Notes from the US: July

Louis Further rounds up the news from the US you may have missed in the month of July. 

Violence

Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan, on whose imprisonment Freedom has reported recently, was freed from Rikers Island jail in New York City in July. A short time afterwards a report by the ‘New York Times’ exposed the extent of brutal attacks by prison officers there. New York city’s health department carried out a secret study and found that abuse was widespread and routine. Over an 11-month period in 2013, ‘serious injuries’ were inflicted by staff on as many as 129 prisoners. In 77% of cases, the prisoner had a mental illness. (Rikers now houses approximately the same number of mentally ill people as all 24 psychiatric hospitals in New York state combined.) Typical seems to be one instance when jailers intervened to stop a prisoner from hanging himself. But he was forced to lie face down on the floor and punched so hard that he suffered a perforated bowel and needed emergency surgery. Another prisoner was beaten so badly that he nearly died.

Spying

Intercept , the new site run by Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill (amongst others), revealed in late July that the US government has quietly approved a major expansion of the systems that ‘find’, mark and otherwise list ‘terrorists’. The new watchlist apparatus is secret (of course) and needs neither facts nor evidence for either a US or other citizen to be labelled a ‘terrorist’.

A 166-page document was apparently issued last year – the ‘March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance’. It explains why and how individuals are added to the main terrorist database and no-fly list. This can happen as a result of posts on social media and other internet sites as well as plain correspondence. Of course no-one knows that they have been so listed. Nor the criteria by which the organisation with which they have been allegedly associated. The new regulations – which even allow for dead people to be listed – place immense power in the hands of the uninformed, biased and ignorant as well as potentially legitimate screenings. Later in the month revelations  (by Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux) expanding on these earlier reports prompted a panic in the propaganda and intelligence ‘communities’ that another leaker than Edward Snowden was, is and/or has been busy.

At the beginning of August Obama made two amazing admissions, which one should hardly expect to be picked up by the mainstream propaganda or the public; and of course they weren’t. In backing Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan as calls for his resignation were made, Obama acknowledged both that the CIA had indeed spied on a Senate panel investigating the former’s torture and rendition programme. Then that the United States “…tortured some folks” in the ‘difficult period’ after 9/11. What the president of the United States admitted (and did not suggest has stopped) bears repeating: “We did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots”

Racism

As children fleeing the US-induced violence, hunger and greed in Central America try to seek sanctuary in the United States efforts to repel and repatriate them grow: in late July, for instance, the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, announced plans to send as many as a thousand National Guard troops to the border with Mexico.

A new report  released in late July by Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute details the extent to which the state has manufactured, promoted and exaggerated the apparent threat of terrorism – and provoked particularly members of the Muslim community into actions for which they are then blamed. Indeed, US agents have played a major role in almost every such spurious ‘plot’.

‘Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in U.S. Terrorism Prosecutions’ looks at every step taken in over two dozen cases (there have been more than 500 since September 11 2001) and reaches disturbing (though not surprising) conclusions. Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of the report, said, “Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US… [b]ut take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”

Environment

In mid-July 24 people were arrested in Washington D.C. after blockading the entrances to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They were protesting the extent to which the Agency automatically approves fracking. They concentrated on Cove Point, a liquified natural gas terminal proposed by Dominion Resources in Maryland; the agency is due to issue a final decision on in August. The day before, over 1,000 people joined a ‘people’s march’ against the plans for Cove Point and the increase in fracking in the United States.

At the same time the US government took out federal terrorism charges against two animal rights activists accused of helping to free minks and foxes from fur ‘farms’ in rural Illinois. Tyler Lang and Kevin Oliff are accused of freeing about 2,000 mink from their cages on a fur farm, and then removing parts of the fence surrounding the property so that the animals could escape to safety. The indictments come under the controversial Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA); each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a US$250,000 (£145,750) fine. Meanwhile activist Will Potter (GreenIstheNewRed.com) is planning to use Kickstarter to buy and operate a drone to photograph abuses at factory farms; photographing such operations from the ground is now illegal.

A small but hopeful statistic emerged in the middle of July: the ‘farm-to-institution’ movement is growing. According to the National Good Food Network’s Food Hub Collaboration, more than 200 food hubs are currently in operation in the US. These serve as brokers between local farmers and such retail or direct ‘consumer’ outlets as schools, hospitals, restaurants and grocery shops. A reliable supply channel between growers and eaters seems to be allowing the former to develop in number and scope in competition with bloated, monopolistic and environmentally destructive agri-business. Even the federal government supports the movement: earlier this year the Department of Agriculture announced that the 2014 Farm Bill will allocate US$78 (£45.7) million in support for such food hubs, farmers markets and other (processing and distribution( links in the local food chain.

Resistance to companies engaging in the extraction of tar sands oil continues: in late July 21 climate justice activists were arrested while blockading construction work on the first tar sands mine actually in the United States (the biggest, TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline Project, would run through the country to the Gulf but is Canadian). Utah Tar Sands Resistance explained that roughly 80 activists took part in the direct action; some locked themselves to equipment. Referring to the sanctity of the land to the Ute Nation, a banner at the protest read, ‘Respect Existence or Expect Resistance’.

The élite can only mess with the one environment that supports us all for so long before each disaster. In British Columbia (Canada) in the middle of the night on Monday 4th August a ‘breach’ in the slurry pond, the result of greedy copper and gold mining companies, occurred. It sent hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic waste into surrounding neighbourhoods and polluted nearby Quesnel Lake, Cariboo Creek, Hazeltine Creek and Polley Lake. Chief Anne Louie of the Williams Lake Indian band described it as a ‘massive environmental disaster.’

Even more obviously preventable was the destruction caused by officials in the small town of Mechanicsburg in Pennsylvania. Until the state Department of Agriculture shut it down, the local library had a novel, but very useful resource for its users: a seed library which would have held heirloom and organic seeds for generations to come. It was launched as recently as the end of April this year with seeds and resources from the Cumberland County Commission for Women and the non-profit Seed Savers Exchange. The aim of the new system was for borrowers to ‘check out’ seeds at the beginning of the (growing) season and bring back harvested seeds at the end as a result of cultivation in order to replenish the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library’s stock. But, No: once again agribusiness stomped on a community initiative.

Louis Further