Curtain Raiser

Save the Whistleblowers, Colltalers

President Biden has received deserving high marks for his first 100 days in office, mainly for his infrastructure and recovery spending proposals. As for Afghanistan, Iran, and Latin America, though, not so much. That’s why critics are now placing his actions in the context of his own political trajectory.
But for most Americans, relief for not having the ex-president at the White House is still, well, a relief. Trouble is brewing, though as it wont to do. Covid is killing over 600,000 people a day in India and Brazil, there’s a faulty Census to be dealt with, and climate is still an emergency. But we’re Ok.
Certainly way better than the still over a billion with no chance of being inoculated before being killed simply because rich nations won’t do enough to relax patterns that overly-profitable pharmaceutical firms own. Regardless of the surplus doses donated by the U.S., humanitarian initiatives by Cuba and others, and heroic but isolated actions, there’s something very wrong about the global healthcare establishment for such cruelty to even stand.
“Crimes against humanity.” That’s the scathing finding of a report by the U.S.-based National Conference of Black Lawyers, the National Lawyers Guild, and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers on police deadly force against unarmed Black people. The group stepped in after the U.S. pressured the U.N. not to get too involved in its domestic affairs, or something to that effect. And the findings only confirmed the worst.
They’ll be sent to the administration and the U.S. Congress, and possibly to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Members of the guild hope charges of human rights violations, race-baiting and targeting, use of excessive deadly force, and torture may be considered by the court.
When the Internet went online in 1992 it was praised as one of humanity’s greatest achievements. It was a way to keep the entire population of the planet in immediate touch, a free, open source of the whole recorded civilization knowledge ready at our fingertips, a new tool to rival the established media and make the information available to everyone. It still is all of that and much more, of course. What it no longer is is democratic or even free.
Yes, anyone can still type a few characters and interact with the world, but that comes often at a price or in exchange for our most personal information and most of us have no idea how financially worth is what we give up for free to get in. It’s worth billions, so now you know, and we’re easy prey. That is, corporations are in control of the Web and all that reaches our browsers comes at a high cost: that of paying gatekeepers their undue admission fees.
The Committee to Protect Journalists cited another proof that powers that be are controlling the Internet with an iron fist: in the past three years, there’s been over 500 shutdowns across a dozen authoritarian regimes, more concerned about their global image than to fight the coronavirus. They’re using digital blackouts to control the already restricted flow of external information and silence protest voices. Is this the utopia some of us have dreamed of?
It’s typical these days for instance that one of the most accessed Internet sites is, a shopping site far from a source of untimely knowledge. Accused of illegal maneuvering to defeat unionizing at its Bessemer, AL, warehouse, it still posted a record $8.11 billion first-quarter earnings.
Just as the pandemic was killing people worldwide, Amazon was already an early frontrunner of the pay-no-taxes corporate bunch. Headed by a vain trillionaire, it’s the poster company for tax dodging, unfair labor practices, and villainy against employees. In other words, an American success story.
The renewed horrors we see happening in India and Brazil have gone beyond our ability to denounce it with any sense of outrage or efficacy. It seems that every week, Prime Minister Modi and President Bolsonaro top each other coming up with increasingly worsen ways to show that they absolutely do not care about those under their watch. Striking an unhopeful note, for as long as these two leaders feel comfortable at the top, nothing will change.
Hawaii, the last state to join the U.S. so far has become the first to declare a climate emergency. The state legislature has called the crisis “a threat to both humankind and the environment,” but the resolution is advisory, non-binding. Still, it’s meaningful that such a young American state has taken the initiative and it’s fair to expect a small chain reaction from the others to catch on. Too bad though that it lays 2,000 miles away from the mainland.
The American Census results are in and they’re not too good. Media emphasis has been on the U.S. slow population growth. But the crucial point is that years of district manipulation, gerrymandering, and voting restriction by the GOP, still pretty much alive and well, have produced the results it wanted: fewer elective Democratic seats and plenty of new excuses to deny funding and resources to cities with large minorities and undocumented citizens.
Finally, New York State is closing for good Indian Point, the nuclear facility that has been the nightmare of New Yorkers and adjacent communities for over 59 years. The decision, even as already expected, also may bring new momentum to ban nukes in the world. It’s a tall order, just as more nations than ever are jockeying to built atomic arsenals, but the alternative is simply too horrible: an accident that may trigger a worldwide nuclear reaction.
We’ve been lucky as a species for not having blown the planet a few times over in these past seven decades. In terms of costs vs efficiency, this is the most expensive, least viable source of energy known, regardless of dangerous nuclear waste already piled up around the globe. Just say no to nukes.
Many critics see President Biden on the wrong side of issues such as nukes, immigration, whistleblowers, defense, and foreign policy. The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill who’s just published “Empire Politician: A Half-Century of Joe Biden’s Stances on War, Militarism, and the CIA,” says for instance that the president has helped to create rules for federal whistleblower cases that prevent defense lawyers from subpoena documents to assist their clients.
Daniel Ellsberg, an economist and U.S. military analyst, became in 1971 one of the most famous and vilified American whistleblowers when he passed secret documents about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam to the press. What became known as the Pentagon Papers shook the Nixon administration and triggered a furious debate over our plans for the region. They tried to silence him but within two years, the war was over and Tricky Dicky was gone.
His name is now synonymous with integrity and real patriotism, inspiring Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Reality Winner, and a number of public servants who chose conscience over their comfortable lives. Unfortunately, they have no chance to fairly defend themselves against draconian U.S. espionage laws. That’s why Manning and Winner rot in jail, and Snowden and a jailed Assange continue to fight against extradition.
“There should not be the slightest option, threat, or thought of an armed conflict with Russian or China now or ever,” Ellsberg told DemocracyNow’s Amy Goodman at a panel on whistleblowers and his legacy. He’s just turned 90, just as New York City’s famed Empire State Building. Both born in the Depression and destined to become giants that inspired America as a nation and us as citizens. Happy Belated Birthday Daniel and the Empire State.
“Last night I had the strangest dream/I’d never dreamed before/I dreamed that the world had all agreed/to put an end to war.” Speaking of giants, we remember the late Pete Seeger, who’d have been 102-years-young today. Perhaps one of the reasons the union movement was so successful in America at least for a while was that it had such a powerful voice of Seeger and others singing for the voiceless. Raise a toast to Pete and keep it clean. Cheerio WC


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