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.
In late January – just as Trump was boasting about achievements to make America a fairer society and one where the financial system was ‘blind’ – a report from the The Tax Justice Network revealed that the United States has now overtaken the Cayman Islands as the country chosen second most often in the world as a place for the already rich to conceal their money – and so avoid paying their shares of multiple taxes. (Switzerland kept its ranking at the top.)
Trump’s budget was announced in mid-February. Along with its tax ‘reforms’ at the end of 2017, the US economy could be drastically reshaped as a result: US$1.5 (£1.08) trillion in tax cuts for the rich paid for by US$1.7 (£1.22) trillion in cuts to crucial infrastructure which provides safety nets to millions of the rest… the Federal healthcare system (Medicare) alone could lose US$237 (£171) billion; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could lose US$598.5 (£485) million. And so on.
Trump also boasted about the number of companies which (he falsely claimed) had passed savings in his recent tax ‘reform’. The right wing media have been praising the new tax laws along those lines for weeks. In truth, according to Americans for Tax Fairness, fewer than 10% of the country’s richest and most-profitable companies had so far passed on any of the financial benefits they received.
Another reason why corporations are now doing so well – aside from increasing deregulation and that tax cut – is that corporate crime is being allowed, even encouraged, more and more. According to data compiled by Good Jobs First (GJF), a higher number than normal of criminal acts by the élite has gone undetected, unpunished and uncorrected… with far fewer penalties or consequences. GJF has a Violation Tracker tool, ‘the country’s first wide-ranging database of corporate crime and misconduct’. It shows that, during the Obama administration, the nation’s 100 most profitable companies paid around US$17 (£13.8) billion in penalties each year. (This is actually a staggering figure if you stop to think about it: about £16 each month for every inhabitant of the UK! For crimes!) In Trump’s first year, though, Fortune 100 companies only paid a combined US$1.1 billion (£800 million).
A small but significant court ruling was handed down late last month by the Court for the District of Northern California: Trump had tried to suspend or overturn a measure introduced during Obama’s presidency by the Bureau of Land Management to reduce release of methane from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal land. Now the court has overruled and reversed Trump’s effort. Meleah Geertsma, a senior attorney with National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), commented, “The decision once again sends a message to this administration that it will not get away with illegal handouts to industry, at the expense of Americans’ health and the environment”
Climate change denier and Trump loyalist Scott Pruitt is head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In mid-March he confirmed that he is making it easier for industry to dump dangerous chemicals into the nation’s air and water. The Agency is to scrap a project that pays for studies on the effects of pollution and chemical exposure on children. The National Center for Environmental Research (NCER) has until now provided millions of dollars in grants per year to scientists monitoring such perils. Disguised as an efficiency measure (as so many of Trump’s acts are) the NCER will actually be eliminated.
Bottled water is popular in the United States. Many are fooled into believing that it is somehow superior and/or more healthful than what comes out of the tap. The food giants and bottled water companies use predatory marketing and fear-based propaganda coupled with massive lobbying to sell their bottles at inflated prices (given what they contain), and at great cost to the environment. The lie is that bottles are better than tap. One result is that this costs households about US$16 (£11.5) billion a year in paying for the deficit caused by the use of tap water for bottling. In a new report, ‘Take Back the Tap’, Food & Water Watch explains – again, this is not the first time that such figures have been presented – that 64% of bottled water originally comes from municipal tap water sources anyway. What’s more, a gallon of bottled water costs about US$9.50 (£6.80), which is almost 2,000 times the price of tap water for municipal taxpayers.
Two years ago while campaigning Trump caused one of his first scandals by claiming that US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not act impartially when ruling on two class action suits regarding frauds committed by Trump University – because he is Latino. In a nice twist, it may now turn out to be Judge Curiel who will preside over a case involving three lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s construction of the wall to keep Mexicans fleeing poverty caused largely by the US into the country.
Quality of life is hard to measure, of course. In February, though, a study which researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Urban Institute undertook strongly suggested that a failings in and/or the absence of social services including healthcare, and crises in public health, as well as declining social mobility have significantly contributed to growing despair and failing personal health in the United States. A tangible result for the second year running is a decrease in life expectancy. Moreover, between 1999 and 2014 the suicide rate has gone up by 24%.
Healthcare, almost all run for profit in the US, is in a parlous enough state without a recent measure which has recently followed an executive order that Trump signed in October. It’s widely criticised by many who understand public health: the poorly qualified and highly inappropriate Secretary for Health and Human Services, Alex Azar – working with both Labor and Treasury departments – launched a plan ‘…to expand the availability of short-term, limited-duration health insurance by allowing consumers to buy plans providing coverage for any period of less than 12 months, rather than the current maximum period of less than three months.’ Public Citizen was only one of many who condemned the idea as a ‘…junk plan… which would hurt patients by driving up costs and threatening access to health care for millions.’
LGBTQ Americans won a victory in late February: a federal appeals court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act does indeed prohibit discrimination against gays in the workplace, something for which – for example – vice president Mike Pence was a vocal proponent. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals (New York, Connecticut, Vermont) argued in Zarda vs Altitude Express that “a woman who is subject to an adverse employment action because she is attracted to women would have been treated differently if she had been a man who was attracted to women. We can therefore conclude that sexual orientation is a function of sex and, by extension, sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination.”