Murder & Unkindness

Nevermore, or When the Corvus
Talked Through Poe & His Poem

Emissaries of rebirth from the great beyond, or omens of bad things to come in ancient traditions, crows have soared over our imaginations for ages. Scientists are baffled by their social skills, cognitive abilities, and use of tools. Old Aesop may have been onto something after all.
As January 19th marks Edgar Allan Poe’s 206th birthday, and The Raven’s first print 170 years ago this month, we review research being done about the black bird that feasts on carrion and whose collective nouns convey the finality of sudden death and sorrow of lost souls.
Before Claude Lévi-Strauss called the raven a mediator, antiquity took care of inscribing the winged creature into an assortment of narratives and roles, including it in all holy books, from the Talmud to the Bible to the Qur’an, Greek-Roman mythologies and Hindu cosmology.
Old Germanic and English texts also assigned the species a prominent role, and so did Pacific tribes and Native Americans. Which may confer oversized meaning to their annual winter arrival at Waterloo, England, for example, or instances of mass deaths, as it just happened in India.
But before going any further, let’s get the distinction between crows and ravens out of the way. Crows are smaller and live only eight years, to raven’s average 30-year lifespan. Crows, which caw-caw, also live closer to humans; ravens’ croaks are heard mostly in the wild.
A crow’s wing is blunt, and its tail, fan-shaped, while ravens have pointed wings and wedge-shaped tails. All else may not be easily noted because the birds are commonly sighted in parks and cemeteries, where people go to fulfill a function or when they’re, well, dead.

WHO IS BIRD-BRAINED NOW?
We should all be weary of studies comparing the intelligence of radically different species, say primates vs. cetacean, for instance. Mainly because for a long time, we’ve considered cognitive intelligence and social skills to be our monopoly and of a few other animals only.
Also, we still don’t know enough Continue reading

John & Poe

October & the City Link
the Walrus & the Raven

Edgar Allan Poe (d. Oct. 7, 1849, Boston) and John Lennon (b. Oct.9, 1940, Liverpool) would’ve likely enjoyed each other’s company. One could even picture them sharing a coffee in Greenwich Village, just a few blocks from where they both lived briefly in New York.
Sharing a certain sensibility, they’ve twisted rules and noses with their talent and non-conformism. While Poe’s genius was acknowledged mostly after death, Lennon’s was still shaping his own times when life was brutally taken away from him. Despite their enormous sway over our era, they’ve both died at 40.
Their status as two of the world’s most recognized pop icons often obscures the depth of their art and endurance of their legacy. And maybe their irresistible appeal owes more to a contemporary deficit of revolutionary artists than to their particular take on human expression.
Or it may be that we’re so desperate to find paradigms upon which to pile our frustration about the world, that a walking wound such as Poe, or a talking head like Lennon, may offer the conduit we seek to connect and placate our own shortcomings. Just like it ever was.
They couldn’t help it but being such tragic heroes, either, with terrible upbringings and disturbing deaths to boot. But that’s when shallow similarities between the two begin to falter, and no longer serve us to rescue their relevance out of the amber it’s been encased.
THE MESMERIC & THE MAUDIT
Poe, who lived in three separate places in Greenwich Village, New York City, before moving to a farmhouse uptown where he wrote The Raven at age 36, is the only American writer routinely mentioned along the French poètes maudits.
The Paul Verlaine-concocted term encapsulated the romantic ideal of the artist as a tragic hero, not suited to this world, who inevitably self-immolates. We won’t get into how flawed and self-indulgent it is such a notion, but the literature the group produced transcended it all.
Perhaps the best known among those poets was Charles Baudelaire, who championed, translated, and wrote essays about Poe, (more)
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Read Also:
* Murder & Unkindness
* Dear John
* Hallowed Ground

Continue reading

John & Poe

October & the City Link
the Walrus & the Raven

Edgar Allan Poe (d. Oct. 7, 1849, Boston) and John Lennon (b. Oct.9, 1940, Liverpool) would’ve likely enjoyed each other’s company. One could even picture them sharing a coffee in Greenwich Village, just a few blocks from where they both lived briefly in New York.
Sharing a certain sensibility, they’ve twisted rules and noses with their talent and non-conformism. While Poe’s genius was acknowledged mostly after death, Lennon was still shaping his own times when life was brutally taken away from him. Despite their enormous sway over our era, they’ve both died at 40.
Their status as two of the world’s most recognized pop icons often obscures the depth of their art and endurance of their legacy. And maybe their irresistible appeal owes more to a contemporary deficit of revolutionary artists than to their particular take on human expression.
Or it may be that we’re so desperate to find paradigms upon which to pile our frustration about the world, that a walking wound such as Poe, or a talking head like Lennon, may offer the conduit we seek to connect and placate our own shortcomings. Just like it ever was.
They couldn’t help it but being such tragic heroes, either, with terrible upbringings and disturbing deaths to boot. But that’s when shallow similarities between the two begin to falter, and no longer serve us to rescue their relevance out of the amber it’s been encased.
THE MESMERIC & THE MAUDIT
Poe, who lived in three separate places in Greenwich Village, New York City, before moving to a farmhouse uptown where he wrote The Raven at age 36, is the only American writer routinely mentioned along the French poètes maudits.
The Paul Verlaine-concocted term encapsulated the romantic ideal of the artist as a tragic hero, not suited to this world, who inevitably self-immolates. We won’t get into how flawed and self-indulgent it is such a notion, but the literature the group produced transcended it all.
Perhaps the best known among those poets was Charles Baudelaire, who championed, translated and wrote essays about Poe, (more)
_______
Read Also:
* Murder & Unkindness
* Hallowed Ground
* Life W/O Lennon
Continue reading

John & Poe

October & the City Link
the Walrus & the Raven

Edgar Allan Poe (d. Oct. 7, 1849, Boston) and John Lennon (b. Oct.9, 1940, Liverpool) would’ve likely enjoyed each other’s company. One could even picture them sharing a coffee in Greenwich Village, just a few blocks from where they both lived briefly in New York.
Sharing a certain sensibility, they’ve twisted rules and noses with their talent and non-conformism. While Poe’s genius was acknowledged mostly after death, Lennon’s was still shaping his own times when life was brutally taken away from him. Despite their enormous sway over our era, they’ve both died at 40.
Their status as two of the world’s most recognized pop icons often obscures the depth of their art and endurance of their legacy. And maybe their irresistible appeal owes more to a contemporary deficit of revolutionary artists than to their particular take on human expression.
Or it may be that we’re so desperate to find paradigms upon which to pile our frustration about the world, that a walking wound such as Poe, or a talking head like Lennon, may offer the conduit we seek to connect and placate our own shortcomings. Just like it ever was.
They couldn’t help it but being such tragic heroes, either, with terrible upbringings and disturbing deaths to boot. But that’s when shallow similarities between the two begin to falter, and no longer serve us to rescue their relevance out of the amber it’s been encased.
THE MESMERIC & THE MAUDIT
Poe, who lived in three separate places in Greenwich Village, New York City, before moving to a farmhouse uptown where he wrote The Raven at age 36, is the only American writer routinely mentioned along the French poètes maudits.
The Paul Verlaine-concocted term encapsulated the romantic ideal of the artist as a tragic hero, not suited to this world, who inevitably self-immolates. We won’t get into how flawed and self-indulgent it is such notion, but the literature the group produced transcended it all.
Perhaps the best known among those poets was Charles Baudelaire, who championed, translated and wrote essays about Poe, (more)
_______
Read Also:
* Murder & Unkindness
* Hallowed Ground
Continue reading

Thinking With Tentacles

Mad Penguins & Whale Accents
in the Court of the Octopus King

Research into the natural world has been a reliable way of gauging our walk on this planet, and where we’re probably heading to. But a new approach, devoid of any rancid anthropomorphism, has offered fresh insights into animal intelligence. The results are remarkable.
Heard the one about whales with a Caribbean accent? Or penguins having sex parties wilder than drunken priests? But no one was ready to witness an octopus opening a jar from inside, or sneaking out at night to feed on crabs nearby, before returning to its tank. Who’s observing whom here?
What these and other animals prove is that cognitive ability is not a human monopoly. In fact, whenever the need to compare them with us is subtracted from the equation, crows, cephalopods, and pigeons, to name a few, can outsmart a thinking bloke often in a radical way.
Evolution has proposed alternatives to some species so far from our own, that they could be almost E.T.s raised in Pluto for all we know. Since we no longer equate physiology with identity, it’d be better get acquainted with mental prowess that owes nothing to rationality.
Not that we’re even that rational, or have the natural gift of logic. Far from it. But elephants have always cried of sadness, and chickens do side up with individuals in danger. We were just too busy turning animals into slaves that we oftentimes eat too to pay any attention.

ADÉLIES JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN
Let’s get this out of the way: penguins are not humans, thus morality is not an issue, even if a colony, in the distance, looks like a black-tie cocktail party. And for belting out loud, the Adélies have nothing on the singing lady Adele. But when it comes to parties, theirs do get wild.
During Capt. Scott‘s second, and doomed, trip to Antarctica, between 1910-13, George Murray Levick wrote of widespread necrophilia, males sexually coercing young chicks, before killing them, and shock, having sex with other males. To him, it was “depravity,” and his notes (in Ancient Greek, to harden access to them) went missing.
Till now: they’ve been uncovered and bad “science” journalism have ensued, of course. But five years ago, the biggest Adélie news had nothing to do with sex. In Feb 2016, it was reported that 150,000 penguins had died, landlocked by the fracture of a giant iceberg.
But that was a hoax, better researched stories confirmed. Neither sex fiends nor massacred by climate change, yet, penguins are just, once again, being victims of bad reporting. Why we care has nothing to do with humanity either: they just look like us. We’re already changing their history. Time to tell their stories way better, too.

DEEP SONGS & ACCENTED CLICKS
Since at least the 1970s, news about whales is always surprising, even as their numbers keeping receding towards extinction. The size of their brains, rich social lives, their songs, complex and uniquely identified with their pods. And then there’s the loneliest of them all.
The fact that research into these massive but elusive species has reached such a level of sophistication is, in itself, (more)
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Read Also:
* Beneath the Waves
* Eerie Impersonation
* The Saddest Song
Continue reading

We’ve Kept You Posted

Yearly Recall Takes
a Blurry 2015 Picture

It was a year of record refugee waves, with boatloads of heartbreaking stories landing en masse on European shores. Greeting them, equal parts of compassion and vile political pettiness, and a stunned world reacting as it usually does: with violence.
As usual too, there were plenty of staggering deaths – massive, laser-focused, or undiscriminated – due to terrorism, war strikes, stampedes, and in the U.S., racism and too many guns. And, of course, a fair share of encouraging news about climate change, for instance.
This post hardly covers them all, though. For these Colltales stories we’ve picked are more of a counterpoint to what was going on then. Rather than rehashing what was on everyone’s devices in 2015, they run a parallel track of commentary, criticism, and even comic relief.
Just as global temperatures kept rising, our pulse on the year’s events was better reflected on the weekly editorial Newsletter/Curtain Raiser. So we were free to report another kind of news, neither Pollyanna nor downright depressing. You know, the Colltalers preferable way. Enjoy.

