Curtain Raiser

The President’s Choice & Yours, Colltalers

The U.S. has been at war in the Middle East for all but the first nine months of the 21th century. President Obama may have just signed the guarantee that it’ll remain so for at least another 10 years. Worse: the world seems no longer hesitant to follow such trail of fire as it once did.
After a time of healthy self-doubt, when he warded off Pentagon hawks, weapons industry lobbyists, and a defense contractor-sponsored congressional caucus, the president seemed to have completely disavowed his own professed aversion to engage in open ended conflicts.
We may not need a whole century to see his capitulation as his biggest mistake, and whether this is an understatement or not depends of which part of his legacy you’d rather see etched in stone. With his act, though, such legacy will hardly be that of peacemaker, that’s for sure.
In some ways, his tenure has always been singed by the twin conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose expensive bill was handed over to him by George Bush and his merry warmakers. He, and by extension, we, thought it was all figured out, though: troop withdrawal from Iraq, check, troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, about to be checked. The rest was supposed to take care of itself. Or if it wasn’t, we could no longer afford to care.
(Let’s pretend for a second that we didn’t wreck those countries for good, bending them out of shape, along with their neighbors, and did the opposite of what every doctor swears by: primum non nocere, first do no harm. Oh, and produced hundreds of thousands of incapacitated human beings, both here and abroad, doomed to carry to their grave the bitter taste of signing up to serve their country, and winding up being had by it.)
Thing is, al-Qaeda’s endurance kept giving rise to successive groups of avengers against everything the American gun barrel symbolizes, until it culminated in the alphabet soup of intolerant thugs such as Boko Haram, then ISIL, and now, Khorasan, and who knows what tomorrow.
Each one of them was baptized by military hawks and warmongers, and dutifully echoed by the media, as ‘terrorists, bent on destroying America,’ as if, first, such thing was even possible, and second, any group holding a religious grunge, posing, or posting gory videos, with American-made machine guns, or machetes, and screaming hatred words, can qualify to the high status of being on the haywire of the Pentagon drones.
We’ve created these monsters, and by committing the whole country to an all-out war against them, regardless of national borders or whose interests and allegiances they may serve at any particular moment, we are in fact giving them the legitimacy that they crave to grow and thrive.
It may be President Obama’s biggest miscalculation because it’s one that has global repercussions that may take generations to mend and heal. Just as Bush squandered the international sympathy and support received by the U.S. after 9/11, engaging in the illegitimate invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks, the president now is squandering even the little goodwill his election had raised around the world.
No wonder some groups are demanding that he returns his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, for so far, just two years to the end of his stay at the White House, he hasn’t neither been a promoter of nuclear nonproliferation nor has he fostered new relations with Muslims, two reasons invoked by the Nobel Committee to award him such a high honor so early in his tenure. They should have waited a bit longer.
Americans, and the world, however, may not have such a luxury. Despite much more serious challenges to global peace, represented by the climate change, hunger, illiteracy, assaults on women’s rights and the general dignity of human beings, all issues in need to be urgently tackled by all nations, we’re once again diverting resources to yet a new front, which will only benefit those who profit from the business of war.
As for doomed efforts to restore the powers of diplomacy, it should be noted that nations stop talking to each other for some of the same reasons that people do: conflicting views, past grievances, debt, ethnic differences, unfair treatment, Continue reading

Soup to Nuts

The Office Thief, The Chinese
Sitters & the Three-Boob Woman

Knowingly or not, we all play parts in the staging of someone else’s drama. Some are petty and ruin the proceedings, as others, humbly, master the hapless roles. Yet, there are those whose self-immolating act may make them come out stronger by the end of the third act.
Let’s start with that infamous office jester, the refrigerator thief who plagues the world of company stiffs and often gets away with it. We catch up with line sitters, camping on the streets to get persons unknown the latest iPhone. And on to Jasmine Tridevil’s sideshow.
Although on the surface, these vivid showcases of human frailty seem utterly different from one another, clear commonalities emerge from their underpinnings. They’re enough to bring it all down to a few, basic strains that reveal how we connect with others, or at least, the way we strive to annoy the hell out of them.
But what’s most fascinating about these three instances is how interchangeable is the role each character plays. Just like in the theater, the perceived villains may hold more humanity in their actions than we would care to give them credit for. And the heroes are hardly as virtuous as a cheap movie plot would have them.
Thus, through his mischief, the office jerk may reveal the brutal turf war that goes unmentioned all around the exposed company cubicles. Also, the arbitrary justice ready to be exacted by some anonymous bureaucrat from behind a fancy shield with a name attached – notwithstanding the indispensable victim role.
The professional ‘exploited’ may be turning a profit few would dream of from such a harsh occupation, even if, or given that, to many, standing in line to get the latest gadget is not just a waste of time, but completely below their sense of worth. Also, never mind that some organized crime may be behind the whole scheme.
And speaking of exploiting, how can anyone blame the sheer showmanship er displayed, or almost, by a self-inventing woman bent into becoming a reality TV star? Whether it’s an unhealthy step, or a mere hoax, she has all the right to crave for the attention, for it will be giveth to her, anytime, any day. Enjoy the ride.

