanto’s toxic glyphosate has been found in above 70% of those breakfast cereals containing oats which are served to school children across the country.

Environment

At the start of this year California became the first state in the United States to make it illegal for pet shops to sell rabbits, dogs and cats which have been bred for profit – in ‘kitten factories’ and ‘puppy mills’. Under the new law (AB 485) such outlets must now turn to animal shelters and rescue agencies in what animal rights groups have acknowledged is a good first step to save more lives. Whether the law will be adequately enforced, though, is as much in doubt as whether the $500 (£400) fine which those who do not obey the law face is a deterrent. The same law – actually enacted over a year ago, in late 2017 – also requires shops to keep records of the origins of each animal sold.

Wheeler in spin

Last month Trump named Andrew Wheeler as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency following the resignation of Scott Pruitt last year amid multiple financial and ethics scandals. A former lobbyist for the coal industry, Wheeler has also regularly been associated with right-wing conspiracy accounts on social media endorsed racist posts about the Obamas.

Trump’s constant destruction of the environment comes as no surprise: assuming that his comments about climate change were a silly attempt to ‘troll’ the media, rather an irresponsible act in itself, his action at the same time not to regulate two toxic chemicals (PFOA and PFOS) linked to kidney and testicular cancer is a potential disaster. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act PFOA and PFOS will remain unregulated and the utilities which provide water in the United States will face no federal requirements for testing for and removing the chemicals from drinking water supplies.

The young aren’t impressed

As anarchists we may not get too excited about the kind of action and liberal thinking which many progressives espouse when restricted to parliamentary, legislative and ‘democratic’ contexts. Yet some encouragement can perhaps be taken from a new survey published by the Pew Research Center last month which shows that the so-called Generation Z (comprising those young people between the ages of 13 and 21) could be even more progressive than the slightly older ‘millennials’. An understandable 70% of those polled disapprove of Trump, 54% attribute global warming in part to human activity, and 50% are concerned that society is too intolerant of those who don’t identify as women or men.

Louis Further