ELVIS, CATS & RIO IN WINTER
The terrorist attack that killed nine journalists at the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo, on Jan. 7, was arguably the biggest news of the first three months of 2015. But the following day, we featured Elvis Presley‘s 80th birthday. And never looked back.
Stories about crows, unemployment, that old fave Voynich Manuscript, and a quirky take on Valentine Day followed. A personal darling was the 450th anniversary of Rio, our city of birth. Bandit Maria Bonita, cats, caturally, and life after death, online, completed the bunch.

A SPRING OF RACE & TIME
By then, the biggest refugee crisis of our era was already creeping in, but within the U.S., an old scourge was robbing the headlines: racism. Our own second quarter, though, was deep into Continue reading

Newsletter II

This Week in Colltales

9/13/2021 Beyond Toppling Statues, Colltalers

Most Americans and the world know by now that the U.S. won’t entirely retire from Afghanistan. New evidence also shows that its latest drone strike, loaded with the Pentagon’s new secret, bladed creepy-named Hellfire missile, may have killed 10 members of a family by an all-too-common mistake.
Led by Indigenous women, thousands have taken to the streets in Brazil to protest President Bolsonaro’s anti-native policies, as the Supreme Court reviews a 1988 landmark land-demarcation law. And it’s been a decade since Occupy Wall Street first posed a challenge to capitalism’s Holy Grail.
Let’s get going in upstate New York, where an uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility 50 years ago led to the killing of 29 inmates and 10 hostages by National Guards and the police sent by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. The Sept. 9 massacre of American prisoners lasted four days and led to few prison reforms. Half a century later, though, overcrowding, racism, violence, poor health care, and miscarriages of justice still plague the U.S. jail system.
In the unfiltered virtual world, human misery is profitable. Take the uproar over the trading of human bones that now thrives on Instagram, Facebook, eBay, Etsy, TikTok, and other social media. Mapping “the contours of the human remains trade,” History professors Shawn Graham and Damien Huffer see “the powerful collecting the powerless.” Which means, Brown, Black, and Indigenous bodies are the most sought after.
“We shouldn’t need a law explicitly declaring, no one can own dead people,” they write. Yet demand by “collectors” matches that coming from med schools and if private graves or sacred places can’t be robbed, supply is usually provided by “the indigent, the racialized, the people treated as less-than-human.” The Alliance to Counter Crime Online’s co-founder has but one advice: don’t buy human remains or participate in their dehumanization.
In Richmond, Virginia, one of the largest Confederate monuments has come down as the Black Lives Matter movement exposed the incongruity of having past slave owners celebrated with statues, while the descendants of those they enslaved are still suffering from institutional white supremacy. In Mexico, similar reasoning is behind the toppling of a Christopher Columbus statue, to be replaced by a Pedro Reyes’ sculpture of an Olmec woman.
The healthy cross-border trend has also reached Canada, where statues of queens Victoria and Elizabeth II have bitten the dust. Nominally toppled in protest for the deaths of thousands of indigenous children, the common thread is a desire for justice for generations of genocide victims they represent.
In California, the attempted recall of Gov. Gavin Newson has empowered a vocal minority angry at his strict measures to prevent the spread of Covid. Behind that, of course, there’s the Republican Party’s real motivation to support right-wing talk show host Larry Elder: the governor has the authority to name a replacement for Senator Diane Feinstein, who at 82 may be forced to retire. If Newson loses, Democrats may also lose their Senate majority.
Called a “more humane” way of killing, the difference between the RX9 Hellfire missile suspected in the drone strike in Kabul and other hits is that it allegedly delivers rather than an explosion, an infernal set of high-speed razor-thin blades that tear open steel and flesh. Not understanding why this is an upside to anything helps identify those truly horrified with how military experts and defense contractors routinely dehumanize human casualties.
It also indicates that the future of war in Afghanistan was never at risk of petering out, unlike women, human rights, and heaven forbid, peaceniks. President Biden’s troop withdrawal has been a watershed moment for his administration. But it’ll be meaningless if we continue to bomb the Afghans.
The 900,000 or 0.5% of the Brazilian population who’s Indigenous has been fighting for decades for the demarcation of its land, but big landowners supported by Bolsonaro have been ignoring federal law and conducting invasions and burnings of their 13% share of the territory. Thousands of natives are in Brasilia to pressure the Supreme Court to save and protect their land, and to be in an expected massive Indigenous Women’s March on Thursday.
On paper, the United Nations is everything we’d need to organize the world: under a general peacekeeping mandate, it plays referee in international disputes, promotes human rights and fair trade, and helps global leaders work together on common problems. But alas, the 76th General Assembly that gathers in New York City this week has been anything but what we’d need now. And that’s mainly because rich nations won’t give it its due respect.
The Covid pandemic has exposed this vulnerability once again as it failed to engage the powerful into lifting patent restrictions owned by big pharma; without it, vaccines are available now only to those that can afford it. For similar reasons, the U.N. is losing the climate emergency argument too. Part of this negative outlook is intentional though, as far-right leaders here and abroad who back undemocratic regimes hate to be lectured by the Assembly.
When Occupy Wall Street erupted in downtown Manhattan in Sept. 2011, it was the aftermath of the near-collapse of the world’s finance system, out of unbound greed and ambition by the so-called “masters of the universe.” Initially dismissed as a leaderless ragtag of privileged kids playing revolution, the OWS grew exponentially, both in the U.S. and abroad, into a powerful even if brief civil resistance movement. It shined bright and then it fizzled.
It bred however at least one outstanding business, R.I.P. Medical Debt. The not-for-profit founded in 2014 by ex-debt collectors Jerry Ashton and Craig Antico has reportedly wiped out the debt of some two million Americans, erasing almost $3 billion in medical debt. They do that using the same tactics and training of active debt collectors: they purchase the debt in bulk by “pennies to the dollar” and instead of charging the borrowers, they zero all of it.
It’s “Cry of Dolores” day, the 211th anniversary of Mexico’s Independence from Spain. On this date, priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the bell of a church in Dolores town, to call out Mexicans to kick the Spanish out. It’s this bloody colonial past that fuels the toppling of the Columbus statue, for instance, and recent rulings on abortion and weed are also welcome changes as Mexico struggles to join the new century. ¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Mexico!

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9/06/2021 We’ve Got to Make it Better, Colltalers

Over a week since Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc, New Orleans remains in the dark. Help to those stranded by torrential rain and flood may arrive but only after every refinery is back online. It’s the usual special treat granted to a local fossil-fuel industry that is making hurricanes worse, to begin with.
But the week’s biggest storm is over Texas’ decision to ban most abortions, its likely opening salvo to cancel womens’ reproductive rights in America. Women groups and their allies will be marching to prevent it. And two decades since the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, the world’s become a scarier place.
Let’s begin in the U.S. where Covid cases are climbing again after near 700,000 Americans have already died from it, the most in the world. As vaccine rollouts continue to be dictated by the big labs that make them, health justice advocates say that there’s a shortage of two billion doses worldwide, with some nations having none to immunize their people. Wealthy countries are stockpiling doses and plan booster shots while emerging ones are left short.
The U.N.-led efforts to have Western powers engage in the battle to lift pattern restrictions the labs control have been all but ineffective. And then, of course, there are the anti-vaxxers which, despite being driven by conspiracy and paranoia, have now global platforms to spread misinformation. Such combo has been lethal to a staggering 4.5+ million people. Will we ever address the depth of responsibilities involved and exact proper punishments?
In Brazil President Bolsonaro’s throwing all his cards into a big rally of support during the celebrations of the country’s Independence Day on Sept. 7. He’s hoping to reverse sagging re-election prospects for next year, but his appeals to armed forces to join him and calls for a massive attendance have alarmed many. That’s because there are parallels with the ex-U.S. President’s calls for supporters to launch an armed invasion of Capitol Hill on Jan. 6.
It was five years ago, on Aug. 31, that a parliamentary coup ousted twice democratically-elected President Dilma Rousseff on trumped-up charges, and began the dismantling of Brazil. The Operation Car Wash, a government probe into possible corruption in the Rousseff and prior two Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva administrations served as the legal framework to persecute and jail presidential front-runner Lula, a fact that all but put Bolsonaro in Brasília.
All charges against the ex-presidents were revoked as the inquiry was exposed as politically biased. The powerful elite that runs Brazil, whose backing is crucial to the former Army Captain, may be reaching its breaking point. But the damage is done and it’ll be years for a new dawn to rise again at the beating heart of the Global South. That’s what happens often all over: long after tyrants are tried and forgotten if ever, those they harmed remain hurt.
The consequences of two astonishingly unfair decisions made this week are hard to overstate. On Wed., a bankruptcy court approved the dissolution of Purdue Pharma, the opioid manufacturer accused of causing a record number of overdose deaths by pushing its highly addictive painkiller OxyContin. And on Mon., a Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a water quality certification for the accident-prone Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 crude oil pipeline.
The Sackler family, Perdue’s owners, had personal involvement in its commercialization and reportedly made over $10 billion from the drug that killed an estimated 600,000. But the $4.5 billion settlement grants them immunity from lawsuits and exempts them from even having to say, “I am sorry.”
Halfway through the hurricane season and some regions are already bent out of shape in the U.S. Worst, the heavy pouring and flooding around fossil-fuel producers in the Gulf of Mexico have created near a dozen large oil spills. For a sobering exercise, Google how many oil spills happened since a BP-owned oil rig exploded and caught fire in the gulf in April 2010. A disturbing sign that little has changed, as far as oil and gas firms are concerned.
Thousands of indigenous water protectors and their volunteer partners have waged a multi-year battle against Enbridge and other pipelines that, if President Biden’s not aware, someone should tell him, are exactly what made the globe warm up to the point of this climate emergency. Tribal communities and environmental groups will continue to appeal and resist. But now only an executive order of sorts to stop Line 3 from starting its operations in a month.
The 1973 Roe v. Wade law that legalized abortion in the U.S. was a watershed moment for the reproductive rights of all women. Teen pregnancy rates and the criminality associated with illegal abortion were reduced. Troubled pregnancies, either for medical reasons, sexual assault, or incest, as well as other situations where having one child will disrupt and jeopardize the women’s chance to succeed, stopped being a problem for an entire generation.
What’s also at stake is the Founding Fathers-beloved constitutional separation of church and state, the foundation for our 300 years of political stability, even when ideals were betrayed by genocide and wealthy elites were enriching themselves with the blood and labor of indigenous and Black slaves. The religious right may try to seize loopholes to impose its minority rule on the country, but on Oct. 2, women all over will march to say no.
“I was on the subway on my way to work and when I came out of the station, the world had changed.” “When the second tower collapsed I’ve run like everyone else but the cloud of dust caught up with us and we couldn’t see anything. That’s when I realized that I had almost been hit by a fallen body.” “We headed downtown hoping to find him coming out of the building in flames or something. We walked around and wait but he never came back.”
That sunny and chilly Sept 11, 2001, is seared on the minds and hearts of every New Yorker and their dearest, along with the deep pain and grief of having watched hopelessly their home being bombed. The city that emerged from the attack became engraved with the resentment of victims and fallen heroes, of being punished by what it wasn’t, rebuilt by fear and desire of retribution, plus the now omnipresent, surveillance eye of a million cameras.
“We were not allowed to take a courageous step towards peace; war was simply assigned to us.” “I felt that I was angrier at my government than with the dead perpetrators because we bombarded their land first.” “I hate that 911 became synonymous with wars that have nothing to do with America.” We grieve with those who lived through their own Sept. 11, and we regret the bad decisions taken on behalf of our grief. Happy (U.S.) Labor Day.

