Curtain Raiser

Hard Times to Keep the Faith, Colltalers

The brutal assassination of President Jovenel Moïse at his home jolted Haiti, a nation that has had its unfair share of tragedies in the past decade. The rise of cases in Africa has shown that Covid is very much alive and lethal, but it’s Brazil that’s getting closer to top the world in the number of fatalities.
In Peru, it’s been over a month since former teacher Pedro Castillo won the most votes for president but fraud claims brought up by his opponent, the daughter of a jailed ex-dictator, have prevented him from being sworn in. And the G20 bloc has agreed to take steps to curb low-tax havens. Maybe.
Let’s start in Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has received the dubious honor of heading the “Press Freedom Predators,” a list compiled by Reporters Without Borders. He joins a notorious who-is-who among reactionary world leaders, from Kim Jong-Un to Rodrigo Duterte to of course Vladimir Putin, all too happy to brainwash citizens, persecute journalists and minorities, while arguably fattening their bellies and banking accounts.
“Thanks to political-economic maneuvers and the purchase of media companies by oligarchs close to ruling party Fidesz,” (the Magyar government) now controls 80% of the country’s media landscape, the organization reports. Surely many an American far-right would-be despot would love to be included in that list. In the meantime, the European Parliament has condemned “in the strongest possible terms” Hungary’s draconian anti-LGBT law.
Tensions are rising in Afghanistan’s borders as U.S. troops pull out and the Taliban steps in. Even though Iran and the fundamentalist movement have cordial relations, they each belong to the two opposite streams of the Muslim diaspora, Shias and Sunni; thus just in case, Iran is securing its borders.
Japan’s reportedly irked China after Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso stated that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would threaten Japan’s “survival,” and “if that is the case, Japan and the U.S. must defend Taiwan together.” His statement frontally contradicts his country’s official “one-China” policy but according to political analysts, it’s also a fact that Beijing must have considered at some point: any armed conflict in the region would be devastating.
Back in the U.S., a survey found that 23% of Americans now call themselves “religious unaffiliated,” from 16% in 2007, and that white evangelical Protestants are in decline, from 23% to now 14%. Despite that, though, the religious minority remains influential in Washington’s circles of power. But Friendy Atheist editor, Hemant Mehta, believes numbers may be underreported as Americans “feel a stigma” to admit they don’t have religious faith.
An executive order by President Biden may restore net neutrality in the U.S. by taking away from the big telecoms the power to gatekeep the Internet. But the “fact sheet” circulated by the White House says that the order only “encourages” the Federal Communication Commission to step up and act.
When President Moïse, who had led Haiti since 2017, was executed in his Port-au-Prince home by an unknown hit squad, Haiti was already mired in a vicious cycle of political strife in part caused by him. Accused of orchestrating a coup to stay in power beyond February 7, when his term officially ended, he’d been ruling by decree, having dissolved the Parliament and failed to hold legislative elections while ignoring massive protests by Haitians.
But whoever killed him was not interested in the best of the country either. The world’s first Black-led nation has had a struggling history, fending off first colonial powers and then savage capitalism, including a few U.S. interventions during the last century. It didn’t help either that it suffered the 2010 earthquake and the 2016 cholera outbreak which have destroyed the country’s infrastructure and burst its doors wide open to crooks and speculators.
For the seventh week in a row, Covid cases have been rising across Africa at an explosive rate, according to the World Health Organization. While sixteen nations have seen a surge in cases, South Africa leads the way in what many see as a third wave of contaminations by the virus that adds to its 2.2 million cases and near 65,000 deaths. The highly transmissible Delta variant is now dominating around 80% of the recent genomes in South Africa.
But it’s in Brazil, second only to the U.S. in number of deaths, that the scourge of new cases and lack of vaccines have the greater potential to spiral out of control. To many, it has already. The country has been transfixed by a Senate hearing on the pandemic, broadcast live daily, which revealed that President Bolsonaro had refused to buy Pfizer vaccines last year and was involved in a massive overcharging for an unapproved vaccine from India.
Vladimiro Montesinos, intel chief of Peru’s former dictator Alberto Fujimori, who’s in jail, is also serving a 20-year prison term for influence peddling, embezzlement, and abuse of power. Now he’s accused of trying to sway the results of the April 11 presidential election. By all accounts, Pedro Castillo won by beating Fujimori’s daughter Keiko who also faces prison for other crimes and has hired a team of high-heeled lawyers to contest the results.
And finally, finance ministers of the G20 largest economies in the world have signed an agreement establishing a global minimum corporate tax of at least 15% to deter multinationals from shopping around for the lowest tax rate. The pact was hailed as a landmark and a blow to corporations that use tax havens to hide their profits but it needs the signature of national leaders at the October Rome G20 summit. We all know what will come out of it.
He stood 6ft 10in and weighed 2.500lb. To the Guinness World of Records, he was the world’s tallest horse. But to his humans, he was a “jokester,” who enjoyed belly rubs and playing with people’s hair. What’s uncontested is that he brought 20 years of joy to those who knew him. R.I.P., Big Jake. Happy Trails.
When Zaila Avant-garde spelled “Murraya,” a genus of Asiatic and Australian trees, she became the first African American winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 96 years. Also remarkable about this 14-year-old from Harvey, Louisiana, is that she’s already an accomplished basketball player with dreams of going professional. The world congratulates and welcomes this young lady; we’re sure to hear many more good things about her.
There are eight million stories in the “naked” New York City and Manhattanhenge is just another one of them. Alas, it involves no crime, no 9-1-1 calls, no despair. Just a stroke of luck making the sun to perfectly line up with the city street grid twice-yearly over a couple of days each time. While Stonehenge frames the Summer Soltice between its slabs, Manhattan does it with its tall buildings. Today is the last chance to catch it in 2021. It’s free.
“That’s why Monday, when it sees me coming/with my convict face, blazes up like gasoline,/and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,/and leaves tracks full of warm blood leading toward the night.” Happy Birthday, Pablo Neruda. The 1971 Nobel of Literature would’ve been 177 today. Time flies. WC


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