Curtain Raiser

A Confederacy of Dunces, Colltalers

As long as you keep a person down, you cannot soar. It’s fitting to paraphrase the great Marian Anderson to mark yet another fervid week of protests in America, for black lives lost and re-energized. Nearing the first act’s end, we cannot yet soar. But ours will be a better country by heeding to this struggle.
Despite a brutal push back, racists and xenophobes sustained big blows to their hegemony, as the Supreme Court refused to endorse deporting citizens born here from foreign parents, and supported rights of working LGBTQ people. Would a favorable ruling on abortion be next? Don’t hold your breath.
The world, however, is not helping much as we hit nine million COVID-19 cases, two million in the U.S. and a million in Brazil, the title holders of a ‘confederacy of malefic dunces,’ as an exhausted nurse put it to a sympathetic bodega audience. There and here, as more choose to ignore the reality, the coronavirus keeps its neck-breaking rate of contagion. Half a million lost their lives to it and many will never have one worth living after this.
The protests have been revealing to Americans, in what the majority is now fully behind the Black Lives Matter movement, appalled by police caught on camera murdering black people. Starting of course with the excruciating killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day, which ignited the current unrest.
They displayed a scarily heavily-armed police force acting as the army they are not, ready to steamroll peaceful protesters in the reassurance they won’t be held accountable for their crimes. Well, they now are, and the whole institution of law enforcement was put on notice with calls to defund the police and/or simply, dismantling it. Starting with the Minneapolis cops who killed Floyd and those who’ve tried giving the guilty cover under their badge.
Protests also highlighted the indiscriminate use of tear gas, a so-called ‘safe’ weapon of mass control that nonetheless is banned from the battlefield and has caused permanent injuries to many a peaceful city marcher. An Amnesty study found that its global

use has become a gateway to yet more police violence and poor trade regulations have turned it into a highly toxic substance about which little is known, apart from the fact that it’s far from safe.
To the toppling of statues of confederate generals, put up long after the Civil War and with the sole purpose of glorifying slave profiteers, and demands to rename Army bases that perpetuate such unjust distinction, white supremacists responded in the only way they can: but showing up armed at rallies and shooting black people. Still, it was a relief that a deflated and under-attended first Trump rally in months failed to stir any deadly confrontations.
The highest point of this cycle was, of course, the celebration of Juneteenth, a date hardly known by many before but now a candidate to becoming a national holiday. It marks the official liberation of slaves, over two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. It’s also a reminder of the 1921 massacre of an entire black neighborhood by white supremacists in Tulsa, the city Trump picked to resume his reelection pitch. But it wasn’t to be.
Lastly, two more news to keep us up at night: a string of hangings of black men in three states, along nooses found elsewhere; and a study on JAMA, the medical association journal, about the impact of climate change on pregnancies, affecting black mothers at higher rates than the population at large.
Two of the hangings, of Malcolm Harsch and of a Texas teenager, seem to have been suicides, according to video evidence. Still to be probed further are the cases of Robert Fuller, from California like Harsch, and Dominique Alexander, a Hispanic black man found in a Manhattan park. Still, their graphic reminder of the horrifying past of lynchings in the U.S., and peculiar timing, raise disturbing questions about racial dispossession and despair.
Among some 32 million births in the U.S., the medical research found that high temperatures and air pollution may cause premature, underweight, or stillborn children while social-economic factors place African-American and Latinx mothers at the most risk since they are more likely to live in areas vulnerable to climate disruptions and pollution. Climate is indeed disrupting: want to know what was Saturday’s temperature in Siberia, Russia? 100°.
If you seek relief from bad news don’t look at Brazil and the disastrous and possibly doomed Bolsonaro administration. In the latest round of a war among the powers of the republic, the police arrested long-sought-after Fabrício Queiroz, a former driver of the president’s son Flavio, himself being investigated for possible ties with Rio’s corruption rings and militias accused of having assassinated black councilwoman Marielle Franco in 2018.
Queiroz was a member of the inner circle of the Bolsonaro family since the 1980s and is expected to sing like a jailbird to avoid heavy sentences. But since it’s Brazil of late, one never knows. They are all part of a nefarious cadre of sinister characters that are looting the nation, but the greatest crime to be blamed on Jair and his sons is not even part of any probe: the neglect leading to the destruction of the Amazon and killing of its indigenous peoples.
Paulinho Paiakan, 67, who died last week of COVID-19, was a controversial chief of the Kaiapó tribe who rose to prominence decades ago for leading the fight against the construction of the giant Belo Monte dam. He was also accused of rape and served time in prison. What no one denies, though, is that he was a natural leader, whose ardor will be sorely missed by a population that’s being decimated by the virus and natural habitat losses.
Like the murder of Franco, if indeed the president’s family was involved, the destruction of the Rainforest and abandonment of its vulnerable natives to alone and unarmed fend off loggers, miners, and big landowners-hired hitmen, is among Bolsonaro’s greatest crimes and for that, he deserves every harsh sentence in the book to be thrown at him. It may take long, though, or it’ll never happen. Brazilians have never been so depressed. With reason.
We salute the Dreamers in their quest to be legal in their own homeland, and hard-working gay and transgender people for their deserving protections. It’s about time the Supreme reaffirms its independence but we remain wary. All and all, a time of progress in America, despite the risks and false starts. We’re almost done with act 1, so let’s get ready for the second, our highest priority: a new president in November. For that, yes, all lives matter. Cheers WC


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