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8/30/2021 The Calamities & the Dream, Colltalers

With the precision of well-timed tragedies, Hurricane Ida’s hit New Orleans just about 15 years since Katrina had done the same. Will the levees hold? In Afghanistan, it looks like more U.S. troops than we were told will stay on even as a resurgent ISIS wants to take over the fight against the Taliban.
Covid has become the pandemic that came to stay, as cases rise worldwide, dozens of countries still haven’t got vaccines, and an influential minority continues to scare the unvaccinated. And Brazilians worry President Bolsonaro plans a Trump Jan. 6-style rampage on Sept 7, Brazil’s national day.
Let’s start with a local irony about penalizing 7.5 million Americans who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus: the “Emergency Unemployment Program” is set to expire on Labor Day! Another sign that this business-created fake holiday has nothing to do with the First of May celebrated all over the world but here. The irony is even crueler as the economy is far from firing on all cylinders and, wouldn’t they know it? Covid is getting stronger.
It’s also a sign that U.S. labor policies are fully dictated by corporate needs. And for that, they can always count on the invaluable help of the Supreme Court, which has just overturned a moratorium on evictions. For unless their goal was to increase the number of unhoused people living in the streets, itself a record now, or to make it particularly harder for them to get a new job, it’s a case for asking, what do they mean to accomplish with this ruling?
In Zimbabwe, Mapone, a 12-year-old lion was cowardly ambushed and executed by a “pleasure” hunter. Remember Cecil, killed with an arrow by a wealthy dentist in 2015 and left to agonize for 24 hours? It happened again. Nothing has changed: Zimbabwe officials defend the practice of granting $30K licenses to kill big cats because they claim to need the money for preservation efforts, while animal activists call it as it is: institutional murder.
The 2021 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence was given to former Air Force analyst Daniel Hale, who was sentenced in July to 45 months in jail for exposing the 2012 U.S. targeted assassination program in Afghanistan – “We kill people based on metadata,” said ex-CIA & NSA Director Michael Hayden. In a 5-month span, 90% of “enemies killed in action” by drones were bystanders. The leaked docs were published in 2015 by The Intercept.
Afghan stories are hardly inspiring but this one stands out: a Royal Marine has arrived in the U.K. with a cargo of almost 200 rescued dogs and cats. What’s unusual is that 2016 veteran Paul “Pen” Farthing had to leave behind the staff of his charity and their dependents. What happens now is unclear but the episode triggered a national debate over the morality of choosing to save animals over human lives. But we already know what we’d choose.
Staying with Afghan foes, U.S. Marine Stuart Scheller was “relieved of his functions” after posting a critical video of the American war campaign on Facebook and LinkedIn. By coincidence, 13 U.S. service members and almost 200 Afghans were killed on that day by a suicide bomber at Kabul’s airport. Although his was a mild criticism, armed forces everywhere hate dissent with a passion and it’s unlike Scheller still has a future there.
Few will if the situation on the ground goes from chaos to uncontrolled civil war, what with the refurbished Daesh, now called ISIS-K as in Korashan (don’t ask) openly challenging the Taliban and millions of civilians caught in the crossfire. It won’t get any better if Biden confirms that American troops will stay on for now. On the contrary, the U.S. may still inflict more damage to an already horrific situation. Fight for peace now.
The Cat 4 Ida has barreled the Big Easy just like Katrina did in Aug. 2004. The president then took days before flying over the wrecked city and his handling of the disaster was a textbook case of incompetence. Many died as a result. If we’d learned our lesson then, we’d now be ready for such a re-visit. As we haven’t, don’t hold your breath. Despite widespread gentrification, poor areas of New Orleans remain vulnerable to storms.
The concept of “perpetual war” is what’s been fueling modern conflicts. In the past two decades, the military-industrial complex has spent $2.5 billion on lobbying “to influence defense policy,” and $285 million to war-friendly political candidates. The business of war supersedes patriotism as nations no longer win or lose conflicts. New ones get started every day but it’s only weapon makers and contractors that come out as winners.
Covid Delta variant has surged globally and some nations that had considered the pandemics over had to revise their decision. The overwhelming majority of new cases, including all obits, are of unvaccinated people. A negligible number had medical complications with the shot but no one died in this group. To date, we lost 4.5 million people to this virus but it’s unknown how many are gone due to misinformation and ignorance.
The Brazilian Republic will turn 199 on Sept. 7. Brazilians worry that Bolsonaro will use the date to emulate the Capitol Hill rampage of Jan. 6, when Trump thugs tried to prevent a democratically-elected president from being certified. The president’s right-wing supporters are busy spreading rumors of riots on social media and many expect the military to go along as it did in the past. Even without a crystal ball, it’s safe to say it’ll fail.
“America has defaulted on its promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.” The “today” is Aug. 28, 1963, and the “I Had a Dream” speech solidified Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the voice for race equality and justice in the U.S. Less than five years later he was killed, which is probably why at least in part we must still re-publish his speech as many times as needed. Because it still holds true.
The hurricane, made it worse with climate change; Covid, worsen by vaccine hesitancy and corporate monopoly; the war, aggravated by bottom-line greed; are all man-made catastrophes. Racism is borne out of choice, though, of self-granting privileges denied to others. The good doctor knew it well. As he said, “We refuse to believe (…) that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.” I still have a dream. Do you?

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8/23/2021 We Won’t Look Away, Colltalers

Heartbreaking scenes of Afghans desperate to leave with the Americans highlight 20 years of a brutal, wasteful, and ultimately useless war, our longest. As arms dealers revel in their business prospects, Biden hasn’t been quite up to speed but it’s what he decides to do now that may make a difference.
Meanwhile, wildfires continue undeterred in California. Their cause, climate change, also endangers the survival of over a billion children worldwide due to water scarcity and vector-borne diseases, a study found. All in time to rain at Greenland’s highest point of its ice sheet for the first time ever.
Let’s start in Peru where President Pedro Castillo is struggling to form his cabinet, amid relentless opposition from the conservative media and far-right politicians. A political neophyte, Castillo ran into trouble when he named well-known progressive professor Héctor Bejar for Foreign Minister. But Bejar’s old statements criticizing the CIA came to light and the fallout was immediate. Castillo replaced him with Oscar Maurtua, a career diplomat.
In Gaza, the Israeli army opened fire Saturday at Palestinians protesting blockade restrictions and eviction raids in the occupied territories. The Naftali Bennet administration, which had blocked millions of dollars destined to needy families of an agreement with Egypt, Qatar, and the U.N., said it’ll lift some economic restrictions and allow the payments under a new arrangement. Some 24 Palestinians were shot and wounded, including a 13-year-old.
In France, the great Josephine Baker will be the first Black woman whose remains will rest at the Panthéon mausoleum in Paris. The Missouri star born in 1906 was “an artist, the first Black international star, a muse of the cubists, a resistance fighter during the second world war in the French army, active alongside Martin Luther King in the civil rights fight,” according to the petition with 38,000 signature requesting the ceremony in November.
Back in the U.S., a Californian judge declared unconstitutional and “unenforceable” Proposition 22, the law calling workers “independent contractors,” a euphemism for lack of benefits or labor guarantees. It was a rare defeat to so-called “gig economy” companies, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and others that are hard at work to end decades of labor achievements, and have promised to appeal. Besides denying benefits, P 22 prevents workers from organizing.
The weakest, most hypocritical claim that can be made about Afghanistan is that no one saw it coming. By now we should be used to that kind of abrupt collapse of an entire country on one side, and utter lack of accountability from those responsible on the other. Even if most Americans did not know the Taliban had allegedly offered to surrender to the U.S. back in Dec. 2001, consider that the Pentagon, the CIA, and at least four presidents did.
Despite back-to-back media coverage and the despair of thousands who may rightfully come knocking on our doors, we hardly see the faces of those who have everything to do with the enormity of what’s happening. Where are the Pentagon hawks who’ve been advising every president to pursue endless wars? Where are the defense contractors and all politicians who profited from them? That’s when powers-that-be retreat to dark corners.
To no one’s surprise, weapon manufacturers and defense contractor stocks made a lot of money to a lot of people with money to waste. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and others gave fat returns to investors untroubled by the moral implications of investing in the death business. Julian Assange, now in a U.K. prison for helping to expose U.S. war crimes, had a lucid point about that business in 2011: “The goal (of war in Afghanistan) is an endless war, not a successful war.”
Even now, when the president announces that the U.S. will still remain active in the country pretty much as it pleases, and given the fact that trillions of dollars and thousands of lives will likely remain unaccounted for all foreseeable future.
The lack of humility and moral clarity is truly staggering. But from the dark, some shining moments. Such as the nine girls from a robotics research team who were rescued from Kabul by Digital Citizen Fund, the team’s parent organization, and are in Qatar. “The girls rescued themselves,” said DCF board member Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown of the prize-winning Afghan Girls Robotic Team, as other team members left behind may also need rescue.
A billion children face “extremely high risk” due to the climate emergency and pollution, a Unicef report found. Kids are “less able to survive extreme weather events,” said executive director Henrietta Fore. The report marks the third anniversary of activist Greta Thunberg’s Friday school strikes.
On Aug. 20, 2018, Thunberg skipped class to protest Sweden’s environmental record in front of the Riksdag. Young activists around the world got inspired and launched a global movement. “We are not just victims, we are also leading the fight,” said Thunberg. “We are in a crisis of crises. A pollution crisis. A climate crisis. A children’s rights crisis,” she wrote in the NYTimes. “We will not allow the world to look away.”
For the first time ever, rain fell in a Greenland region with 10,551 feet in elevation, another consequence of global warming driven by climate change. Glacial melting is increasing both in the Arctic and Antarctica, as global average temperatures have risen almost two degrees Fahrenheit since the Industrial Revolution. This rain may be the harbinger of floods caused by rising sea waters. So feel free to scream. And do something about it. Cheers

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8/16/2021 No Time to Drift Apart, Colltalers

