Notes from the USA

Freedom’s long-running US correspondent Louis Further does his monthly roundup of some of the lesser-known stories that have emerged over the last few weeks.

Education

One of the hallmarks of the Trump administration is a petulant mania to please his supporters – especially when doing so benefits the rich and powerful – by reversing as much of the previous government’s legislation as possible. For a large portion of that ‘base’ (of Trump enthusiasts) Obama is successfully and persuasively portrayed as a dangerous communist.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, for instance, recently announced that she was to eliminate a rule from the Obama years which was intended to deprive fraudulent institutions of higher education from making a profit. From 2015 they had to demonstrate that the degrees which they awarded their students really could be used to help them find employment. There were (after all Trump himself ran one) and still are colleges and ‘universities’ making aggressive and wildly inaccurate claims about the value of their degrees.

Indeed DeVos (seen by many informed educators in the US as one of the most inappropriate of Trump’s appointments, given the level of expertise required and given her complete lack of experience and comprehension of the field) also has multiple personal investments in such sham ‘schools’ (as tertiary level educational establishments are called in the US). She stands to profit from the changes which she is making: soon such organisations will have no such requirement to prove their validity.

Members of the educational management sector in Texas have also shown themselves not to be above petty spite and rather juvenile acts of ‘revenge’. In late September the Texas Education Board voted to remove Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller from school history syllabi. Moses, though, and his impact on the United States founding documents will remain! No anarchist will have much time for Clinton (although Keller was herself an anarchist). But it would be foolish to deny the importance of the Clinton family and her place as the first woman candidate from a major party – particularly, perhaps, as she won 3 million more votes than Trump.

Economics

Trump recently cancelled a relatively slim pay rise for about two million federal employees. But literally a few hours later he told the Bloomberg news outlet that he is working on a plan (which some specialists say may be as illegal as many other of the President’s actions) to issue an executive order to implement yet another tax cut for the rich to the tune of US$100 (£76) billion by indexing capital gains to inflation.

Furthermore, in mid September House Republicans introduced three pieces of legislation as part of the so-called ‘Tax Reform 2.0’ package. Such attempts to provide the rich with even more tax breaks have been estimated by opponents to be likely to increase the federal budget by US$3 (2.3) billion over the next ten years.

A new report from Public Citizen shows how the five biggest banks in the US have profited by as much as US$583 (£446) billion since the financial crisis of 2008.

Racism

Documents which were used in a legal case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts in September show that the government is essentially entrapping undocumented immigrants as they attempt to obtain legal residency. Officers from two federal agencies co-ordinated to arrange for people seeking green cards to appear at government offices specifically in order to detain and in some cases, deport them.
As the fallout continues from Trump’s illegal imprisonment and torture of immigrating children throughout the summer, the administration announced recently that it plans to lift court-ordered limits on the length of time for which migrant children can be detained… a measure which has been called ‘Guantánamo Bay for children’. The process would mean that the Federal Register would carry new rules allowing the government and its agencies to detain families indefinitely – as their immigration proceedings take place. This is often a period which lasts many years.

Days before Hurricane Florence hit the East Coast, documents were released showing that the Trump administration moved almost US$10 (£7.5) million from the federal organisation which would be helping the recovery, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), so as to provide more money for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to be able to detain and deport more immigrants.

Oppression

In late September documents were released by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University through an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit which is almost a year old. They show that the US government has secret rules to spy on journalists and reporters using Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court orders. These documents appear to confirm long held suspicions that such surveillance was taking place.

In 2006 a law was enacted to allow US Presidents to broadcast alerts specifically in the case of actual emergencies. Now it appears that Trump is able (and maybe even plans) to abuse the system and broadcast self-aggrandising messages, as he does with Twitter: shortly after 2:18 pm EST on 3 October the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) performed a ‘test’ whereby Trump texted a rather fatuous message to everyone with a cellphone. It was impossible to opt out; everyone had to receive the text, which made a louder-than-usual noise impossible to silence.

Later in September every Democratic senator voted 93 to 7 to approve a US$674 billion (or about £16,000 each second) military spending bill. Only six Republicans and independent Senator Bernie Sanders opposed it.

Towards the end of September, Democratic Senator Patty Murray (Washington) received a letter in which Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar outlined his proposal to cut up to $266 (£204) million from such largely beneficial public programmes as Operation Head Start (education), care for uninsured patients with HIV/AIDS, from cancer research programs, government-run women’s shelters, and mental health facilities.
For cost-cutting? Efficiency? Budgetary restraints? No. The money would be used instead to continue the detention of over 13,000 non-white children who remain in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). This seems to be an indication of more to come.

Environment

Shortly before Hurricane Florence devastated large areas of North Carolina, it emerged that the state – in accordance with the establishment’s denial of climate change – actually passed legislation which forbade both state and local agencies to take the latest facts about climate (change) into consideration when making planning decisions. They were specifically prevented from including data about sea-level rises into account.

And just as Hurricane Florence was about to cause the devastation which it did to communities on the East Coast, Trump announced plans to make it easier for oil and gas companies to pollute the atmosphere with methane gas, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. Yet again he single-handedly rolled back rules from the previous administration – hardly over-effective in themselves – which required companies to monitor and repair methane leaks on oil and gas wells.

Not that the major news and propaganda outlets routinely link such events to climate change – despite many reports recently issuing very severe and unambiguous warnings. For example in the journal Nature recently, which showed how ‘accelerated warming in the Arctic’ is tending to stall weather in the summer over the whole of North America, Europe, and Asia with the possibility of what its authors call ‘very-extreme extremes’ which will include dangerous heat waves and flooding.

Co-author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) explained that ‘Giant airstreams encircle our globe in the upper troposphere – we call them planetary waves. Now evidence is mounting that humanity is messing with these enormous winds. Fuelled by human-made greenhouse-gas emissions, global warming is probably distorting the natural patterns”.

It was not just humans who paid the price for hurricane Florence, which hit the East coast of the United States in the middle of September. One week after the storm, animal rights activists from the group, Direct Action Everywhere, released extremely distressing video footage taken at factory farms in North Carolina showing thousands of drowned chickens and skips filled with dead piglets. Most climate scientists assert that the frequency and severity of such extreme weather events would be lessened if more action were taken to reduce or reverse the effects which human greed have on the climate.

In a positive move at the end of September, federal judge Dana Christensen in Montana restored endangered species status to grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. This reversed a plan by one of Trump’s more destructive and ruthless wreckers, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, which would have further reduced the already depleted number of Yellowstone’s estimated 700 bears – by actually allowing humans to hunt them!

Louis Further