Curtain Raiser

The 3,000 Empty Chairs, Colltalers

It’s 118° degrees in Siberia. There’s a record drought in the U.S. Major Asian cities are actually sinking. But new funds for the climate emergency are not the first priority for the world’s richest, arguably most pollutant nation. Unlike defense: apparently, Iraq and Syria needed to be bombed this week.
Reaction to the sentencing of the murderer of George Floyd was restrained as there’s hope his enablers may also face justice. A government report on UFOs caused little shock. But there was heartbreak in Canada with the discovery of more bodies of indigenous children buried in unmarked graves.
We start with the assassination of Saudi-born Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi three yeast ago this October, likely by agents of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. As it turned out, they’d received paramilitary training in the U.S. in 2017 under a State Department-approved contract. To many, Khashoggi’s grisly murder will remain unpunished for as long as the Biden administration keeps selling weapons to the authoritarian regime.
Speaking of guns, parents of a student killed in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School put together the prank of the year: they had a former NRA president give a graduation speech in front of 3,044 empty white chairs – one chair for each student who won’t graduate this year because they were killed by gun violence. Board member David Keene spoke at Las Vegas’ “James Madison Academy” which actually doesn’t exist.
Keene made a point to mention Madison in his pro-gun remarks. Joaquim Oliver was 17 when he was shot dead along with 16 others in the Parkland, Florida, massacre, in Feb. 2018. “Change the Ref” is the group Manuel and Patricia Oliver founded to put together the clever but grief-stricken stunt.
In Colombia, discontent against President Iván Duque continues unabated throughout the country and on Friday, the helicopter that he and government officials were traveling on was shot near the Venezuelan border. Unrest, confrontations with the police, and killings of protesters, plus the 100,000 deaths from Covid have rattled Colombians who, like most Latin Americans today, are still being exposed to the virus without a vaccine to fight it.
It’s natural to be deflated by politics and the bitterest part is watching campaign promises getting tabled till another day. For the youngest generations who joined in the fight to prevent the former president from being reelected, there must be a feeling of deep disappointment settling in just about now. Biden’s signature proposal, a sweeping contract to be signed by all Americans to massively invest in public works and climate change, is now a broken fiction.
So eager the president is to label his infrastructure bill “bipartisan,” he may have compromised the most important part of anything we do from now until we all bake like bagels: make sure the planet won’t burn to a crisp. Leaving the climate catastrophe out is like leaving out our own future.
In the summer of 2020, air temperatures in the Arctic Circle shot past 100° F for the first time in recorded history. At some point, Siberia was hotter than Miami. After a year when giant icebergs got loose in Antarctica and most countries haven’t done anything to curb heat-trapping emissions, we should brace for hotter things to come. Melting glaciers will not only increase ocean levels worldwide but also expose ancient deposits of methane.
As we approach the grim threshold of four million Covid deaths, the world’s richest nations have displayed brutal indifference to the fate of developing economies. Yes, the U.S. and others are donating their vaccine excedent to poor countries but at a near glacial pace. How many more will die before therapies developed with taxpayer money can save them? Yet to others, viruses are not what will doom us all, but the vaccines themselves. Go figure.
“$9 trillion – this is the sum of money that the G7, the leading economies’ central banks printed to give bankers during the pandemic between March 2020 and today,” says former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. On the other hand, “the IMF has come up with an estimate of how much it would cost, at the present prices, to vaccinate the world using existing vaccines, to vaccine everyone fully, two doses when necessary: $39 billion.”
The discrepancy between the two numbers is obscene but Varoufakis offered other data when speaking with DemocracyNow. Such as, “eighty-five percent of vaccines administered worldwide have been in high- and upper-middle-income nations. Only 0.3% of doses have been administered in low-income countries.” That is, banks, big pharma, and corporations can always count on rich countries for immediate bailouts. Poor nations, not so much.
Meanwhile, if the business of saving lives is faring less than ideally these days, except for the tireless efforts by those who care, the business of war is doing very well, thank you very much. The U.S. has just carried out a number of airstrikes in “weapons storage facilities” in Iraq and Syria, operated by Iranian-backed militias. According to the Pentagon, from there combatants conduct drone attacks on places where troops, spies, and diplomats live.
The murder of Minnesota Black father Floyd a year ago last month, which triggered a global movement against racial-fueled police violence, has hit if not closure then a settling point. Former police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22,5 years in prison, a crucial milestone for race relations in America. But no meaningful, legislative change has been made yet, and no other police officer has been convicted for killing a Black person so far.
Race is also the background of the discovery of over 750 unmarked graves near an old Indigenous board school in Canada, one of a system that used to be run by the Catholic Church and became riddled with corruption and abuse. A month ago, when the remains of 215 children were found buried under another one, Pope Francis offered words of contrition but no apologies. Now Canada’s P.M. Justin Trudeau said that he should offer some. We’ll see.
Even in a world hardened by extreme cruelty, some instances of institutional oppression and racial prejudice challenge our ability for forgiveness. Until we realize we’re doing the same as everyone, wasting it. “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children,” goes an old and probably apocryphal tribal saying. Life is a loan we borrow to give it away, interest-free, while rigorously keeping up with the premiums. Adiós. WC


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