Hearts go out to Haiti where human resilience is being tested to the hilt. The earthquake was another punch in a devastating series of knockouts as the world’s mostly stood by. But now it has to step in big time. Meanwhile, our collective breaths are equally suspended with the impending fall of Kabul.
Rising Covid numbers in the U.S. and worldwide are kicking people out of their homes in record numbers. The Supreme Court will add some more with a ruling banning parts of an eviction moratorium. And the quest to free embattled Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has just suffered a new blow.
Let’s pick it up with the climate emergency which has just set July as the hottest month on Earth ever. Get to the highest temperature ever registered in Europe, 119.85F in Syracuse, Sicily. And on to the Agora Energiewende’s report foreseeing that Germany may hit this year its biggest greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. While you ruminate on what this all means, just notice that we haven’t even mentioned wildfires, floods, or hurricanes just yet.
On the same theme, a Dutch court has ordered Royal Dutch Shell to pay about $111.6 million to communities in Nigeria over crude oil spills in 1970, and once it does, it’ll potentially end a 13-year legal battle. Two claimant farmers have died while Shell spent the bigger part of half a century trying to deny liability for the Niger Delta’s pollution, but now “ran out of tricks and decided to come to terms,” said the communities’ lawyer Lucious Nwosa.
Since the alarming U.N.’s report on the state of climate change was released last week it became clearer how far we’re from achieving any of the goals set in Paris in 2015. Scientific evidence indicates that the planet will indeed warm by 1.5° Celsius in the next two decades because there’s no sight that the Biden administration and the other rich countries in the world are completely serious about climate change. Activism can go only too far; without drastic government action, it’s not enough. “You can’t build pipelines and be sustainable. A green pipeline is still a pipeline,” said a #StopLine3 tweet.
As fossil-fuel companies rush projects before public outcry is loud enough to wake up the White House – the Enbridge’s Line 3 oil sand pipeline in Minnesota may start operations next month – the president showed that he’s more concerned about high oil prices that with a potentially dramatic spike in greenhouse gas emissions: he’s asked Opec to increase output, which is astoundingly tone-deaf given what billions are going through as we speak.
Organizations are now targeting big companies such as JP Morgan Chase, BlackRock, and Liberty Mutual, for investing, funding, and ensuring fossil-fuel industry projects like Line 3. Legions of native water protectors and their allies are trying their best to disrupt the construction but have mainly got crushed against well-paid, taxpayer-funded police officers who seem encouraged to harass, spy on, arrest, and suppress Indigenous dissent. Mr. Biden?
Justice for victims of the war in Darfur may finally be in the works: Sudan said that it’ll “hand over” longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court on crimes against humanity charges. The U.N. says 300,000 people have been killed during the 18-year-old conflict while Bashir was ruling Sudan by force since 1989. He was deposed and imprisoned in 2019. At the same time, border tensions with Ethiopia are at an all-time high.
Saturday started badly in Haiti: a 7.2-magnitude earthquake shook the nation whose president was brutally murdered just over a month ago. It killed over 1,300 but the death toll is expected to rise. As Storm Grace brings disgraceful weather to an already horribly eroded land, Haitians may fear two things the most: aftershocks, and the kind of international help that also brings along crooks and opportunists, just like the devastating 2010 quake did.
Judge Mathieu Chanlatte who was investigating the killing of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, stepped down just hours before the quake. His resignation, which didn’t mention last week’s killing of his chief clerk, Ernst Lafortune in mysterious circumstances, throws the probe into disarray.
Now that President Ashraf Ghani has fled Afghanistan, and the Taliban has been reported at the gates of Kabul, help for those who helped American troops has become scarce but not fear. “The Taliban will kill us,” say scores of translators, drivers, guides, allies, entire communities; whoever is now perceived as a “collaborator” is in mortal danger. The U.S. exits – partly – the country the same way it entered: unprepared. It’ll get worse, of course.
They did it again. The Supreme Court just banned a portion of a New York State eviction moratorium that may hurt those whose jobs and income have been lost to the pandemic: next stop, the curb. It’s a cruel ruling that will energize landlords and evict poor people of color by the thousands; they won’t even be able to invoke hardship. The Supreme has now a simpler switch: to give voting rights to corporations and/or to deny them to minority voters.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who published classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2010 and 2011, is closer to be extradited from the U.K. after a new appeal was accepted. Confinement has compromised his health and his defense team expressed doubts that he’d have a fair trial in a polarized U.S.. For sure, he’d have restricted access to crucial data to defend himself, due to the classified nature of the material.
Friday the 13th was a fitting date to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Berlin Wall, dismantled in 1989 along with the Soviet Union. Its building was infamy and its destruction, although meaningful, did not break the divides WWII imposed on humanity. Its toll of hatred, prejudice, and racism sadly lives on even if its line of bricks no longer does. Only a commitment to speak truth to power will prevent Fascism and the Nazis to ever rise again.
“Are you lonesome tonight? /Do you miss me tonight? /Are you sorry we’ve drifted apart?” It feels almost odd to remember Elvis Presley today, 44 years since he passed. The world’s gotten so busy trying to self-destroy before we actually do it that only a few are still attuned to ideals of freedom of expression and the promise to break up with the past. Elvis rode that high wave twice but we were hardly paying any attention the second time around.
“Honey, you lied when you said you loved me /and I had no cause to doubt you. /But I’d rather go on hearing your lies /than go on living without you.” In the end, though, we forgive whom we can and forget what we must. The boy from Tupelo couldn’t possibly understand what he’d started, neither we could get enough of him. “With emptiness all around /if you won’t come back to me /then make them bring the curtain down.” Thank You Very Much.

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8/09/2021 There’s an Alarm Going Off, Colltalers

“Catastrophic.” Alok Sharma, U.K.’s minister for the next climate change conference, used an appropriate word for the U.N. report on raging wildfires going on around the world. But his personal footprint has been criticized. Another study found that the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream current may collapse.
The tragedy of a ressurging Covid goes beyond another wave of casualties and continuous inequality in vaccine distribution. Ignorance is its biggest ally now; it’s too bad that the Biden administration continues to use it to refuse asylum to thousands fleeing from it. Speaking of ignorance, there’s Sturgis.
We start in Peru, where the 1-week-old government of Pedro Castillo is already under relentless pressure from conservatives. Media coverage has been mostly unfavorable to the former rural teacher, for either being too humble or too sympathetic to issues dear to the poor. In the week he planned to nominate his cabinet and announce reforms, the news was mostly about his left leanings and supposed plan for an alliance with Cuba and Venezuela.
The opposition has already organized rallies to call for Castillo’s removal and it’s clear that he won’t have many friends in the White House. But it’d be groundbreaking for the U.S., historically askew about Latin American politics, to support the new government and make new friendships in the region.
In Burma, Min Augh Hlaing, head of the military junta that seized power six months ago, is not even near the same kind of pressure to resign that Castillo is. In fact, he’s just named himself Prime Minister. Despite widespread condemnation and global calls for China, the U.S., and other nations to act, the dictatorship continues to deny the Burmese their democratic rights. On the last count, the military’s killed near a thousand people since Feb.
Myanmar’s ambassador to the U.N., U Kyaw Moe Tun, said that the U.S. has increased his security following death threats. The junta, believed to be behind the threats, doesn’t recognize the National Unity Government formed in exile, but the U.N. still considers him his country’s only representative.
In Brazil, a fire caused irreplaceable losses at a storage facility of the Cinemateca Brasileira, São Paulo’s legendary fund-depleted film archives. The warehouse, plagued since the 1950s by fires and floods, had copious files from state-owned Embrafilme and about 250,000 Brazilian films in storage.
“It’s really staring us in the face,” said the Netherlands’ Eindhoven University of Technology Dr. Heleen de Coninck, about the U.N.’s “Summary for Policymakers” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “This is just the start,” said Dr. de Coninck, one of the lead authors of the study.
The next U.N conference on climate will be held in Glasgow in Nov. and there’s already intense discussion about the 1.5C temperature target set in Paris in 2015. It’s now obvious that even such a modest goal to limit the rise in global temperatures from pre-industrial times has been utterly ignored by the rich and most pollutant nations. They can’t expect the other 170+ nations to reduce their own emissions when so little has been done by the G20.
Thus the next summit may match the trend-setting, meme-generating, feel-good blessings of the previous one and not much else. There’s also rising mistrust of government officials unconcerned about increasing their own carbon footprint while crossing the world to preach environmental restrain.
Sharma for instance has been criticized for traveling to 30 countries since Feb., some 200,000 miles or the equivalent to eight times around the Earth, in what many believe to be a wasteful way of conducting climate change negotiations. Plus, he’s also accused of using his position to avoid quarantine after visiting “red list” countries, that is, places like Brazil where he is now where Covid and its variants would require at least some form of isolation.
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation is a large system of currents, part of the Gulf Stream, that carries warm water from the tropics to the North Atlantic. It dramatically impacts the Northern Hemisphere and it now may be at risk of collapsing, according to a Natural Climate Change study of sea-surface temperature and salinity data. That’d cool the hemisphere, raise sea levels, and reduce rainfall amounts over Europe and North America.
There are over 200 million Covid cases but only a few nations have vaccines enough even for an eventual “booster shot.” As influential nations and the U.N. fail to lift patents to allow poor nations to make and distribute their own vaccines, Pfizer and Modena just announced they’re raising their prices. That’s callous and uncalled for as they’ve both posted record profits. While they reward shareholders while the virus keeps spreading out and killing.
To years of chaotic, unfair, and downright cruel immigration policy, the Biden administration has added its own twisted rehash of old policies and new absurdities. Amid a lethal surge of Covid-related death and violence around the world, those desperately seeking help from misery had met the iced stare of America, telling them to go away. Never mind that it’s illegal to deny asylum and that U.S. own policies have contributed much to that misery.
South Dakota local law enforcement expects the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to be the “busiest in decades.” Thousands of bikers are attending the 81st edition of this noise affair, but this year’s event may be marked by a somber note: the people who will die in consequence. That’s because we’re going through the worst pandemics in a century and to hold such an event with no basic measures of protection means that this is a potential superspreader.
The Olympic Games in Tokyo became a demoralizing display of power by the corporate sports establishment which includes international committees with absolute authority over the tournament. The games went on despite increased Covid cases and large opposition in Japan. Still, glorious feats were on display, stories of resilience were told, new records were reached. In the end, Brazil won the soccer competition again. The human spirit is intact.
Speaking of football, the great Lionel Messi was unceremoniously ousted of Barcelona. It was an undignified exit for one of the most complete players to ever grace the game. Now as small clubs around the world (unrealistically) dream of having him scoring for their teams, the reserved superstar will be mobbed by fans and impresarios about his future. At 36, he may still have one last chance to win the 2022 World Cup for Argentina. But it’s unlike.
Hieronymus Bosch would’ve been 565 or 571 years old today. Five centuries later, his Garden of Earthly Delights remains a startling depiction of our worst nightmares, bathed in religiosity and conflicted faith and probably worshipped by serial killers. Bosch also speaks to millions under the threat of wildfires today by adding blazes raging in the background of his paintings, reminders of the one that raged through his ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 1463.
Leave it to a thinking person to define the mores of society at any given moment and the answer may astonish you. The Internet contains humanity’s knowledge as well as reasons for us to self-destruct. But it’s easier to follow the latter than learning anything about the former. Leave it to Carl Sagan: “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” Ditto.

