Notes from the US: Racism, Politics, Violence and Economy

Small American flag recovered amid World Trade Center debris at the Fresh Kills Landfill. 9-11 exhibit at the East Tennessee History Museum. 2003 Smithsonian photo by Hugh Talman.Monthly roundup on the state of the USA by Louis Further

Racism

Only months after admitting the uselessness of previous such projects (reported on in Freedom) the New York City Police Department has begun a spying effort which recruits Muslim immigrants in jail to act as informants.Apparently, the ‘Citywide Debriefing Team’ approaches suspects after their arrest for minor offences and asks them to spy on cafes, restaurants and mosques.

Environment

In mid of May the US Senate was presented with a bipartisan bill to ‘encourage’ energy efficiency; almost the least that could be done. All it called for was new efficiency standards in federal and private buildings. It failed. Republicans tried to attach conditional amendments in favour of the disastrous Keystone XL oil pipeline and against new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, which attempted to further curtail the pretty ineffectual agency’s already limited powers.

Enbridge Oil in Burlington, Ontario (Canada) is building a pipeline, ‘Line 9’, as part of a wider project to extract oil from tar sands, acknowledged as one of the most environmentally-damaging fuels available. In late May a group of protesters – environmentalists, local residents, members of First Nations – successfully blocked the road leading to a site being worked by Enbridge and turning away employees reminding them of the harm they are doing by displaying banners with messages such as, “Tar Sands = Industrial Genocide” and “Climate Crime Scene”.

 

Violence

Freedom reported last month on the criminalisation of OWS (Occupy Wall Street) protesters. Specifically, Cecily McMillan was charged with assault of a police officer; whereas it was actually he who assaulted her by grabbing her breast(s). In mid-May McMillan was sentenced to three months in prison, five years of probation and community service. This was despite a broad movement insisting on no jail time for the activist from supporters (a petition calling for her release gathered over 170,000 signatures; 700 letters were delivered to the sentencing judge) and several city council members as well as a majority of the jury that convicted her.

The Republican Party in Texas has adopted LGBT ‘conversion’ as official policy. No debate even took place before the roughly 7,000 delegates approved a platform in June which includes the so-called ‘reparative therapy’, also backed by the right wing Tea Party. This advocates “…the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling… for those patients [sic] seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle”.

As legislators refused to consider limiting or seriously regulating ownership of guns, there was a spate of mass killings in early June. That at Reynolds High School in Oregon on June 10 was the 75th such in schools alone since the massacre at Newtown which killed 26 people under two years ago – in December 2012. That’s an average of almost one shooting in US schools every eight days.

Drones are most commonly associated with military attacks by the US on defenceless families on the ground, of course. But use in allegedly civilian situations is on the increase as well. In early June the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) announced that it is about to grant the first commercial licence. Ostensibly this will be to engineer further wrecking of the environment in Alaska, over Prudhoe Bay in Alaska’s Northern Slope. The beneficiaries? The operator is to be BP, perpetrator of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico four years ago. The manufacturer is California-based AeroVironment, a major supplier of drones to the US military; its Switchblade, for example, is both a spying device and can be turned into a small bomb.

 

Economy

Teachers in New York City have ended a dispute for better salaries lasting several years. The US$4 (£2.4) billion deal increases pay by 18%; but it could also lead to higher health care premiums. It will likely serve as a model for other municipal unions in similar disputes.

At the start of June the city council in Seattle voted unanimously to phase in a US$15 (£9) an hour minimum wage. This is the highest for any major city in the country; and more than twice the federal minimum. The catch is that businesses in the city won’t have to implement the new minimum for between three and seven years – depending on their size. This vote came at the same time as a report was published which showed that women working in retail make an average of US$4 (£2.40) an hour less than men. Retail salesperson is the most common job in the United States.

Over the first weekend in June three celebrities were either killed or critically injured in a road traffic accident in New Jersey involving a Walmart lorry driver who had not slept for more than 24 hours. Just days earlier the Senate had begun to relax regulations aimed at preventing driver fatigue… a Senate committee passed a measure to suspend the requirement that drivers take extended breaks after reaching 70 hours on the road over any one eight-day period.

 

Spying and Politics

The latest disclosures from whistleblower Edward Snowden show how the NSA (National Security Agency) has already collected millions of images using facial recognition software. And it’s continuing – at a rate of about 55,000 new images per day – or about one new face every two seconds, around the clock. These come from driver’s licenses, Facebook, text messages, emails, videoconferences and other communications.

Stories of corruption in American politics are nothing new, of course. As a recent example during congressional mid-term election primaries, four supporters of Tea Party rival to six-term incumbent Thad Cochran Chris McDaniel were arrested in May for plotting to break into a retirement home and take pictures of Cochran’s bedridden wife.

 

References

Justice for Cecily: http://justiceforcecily.com

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: www.pnas.org

 

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Louis Further

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