It happened in New Zealand as it could have anywhere else. Office hands may know the script very well: your lunch gets eaten, anonymously; you write your grievance on a note; thief refuses to bulge; you surrender to moaning; thief may be revealed, if ever, by sheer luck, or well-honed snitching. Or some variation of the theme.
This time, the whole saga and its profusely descriptive notes, exchanged between the unconscionably jester and his victim, went viral on a New Zealand Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Climate Alarm Went Off, Colltalers

The U.N. Climate Summit, which starts tomorrow in New York, is a last-ditch effort by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to engage governments and corporations in the climate change issue. It’s also a way to prevent next year’s official conference in Paris from turning into a complete fiasco.
Thus, just in case the urgency of the matter is lost to those decision makers, thousands have marched yesterday in major cities around the world, to demand action and pressure political and corporate leaders, who so far, have shown an appalling, less-than-enthusiastic response to the crisis.
As the decision to call up the summit has been criticized by many, for giving equal footing in the conversation to both governments dedicated to increase environmental protection rules, and well-known polluters, it may also put the spotlight on both parties’ true intentions. Just as the rallies, which were organized by climate organizations, seemed to have underlined a powerful message: we, the world, will be watching you.
And the U.S., as usual, has an oversized role to play, if it chooses to do so. Or should we say, a lot of catch up to do, since the Bush administration decided, in 2001, to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, an already timid agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Whereas measures such as carbon capture or increased taxation were also on the table, overall, the protocol did have its shortcomings. But the U.S.’s rejection opened the floodgates and gave tacit approval to the fossil-fuel energy industry to boost even more oil drilling in pristine regions, and ramp up coal prospection, ultimately giving rise to highly pollutant new technologies such as fracking.
It’s been since a costly game of hide and seek by American officials, both from the Bush and Obama administrations, as the oil and gas industry continues to dictate the nation’s energy policy, and investments in alternatives remain plagued by partisan gridlock in the U.S. congress.
Speaking of costs, Ban Ki-moon’s has emphasized that policies with a minimal chance of being effective have to be backed by hard cash. The richest among the 125 nations Continue reading


Thousands March for Peace
& Action on Climate Change

You should’ve heard the amazing roaring wave traveling through the crowd, once the Minute of Silence ended and the alarms sounded.

Three to Get Ready

Through Changing Times, Occupy
Wall Street Remains on Message

While the third anniversary celebration of the Occupy Wall Street movement was a subdued affair last Wednesday at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, it’s fitting that Strike Debt, one its offshoots, was scoring a major win on its efforts to buy and cancel debt.
As a couple of hundred activists were back at the place where the protest was launched, on Sept. 17, 2011, the group’s Rolling Jubilee fund announced that it’d cancelled some $3.9 million in private student debt it’d acquired.
Raised by donations, the amount covered unpaid tuitions owed to one of for-profit Corinthian Colleges‘ schools, and so far, represents the only effort being made nationwide to alleviate an estimated $1.3 trillion owed in student debt by some 40 million Americans, no thanks to Congress or the federal government.
Not bad for a movement that has refused to abide by a national political agenda, has no recognized leadership, and despite declarations to the contrary, remains one of the sole voices still seeking justice for millions of Americans penalized by the Wall Street excesses that brought the world financial system to its knees in 2008.
While the movement as a whole is not exempted of criticism for its at times fractionary strategies, and internal divisions, it’s managed to remain on its progressive message Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Heading Forward to the Past, Colltalers