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8/2/2021 The Art of Teaching Change, Colltalers

The U.S. Dept. of Justice said Friday that Congress is entitled to (finally) see Donald Trump’s tax returns. That means hope to many but dread to those who’d rather not write ever again the ex-president’s name, and on the very first line. But for one real, perhaps last shot at justice, it’s definitely worthy.
Daniel Hale is another whistleblower to be sent to jail for exposing the U.S. military, this time its secretive killing drone program. Global heating has reached another critical measure, Big Pharma monopolies make Covid costlier, as if you didn’t know it, and Haiti’s former First Lady Martine speaks.
Let’s begin in Tunisia where concerns mount about President Kais Saied’s decision to seize control, fire Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, and suspend Parliament for 30 days. Opposition leaders have been arrested and public gatherings are banned but there’s been no unrest so far, according to the news. Saied’s told reporters that Tunisia’s still a democracy, the only one sprung out of the so-called Arab Spring, a decade ago. Time and Tunisians will tell.
In Guatemala, a national strike is demanding the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei and other officials embroiled in corruption allegations. Indigenous communities are denouncing a dire economy and the administration’s mishandling of the pandemic, which has already killed 369.000 or roughly 2% of the 18.2 million Guatemalans. Last week, anti-corruption prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval quit and was forced to flee the country.
In Afghanistan, the biggest news right now may not be about the Taliban or the U.S. troops’ withdrawal but flash floods that left death and destruction in remote regions now controlled by, you guessed, the Taliban. Although seasonal floods are not uncommon, they’re stronger and more destructive now due to a warmer atmosphere. Afghanistan ranks as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, according to the World Bank.
In Brazil, faced with incredible odds of being re-elected next year, President Bolsonaro’s adopted a familiar playbook to instill fears of electoral fraud. “Since 2018, Bolsonaro has been claiming that the only way he can be defeated in an election is by fraud,” said linguist Noam Chomski to Truthout. His rhetoric is aimed at neutralizing the rise in the polls of ex-President Lula, who was prevented from running the last time on trump up charges.
But while trying to punch his way out of trouble, Bolsonaro was caught once more doing something questionable, which he, of course, doubled down immediately after: he met and was photographed with Beatrix von Storch, vice leader of Germany’s “Alternative für Deutschland” and granddaughter of Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, a Third Reich minister. The Holocaust Museum has called the far-right AfD a “racist and sexist organization.”
Back in the U.S., 600 water protectors have been arrested in ongoing protests in Minnesota against the construction of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline at the Shell River. Indigenous leader Winona LaDuke, who’s spent three nights in jail, told DemocracyNow that “it is a civil crisis when a Canadian multinational controls your police force,” referring to the over 40 police squads from around the state that came to crack down on protests.
Four workers hired by the pipeline were arrested this year during human trafficking stings in the state. Unlawful sexual contact, violence, and domestic abuse against Indigenous communities have been linked to big projects crossing their land, a likely consequence of bringing “1,000 or 4,000 men into a small location where they have nothing to do when they’re not at work,” said MN Sen. Mary Kunesh, whose mother’s family is Standing Rock Lakota.
It’s appalling that only now, nearly five years after, Congress may have access to the former president’s tax records, or whatever Treasury has on him. But it’s great news and possibly the first real obstacle to his 2024 candidacy. No amount of crimes or misdemeanors could possibly top it in terms of potential liability, not even his grand act of national treason on Jan. 6, still to be litigated if ever. Democrats were given a lifeline. Will they get it?
“Hale’s crime was telling this truth: 90% of those killed by U.S. drones are bystanders, not the intended targets. He should have been given a medal,” said NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Daniel Hale a former Air Force intelligence analyst, will spend 45 months in prison for leaking classified information exposing the U.S. drone and targeted assassination program. Hale pleaded guilty to one count of violating the WWI-era Espionage Act.
The most depressing thing about the Covid scourge is not that it’s rising again just when the climate emergency has become the inevitable evidence many have been warning us about for years. But because it’s revealing how easily we may exterminate ourselves on our own, no extra aid required.
Three million people have died of the coronavirus since some rich nations have begun obstructing a waiver in October that would lift vaccine patents, according to advocacy group Global Justice Now. At that time, deaths stood at one million worldwide; last month it surpassed the four-million mark.
Over 100 WTO member countries have backed the patent waiver, along with civil societies, Nobel economists, intellectual property scholars, and the head of the World Health Organization. But without a consensus to challenge it, pharmaceutical companies control vaccine manufacturing according to their bottom lines. Their business is sales, not countries that can’t afford a single dose or a once-in-a-century global public health crisis for that matter.
“They thought I was dead.” Martine Moïse has returned to Haiti to bury her husband of 25 years and seek justice for him and their country. The murder of President Jovenel Moïse, on July 7, has shaken Haitians but the chaotic investigation threatens to obscure the search for a mastermind. Dozens have been arrested, theories multiply, and old political rivalries are at a full clip, but the economy and the pandemic may conspire against a fast resolution.
“It is the intention of the Allies that the German people be given the opportunity to prepare for the eventual reconstruction of their life on a democratic and peaceful basis.” The Potsdam Conference ended 76 years again today, with an agreement signed on by U.S. President Harry Truman, British P. M. Winston Churchill (or Clement Attlee, who replaced him during the conference), and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. It was the last time those three met.
“It is possible to live in harmony and equally and to make change happen,” says Anita Chitaya, a Malawi farmer who recently visited the U.S. as part of Raj Patel’s documentary “The Ants and the Grasshopper,” about climate and food justice from Africa to America. Her homeland may pay a premium for what the world’s second-biggest polluter gets for free. But her gumption is commendable: “We can teach each other to change.” Or else. Later. WC

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7/26/2021 A Still Inconvenient Truth, Colltalers

Near 100 climate change-fueled wildfires are burning in the U.S., which means 1.5 million acres already burnt, and the worst national indexes of air pollution in decades. As Covid starts to rise again, it comes the inevitable realization: thanks to conspiracies, most cases now are of the unvaccinated.
Journalists’ smartphones have been routinely hacked by authoritarian regimes using the spyware Pegasus, a report found. A stunning revelation: thugs who rampaged through Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 were close to getting their hands on the U.S. nuclear codes. And N.Y. has banned child marriage. Bravo.
Let’s begin in Madagascar, the island-state where 400,000 may face famine according to the World Food Program, due to its worst drought in four decades. Unlike other places being affected by factors as natural as disasters or crop failures or man-made like local wars or politics, in the world’s second-largest island-country there’s no water, the land is covered by sand, and people have to eat raw cactus, wild leaves, and locusts to survive.
As Canada started uncovering thousands of unmarked graves of indigenous children “re-educated” by the Catholic Church over a century ago, the search got on to find such graves on American soil too. The U.S. ran boarding schools intended to “civilize the savage,” and during the 1920s nearly 83% of Native American school-age children were in attendance, according to the NYTimes. In both nations, many never returned to their families.
Catholic churches have been burned in Canada since the first discovery of the graves. To investigators, arson is the likely culprit for most fires, but to activists and indigenous rights advocates, the torching may be acts of revolt against the church’s role in the internment and indoctrination of natives.
Iraq will “put an end to the presence of (U.S.) combat forces,” its Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told President Biden over the weekend. Troop withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan albeit painful will go forward. Which gives America an excellent opportunity to redefine its role in the region.
Ever since the first warnings about climate change some four decades ago, viciously fought back by governments, corporations, and the wealthy, the effects kept increasing in intensity and breadth. But even now when it’s a full-blown global crisis, powers that be are yet to take it all seriously. Despite campaign promises, Biden’s failed to take radical action and as a result, he’s now become along with the U.S., a major part of the climate conundrum.
Perhaps activists have to do even more to wake up enough people to act, but it’s becoming technically impossible to reduce global warming with the current carbon levels we continue to throw at the atmosphere. The domino effect has already started and whatever we may do now will not be enough. That is, no single measure will have a meaningful effect; only a coordinated, global effort and, yes, it may slow down the world’s economy for a while.
But it’s that or no planet at all. What people thought, 20 years ago, that would take two generations to start bearing its infernal fruits, has already started and it’s faster than anyone had expected. It’s astonishing and absolutely heartbreaking that we’re assassinating this planet and still think things are fine.
Humanity is nearing the 200-million mark of Covid cases, and after over a year of pandemic, two things are hard to fathom: entire countries are yet to receive a single dose of vaccine, and mainly because of conspiracy theories, the anti-vax movement is beginning to be decimated by the virus. Sadly, almost no one will admit they were misinformed, wrong, or consider themselves responsible for anybody’s death, even when facing their own demise.
The pandemic that exposed irreconcilable income gaps within and between nations, and incongruities of international patent laws applied to a public health crisis, has also helped to enrich charlatans and Internet crooks. Their misinformation lured hordes of the willing and caused even more deaths.
Over 50,000 phone numbers of journalists, lawyers, and human rights activists were hacked by authoritarian regimes since 2016, a Guardian-led investigation found. With Pegasus, a malware that infects iPhones and Android, intel officers of Mexico, Saudi Arabia, India, Hungary, and other countries were able to access messages, photos, and emails, record calls, and activate microphones from the devices of those were deemed a threat.
“If you don’t do anything to stop the sale of this technology, it’s not just going to be 50,000 targets. It’s going to be 50 million targets, and it’s going to happen much more quickly than any of us expect,” said Edward Snowden who in 2013 exposed the U.S.’ NSA’s secret mass surveillance program he described as “an industry that should not exist.” For that, he was forced to exile in Russia and has no reason to believe he’d get a fair trial in the U.S.
Besides murder and other despicable things armed Trump supporters who invaded Capitol Hill have inflicted on the nation on Jan. 6, they could’ve also caused a catastrophe. For VP Mike Pence was in the building, could hear the chants for his hanging, and had with him the so-called “nuclear football.”
That’s right, the codes for a nuclear strike along with other classified info were being carried by his aide as they both could be seen on footage of that sad Tuesday just a few moments ahead of the angry crowd. Some invaders actually raided the chambers’ daises and drawers but thankfully, not that one.
According to the U.N., 37,000 girls under the age of 18 are married each day worldwide. In the U.S., between 2000 and 2015 over 200,000 minors got married, or six children per thousand. Until July 2019, there was no statutory minimum age in 13 states. By banning marriage before 18, New York is no longer part of those stats. The “Nalia’s Law,” named after a survivor who was forced into marriage at the age of 13, will go into effect on Aug. 21.
“We are vulnerable to confusing the unprecedented with the improbable. (…) If something has never happened before, we are generally safe in assuming it is not going to happen in the future. But the exceptions can kill you and climate change is one of those exceptions.” Al Gore’s 2006 doc “An Inconvenient Truth” had its inaccuracies but its message was sharp: save the planet now or die. In 15 years, no other warning was more vital. Táokei? WC

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7/19/2021 I Am Because You Are, Colltalers

