Notes from the US: No backers for gas power? Just hire some!

Louis Further rounds up the latest in dodgy goings on across the pond.

Truth – convenient or inconvenient – is counting for less and less in Trump’s United States. Any kind of understanding which the élite have of the climate – let alone climate change – is hard to find. In part this can be explained by the mass of denier propaganda delivered daily by the broadcasters and propagandists. For instance, printed outlets from the Fox machine continue to put the very phrase, climate change, in quotes. It emerged recently, too, that over the winter ‘actors’ were actually paid to attend meetings of the New Orleans City Council in order to suggest that support for a proposed gas power plant proposed by Entergy was greater than it actually was.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, described as a “…mind-boggling story” the way in which two men named Garrett Wilkerson and Daniel Taylor recruited people prepared to wear bright orange t-shirts (which were provided) with the legend, ‘Clean Energy. Good Jobs. Reliable Power’; and paid them $60 (£45). And $200 (£150) if they were willing to stand up and speak to endorse the destructive proposals by delivering a pre-written speech as if they believe what was written.

EPA okay with toxic water

Using emails obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Politico reported recently on another case of collusion between the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to block the release of news of a major nationwide water contamination disaster. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (a federal public health agency, part of the Department of Health and Human Services) was preparing to publish its assessment of a class of toxic chemicals found widely in human water sources. Amongst the many outraged reactions was one from Friends of the Earth… “Scott Pruitt is more worried about journalists than poisoning millions of Americans”, a spokesperson said.

Labour matters

Teachers have been at the forefront of opposition to government cuts this year. Strikes, days of action and mass protests have been mounted in many states. When almost 20,000 teachers in North Carolina marched in Raleigh (the state capital), the ‘March for students and rally for respect’, Kristin Beller, a teachers’ union leader in Wake County, North Carolina, commented, “We saw Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona, of course, and that momentum that has been building in these ‘right-to-work states’ is inspiring. [This] is a bold move for North Carolina as teachers in in the state lack collective bargaining rights—something they hope helps launch a political movement.”

Salary salad

Meanwhile, over the last half century it has been the salaries of senior management which have grown disproportionately in comparison with those of their employees. In mid-May it emerged that Walmart CEO Doug McMillon’s total salary package (including stock) rose 2% in 2017 to $22.8 million (or £47,000 a day). Median wages for the firm’s employees is $19,177 (£14,400) a year.

Challenging circumstances

In late May the US Supreme Court took another step to diminish workers’ rights: now employers will be able legally to prevent their employees from joining forces whenever they need to stop workplace abuses. This even extends to occasions when management effectively steals wages or is guilty of sexual harassment. The way it will work in practice remains unclear because officially an employee does still have the rights to challenge employers – unless an employer says that they do not.

This is most likely to happen when employers unilaterally mandate arbitration. Those employers who wish to take advantage of the new ruling can now legally oblige employees to act as individuals; they can no longer group (and so strengthen) their fight back by bringing class action suits against even the greatest acts of abuse and theft. Collective action – at least for the moment – appears to be… ‘dead’.

Oppression

Exceptionalism is alive and well, though: the newly-appointed Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, delivered a ‘pep-talk’ to his staff on taking up his new job last month. In it, he actually encouraged members of the State Department to regain their ‘swagger’ and to believe in the ‘essential rightness’ of the US in global affairs. American diplomats are to act with confidence when carrying out the Trump administration’s foreign policy – because they need to know that the US is always right. Pompeo’s words were leaked (the ‘briefing’ was a closed one): “Swagger is not arrogance; it is not boastfulness, it is not ego. No, swagger is confidence; in oneself, in one’s ideas. In our case, it is America’s essential rightness”.

Billionaire bung

The Trump gang delivered yet more huge gifts to the already wealthy in their recent tax cuts for billionaires and large corporations using deficit spending. It has to be paid for. According to reports last month, Trump is planning to force Congress to remove over $15 (£11) billion from previously agreed spending. From where? Just under half of that amount, or $7 (£5) billion, would actually come from the broadly popular and successful Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Gina the butcher

In case you held out the weakest hope that the Democratic Party in the US was half-way decent in its stance on torture, think again: at least three Democrats (Warner, Heitkamp, and Nelson) all supported the confirmation of torturer Gina Haspel as the next head of the CIA.

The Trump effect

One good thing that someone like Trump with his vile actions, oppressive acts and destructive measures does is increase activism. In a new survey conducted by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation fully 20% of those questioned reported that they had attended a protest or rally since 2016. And 70% of those said they disapproved of Trump and what he is doing. For many this is something new: roughly 19% of those who have been to some sort of demonstration in that period did so for the first time. Specifically, around 46% of respondents said they had been to demonstrations on women’s rights; and that the environment, immigration policy, and LGBTQ rights were also important issues to them.

This can be favourably compared with a poll in 2009 by the Pew Research Center, which found that barely 4% of those polled had taken part in any sort of organised political demonstration. Commenting on the significance of this dramatic upsurge of protest, the editor of Dissent magazine Michael Kazin, who is also a history professor at Georgetown University, told the Washington Post that the survey “…confirms there is a resistance and that a lot of people want to be associated with it”.

Health

Medicaid is the state-based system designed to provide healthcare for those too poor to qualify for the Federal Medicare programme. Trump has promised to do whatever he can to dismantle it and make it less effective so as to deprive the poor of even basic rights to health. It currently covers 74 million families nationwide. Two states have jumped in almost immediately to help Trump administer as many blows as possible: Arkansas, and Indiana – the state of which vice-president Mike Pense was governor from 2013 to 2017.

The measures such as obliging recipients of Medicaid to follow strict work requirements (even though 60% already work) is clearly driven by ideology and dogma. One commentator on the measure, Vox’s Dylan Scott, explained, “The stakes are huge: work requirements for food stamps have been linked to substantial drops – up to 50% in some isolated cases – in the program’s enrolment. As many as 25 million people could be subject to Medicaid work requirements if they were instituted nationwide. In a very real sense, health coverage for millions of Americans who rely on Medicaid could be at risk under the agenda Trump is advancing”.

Louis Further


Pic: A gas light in New Orleans, by Drriss & Marrionn