The Other Fourth

The Amendment That Ascertains
Power to This Independence Day

Dispensing all pomp and circumstance, national birthdays have a way of turning into numbing occasions for grandstanding patriotism and overindulgent gluttony. It’s no different in the U.S., even as Independence Day marks a moment of rebellion and self-sacrifice.
That being settled, flags and parades are alright, but it can’t hurt to focus a bit on the constitutional side of that storied statement signed by the 13 colonies, which Congress adopted 237 years ago today, and whether it still holds sway as the highest law of the land.
As such, after almost two and half centuries, it’s held up pretty well. As the nation went through its growing pains, it managed to extend the original liberal slant of its founding documents, even as it amended them, while also adding some truly lofty goals as far as individual rights are concerned.
The paradox about those high standards is that they’ve made the U.S. Constitution both an example of steely idealism committed to a set of amendments, and also a pragmatic tool, vulnerable to be waged against the very principles it vows to defend. Take 2013, for instance.
Despite having elected its first African-American as President, and enjoyed a full century of world economic and military domination, without having to steal land or do away with its institutions, the past few decades have presented serious challenges to its tradition of constitutionality and the rule of the law.
It brings no joy to mention this today, but after two long, unjust wars, thousands of American and foreign lives lost, billions of dollars wasted into the buildup of a scary military complex, the U.S. is more than ever perceived globally as a bully, with no respect to its own legal precepts. How did it come to this?

(BOUNCED) CHECKS & IMBALANCES
The framers of the Constitution ‘did not want to rely on the promises of good motivations or good intents from the government,’ says Professor of Law Jonathan Turley in an interview to John Cusack. ‘They created a system where no branch had enough authority to govern alone, a system of shared and balanced powers.’
Turley blasts efforts by President Obama and his administration to prevent the prosecution of CIA operatives accused of torture during the Bush era as a flagrant infringement of international law. ‘Soon after 9/11, government officials started to talk about how the Constitution is making us weaker, how we can’t function by giving people due process.’
The administration’s most recent self-inflicted black eye has been caused, of course, by revelations that the NSA has been spying on Americans and even foreign dignitaries for years. But as it happened with rumors of a Continue reading

Heed My Leaps

Come on Blue Rock, Put
on Some Speed, Will Ya?

This is getting to become a routine. Tonight, just before 8pm, you and seven-plus billion of your closest friends will be granted an extra second. Again. For what, it’s up to you. For as it turns out, Earth is dragging time again, unable to keep up with our busy schedules.
Last time it happened, most people didn’t even have time to enjoy the extra period. No one knows how many died or were born at that briefest of the moments either. But you’ve been warned; it’ll come and go real fast. Unlike our planet, apparently. Now try not to waste it, ok?
Harold ‘The Fly’ Lloyd (no, he was not a fighter; maybe a lover, who knows?) hung for way much longer than a second, and that was his own stunt. Since it’s the time one has to say, ‘1, 1.000,’ do CPR practitioners, who count it all the time, get to enjoy it better than you?
We’re not getting too deep into this. We’ve written about this before, and you can read it all about it below. In fact, the importance of this scientific adjustment is lost to most of those close friends of yours anyway. And if this post lasted just a second to read, it’d suffice.
Humans are the only species to have created a way to keep track of time, which has been an enormous waste of time, if you’d ask us. But we know how exactly we plan to spend that ever so elusive wrinkle of time, invented to compensate for Earth’s (age-related?) slowdown.
We’ll be looking up. That’s right. Venus and Jupiter, the two brightest ‘stars’ in the sky, will be very close together tonight, marking the occasion. We can’t think of anything more fitting to do. After all, they don’t need no stinking clock to track time in order to awe us. Enjoy it.
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* Quantum Leap