As Haiti is set to bury assassinated President Jovenel Moïse while First Lady Martine, wounded in the attack, greets Haitians, the first 500K Covid shots arrived in the 11 million-plus nation. In Cuba, the westward island next door, dueling pro and anti-government rallies all call for a lift of U.S. sanctions.
The dream of a post-apartheid South Africa’s at risk for widespread unrest, looting, and killing of civilians, triggered by ex-President Zuma’s refusal to testify at a corruption probe. And about new threats, humanity has acquired a new one: the Amazon Rainforest now emits more CO2 than it absorbs.
We begin with the virus that came to dine on us, Covid, and the one crucial reason for Haiti and other developing nations to have had almost no access to vaccines: Big Pharma’s monopoly over drug patents, many acquired after the drugs had been developed with taxpayer money. Activists did manage to convince President Biden to temporarily suspend patents so poor nations could develop their own therapies. But he couldn’t convince Angela Merkel.
The outgoing German Chancellor’s refusal “delivers a punishing blow to efforts to end the pandemic,” said Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach, as just one percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one jab. “Tens of millions of lives and livelihoods worldwide are left in peril.”
Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, and Jadon Sancho are three exceptional football players who just helped England reach its first major final in years. They were also the target of a disgustingly racist campaign in social media after Italy beat them at the final of the Euro 2020. Yes, the year is set that way but the abuse comes from even farther in the past. Along with censorship of LGBQ+ themes, this tournament had more than its share of bad calls.
“Impulsive, mentally unstable, and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex.” That was the Russian intel’s assessment of Donald Trump as he became the Republican nominee for the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The No 32-04\vd report recommended that President Putin use “all possible force” to ensure a Trump win. Weeks later, hackers raided Hillary Clinton’s emails and the Democratic National Committee’s servers.
The world may be particularly busy now, what with Covid, armed conflicts, hunger, unemployment, bondage. But the junta that seized power in Burma/Myanmar on Feb. 1 is busy tending to its own favorite nightmares: to oppress the Burmese. Now human rights activists are calling for a global investigation into its possible war crimes as the tortured bodies of over a dozen people were found around Sagaing. The horror continues.
Back in the U.S., another George W. Bush-nominated federal judge, Houston’s Andrew S. Hanen, has ruled against the wishes of a considerable majority. He declared “unlawful” DACA recipients, almost a million American kids born or brought here as babies by their foreign-born parents, and prohibited new applications. With that, this lover of “statutorily mandated process” threw the so-called Dreamers once again in limbo.
As the investigation into Moïse‘s murder proceeds, Haitians ponder whether the masterminds of the attempted coup will ever be trialed. Short of that, questions about the crime, if it was a well-heeled international conspiracy or just the lunacy of irresponsible self-appointed saviors whose actions led to the murder may be irrelevant. It’s what it exposed, the legacy of colonialism and predatory capitalism tearing up the country that’s what’s at stake now.
In Cuba, that window of exposure may close soon as the media tries to restrict the narrative to public dissatisfaction with the regime, barely citing the 60-year-plus sanctions inflicted by the U.S. And yet, protest is fueled by a lack of consumer goods, food shortages, and trade limits, which with the pandemic, became critical; Cuba’s developed a number of Covid vaccines but can no longer offer them to other countries for lack of supplies.
These are direct consequences of the embargo every U.S. president has enforced since the Bay of Pigs invasion. That a nation that’s threatened the world’s most powerful army and lived to tell the story is now on the verge of collapsing has less to do with public sentiment than with wear and tear. Fidel Castro no longer speaks to these children of the Internet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll simply align with his tormentors.
“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.” When an ex-con who’d have been 103 Sunday said that, many thought that he was speaking in self-defense. But as South Africa’s greatest president, he showed how leaders can change history. In these trying times, many a compatriot of his must have thought of the great late Nelson Mandela and whether he still speaks to them.
Jacob Zuma is also one of his country’s liberators but his refusal to testify at an official corruption probe of his administration and his failure to curb his angry supporters only invited negative comparisons with Mandela. He’ll be spending the next 15 months in jail for contempt of court.
The Amazon Rainforest may as well have existed forever, having nurtured countless species, extinct or still evolving, including our own, exhaling the oxygen that fuels life on Earth. But it’s in fact “only” 55 million years old and it’s now likely terminal, suffering the biggest deforestation of its history. Even worst, with record man-made fires, it’s also now emitting more CO2 than it can keep in the ground. President Bolsonaro is universally appointed as the biggest threat to the forest. But Brazilians are also aware of their shared responsibility tending to or neglecting their country’s marvelous nature.
“I can’t breathe.” Remember that? Saturday marked the seventh anniversary of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of an N.Y. police officer who ignored his pleas and choked him to death while other cops watched. None has faced any rebuke for their actions which were caught on tape. The Garner family is again demanding justice for the 43-year old whom neighbors called a “peacemaker.” By the way, he was Black. Doesn’t it all sound a little familiar?
Danish Siddiqui, an Indian Pulitzer Prize winner photo-journalist, was killed covering Afghan forces fighting the Taliban near the Pakistani border. The  Reuters photographer is now among 53 journalists killed in Afghanistan since 2001, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. R.I.P., Danish.
“It would be wrong and unrealistic for leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force.” Madiba’s country is now a far cry from the dream he and other freedom fighters once envisioned and the South-African society has just shown how fractured it remains. But not devoid of hope. Like in Haiti, Cuba, and elsewhere all that’s needed is good people ready to fight. Ubuntu.

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7/12/2021 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 merely “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. The 2010 earthquake and the 2016 cholera outbreak didn’t help it either, by destroying the country’s infrastructure and bursting 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.

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7/5/2021 Brace For a Season On Fire, Colltalers

The fossil-fuel industry is alive and well and may have swayed the Biden administration to drop climate emergency measures off the infrastructure bill, an investigation found. Dread creeps in throughout a scorched-earth Afghanistan as U.S. troops depart. But don’t count on private contractors for help.
Amidst massive rallies demanding President Bolsonaro’s impeachment, Brazil’s highest court ok’d a criminal probe on his role in a vaccine deal scam. The U.S.’s highest court though took yet another double-step towards destroying the Voting Act, as if there hasn’t been enough push to restrict voting.
But since today is “aphelion,” Earth’s farthest distance from the sun of the year, we begin with fire. As in the burning of the Amazon Rainforest which has reached a 14-year high in June, according to Brazil’s space research agency INPE. Researchers brace for the peak of the dry season, Aug. and Sept.
Fire as in the one that consumed an entire British Columbia town last week. “Our poor little town of Lytton is gone,” Edith Loring-Kuhanga wrote on FB. Fire like “molten lava” on the Gulf of Mexico waters, as an underwater gas pipeline controlled by Mexico’s Pemex burned for hours on Friday.
But despite record-breaking heatwaves and wildfires worldwide, media coverage continues to fail to mention the climate emergency as a cause. Either that or it’s downright not financially er motivated to report what it should. We get the brutal scenes, the body count, and then we cut to a commercial.
There’s another type of burning going on too: that of churches in Canada’s First Nations territories which may be arson. Since the bodies of indigenous children began to be dug up from unmarked graves in residential schools run by the Catholic Church, nearly two dozen churches have been attacked.
Disease and hunger were common in the schools, which also operated in U.S. land and had been designed to wipe out the past and to “re-educate” generations of indigenous kids out of their cultural heritage. Survivors have also described physical and sexual abuse by priests and other Christians.
El Palo Alto, however, endures, and so does the “Fairy Lantern,” a rare rainforest plant just named after a Malaysian researcher. Well, survival of the 120 ft. tall, 1,081-year-old redwood tree that gives Palo Alto its name is actually in check. Drying conditions, pollution, and a thundering diesel railway commuter line running above its roots may conspire against its future. But a better one may be in store for new species Thismia sitimeriamiae.
Carbon tax is a “great talking point” that will never actually happen, said ExxonMobil’s Keith McCoy. “The reduction of the corporate rate was, you know, it’s probably worth billions to Exxon, so yeah there were a lot of wins” under Trump, asserted his former colleague Dan Easley to whom they thought were recruiters. It was instead an undercover probe by Greenpeace’s Unearthed that revealed, or confirmed, the oil giant’s grip on Washington.
“ExxonMobil continues to fight efforts to tackle climate change in the U.S., despite publicly claiming to support the Paris Agreement,” said the report. More seriously, these revelations mine the already shaken public confidence in the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill. Climate groups consider spending on climate change due to “bipartisan” compromises utterly insufficient and the Sunrise Movement now calls the package, #ExxonPlan.
As U.S. troops pull out of Afghanistan, the forensics of what happened is long overdue. What exactly was accomplished in our longest and likely most expensive war yet? Why we made a habit of entering wars we can’t get out of, or invading places as if it was their duty to self-destroy under our boots? Yes, the Taliban is coming back. And it’s obvious that we’ve got a responsibility for what we’ve done and what happens as a result of all our bombing.
Brazilians have demanded action from President Bolsonaro pretty much since the moment he was sworn in. Now it’s becoming clear that much of his actions have been catastrophic and divisive, capped by his incompetence in dealing with Covid. As a result, over half a million people died from a lack of vaccines or even a coherent public health strategy. But there was more to it, as the administration is accused of trying to profit from a vaccine deal.
Since Joe Biden won the U.S. presidential election by over seven million votes, on Nov. 3, 2020, Republicans have filed 361 vote-restricting bills in 47 states, most of them bound to pass. Gerrymandering is so 2016, it seems; the focus is simply make it harder for people of color and the poor to vote.
How lucky for them then that Justice Roberts’ Supreme Court has just reaffirmed its resolve to pulverize one of the tenets of American democracy, the constitutional right to vote freely and often, and to make it easy for billionaires to anonymously buy results. In a 6-3 vote, it upheld two Arizona laws that impact minority voters, signaling to Republican-led states that other voting restrictions are also likely to be ruled constitutional if brought to court.
And then struck down a California law that required charities to privately disclose their top donors to the state attorney general, which could open the door to more “dark money” spending in campaigns. “They are hijacking our democracy,” said People for the American Way’s president Ben Jealous.
Speculation about what will ex-Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos be doing “after he returns to Earth from his taxpayer-subsidized trip to space,” as The Baffler’s puts it, couldn’t be farther from any functioning brain around unless that’d somehow involve some unexpected permanent change of his home planet.
We get back to cold reality fast upon learning that his $500 million, 417-foot yacht could fund the National Endowment for the Arts for three years. But why the surprise? He made $75 billion while Covid killed millions. We get the billionaires we deserve, someone will write in a future far far away.
For a little over a week, there were two Lady Liberties in Ellis Island as France sent us its own Little Sister to help us celebrate the Independence. The Paris’ Musée des Arts et Métiers commissioned it as part of the 135th-anniversary of the statue’s New York arrival. Even having nothing to do with Emma Lazarus’ famous New Colossus poem, the French always found a way to remind us of what this country is about. So we say, Vive la Liberté!

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6/28/2021 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. Joaquin 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, revolt 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.

