Curtain Raisers

Hail the Earth Protectors, Colltalers

China’s push for what it calls “reunification” is keeping Taiwan up at night, but whatever happens there has the potential to drag the U.S. and the world into an unthinkable conflict. To avert it, only some high-level diplomacy, the kind an underfunded and overpowered U.N. sadly can no longer handle.
Low-turnout parliamentary elections in Iraq and the Czech Republic, where far-right P.M. Andrej Babiš lost his re-election bid, brought no surprises. The Supreme Court’s hearing the first Guantanamo case brought to U.S. soil: Abu Zubaydah, who spent 19 years in the infamous jail without a charge.
We start in Lebanon, where power was finally restored after a 24-hour nationwide blackout. After weeks of providing only a few hours of electricity each day, the power grid was shut down Saturday, as the country’s two main power plants ran out of fuel. Army reserves were used to restart the grid.
In Afghanistan, an Islamic State suicide bomber killed 46 Shiite Muslims in a mosque. Daesh accuses the Taliban of abiding by a request by China to expel Uyghers out of the country. But to Afghans caught in the crosshairs, what comes out of these attacks is always death and heartbreaking despair.
In Gaza, farmers and traders held a rally at Karm Abu Salem crossing, the only one for import and export, as Israel’s constant shutdowns threaten the economy. Palestinians depend on exporting crops for a living as the most basic infrastructure of the entire area has been razed by the Israeli armed forces.
In Brazil, President Bolsonaro vetoed the free distribution of absorbents and sanitary towels in the basic basket of goods provided to the poor. That’ll impact at least four million girls who do not have access to menstrual products in schools and one in four who does not go to class when menstruating.
The so-called “menstrual poverty” affects over 700,000 Brazilians who do not have access to toilets and showers in their homes. Along with femicide, racial discrimination, and gender oppression, having to improvise with toilet paper, newspapers, bags, or even bread crumbs is an unfortunate part of growing up poor and a woman in Brazil. To complete this grim picture there’s, of course, the tragic threshold just crossed, of 600,000 killed by Covid.
As for microplastics, they’re on mountaintops and oceans, blowing in the wind or flying out of your tires. In some protected areas of the U.S., the equivalent of 120 million ground-up plastic bottles are falling out of the sky each year. Now microplastic fibers have been found in baby poop too.
A new study published by the Environmental Science and Technology Letters showed that concentrations of the popular polyethylene terephthalate, PET, were 10 times higher in infant feces than in adults, echoing previous studies that have found microplastics in human placentas and meconium.
“Taiwan is part of China. Although the two sides of the strait have not yet been completely reunified since 1949, the fact that the mainland and Taiwan belong to the same China has never changed and cannot be changed.” These chilling words were spoken by Chinese Taiwan Affairs Office’s Ma Xiaoguang, who said that Taiwan’s claims to the contrary “incited confrontation and distorted facts.”
The Biden administration, though openly hostile to China’s expansionary ambitions, hasn’t found the proper tone to address this threat. The region’s stability hangs on the ability of the U.S., Asian nations, and the world to avoid what could be a catastrophic confrontation.
Calls by Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, whose second-term bid will be determined by Sunday election, urging Iraqis to vote fell on deft ears. According to Iraq’s election law, the winner will get to choose the next P.M. but early estimates showed that no coalitions will secure a majority.
Concerns about security and apathy have dominated this cycle, as citizens can’t see a way out of decades of war and strife, or even the need to vote.
The Czech Republic’s election was marked by the sudden illness of President Milos Zeman who was taken to emergency care Saturday. The 77-year-old, a smoker and former drinker who uses a wheelchair and has diabetes, is expected to lead talks on forming a new government after the election. Babis, the still popular ultra-conservative billionaire is now facing allegations of shady offshore dealings, revealed by the Pandora Papers scandal.
“What is the government’s objection to the witness testifying to his own treatment?” Justice Neil Gorsuch’s line of questioning on the Zubayaday case, the teen captured early on the Iraq invasion, tortured in U.S. black sites around the world, and taken to Guantanamo for further indignities for two decades, was puzzling at most and downright uninformed to the least. Didn’t they read the (old) news about the war, that infamous prison, the CIA?
Even if U.S. Acting Solicitor General Brian Fletcher could answer that question – and he couldn’t, Zubaydah’s case is considered of “national security” – what the distinguished highest court in the land should be ruling on is on the illegality of the Iraq war or the fact that torture is still illegal. Or isn’t?
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the 2021 Peace Prize to the Philippines’ Maria Ressa and Russia’s Dmitri A. Muratov, two journalists identified with the struggle for freedom of expression and democracy. “Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies, and war propaganda,” the committee said. Both Ressa and Muratov have been in the crosshairs of their government’s security apparatus.
Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, as President Biden officially renamed Columbus Day. It’s now a meaningful date for millions of native Americans, a step further into restoring the relevance of their history and sacrifice in the making of America. For millennia, Indigenous peoples inhabit and protect this land in ways European descendants couldn’t possibly emulate. And despite our brutality, they still stand unwavering as the Earth’s great protectors.
“When the white man discovered this country, Indians were running it. No taxes, no debt, women did all the work,” says an old, likely apocryphal saying attributed to the Cherokee. “White man thought he could improve on a system like this.” After 400 years, we know he couldn’t. Viva o Índio! WC

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