No, Wait


The Leap Second &
The Doomsday Clock

Just when you were ready to celebrate the fact that summer this year will last a bit longer, and we mean, a very tiny, teeny little bit longer, here comes the buzzkillers to tell you that we’re actually wasting it, meaning, that we’re in fact very late and even close to the end.
These are but just two of the ways that we obsess with measuring time, or at least, fool ourselves with the illusion that time can be measured. But at the end of the day, we’re no better than that Lewis Carroll rabbit, always rushing, insanely busy and ever so late.
And if you thought that such obsession is a mere product of our modern times, hum so over the top and, as that old Lennon song would say, running everywhere at top speed, you haven’t heard the one about the South Pacific.
As it turns out, a tiny, teeny sun-drenched island Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

There’s Work Left Undone, Colltalers

It’s been a remarkable time to be living in the U.S., absent any sense of misplaced patriotism. And last week was a particularly gut-wrenching one, with a handful of worth-following breaking news that drove us collectively from agony to ecstasy in just a few days.
Grief, which took over the nation following the June 17 murders of nine black church folk in Charleston, and joy, as a result of the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, were the brackets of a week that forced other, less relevant reports to recede to the background.
Not that everything else did not count, inside the U.S. or abroad. But it’s still rare to see a few history-making stories to top the headlines. As the media in this country has all but given up to accurately report real, unvarnished news, the change was refreshing.
We’ll go back to those still developing stories in a moment, but it’s also important to comment on two other events that helped make this one of President Obama’s best weeks in office: congressional approval of fast-track authority, giving him power to negotiate the Trans-Pacific trade agreement without pesky input from anyone, and the Supreme Court’s other vital ruling in support of Obamacare.
Fast-track authority gives the president a huge edge to pass the TPP legislation, whose full text hasn’t yet been disclosed. Based on WikiLeaks documents, though, there’s an unfair bias for protecting American corporations’ interests above all, including other nations’ own regulations and sovereignty. No wonder the administration is so reluctant to publish the terms of the agreement.
What’s curious is that Democrats in Congress argued successfully to thwart the approval of fast-track powers to the president, two weeks ago, because of the trade’s expected negative impact on jobs and wages of American workers. They did that by including and opposing (yes, that’s possible in Washington) a piece of legislation aimed at protecting workers likely to be affected by the TPP.
But the removal from the bill of that, the Trade Adjustment Assistance – in any case, insufficient to minimize the agreement’s impact on labor – has been what ultimately helped pass the fast-track gimmick the second time around.
It was quietly reintroduced and approved in the House last week, as a standalone bill, and will probably sail through the Senate in the coming weeks, preferably when no one will be paying much attention. It’s not the first time some labor legislation is used as a paw in Washington political games.
Besides the potential damage it may have on already demoralized labor relations, the biggest criticism about the TPP is how it grants almost unrestricted powers to big companies to dictate and change laws, so to optimize their profits, now on a global scale.
And despite President Obama’s misguided cheerleading and personal involvement on its approval, this accord has less to do with global trade than with exporting a certain way of doing business that’s at the odds with the very idea of sustainable progress.
As for the other piece of positive news in the past week, albeit one full of qualifiers, the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act was an immense win, this time not just for the president, but for at least 15 million Americans who risked losing federal Continue reading

Undercover Teeth

The Roof Came Down First;
Then the Bed Bugs Attacked

We’ve been outed. Neighbors are looking at us as if we’re lepers, whose very breath can infect them with the curse of filth and decay. We hear whispers behind our backs, and almost feel the fingers pointed at us on our wake. Suddenly, we’re ground zero to everyone else’s horror.
No, there are no chunks of human flesh in our refrigerator. Or a special task force looking at our faces pasted on charts at some police precinct. Any despicable acts of malice or evil? No, not yet anyway. We’re just hosts of the latest scourge of living in Manhattan: bed bugs.
The first reaction most people have once they become aware that the person they’re speaking with has been exposed to flesh-eating bugs at their own bed, besides instinctively taking a few steps away from them, is disgust. And the false realization that somehow, it’s all the person’s fault.
Never mind that they seem to be everywhere these days. Questions about personal hygiene, or unsavory habits, come to mind, along with visions of dirty food containers laying around the house, candy wrappers and scraps of pizza on the living room’s sofa, and, of course, a clogged toilet bowl, stuffed with industrial-grade human waste.
It’s also the last thing they’ll be willing to talk about, before coming up with an excuse for a quick retreat away from any possible contamination. Possibly, even the thought that perhaps everything that person has done or spoke about in the past is now somewhat tainted by the revelation.
We’re all quick at seeing ourselves above others, taking a sanctimonious stand that grants us the grace of appreciating without restriction our wise life choices. Specially compared to someone who could be so vile and crass as to invite beg bugs to feast on their own bodies. Repugnant.