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6/21/2021 Turn Rebellion Into Law, Colltalers

Juneteenth, now a national holiday, is a step further in the current reckoning of the Black experience in America. After massive street rallies of recent years, it’s the recovery of yet another fragment of memory and history to make us all whole. But pro-racial rights aren’t as easy to pass as jubilee dates.
It’s been two weeks since Pedro Castillo won most presidential votes in Peru but no swear-in ceremony yet. Rival Fujimori, daughter of the jailed ex-dictator, won’t concede. And now, the military is saying something. No surprises in Iran, though: new president Ebrahim Raisi is an Ayatollah favorite.
Let’s start with what it’s been already off most headlines: Israel’s bombing of Gaza, breaking the ceasefire yet again, and the deafening silent reaction from the world. That means, Palestinians either being evicted in occupied territories or rebuilding their destroyed open-prison land, have few friends in high places these days. As President Biden refuses to act, it’d be up to the leadership of U.S. Jewish groups to step up to the plate and do the right thing.
In Yemen, scores were killed as Iran-supported Huthi rebels fight government forces and Saudi Arabia’s U.S.-supplied warplanes for control of Marib and, what else? its surrounding oil fields. As it enters its seventh year of virtual Saudi occupation, and the worst humanitarian crisis of modern times, Yemen is yet another example of our trained indifference to human suffering. But the U.S. has said it’ll retrieve some war equipment from the region.
In France, the tragedy of femicide has finally reached the mainstream as a man who murdered Julie Douib in Corsica three years ago was sentenced to life in prison. The number of women being killed by men they once loved has skyrocketed worldwide, partly aggravated by the forced lockdowns. But thanks to women’s rights advocacy, there’s now a new understanding of the magnitude of this global crisis, which is being called the Other Pandemic.
Speaking of Covid, Brazil’s broken through the sad 500,000 deaths threshold, and Brazilians went back to the streets to accuse President Bolsonaro of having caused it. Calls have abounded for his impeachment as a Senate investigation gives support to protesters. Media stories revealed a corollary of bad decisions taken by him, from opposing lockdowns and masks to touting ineffective meds to refusing vaccines to his failure to act like a president.
However, just like in Peru, military forces are never too far from breathing over the shoulders of power and it’s happening again in South America. It’s unclear whether the army inserts itself into the political conversation or it’s called upon by enemies of democracy, but history has proven that its actions are always disastrous, including every coup they’ve staged. Bolsonaro dragging their boots to his corner is typical but Brazilians now want something else.
Alberto Fujimori was convicted of “crimes against humanity” for his role in the 1990s killings and kidnappings by security forces and is serving 25 years in prison. In March, his daughter Keiko was also accused of corruption and may serve an even longer sentence. That is if she doesn’t win Peru’s presidency. But after all the presidential votes were counted, she came in short and decided to launch a mainly fact-free campaign to reverse its results.
Now a group of retired military officers came to her aid by suggesting on a social media letter the category could reject Castillo over the allegations. Apart from such patriotic grandstanding, their real aim is at relevance, which is at odds with the will of Peruvians who’d rather they’d stay out of this.
As for the Iranian elections, being predictable doesn’t mean things are not very much sizzling. The new president is empowered to negotiate new terms for a nuclear agreement which is likely to include the right for Iran to build some sort of nuke weapon. Hail the admirable New World, thanks to #45.
June is Pride Month in the U.S., still a refuge for the LGBTQ+ community, no matter how much has to be achieved. It marks the 52nd anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots when patrons of the famous NYC Greenwich Village club rebelled against years of brutal police harassment and fought back. Despite issues of corporate appropriation and representativeness, Gay Pride and its multicolor parades and parties are a big, inclusive celebration of love.
That’s why it’s so disturbing to read about killings of Two-Spirit people which is how Native members of the community are known. A report by the Sovereign Bodies Institute and the California Rural Indian Health Board found increased violence, often fatal, against indigenous gay and trans people. Not a new phenomenon, it stems from the same “heteropatriarchal violence and racism,” as The Guardian put it, behind every sexual abuse crime.
Perhaps because it’s a new presidency, one immediately challenged by threats to democracy, the electoral system, women’s reproductive rights, and the perpetuation of crimes against people of color, many thought that this could be a breakthrough summer. Given the fact that the majority is inoculated against the coronavirus, Americans could pick this time to refocus the conversation on race, sexual freedom, and climate change. But it may not be.
We may’ve advanced on representation and almost frank discussions about slavery as the foundation of U.S. economic might, and how much-needed reparations may start the healing process. But we claim to follow the rule of law and that has mostly failed both descendants of slaves and Indigenous Americans. Laws can only be fixed in Congress so for as long as it’s been illicitly held by Mitch McConnell and his filibusters, there will be no change.
“If you look at the history of the U.S. legislation in the last decade, you see it doesn’t really represent the public interest. You simply look at public polling and then you look at the legislative history of the issue and you see they don’t align.” That’s Edward Snowden, who is 38 today, speaking at the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s 30th anniversary. And that’s his life, from having a nice job to be forced to live in a strange and dangerous country.
He had no desire to become an international pariah even as celebrated for his courage and decency as he is. And yet, his resolve to demand integrity and transparency from world leaders remains admirably intact. He’s even willing to pay the fair price for his idealism. Thus Happy Birthday, Ed.
It happens on the Summer Solstice, the year’s longest day. Ah, the ones to follow it, heat waves, likely blackouts, hot nights of romance, and wildfires from hell. But please spare us from the nightmare of spiderweb-covered towns in Australia and India. Look it up, it’s frightening. Nuff said. Avanti!

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6/14/2021 The Truth Is No Safe Haven, Colltalers

After 12 years, Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer Israel’s Prime Minister. Successor Naftali Bennett has a similar mindset about the Palestinians, but there may be an opening for a reset in the region. The G7 just ended another purpose-free meeting by both ignoring Israel and the climate emergency.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide just hit its highest level in four million years as the U.S. braces for a record-setting drought. Don’t count on the Supreme Court though: it’s busy ruling on vote restrictions. Or the rich, having fun with tax-free rockets. But do count on Darnella Frazier to make us humans.
We start with two letters: one, an open “Letter Against Apartheid” signed by 1,600+ international artists, expresses solidarity with Palestinians and their plight for decolonization. The other is by a group of House Democrats to Attorney General Merrick Garland about the role the Justice Department may have played on Brazil’s Lava Jato, or Operation Car Wash, an anti-corruption probe that proved itself corrupted. We will be posting all replies here.
In Peru, almost all votes have been tallied from the presidential election a week ago but no winner has been declared yet. Rural teacher Pedro Castillo seems to have won and there are concerns about whether the delay is being somehow orchestrated by the powerful forces his leftist coalition defeated.
“Do not come,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in Guatemala, making immigration activists cringe and triggering protests in Mexico. In her first foray into foreign policy, the VP has displayed an embarrassing ignorance about international treaties that the U.S. is a signatory, including the right to request asylum. She also made no mention or acknowledged our historical role in the political strife and chronic impoverishment of these countries.
Of all the lack of preparation revealed so far by the Biden administration, in dealing with a sabotaging Senate, for instance, or finding the right tuning for its new global role, the most vexing failure has been with immigration. The president took a sophomoric approach to a gargantuan issue that has consumed and defined this country for over a century. A czar for immigration in America has to be chosen out of more than just his or her racial cred.
Data compiled by the National Oceanic Atmospheric showed that carbon dioxide levels averaged 419 parts per million in May, about 50% higher than preindustrial levels. Six years after over 190 nations signed on the Paris Agreement to limit global temperatures to below 2˚ C (3.6˚ F), the richest countries which are also the biggest polluters haven’t fulfilled their commitment. The consequence of their inaction will be felt first by poorer nations.
It looked simple and radical but it’s neither: the change of guard in Israel means little to the current dire situation of Gaza and the occupied territories. If anything, things got worse with Israeli nightly raids to evict Palestinians and settle into their homes and land its endless flow of Jewish immigrants.
Future historians may struggle to understand how Israel’s young, educated population became so apathetic to politics and to what happens next door.
The Supreme Court will consider a seemingly byzantine discussion on Arizona voting laws but if recent rulings serve as a reference, it may further erode voting rights. In fact, since it opened the 1965 Voting Act for states to change election laws without federal approval, eight years ago this June, there’s deep mistrust on what the court may do next. A misguided ruling will fuel the 361 vote-restricting bills Republicans are pushing in 47 states.
That’s what makes it hard to see the VP pointing fingers at poor nations, and the president telling rich ones that “the U.S. is back.” None seems to get that the world needs now is neither “America, the police,” nor “America, the chimney.” The U.S. no longer holds the higher moral ground anymore. Democracy is in serious peril if even a parcel of those bills is approved and we’re in no position to lecture anyone on the virtues of our political system.
But the rich, they find ways. Between 2014 and 2018, the 25 richest Americans pay an average of 3.4% in taxes, according to ProPublica. That’s less than most people pay without making $401 billion as they did. Jeff Bezos will celebrate it by riding in one of his rockets; many wish he doesn’t return.
The DoJ ordered an immediate investigation, of course, but into who leaked the data, never mind its content. It’s been the U.S. way of dealing with whistleblowers and it’s utterly scary that the practice is being pursued even with a Democrat in the White House. We’re now inching closer to Banana Republic-status: compliance trumps accountability; the government is always beyond reproach; citizens who report wrongdoing will be prosecuted.
Perhaps such characterization sounds a bit too Orwellian to some. But consider what Darnella Frazier did and the fact that it was an unsanctioned act that shocked the world like a punch: she was 17 when she filmed the excruciating agony and death of George Floyd, murdered by a police officer. From Minneapolis, her viral video went global and arguably did more against police brutality than years of political grandstanding. The Pulitzer Prize has recognized that with a special citation, for “highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quests for truth and justice.” Congrats, Darnella.
“Only we, the public can force our representatives to reverse their abdication of war powers that the Constitution gives exclusively to Congress.” 50 years ago last Sunday, classified data on the Vietnam War leaked to the press by military analyst Daniel Ellsberg triggered a movement to end it.
The documents, a secret report commissioned by Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara, showed how successive U.S. administrations lied to Americans about Vietnam. Since Ellsberg’s finest hour, many have risked life and career to denounce powers-that-be. Unlike him, some went to prison. “We need the courage to face the truth about what we are doing in the world and act responsibly to change it.” One’s entire life will be worth that moment. Ciao

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6/07/2021 Our Desire For Retribution, Colltalers