We’re back to our miserable ways again, a steady, media-fueled, seemingly inexorable path to yet another war in a faraway land. As we all now know, this chain reaction always starts when ‘advisors’ are sent. Then come the air strikes and shortly thereafter, a full blown intervention.
Whether President ‘Hope’ Obama is to blame for lighten up the wick this time, or events on the ground in Iraq are simply too strong an allure to avoid an armed response, may be theme for countless books to be published in 20 years or so. For now, what’s clear is that we’re A-Go.
Which means that we haven’t learned zilch from our pass experiences, some of them still in progress. Afghanistan remains an open wound, Pakistan and Libya are germ-festering inflammations, and the situation in Ukraine and Gaza is far from coming to a peaceful resolution.
On the contrary, both Russia and Israel took quick advantage from falling off of last week’s headlines, to advance their questionable claims over neighbors’ territories. As the world can’t keep its focus on more than two or three conflicts at a time, they may be just being pragmatic.
And so is, for completely different reasons, the Ebola virus, which keeps thriving in poverty-stricken Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, spreading undeterred through entire regions. It’s killing both the sick and also the doctors and medical personnel engaged in treating them.
There’s no need to continue listing the well-know corollary of illnesses and pestilence sickening this world of ours. But the point can’t be missed, that yet another multi-billion war effort, and the certain loss of thousands of lives taken with it, can’t really be the solution to anything.
About that hope thing, and unfulfilled presidential promises. The election of Barack Obama has been the single, most unpredictable fact in American politics since, arguably, the JFK assassination (which may be revived once again next week, with the Warren ‘Single-Bullet-Theory’ Commission report’s 50th anniversary). After over 200 years of republic, the U.S. finally elected a black man to its highest office. Hooray.
His ascension from a bright but little known Chicago politician to a position to, first, challenge heavy-weights of the Democratic Party, and then take on the still large racist percentage of this country, was a historical, and unprecedented feat of far reaching consequences.
More than his race would imply, however – in what was likely done by design -, what the candidate Obama attracted was an earth-shattering mandate to heal the nation, reassert its democratic role in the world, and, yes, reassess social and economic priorities, race relations included.
It took less than a year for such promising mandate to start collapsing under the weight of a congressional body far removed from ideals of social and race equality, and the complexities and geopolitics of a world in constant transition. Plus a handful of poor decisions of his own.
But while cynics rushed to slap ‘I told you so’ all over our flatten faces, it’s a fact that most campaign promises rarely survive a few months in office, so this commander-in-chief is not alone in succumbing to serious shortcomings while transitioning from candidate to president.
Then came reelection (don’t worry, we’re not about to run an Obama inventory just yet, and we’re just about to get to the point), and, despite considerable nail bitting, the president’s win also put on a display his new-found pragmatic approach to the politics of the possible.
Some say that’s when we write the death sentence of our high humanistic aspirations for the future. Perhaps. But what’s puzzling now, when President Obama is not yet quite the lame duck he’s about to become in a year or so, is why he’s already showing a certain fatigue, and renewed willingness to get even closer to Pentagon hawks and the same warmongering politicians who’ve worked so hard to undermine his presidency.
That he’s now reasserting a similar rhetoric, that in the past led this nation to spill rivers of blood and sink billions into the warrantless Iraq war, only gives credence to the claims that the president has abandoned some of the principles Continue reading

Mission to Rio

‘My Schedule Is Full
For the Next 30 Years’

In a city Maubrey Destined, NYC, 2014like New York, you’re bound to run into someone like Maubrey Destined: a man with a dream and a meticulous plan to pursue it. But even with the many like him, in a place where eight million dream of reinventing themselves, we all could learn something from his quest.
The German-born Ghanaian-American 100-meter sprinter, who’s on a mission to make it to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, shows to whoever crosses his path, that second acts not just happen in America, but often may turn everything that came before into mere expensive prep work.
The Maubrey Destined Effect, the first volume of a trilogy about his journey from Europe, to Africa, to the U.S., offers hints of his road map to succeed, but also candidly reveals his peripatetic travails and early crashes and run ins with brutal, and bruising, realities.
The 30-year old polycultural world hiker has already had a taste of what it means to be both a precocious prodigy, covered by the accolades of family and friends, and a serious candidate to early failure, with cops and drug dealers in hot pursuit. But whereas many simply drop out, Destined re-Christened himself.
Yes, the name was one of his first acts of reinvention, in a long and storied arch that’s turned Continue reading