Curtain Raiser

Eyes on the Prize, Colltalers

It’s been increasingly challenging to know, among the daily news onslaught, what’s relevant to us and what’s corporate interest. And yet we must. It may be harder now to distinguish the news from fake and biased reporting, and yet it’s our duty to keep our human priorities straight.
For getting blindsided is not an option. Due in part to Trump’s dysfunctional presidency, the U.S. seems to be leading the world into a neck-breaking race back to Cold War paranoia, combined with modern fears of widespread terrorism and xenophobia. But we must know better.
The past week was no different than all weeks since January. The firing of FBI chief James Comey, likely done to derail his probe into a possible collusion of the president with a foreign power, a real, stunning piece of news, got immediately buried by a tsunami of excuses.
That it failed to erase its obvious impact, as Trump wished, is completely beside the point. What the denials were designed to accomplished, they did: to occupy valuable real estate on the headlines and public attention. Space that could obviously be used by other relevant news.
Not that they were in any shortage. During the same news cycle, fewer people than needed became aware that the Pentagon is again pushing to send an additional 5,000 troops to America’s longest war, Afghanistan, to join the 8,000 who see no talk about getting out of there. In what this would contribute to any meaningful solution to that now pointless conflict would certainly deserve to be part of a national conversation.
But it’s not. Just like the unreported oil leak in the Dakota Access Pipeline construction, one of the many in the past year at the project that’s been the focus of protests by native American groups, whose land it’s irreversibly polluting, and a coalition of Veterans and environmental organizations. But neither those following closely the issue, nor the public at large would know it, if they’re to rely on media outlets.
On the international front, a global, coordinated hacking attack affected businesses and healthcare facilities in over 90 countries, and experts are bracing for more of the same this week. The incident, even if it’s somehow contained today, which is unlikely, exposed vulnerabilities of under-funded health institutions and the contemporary nature of modern hacking: dangerously powerful and yet, non-ideological based. While it’s important to keep an eye on the latest diatribe of North Korea, and call for urgent high-level diplomacy, and no

more retaliation threats, the world still has other life and death issues any person, with an emotional stake in the future, should be well informed about.
On the appearance, for instance, the five-hour testimony of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to the corruption probe known as Lava Jato (Car Wash), is confined to Brazil’s internal politics and, at least on paper, has little global consequences. But this being after all a deeply interconnected world, what some see as a political hit job against the ever popular Lula has indeed way more currency.
Regardless the merit of the investigation in itself – which has been mostly played on the powerful Brazilian media and has made a hero out of an once obscure and now spotlight-grabbing prosecutor judge – during the eight-year of Lula’s administration, Brazil had ascended to world player status, with clout to offer a diplomatic alternative to the traditional U.S.-Europe leadership. An alternative that’s is sorely missed now.
If one considers that China could be accused of omission in the North Korea issue, that Russia can’t help it but to stand on the side of its own political interests, which often includes throwing oil into the fire, and the European Union is having its greatest crisis of identity in decades, such a possibility, a fresh, developing world approach, would be more than welcome. And with Brazil out, there simply isn’t such a voice.
Back in the U.S., healthcare remains a central issue. But while it’s no time to take the foot off the pressure pedal to keep and maybe even improve Obamacare to a single-payer system, and ward off GOP senators’ renewed attempt to turn its funding into taxcuts to the wealthiest Americans, there are obviously other issues, some of which with potential worldwide impact. For instance, you guessed, Net Neutrality.
The issue has so many ramifications that it’d be a waste of people’s energy to list them all, here or even in the debate about how to preserve it. More important is to defend the Internet as a right, and guaranteed free access to it is as a condition to keep in the hands of common people some power to decide their own lives, outside corporate interests. With usual outlets for public representation, the electoral system, organized labor, and progressive activism, under tremendous financial disadvantage, the Web is now a certifiably effective forum for social change.
Yes, one may argue, but social networks are slowly replacing traditional news outlets, the only ones with dedicated workforces to delve deeply in the news and offer critical perspective. And they recite the common credo, certainly created by the giants of social networking: more people are now getting their news from Facebook, Twitter, etc, than from newspapers, broadcast media, and other sources.
To affirm that is disingenuously deceiving, though, for those mammoths of social communications are, in reality, corporations, aimed at one thing and one thing only: your next click. They will do anything to get that accomplished, even if it implies spying on your mother’s shower.
To get a well researched, in-depth, wide reaching news story, though, not so much. It’s not on their DNA, and say what you may about regular in-print coverage, it still the best way to get the news. What the Internet comes at play, then, is not as a replacement to investigative journalism but as a channel of communication, information, education, and yes, expression too, like no other. And it should remain that way.
Finally, the world may have been thrown for an extra spin with people like Trump in power. But let’s take a moment to welcome Chelsea Manning to freedom, and hope she’s still willing to contribute to get things better. For unlike what hacking and leaking of classified docs have become, she and people like Edward Snowden showed outstanding restrain and humility, but still had the courage to do what felt right.
It’s clear now that when she leaked a trove of diplomatic wires to Wikileaks, and got thrown under a heavy military bus for it, her aim was to expose what it’s still relevant today: government impropriety and disrespect to basic notions of individual freedom, when acting in secrecy.
For their patriotism, Manning and Snowden, and to some extent Julian Assange and other whistleblowers, got only citizens enlightenment as a reward. And the wrath of the state. Contrast that to the callousness of hackers who disrupted the U.S. presidential election, or crippled some hospitals last week, to gauge the depth of moral choices those three had to make. So welcome Chelsea. Enjoy your hard earned freedom. WC


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