Notes From the USA: July Roundup

Environment

-The protests against Shell’s plan to drill in the Arctic continue; the company’s Polar Pioneer drilling rig is moored to the south in Seattle in Washington state. In the second week of June activists used their bodies, chains, and cement-filled barrels to halt operations at the port of Seattle. This action included six members of the ‘Raging Grannies’, a group of Seattle grandmothers; five were arrested as they led successful blockades around Terminal 5. Annette Klapstein said, “My generation is responsible for how things are today. This rig will destroy any hope of a liveable future for our children and grandchildren… It’s our duty to be out here.”

-The level of protest grew significantly throughout May and June.

-At the start of July over 5,000 people had to be evacuated when yet another ‘bomb train’ carrying a flammable, poisonous chemical derailed and caught fire near Knoxville, Tennessee.

-May 2015 was officially the wettest month ever recorded in the United States.

-The United States navy has planned a huge series of war ‘games’ in the Gulf of Alaska. Its environmental impact will be enormous. Huge areas of pristine Arctic land will be destroyed; the exercise will kill untold marine life and leave spent and live weapons, ammunition, poison and dangerous substances and equipment indefinitely and without necessarily disclosing, identifying or logging location. Department of ‘Defense’ officials have lied publicly about this impact and contradicted the navy’s own Environmental Impact Study. Thousands of sailors, soldiers, air-force personnel, marines and Coast Guard members will be involved – along with ships and destroyers, planes, weapons and a submarine. Live bombing runs will detonate tens of thousands of pounds of toxic substances. Active sonar in sensitive areas will cause suffering and death to wildlife equivalent to multiple 500lb bombs being exploded. And all this at the single most critical time of year for migratory and breeding creatures. Massively unacceptable levels of wildlife ‘takes’ (navy terminology for killing) are to be allowed, as is massive pollution in disregard for the already weak and over-tolerant levels allowed by the largely ineffective Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The excuse, of course? ‘National security’.

-The battle in Denton, Texas, on which Freedom reported last time continues. 92-year-old Violet Palmer was jailed in mid-June for protesting against the law which was passed banning towns from preventing fracking in their own areas. Although the community voted overwhelmingly to ban the drilling technique, lawsuits by the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas General Land Office immediately followed. They and the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) then passed the law that attracted these latest protests. Adam Briggle of the anti-fracking group Denton Drilling Awareness said, “This is definitely not the end of the line. It is the beginning of a new chapter in our fight, and it’s one that’s going to be Texas-wide now.” A couple of weeks later, though, a federal judge ruled against – and so struck down as ‘invalid’ – a ban passed by voters in Maui County, Hawaii, last November on the cultivation of genetically modified crops.

-Climate change is still seen as a matter for debate by many – particularly in the mainstream propaganda channels; and still widely denied completely. The latest of a series of studies countering the deniers attributing such meteorological phenomena as the drought in California and unusually high levels of rainfall in the mid-West and South appeared in mid June. Scientists Kevin Trenberth, John Fasullo and Theodore Shepherd wrote for the National Center for Atmospheric Research, ‘The climate is changing. The environment in which all weather events occur is not what it used to be. All storms, without exception, are different. Even if most of them look just like the ones we used to have, they are not the same.’ At the same time the EPA released a report which showed how action to counter climate change could save tens of thousands of lives and many billions of dollars annually in the United States by the end of this century. The report also co-incided with findings by researchers at Stanford, Princeton and Berkeley which confirm that the world is entering the sixth mass extinction as a result of climate change… some species are vanishing at 100 times the normal rate.

Equality

-In early June a federal appeals court upheld harsh anti-choice provisions in Texas; they threaten to leave the state with fewer than 10 abortion clinics. In 2013 the state had over 40 clinics. Then, a sweeping anti-choice law passed despite a ‘people’s filibuster’ leaving fewer than half that number. Last month, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas can enforce provisions which require abortion facilities to meet the standards of hospital-style surgery centres and force doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. If the rules take effect, almost a million women of reproductive age will live over 150 miles from the nearest abortion clinic that may remain open.

-The island of Guam became the first US territory (as opposed to state) to recognise same-sex marriage. LGBT couples began applying for marriage licenses in the second week of June after a marriage equality ban was struck down. Weddings can begin five days after the license is applied for.

-In 2014 professor Steven Salaita was offered a job at the prestigious University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But after he posted tweets criticising Israeli’s assault on Gaza that summer, the offer was withdrawn. A year later – last month – the American Association of University Professors, the largest such group in the United States censured the University in an overwhelming vote, saying it has “not adhered to generally recognised principles of academic freedom and tenure”.

-But Columbia University announced that it will divest from the private prison industry after nearly a year ad a half of protests by students of the Columbia Prison Divest campaign. Columbia’s Board of Trustees will no longer fund the notorious Corrections Corporation of America or G4S; the move also bans reinvestment in private prison firms in the future.
-Police killings of black people have reached almost epidemic proportions with one revealed almost every day. In mid-June, for instance, the absurd reason given was that 28-year-old unarmed Ryan Keith Bolinger was “walking with a purpose” towards the police car of officer Vanessa Miller in Des Moines,  Iowa.

-As the panic against ‘Middle Eastern Terrorism’ continues, a report published in late June by the New America research centre makes it plain where the real threat lies: white supremacists and other non-Muslim individuals and groups have killed far more people in the United States since 9/11. There have been 19 attacks identified with non-Muslims in the past nearly 14 years as opposed to seven by Muslim groups and/or individuals.

Supreme Court

-After corporations (with which it frequently sides, of course), the US Supreme Court is one of the most powerful bodies in the country. Nominated for life, not elected, its nine members typically uphold the status quo and are the ultimate legal authority – unless a new law is passed to replace their decisions. Their decisions cannot otherwise be overturned, revised or reversed. This summer, though – at the end of its session, as happens each year – the Court made a number of rulings. Several were surprisingly positive.

-That which received the greatest attention, of course, was that states cannot ban, subvert, or refuse to implement same-sex marriage laws. In similar vein, some states’ moves to decrease provision of abortion by making clinics’ operating conditions impossible to comply with is unlawful. Employers are to respect (potential) employees’ religion… Muslim Samantha Elauf applied to work for a major clothing retailer; her rejection was improper. Telecom companies are to be made to respect customers’ wishes not to receive telemarketing robocalls. The state of Texas does now have the legal right to ban licence plates bearing the Confederate battle flag. States must not attempt to withhold provisions of the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’) from their residents. There are other rulings (on the environment and the use of certain pain-causing drugs in state executions) which are not so positive. But the laws now in force will now make a positive difference.

References
-American Association of University Professors: www.aaup.org
-Columbia Prison Divest: https://www.facebook.com/columbiaprisondivest
-Denton Drilling Awareness: www.dentondag.org
-National Center for Atmospheric Research: http://ncar.ucar.edu
-New America: https://www.newamerica.org