Curtain Raiser

Ready for the Fourth Quarter, Colltalers

Millions of Brazilians marked Sept. 7, their Independence Day, dressed up in black. It was an angry political statement by a once proud nation, now wounded and humiliated by worldwide criticism. Why, it’s been asked, is the Amazon being burned to death?
Speaking of fire, India – which along with China may soon be home to half the world population – has reignited a largely ignored border crisis with Pakistan, imposing harsh policies on Kashmir and its majority Muslim residents. Note: both have nukes.
But first a quick review of the week, an unfortunate one for thousands affected by Hurricane Dorian. Floods, destruction, and a rising death toll were left in its wake, all to be followed by more misery for years to come if Hurricane Maria is any indication. Like then, the White House had no plan in place and will likely apply the ‘Puerto Rico treatment,’ that is, do nothing about it.
It could be worse, due to its size, reach, and slow-moving pace with which it devastated the Bahamas and the Abaco Islands, and flooded North Carolina. But besides Dorian’s surprising north turn having nothing to do with prayers, other storms will come, as warm and rising waters add power and resilience to natural disasters and no one’s tending the store; Trump’s already moved on.
Let’s not parrot the new series of blatant lies he used to navigate the crisis, between rounds of golf and belligerent tweets. Suffice to say, he’ll probably be greeted with the same deranged ardor by his followers on his next rally, while we’ll fend for ourselves.

He did cancel a scheduled peace talk with the Taliban, after a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan killed a U.S. service member.
Which is better in a sort of terrible way: 18 years after the 911 attacks, the U.S. is still fighting two deadly but ultimately useless wars in the Middle East that Americans would be glad to end. But having Trump doing the talk has been a thorough calamity and caused all attempts to reach an understanding with other nations to fail miserably. At every turn, he seems to make things worse.
There was very little heroism or honor about Brazil’s independence from Portugal, declared by Regent Prince Don Pedro I 197 years ago. The son of Portuguese King João, it was a matter of convenience: rather than being forced to trade only with Portugal, as it had happened for three centuries, the independence allowed Brazil to increase commerce with the U.K. and other nations.
The mourning attire and somber mood of every Brazilian but those presently in power and their supporters are fitting given the state of the nation: the economy all but in suspended animation; scandals and crisis plaguing the president’s inner circle of allies; and a social security ‘reform’ that benefits few and unjustly overburdens even further the working class. How’s that for measure?
Nothing though has the resonance of losing the ancient rain forest, the largest in the planet, a place where thousands of species, many still unknown, have lived under complex and fragile conditions, to the torches and greed of unscrupulous landowners.
Such soul-crushing experience is somewhat new to Brazilians, universally known for their ‘alto astral,’ an upbeat mood, despite the brutal living conditions of most of them. For years, far-right dog-whistling has claimed powerful but invisible forces were conspiring to take the forest away from Brazil, ignoring that to some extent, that’s already happened, but not the way they see it.
So much for phony patriotism; the tragedy has already befallen countless indigenous communities and wildlife, and it’s unlikely the president will ever be held accountable for his policies, which by now should amount to war-crime status. Sounds familiar?
The silver lining, however, is that pain teaches valuable lessons and the level of popular engagement in the issues crucial for Brazil’s future shows that many won’t take it all down. Rallies and crowds are not always effective but the least anyone can do to show their dissatisfaction with the direction the country is heading. Brazil is indeed a very unhappy country at the moment.
Since becoming Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi has been shaping a new India, one ever more discretionary and socially unfair. There’s been virtually no progress in the staggering social challenges the country faces in the five years he’s in power.
Instead, there’s been a steady right-wing radicalization of country, with a widening of the income distribution gap; a few dozen billionaires control millions of mostly destitute Indians. No democracy can survive in these terms, not even the world’s biggest.
Like China’s Xi Jinping and his iron-fist handling of Hong Kong protesters – who should be wished upon ‘good luck,’ as they seek Washington support -, Modi seems to have decided that peaceful co-existence with Pakistan, religious freedom, and dissent, are at odds with his political ambitions, and must be crushed before anyone say anything. And chances are, no one will.
There are clear signs that he may be ideologically aligned with other proto-fascistic leaders around the world, such as Trump and Bolsonaro. After all, it didn’t look good having his U.S. ambassador, Harsh Vardhan Shringlathe, meet with Steve Bannon, the very architect of the common handbook/agenda adopted by would-be authoritarian regimes. That does sound familiar, doesn’t it?
For almost 20 years now, New Yorkers got used to being a bit shaken around this time of the year and will keep on feeling this way, at least for a while longer. Sept. 11 remains the worst event in the history of this city, and not just for the loss of life, which stills hurts many. But the very sense of this being an open city was forever damaged, and fear has been normalized as necessary.
It was also an opportunity for real estate moguls to reset the place as a playground for billionaires, ridding diverse neighborhoods of what has always animated New York: its street life. Powers that be seized the moment to claim it as a domain of high-end consumption, triggering an explosion of homelessness, even as large swaths of Manhattan are left empty in the dark most days.
The attacks felt like a violent counterpunch against the wrong opponent; it’s been said, of all U.S. cities, New York is still the most welcoming towards everyone and traditionally the least supporter of American foreign policies. And yet… But it did give us all a sense of togetherness, of shared-experience that few other metropolises will ever experience. So yes, we’re mourning too.
But as Vernon Duke, a Russian who made our lives so much better, put it on his bitter-sweet classic, Autumn in New York is ‘often mingled with pain,’ but while ‘dreamers with empty hands may sigh for exotic lands,’ in the end, ‘it’s good to live it again.’
We’ll need all the optimism of American Standards to put up with this one. But by our Lady Pizza, we will. And a belated Happy 78th Birthday to Senator Bernie Sanders. Like wine and Bernie, may we all get better with age and make this one count. Cheers WC


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