Notes from the US: Billionare’s Bonanza

Freedom correspondent Louis Further rounds up the latest efforts of the US State to bolster polluting and violent industries at the expense of all.

Last month, a report, Billionaire Bonanza, published by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) revealed that the 400 richest people in the United States now own more than the bottom 64% of the population; the three richest people alone own more than the lower-income 50%. Poverty across the country means that 20% of households have a net worth of zero … or even negative net worth. In absolute terms, households in the 1% with the lowest incomes have a combined negative net worth of US$196 (£150) billion.

Meanwhile, the the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Center has revealed that the United States’ so-called ‘global war on terror’ since September 11 2001 has cost $5.6 trillion (nearly £18,000 for each taxpayer in the country). And that the interest – due on the spending for years to come – will top $8 (£6) tn.

In mid-November House Republicans voted 227-205 to cut taxes permanently for corporations, to benefit the already wealthy by eliminating the estate tax yet raise taxes for millions of middle and working-class families. The tax cut – as schools, welfare, infrastructure and indeed the very survival of places like Puerto Rico still largely without power and water two months after this autumns’s hurricanes – is worth $1.5 (£1.14) bn. This, of course, will increase the national debt – and the poor will pay.

Record carbon and oil spills

A report released by the Global Carbon Project in mid-November shows that carbon emissions are likely to hit a record high in 2017, after three years of stable CO2 levels. In fact, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen about 2% this year. In an equally alarming development, a group of 15,000 scientists from over 180 countries re-issued a warning in the journal BioScience first released 25 years ago to the effect that “time is running out” as threats to biodiversity from rising greenhouse gases are pushing the biosphere to the brink.

During the proposal and forcing through (against massive sustained opposition, on which Freedom has reported often) of the KeyStone XL pipeline, the oil companies who stand to profit repeatedly insisted that there would be no leaks and that the water protectors’ fears were not legitimate. On Thursday November 16th though the largest spill to date took place: a total of 210,000 gallons of oil leaked in South Dakota. Since this was admitted even by the pipeline’s operator, TransCanada, it can be assumed that – because crews shut down the pipeline that morning – the expected disaster is indeed at least that large. There have been many more, smaller, spills.

The potential advantages of overseeing likely environmental impact by mining companies took yet another blow last month when a deadline (December 1st) passed for Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take action on a proposal to require hard rock mining companies to prove that they had the necessary financial resources to clean up mining sites after their work was finished. Now the EPA will no longer require this of mining companies; they can essentially leave as much destruction and pollution as they like. Climate change denier and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt claimed that these checks – even for companies with a history of causing such damage – were unnecessary, and would “impose an undue burden.”

More racist bombs

It emerged in mid-November that the US airforce is on track to drop three times as many bombs in 2017 on Afghanistan as it did in 2016 – as the longest war in US history continues to expand. By early next year it is expected that there will be roughly 16,000 troops in the country which it invaded in 2001. Similarly, it was reported (in the New York Times) that the US has significantly increased the bombing campaign in Somalia. Another report found that US-led air strikes (against Islamic State militants in Iraq) have actually killed many more civilians than officials acknowledge. The army’s data claims that fewer than 100 of its 14,000+ bombings in Iraq have caused civilian deaths (that is, roughly one in just over 150). But the truth – according to an in depth, on-the-ground investigation, ‘The Uncounted’, by The New York Times magazine – is 20%, or 31 times as many as claimed officially.

Similarly, the Pentagon itself admitted late in November that there are many times the number of US troops (still) in Iraq than was previously acknowledged. It published a quarterly report with a figure of 9,000… only a third that number had been admitted until now.

In late November the Pentagon admitted something else: that it has indefinitely postponed a plan previously announced to act on older generations of cluster bombs; this minimal humanitarian advance would have begun in 2019. Instead, more killing, more maiming as the leading US terrorist organisation waffles about a policy designed to keep ‘…legitimate weapons with clear military utility…’ in use.

As evidence of Trump’s ignorance, bigotry and racism increase, so to do examples of the newly-acceptable ways in which people in many walks of life regard exclusion and hate as acceptable: in Late November a teacher at C.J.Harris Elementary School in Pearland, Texas, allegedly called a six-year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome a terrorist because he said what sounded like “Allah” and “boom” in class. The boy’s father told the local radio station there, “It’s not true, he doesn’t speak at all. He needs care all the time. It’s …discrimination.”

Oppression

In the last week of November the right-wing Project Veritas group was exposed for trying to discredit the Washington Post with a ‘story’ of apparent sexual abuse. It made the mainstream media outlets. The group tried to provoke the newspaper into carrying a fake story in order to discredit it; reporters saw through the deception. Yet before the week was over, federal prosecutors used a video shot by Project Veritas in support of the case against several of the nearly 200 demonstrators who are currently on trial facing jail terms of up to 70 years for ‘rioting’ (the majority were peaceful protestors or those avoiding the action) at the inauguration of Trump last January.

As Trump’s wrecking ball continues to swing (the tax scam, the fascist retweets, opening up National Parks for exploitation and destruction, the provocation and sneering at other public figures, the implementation of a racist travel ban, the openly sexist and taunting tweets, the support for dismissed judge and alleged paedophile offender in Alabama etc), he’s now finally been declared officially above the law by one of his lawyers: responding to increasing accusations that Trump obstructed justice over the Federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the president’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, asserted that the “…president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II].”

In an amazing move clearly designed to undermine attempts to curb gun violence, on the same day as Trump announced his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the House of Representatives approved major legislation to allow gun owners to carry licenced, concealed, weapons across state lines – even where states themselves prohibit that. In effect this negates those laws which – until now – have sought to outlaw hidden weapons in some states. Lobbying once again wins out… the National Rifle Association (NRA) welcomed the craziness, lauding it as the ‘highest legislative priority’ for 2017.

Louis Further