Notes from the US: Economics, Violence and Environment

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Louis Further rounds up the news from the USA you may have missed. 

 

Environment

A review published in mid-June by the Associated Press found that the Obama administration does not inspect four out of every ten new high-risk oil and gas wells. It seems that The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been so overwhelmed by the current increase in fracking that it has not been able to keep up with the numbers of ‘regular’ oil wells still needing oversight; these include those near national forests and fragile watersheds. Even a former BLM field officer called the situation “a disaster waiting to happen”.

In mid July over a million gallons of saltwater from oil drilling operations in North Dakota leaked from a pipeline on a Native American reservation; the area covered is almost two miles. The leak by Crestwood Midstream Services has killed vegetation and may have reached a bay connected to a drinking water source for the Fort Berthold reservation.

 

Economics

A new report from the The Economic Policy Institute in the middle of the month found that CEOs in the United States earn nearly 500 times the amount earned by their workers. Average annual CEO pay topped US$25 (£15) million in 2013. Over the past 35 years, CEOs’ salaries have risen almost 1000%.

The ‘failing city’ (because underfunded) of Detroit is in the process of cutting off drinking water. In response the Detroit People’s Water Board, the Blue Planet Project, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Food & Water Watch have taken the unusual step of appealing to the United Nations to intervene and protect the ‘human right to water’. It calls for the “state of Michigan and U.S. government to respect the human right to water and sanitation” and for shut-offs to be halted, services restored, and water to be made accessible and affordable. Maude Barlow, founder of Blue Planet Project and board chair of Food & Water Watch commented, “After decades of policies that put businesses and profits ahead of the public good, the city now has a major crisis on its hands… By denying water service to thousands, Detroit is violating the human right to water”. The first reaction of the UN appears to have been to agree.

Then – in early July – residents launched a direct action: they mobilised to stop the city’s mass shut-off of water; they succeeded in physically blocking the private company (Homrich Inc.) sent to turn off the supply. Just 10 city residents (who carried a banner reading, ‘Stop the Water Shut-offs’) non-violently obstructed the entry to the company (who were paid US$5.6 (£3.3) million to do the job) for 90 minutes. A further 40 supporters surrounded the resistance chanting “If the water don’t flow, the trucks don’t go”. Eventually all ten were arrested. But pastor Bill Wylie-Kellermann said, “We feel that it’s really time to intensify and escalate the resistance to the water shutoffs and emergency management.”

 

Violence

According to a report published by the state of California’s own Audit Office, doctors in California prisons illegally sterilised about 40 women in the first decade of this century. Some sterlilisations were performed without obtaining legal consent; in other cases, doctors did not sign paperwork certifying that the prisoner understood the impact of the operation; in yet others, they falsified paperwork so that it would appear as though a statutory waiting period had passed. The report was welcomed by Cynthia Chandler, co-founder of the Oakland-based group Justice Now: “…[this] feels like an incredible step and vindication for people who work toward challenging human rights abuses”.

In a parallel but unconnected development the TV and ‘entertainment’ network, NBC, refused (but apparently later agreed) to run a trailer for the romantic comedy ‘Obvious Child’ because it mentions the word ‘abortion’.

It emerged in early July that the State Department abandoned a probe of the private military firm Blackwater in Iraq after a Blackwater official threatened to kill the government’s chief investigator. Investigators began looking into Blackwater’s operations in Iraq weeks before its mercenaries shot 17 Iraqi civilians dead in the 2007 massacre at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. Although they found widespread misconduct, they looked no further: Blackwater’s project manager in Iraq, Daniel Carroll, issued a threat “that he could kill…” the chief investigator, Jean Richter, and “…no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq.”

In early July immigrant rights activists held a rally in southern California in support of a group of undocumented immigrants who were confronted by right-wing demonstrators in the town of Murrieta. They were travelling in a small fleet of buses having arrived from an overcrowded detention centre in Texas on fleeing violence in Central America (much of which is created and fuelled by US interference, of course). The demonstrators blocked the road and chanted racist and anti-immigrant slogans. Welcome to America.

 

Racism

The Huffington Post reported at the end of June that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported more than 72,000 parents (that’s one every eight minutes, around the clock) of children legally here and US citizens. Talk about family values.

Whatever you think of the Sunni militant group, ISIS, the mark of a civilised way of dealing with them is not what the Obama administration has allegedly done: placed its leaders on the US kill list… no trial, no right of reply, no representation. Just murder leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other ISIS commanders on sight, according to the Washington Free Beacon: targeted strikes, drone attacks, shooting etc.

 

Health

At the very end of June the US Supreme Court made a potentially far-reaching decision: it ruled that ‘closely held corporations’ (90% of all companies) can legally claim religious objections to providing birth control coverage for their employees as required by the Affordable Health Care Act. The ruling concerned two companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. Each objected to certain methods of birth control on religious grounds, although the former held US$73 (£43) million invested in funds with holdings in makers of contraceptives. Even one of the (dissenting) Supreme Court judges, Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that the ruling could set a precedent: corporations can now opt out of practically any law which they claim conflicts with their religious beliefs.

 

References

Blue Planet Project: www.blueplanetproject.net
Detroit People’s Water Board: http://peopleswaterboard.blogspot.com
The Economic Policy Institute: www.epi.org
The Huffington Post: www.huffingtonpost.com
Justice Now: www.jnow.org
Michigan Welfare Rights Organization: http://mwro.org
Washington Free Beacon: http://freebeacon.com

Louis Further