Curtain Raiser

A Fire From Another March, Colltalers

Mexico, pop. 131 million, beat Brazil, 190 million, and India, 1.4 billion to reach the unofficial highest number of Covid-19 deaths behind numero uno U.S.A. Patent monopoly has hampered equitable global distribution, and allowed fully-inoculated Israel for instance, to deny vaccines to Palestinians.
President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief bill has triggered promising, and not so much legislation, but the latest gun massacres again challenge Congress to enact gun control. It doesn’t look good. Plus, the U.S.’ stuck in its longest war; genocide may come to Myanmar; and a humongous ship clogged Suez.
But let’s begin in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee camp, where a devastating fire killed scores of the Rohuynga, who’d fled the blood-thirst Myanmar military that staged a coup in 2017. Their plans to return during the brief social stability that followed were dashed with the new Feb. 1 coup. Many lost again everything in the fire while over 100 Burmese were killed by the army this past weekend. Tragically, the world is asleep.
In Yemen, the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis shows no sign of letting it up, despite a new peace proposal by Saudi Arabia, whose daily, seven-year U.S.-backed strikes have reduced the country to rubble. The Saudi aim at exterminating the Houthi, a 100K-strong group of fighters supported by Iran. Like Syria, Yemen is hosting a conflict between proxies of political enemies, and its civilian population is caught right in the middle of the crossfire.
In Mozambique, hundreds of Islamic militants took over the town of Palma on Wed, causing a still unknown number of casualties. Details are sketchy but there are reports of insurgents battling government forces in the streets and hundreds of tourists being locked up inside the town’s biggest hotels.
And finally, Suez, the older-than-a-century canal Egypt built to link the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, is suffering from a gigantic case of constipation. The Ever Given, one of the world’s largest container ships got stuck in there, clogging navigation and interrupting some 12% of all global trade. As wide as a soccer field, stretching over 400 meters – and impossible to be treated with laxatives! – it may take weeks for it to be flushed out of there.
Back in the U.S., Evanston, Chicago has become the first city to offer financial reparations to slave descendants. The historical step will draw from a fund instituted in 2019 to address the ‘discriminatory housing policies and practices and inaction on the city’s part.‘ A whole century of emancipation has failed to boost Black ownership, and while whites and other races, America itself prospered and accumulated wealth, Black communities have not.
With little trepidation, most Western nations are engaged in mass vaccination programs. The U.S. may reach in May 100 million shots given, and with time, most rich nations will also be at par. Big laboratories, however, own the vaccine patents and refuse to share their codes so more can be produced.
The WHO and several independent groups have pleaded to no avail with the U.S. and European Union to intervene. To Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and others, vaccines are goods they sell to those who can afford them. Period. Thus, the absurd Israeli situation, where two nations share their ancestral lands, but the controlling power of one provides only to its own citizens, while allowing the occupied territories to fend on their own.
The record stimulus bill and its potential to redefine the foundations of the U.S. economy have exposed the quagmire of our current political process. It’s not the cliche of businesses against welfare or the government’s role in the lives of every citizen. No, today’s split between parties goes more or less like this: one side proposes raising wages, Medicare for all, and support to children and families; the other has put forth 253 bills to restrict voting.
By far, the one generating the biggest debates is the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act proposed by Senator Elizabeth Warren. Deceptively simple, and aiming exclusively at those making $50 million or more, it could immediately fund a wide array of social projects, from child and family care, to end student debt, to investments in free education in all levels, health care, infrastructure, to the switch to the green economy that may save us from climate doom.
On the other side of the aisle, supporters of the Jan 6 attempted coup spread the lie that the presidential election was rigged, and get busy finding ways to rig the electoral system, making it hard if not impossible to voters who defeated them in the polls to actually ever vote again. It’ll take a combination of law enforcement, congressional courage, and presidential willpower, along with public uproar, to root out these traitors. Or they may all come back.
Speaking of Congress it’s again dodging its responsibility to enact gun control legislation needed to make mass shootings a thing of the U.S.’ past. Since there’s evidence that assault weapons don’t belong in the streets, and more people die of gunshots here than anywhere else in the world, it shouldn’t take too much conversation about what needs to be done. But the reality is, there’s not much talking going on about it. Call Australia, please.
There were many concerns about the previous administration’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan in May. That is, the U.S.’ longest war has to end, but defense contractors are not keen on ceasefires and nobody wants to see the Taliban back in power. Thus the deadline is off for now.
With over 300,000 deaths, Brazil is being ‘ravaged‘ by the coronavirus and many see it on track to overtake the 500-plus thousand fatalities in the U.S. by the year’s end. But President Bolsonaro has just repeated he’s not completely ‘convinced‘ masks and lockdowns are important. Thus here we are.
With the restart of the economy, it’ll be instructive to learn how unions provided stable labor relationships essential to bring the U.S. out of its deep depression. It worked for 75 years or until the power of the capital rolled back crucial measures that sustained the movement. Until next Mon, workers at Amazon.com in Alabama will be voting to support unionizing, and that may cause a chain reaction for the best in worker relations in this country.
In the heart of New York City, near Washington Square in nineteen eleven, March winds were cold and bare. A fire broke out in a building ten stories high, and a hundred and forty-six girls in those flames did die.’ That’s how Ruth Rubin’s lyrics describe this most horrific of labor-related tragedies.
The March 25 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory killed so many because the owners had locked the exit doors. Trialed and acquitted, a civil suit found them liable and they’d to pay $75 per victim’s family, mostly immigrant and illiterate. Yes, it already was a miserable compensation. Fire codes were created, worker protections enacted, but it was the global movement that followed that set clear distinctions between productive labor and slavery.
It’s a repeated tragedy that sweatshop conditions like those are still found in the garment industry, as it supplies big and cheap global labels with the work of children of impoverished nations making a few cents a day. Or in the U.S., where the so-called ‘gig economy‘ has now most of the once-proud American workforce working in two or three less-than-minimal wage jobs that won’t pay for their healthcare, child care, vacations, or single days off.
The president and his party-controlled Congress must do more to help working families, apart from what’s included in the relief bill. Most Americans would be for ending the filibuster if they’d have even a minute to care about it. But it may not happen for as long as criminal insurgents wear badges in the halls of power and avert accountability for their acts. We’ve marked this 110th sober anniversary still pushing for workplace justice. Hail, Comrades. WC

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