WHAT DWELLS INSIDE TENEMENT WALLS
Be I digress. Fact is, when the ceiling finally collapsed on the bedroom, after years of water seeping through and leaking ROOF, a century of semi-rotten wood literally rained over us, bugs and dirt included. Whether there’s a connection, it’s not clear yet, but that’s when it all started.
Our tenement building, as thousands of others in New York, has outlived its initial life expectancy, and stood the passage of time with incredible dignity and vigor. While many others came down, dead by old age or real estate greed, ours remains a beacon from another time in the city.
We, ourselves, are all but a relic, what with our negative banking account, our defiance to stay put while everyone around us could as well purchase us on the cheap, and still wishing to shape and inspire the future with our humanity and hopes for better days. Just don’t tell that to the son.
In any event, and mostly for being sheltered within such a fortitude of a construction feat, we’ve managed to withstand the challenges of being underfunded and Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Racism Is a Loaded Gun, Colltalers

The tragedy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston was a calculated act of terrorism, its timing and victims carefully chosen, and the shooter’s intent crystal clear. And unlike the appearances, he was not alone.
So will this be it? We’ve lost track of how many times we came this close to do something about it, and we don’t mean going back the intervening century and a half that’s supposed to separate our era from the official end of the American Civil War.
We’re talking about less than a decade, for instance, and President Obama’s 2010 inauguration is as good a time to start counting as any. And still, we lost count of how many times racism has shown its raw, brutal face, and we failed to act.
So is time ripe enough now? Or again we’re about to engage in yet another exercise of self-delusion, by some, and convenient excuses, by others, and offer the ‘isolated nut’ theory as the scapegoat for this massacre, so most of us can go back to sleep?
The more we learn about the murder rampage in S. Carolina, the harder it is to adhere to the usual suspects school of thought, which seems ever so casual but comes from the same place that’s been brewing racism in this country since, well, ever.
Even if the despicable idea he (we’re not mentioning his name on this space) had was very likely his own, it wouldn’t have come out of his deranged mind if it weren’t for the environment of racial hatred that nurtured his upbringing.
Nothing was casual: besides choosing the church for its historical significance in 200 years of racial struggle, this young thug had already made clear his intention to harm black people on his Website, picked a particular night to attack, drove 120 miles to get to the city, and like any cold blood psychopath, sat down and talked with his victims before slaughtering them.
The fact that he’s a certified killer, though, doesn’t exempt his community – and us – of responsibility. He was given the tools, the hate rationale and motivation, even literally the weapon, and thus he must’ve felt chosen to be the one to pull the trigger.
In other words, to focus on his apparel and universally recognized white supremacist symbols (everything but the swastika?), may distract us from the crucial fact that he, and millions like him, remain sore and bent on resettling a score that the Civil War was supposed to have settled all those years ago; it’s as if only part of the grand illusion of racism was defeated on the battlefield.
Exactly why is it still alive and unwell in America? How is even possible that we tolerate state members of the union to openly profess segregation as a valid way of life, and racial hatred towards blacks (and one assumes, any race but white) as a matter of principle, while allowing Confederate Flags to be displayed in government buildings, and roads named after its heroes?
We don’t claim to know the answer but we offer that it may have something to do with so many still nurturing ill-feelings toward Jews, sex ‘minorities, feminists and civil rights activists. Or the growing contingent of ISIL volunteers. And yes, even those oh so well intentioned, who’ve declared racism over in this country, and still can’t quite consider it a serious threat.
For how’s that a young person develops such a stupefyingly flawed view of the world, where the methodical brutality of the Rhodesian regime, or the cruelty of Apartheid ideology, serve as cognitive beacons to their path in life, without a hint of the collective remorse we feel about the plight of millions of Africans who suffered or were exterminated under them?
The Charleston bloodbath is so completely engulfing on its message against racial equality, and specifically, in the way it signals towards some kind of evil final solution towards black people, that its meaning surpasses even the power of that other disgrace about life in America: easy guns. That may be a way to approach what happened but it can’t be the only way.
It’s a reductionist tactic to narrow and credit this barbaric act to how easy it is for anyone with a police record to acquire or, in this shooter’s case, to be gifted, with a gun. For there are already plenty of tragedies involving sick individuals with just a personal grudge against society. Even then, we haven’t changed any meaningful Continue reading

