Notes from the US: Blackwater bubbles up again


In 2007 mercenaries from the notorious Blackwater terrorist company (now Constellis Holdings following its fourth name change) murdered a total of 14 unarmed Iraqis and left another 17 wounded in the Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad. They were sentenced in 2014. But early last month a federal appeals court threw out the lengthy prison sentences of those responsible at the same time as the famed bomber and butcher, John Bolton, was planning a huge set of deadly and aggressive moves on Korea … he just loves dropping anything out of planes, having been the architect of such murders of freedom-fighters in Central America in the 1980s.

Attorney General Sessions was not inactive at the time, either: in addition to declaring a major crackdown on leaks to the press of the misdeeds and idiocies of the White House, he has stepped up the bullying of ‘sanctuary cities’ — those local authorities and even police, who refuse to allow their staff to act as immigration officers — by denying them financial aid.

Reversing Obama’s easing of links between police and military, Trump is now lifting the partial ban on transferring surplus military equipment to police departments. And also apparently about to reverse Obama’s unfreezing of relations with Cuba.

At the very end of August, the American Civil Liberties Union warned that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has asked the National Archives and Records Administration for permission to destroy over ten different types of the agency’s records. These include details of sexual assaults by ICE officers, solitary confinement of prisoners and even the deaths of people in ICE custody. The belief is that ICE is trying to conceal and/or minimise its poor record of abuse.

Propaganda and science

The Sinclair Broadcast Group is a notorious right-wing propaganda body which often insists that the outlets it owns must run certain ‘conservative’ stories and features. In early August Sinclair found a loophole in existing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) law relating to the extent to which a broadcaster is allowed monopoly coverage. So Sinclair is now aiming to expand its reach way over the maximum 39% allowed — to almost three quarters of households in the US. Trump (who stands to benefit from the insistence that such programmes as Bottom Line With Boris Epshteyn be pumped out as widely as possible on Sinclair) was aided by FCC Chair Ajit Pai, the same person who wants to destroy Net Neutrality. Sinclair plans to buy a further 42 stations from Tribune Media in cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Trump’s attack on science continues: it emerged last month that workers at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) which help farmers with conservation efforts was told to stop using the phrase ‘climate change’ not long after Trump took office. What’s more, up to 50 senior officials from the Interior Department (equivalent to the UK Home Office) have now been re-assigned to other jobs or positions since Ryan Zinke became head of the Department. For instance, Joel Clement used to focus on the dangers which climate change poses to native communities in the Alaskan Arctic. Recently — without explanation — Clement was transferred to a job which had nothing to do with this: collecting royalty payments from oil and gas companies.

A study by Public Citizen called A Storm of Silence [pdf] found that all of the 18 major media outlets failed almost completely to tie the severity and frequency of such recent storms in the Gulf as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to climate change. And of those which did, 72% percent of the mentions were concentrated in only four of the sources.

The right-wing propaganda outlets such as Fox and OANN repeatedly cite Trump’s appointment of the Supreme Court judge Neil Gorsuch as the president’s (single) ‘achievement’ since taking office … there is no longer a vacancy. But (such) judges are supposed to be impartial. Gorsuch, however, has agreed to be one of the leading speakers at the ‘Defending Freedom Luncheon’ at the Trump International Hotel, which is hosted by conservative group The Fund for American Studies. Stanford law professor Deborah L. Rhode commented, “It’s a terrible signal for this group to be holding their meeting at the Trump International Hotel and for a Supreme Court justice to legitimate it by attending.”

In July we reported on the New York Times tally of lies and misleading statements for which Trump is responsible. They totalled over 400 then. Towards the end of August the Washington Post updated the list. But the number more than doubled in a couple of months — to well over 1,000 deceptive statements, lies and untruths.

Aggression

As Trump’s slogans (“fire and fury”) against North Korea alarmed mature people around the world in early August, Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress issued a statement saying that, “God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-un … [I am] heartened to see that our president… will not tolerate any threat against the American people.” Jeffress is one of Trump’s ‘evangelical advisers’, who became convinced that Trump would become president after tearing into slaughtered cattle and their secretions with Trump at one of the ‘food’ chain Wendy’s in Iowa.

The most disturbing aspect of the Tweets which Trump posted on 15 August depicting a train smashing into a person bearing the CNN logo (just days after a white supremacist had driven a vehicle into anti-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville Virginia) was that he deleted it. If such an inappropriate threat was deemed too much, it implies that all the others – equally vile, ill-judged, aggressive, infantile, racist, sexist and inaccurate etc — were not; and that they are to be left up to be taken seriously.

Opposition between internet service provider, Dreamhost, and the Trump Department of ‘Justice’ increased last month as the ISP challenged the latest request it has received from the DOJ to hand over details of every single visitor to a site which it hosted protesting Trump’s inauguration.

Even after the deaths in mid-August from attacks on pedestrians by vehicles (ISIS and Nazis), those states and legislatures which have sought to advance laws legitimising vehicles as weapons (chiefly against dissenters and protesters) have re-iterated their determination to push ahead with them.

Environment

Referred to briefly here last month, the new report by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed that 2016 was the hottest year on record. Now that the government in the US is headed by a climate denier, and now that someone (Scott Pruitt) who’s been called a ‘fossil fuel puppet’ leads the Environmental Protection Agency and now that lobbyists from the petroleum industry running secret enterprises to deregulate, it’s hard to see what other proof they all need. The report is based on contributions from over 450 scientists from nearly 60 countries, and represents the most detailed climate assessment by one of his own agencies since Trump took office.

In the early aftermath of Hurricane Harvey (the impact of which climate scientists say was exacerbated by human-induced climate change), the governments of both Cuba and Mexico offered significant aid to their neighbours — just as was the case after Katrina in 2005. Mexico, at the same time, reiterated that it will not pay for Trump’s wall. Trump’s reaction as a climate change denier was predictable and appropriately callous and unproductive.

At the end of August the Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) to reveal why the administration actually recently lifted restrictions on flood zones which were designed to lessen the impact of such disasters as those caused by Harvey and Irma. In fact Trump reversed an executive order signed by President Obama in 2015 which established infrastructure regulations that would ensure that building and infrastructure projects (including offices, bridges, and roads) which are funded by the national government are designed to resist the effects of climate change. New structures in such areas, for instance, were to have been elevated by at least two feet.

Louis Further