Son & Sister

Sharing a Password to Grief

– Daddy, it was a big tarugo.
I smiled. These days, only my son would use such a word in that context. For him, it conveys puzzlement and wonder. But way back when, within the walls of my parents’ home, it’d serve to simulate an intimacy which was otherwise all but forever lost.
I heard it uttered for the first time half a century ago by my baby sister, who disappeared and still dodges all efforts to locate her. In the Romance language of our childhood, the word would sound like turtle, creatures as mysterious as that bathroom business may have seemed to her too.
I smiled because the word doesn’t really mean turtle; it only resembles it in the tongue I often think he will never learn from me. I also found it funny because, of all the words in that language that he understands but refuses to speak, tarugo is the one that he does.
When she vanished, sore and resentful towards my parents, I was turned into their enforcer. Late night calls would be always followed by an unbearable heartache.
I’d get to their place and she’d be branding a knife against them. They’d be cowered on a corner, two frail and disoriented seniors, threatened by a past failure, now bigger and stronger and always addled by who knows what, besides alcohol.
When she took off, leaving a trail of profoundly dysfunctional kids in her wake, my parents stepped in and cared for them. My sister took with her the conviction that I was one of them and it’s likely that I’d never get a chance to explain myself.
I also smiled because suddenly I was thrown back to our childhood, the two of us harmonizing pop songs on the roof of our house. The games we played to survive those times, though, still haunt me to tears.
Her voice, now a faint, gentle lullaby that soothes me through turbulent nights, was like a safety code; side by side, we were partners Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Behind Francis’ Liberal Push, Colltalers

When the chief of an institution with an estimated membership of over a billion declares that two percent of its almost 500,000 lieutenants are child molesters, and that he intends to set up tribunals to judge and kick them out, one by one, that’s big news.
We’re talking, of course, of Pope Francis I who announced last week the Catholic Church’s first practical step to identify and defrock at least some of those allegedly 100,000 pedophile priests still speaking about Jesus and committing horrific acts.
No question, it’s a positive step in the right direction and all that. After all, just a few years ago, the church was spending an obscene amount of hush-hush money, just to keep its child molesters out of jail and off the headlines, victims and their destroyed lives be damned. Also, it’s the first time a pope acknowledges that there is, indeed, a problem, and that it’s hurting the faithful.
Plus, such a move is a relief to the majority of priests and bishops and archbishops and cardinals who, to be fair, felt disgusted with the conduct of their peers, but had to face a big dilemma as to whether to denounce them and lose their careers.
Francis, who’s collected plenty of street cred with statements about the poor, gays, women, climate change, and even the evils of capitalism, has shown that he’s as shrewd a populist as any politician, except perhaps Alexander VI, or Roderic de Borgia.
But even as he’s displayed a flair to capture the attention of both the impoverished and the nauseatingly wealthy Catholic, with this decision, he actually goes from the merely stated to the actually enforced, or so it seems according to the Vatican.
In a statement, it said that the tribunals would operate under the feared Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, and that the goal is ‘to judge bishops with regard to crimes of the abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors.’
It’s a carefully worded statement, but nevertheless one issued by the powerful Sé, as it’s known by insiders, which used Continue reading