Presidential and mid-term elections in Peru and Mexico – one a final round with a leftist frontrunner and the other marked by staggering violence – may finally force the Biden administration to come up with new ideas about Latin America. Or it could just tell us everything it knows about UFOs instead.
Gun ownership has grown in the U.S. but a California judge thinks there’re not enough assault rifles out there. Also senseless are China’s efforts to curb Hong Kong again by suppressing its vigils for the Tiananmen Massacre’s anniversary. And a high-school valedictorian schooled Texas’ abortion limits.
Let’s start in Cali, Colombia, where the police killed five protesters in ongoing protests against President Iván Duque’s neoliberal policies. After over a month of turmoil and violent repression, he’s proposed his “solution” to the crisis on national TV: more police. With more than 90,000 Covid deaths, Colombia saw its oil production volumes sink and inflation rise under Duque. He should be wary: he may be fired in the May 29 presidential elections.
From Minnesota comes a disturbing report on harassment and sexual abuse of women by contractors brought over by the $2.9 Line 3 Pipeline project. According to the Violence Intervention Project, there have been charges of sex trafficking and over 40 reports of assaults on mostly indigenous women and girls. If completed, Line 3 will carry 760,000 oil barrels from Alberta, Canada, to Lake Superior, Earth’s largest freshwater lake by surface area.
Better fortune had the Passamaquoddy, a tribe that has lived in what is today Maine, U.S., for 10,000 years: it’s just bought back an island colonialists have stolen from them in 1820. Charities have helped raise the $355,000 for Kuwesuwi Monihq, or Pine Island, where no Passamaquoddy has set foot in 160 years. It’s the latest successful “land back” purchase by indigenous groups to recover some of the estimated 1.5 billion acres lost since 1776.
Ever since the Navy declassified videos of flying objects playing “catch me if you can” with jet pilots, there’s been talk that the Pentagon and/or the White House know more about so-called UFOs than they’re letting it in. The tradition of denials will be probably upheld as no reasonable explanation can be given about the phenomenon, except that it’s real and there’s no technology to support their peripatetic moves. Thus, for now, enjoy the sights.
There was no enjoyment watching retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter’s Memorial Day speech in Ohio being cut off out of undisclosed racism, as it turned out. Just when he spoke of free Black slaves honoring fallen Civil War soldiers, his audio dropped and apparently could not be fixed. It wasn’t a mishap, though: ceremony organizers Cindy Suchan and Jim Garrison, who’s resigned, admitted to having censored the decorated official. Shameful.
Amid increased polarization, and having the world’s highest Covid death toll per capita, Peruvians are locked in a dilemma: vote for a union leader but political neophyte Pedro Castillo, or for Keiko Fujimori, daughter of a jailed right-wing former president. Years of institutional chaos, partly attributed to the convicted leader, seemed to have given the edge to Castillo in the first round and now but Fujimori is within reach. Results will be out Monday.
Beheadings, assassinations, and human remains found in two voting polls. That’s the reality Mexicans face to switch gears of their country. It’ll also be a confidence vote on President Andrés Obrador who despite initial overtures to progressive segments of society, has presided over a spike of political assassinations, femicides, and continuous grip by drug cartels, along with the 229,000 killed by Covid. Amlo needs support but cannot be reelected.
As of May 31, there have been 247 mass shootings in the U.S., with 283 killed by bullets. But to George W. Bush-nominated Judge Roger T. Benitez of the District Court for the Southern District of California, a 32-year-old ban on some assault weapons is but a “failed experiment” to be overturned.
Remember when the Supreme Court ruled that “racism was over,” or something to that effect, therefore states could gut the Voting Rights Act at will? Or when it declared corporations equal to people? If such rulings or the judge’s words make no sense to you, consider that neither he nor you are alone.
Those who invoke the second amendment to justify the armament of civilian Americans often forget about its link to slavery, according to writer and Emory University professor Carol Anderson. Atrocities committed by slave owners had bred the fear among whites of the enslaved’s capacity and desire for retribution, she writes. “Concerns about keeping enslaved Black people in check are the context and background to the second amendment.”
For several years, the anniversary of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre was Hong Kong’s most visible challenge to Beijing’s power. Rallies and calls for democracy marked the date when hundreds if not thousands were killed by the military, and when the courage of the mysterious Tank Man emerged as a symbol of resistance. Not this time, however. This year, even a candlelight vigil was prohibited only to be promptly disregarded.
Texas, where 12-year-olds can marry and one out of seven residents don’t know if they’ll eat tonight, is at the forefront of the battle to outlaw abortions. It now bans the procedure if cardiac activity is detected in the embryo, typically at six weeks, when most women are not yet aware they’re pregnant.
“I cannot give up this platform to promote complacency and peace when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights.” Paxton Smith, high-school valedictorian at Lake Highlands HS, wouldn’t have any of that. In a seemingly improvised speech that went viral, she spoke on behalf of thousands of young women who are being threatened to be sent back to the dark days of the yore, when reproductive rights were treated as the state’s prerogative.
At 15, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the face by a Taliban insurgent for her advocacy of girls’ education. At 17, she was the youngest Peace Nobel Prize winner. At 22, she graduated from Oxford. She now runs a global charity for education and is a beloved icon to billions of young women throughout the world. Except in her native, and mostly patriarchal, Pakistan, where she’s reportedly hated by the country’s top male geriatric leadership.
Yes, to the nation where the “bacha bazi,” the sexual exploitation of young boys by elderly men is still widespread, it’s unacceptable that a woman would have such influence and prestige for, gasp, being a woman. And for expressing opinions like, “I still don’t understand why people have to get married. If you want to have a person in your life, why do you have to sign marriage papers, why can’t it just be a partnership?” Why indeed. Cheerio

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5/31/2021 A Bleak Outlook & Yet We Rise, Colltalers

Israel’s long-sitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may lose his seat to a political coalition. Palestinians, however, are not counting on support from his challengers. Life in Gaza and occupied territories remains miserable. But there’s an opening and the U.S. and the UN should seize it at once.
Rallies against Brazil’s president, a decision against Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron woes, and the horrifying discovery of bodies of native kids mass buried in Canada rocked the week. But today’s 100 years of the Tulsa Massacre, an entire Black neighborhood razed but to be never forgotten again.
In Germany, speaking of unforgettable 20th-century massacres, the government has formally recognized atrocities against Namibia’s Herero and Nama people and pledged to “recognize the immense suffering inflicted.” Regardless of how much such gestures resonate within both nations, it’s fair to expect that they should be coming in cascades from others by now. They haven’t but there’s growing awareness about Europe’s cruel colonial past.
In Italy and the U.S., a Vice News investigation uncovered a disturbing trend: the Catholic Church has reinstated to active positions priests accused of child sexual abuse. A dozen of them have been internally “cleared of charges” and returned to their parishes during the pandemic, no less. In that, the church acts like any other immoral organization: self-preservation trumps the wellbeing of their customers, never mind they’re hurting. Outrageous.
In Canada, the remains of 215 children were found buried around the country’s largest residential school, said Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation. 150,000 indigenous kids were taken from their families from the late 1800s until the 1970s, to assimilate into society. That included conversion to Christianity, a ban on their native languages, and physical punishment. Some 6,000 may have died so more may be discovered.
In Brazil, tens of thousands of people took to the streets against President Bolsonaro’s catastrophic management of Covid-19. Over 460,000 Brazilians have died of the virus, second only to the U.S. whose numbers may shrink in months ahead. Unlikely in Brazil, where less than 16% of the population has been twice-vaccinated. But popular dissatisfaction may be traced back to five years ago when a legislative coup ousted President Dilma Rousseff.
Not to exempt Bolsonaro of responsibility, Brazil’s dive into disrepair so to speak predates him for at least a few months. He now may be heading to a perfect storm, what with Lula once again aa the front-runner for next year’s election, a Congressional probe, and calls for his impeachment. To jaded analysts though, change is not due till next year when we may all witness the president immolate himself at the polls. But can Brazilians wait that long?
Here’s the week’s rare good news about the climate emergency, from separate decisions. Time reports that shareholders asked ExxonMobil why it’s not “jumping into renewable energy?” just when Chevron investors voted to slash emissions, what Royal Dutch Shell was also ordered to do so but by a court, to align with the Paris Agreement. In 2020, these mammoths posted a combined $450 billion profit, but they’re still accountable to their backers.
Back in the U.S., Democrats and the majority of Americans were once again foiled and humiliated by Senate Republicans. The filibuster script was followed to its flawed letter and a 911-type investigation into the Jan. 6 Trump-supported deadly rampage and invasion of Capitol Hill has bitten the dust.
While some wonder what happened to the power of the majority, routinely obliterated by this anti-democratic maneuvering, others ask why ending it is not the first priority? With filibuster, no meaningful proposal will pass in Congress. Ever. Let’s face it, bipartisanship is dead, long live simple majority.
That’s the reason why there have been 232 mass shootings so far this year in the U.S. but no legislation to address them. Instead, since the pandemic, there’s been a spike in gun ownership. And Texas will allow people to carry handguns without a license, background check, or training. Hip hooray.
There’s now rising “digital vigilantism” too. The Popular Citizen app for instance was recently caught offering to pay users to capture what turned out to be an innocent man. To some, the app, which is fed by concerned people and also busybodies, has crossed the line and should be reprimanded.
As Gaza survivors try to make sense of the world’s response to their plight – by ignoring when they’re being killed and then offering money to rebuild afterward – Israel is in turmoil as there’s a real risk that Netanyahu loses his job of 12 years, and also immunity from suits stacked against him. That hardly concerns Palestinians, though, forever on the sidelines of Israeli politics. But it should; far-right Naftali Bennett may become the new PM.
He’s expected to head the cabinet first in a power-sharing agreement by enforcing an agenda of even more settlement building in the occupied West Bank and its partial annexation. He’d then be replaced in a rotation at a later date by Yair Lapid, himself not a stalwart of Palestinian liberation either.
“I still see Black men being shot, black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams,” Viola Fletcher, 107, Tulsa Massacre survivor testify. “I have lived through the massacre every day.”
On May 31, 1921, the Greenwood district in Tulsa, OK, was a vibrant business and residential community catering mainly to Black people. Known as Black Wall Street, it had a well-heeled financial structure that allowed people of color to prosper and thrive. But it all changed when a heavily-armed white mob supported by private aircraft started an attack that lasted days, destroyed 35 square blocks of the area, and may’ve killed up to 300 people.
Hundreds were injured or left homeless, while their material possessions and considerable combined wealth were stolen from them. A century later, there’s finally talk about reparation and that their history, such a despicably tragic chapter on the African-American saga, will no longer be forgotten.
Josep Almudéver Mateu, last survivor of the anti-fascist International Brigades of the 1936 Spanish Civil war, has left us after 101 years. A Frenchman, he fought next to volunteers from all over, including the famed American Lincoln Brigade and scores of artists, writers, and intellectuals. They may’ve lost to a Hitler and Mussolini-supported Generalissimo Franco but this veteran and his brothers’ humanity outlasted dictators. R.I.P., Comrade Josep.
“Every morning I wake with wonder and dive into the day. I rise even when the news of the day makes me want to stay in bed. Oh yes I mourn those we have lost and the cost of human lives. But still I rise on this new day out of bed like a miracle…” Excerpts of a crowdsourced poem compiled by NPR’s Kwame Alexander from audience reactions to Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.” It’s our way to help you celebrate this Memorial Day. Cheers

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5/24/2021 A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Colltalers

The world warily exhaled as cannons were silenced by the Gaza ceasefire. It was a step taken at least a hundred lives too late but still necessary. It’ll mean little though if following the temporary peace accord, Israel will be given a slap on the wrist, and the Palestinians, an order to be quiet and take it.
Tuesday will be a year since George Floyd was murdered by a police officer, a seminal moment in America’s race struggle but one still short of stirring up real change. As warmer oceans force yet another mammoth iceberg to break loose, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to get busy trying to ban abortion.
The Yanomami, one of the biggest Amazon tribes, have also suffered oppression and land grabbing throughout its history. It’s a thread they share with all indigenous or occupied peoples on Earth. Now with Covid 19 and a far-right government in Brazil, they’re facing a “humanitarian crisis,” says Ye’kwana Network’s anthropologist Ana Maria Machado, aggravated by malnutrition, violence by landowners’ hired guns, and widespread disease.
In Colombia, popular unrest against President Duque sparkled by a discriminatory tax bill he later recalled have grown to massive protests verging on civil war. But Colombians may have no other alternatives as even reports of live ammo being used onto crowds have failed to appeal to world leaders. That bodes particularly poorly to the U.S., which gives over $200 million annually to the Colombia army, and to President Biden whose Latin America strategy, if it exists, may be under lock and key. As he’d been about the Gaza carnage, Biden’s still astonishingly slow about this horrendous crisis too.
In Mexico, violence by cartels remains unabated. Abel Murieta, a candidate for Mayor of Obregon, was shot dead on a street the other week, the 85th politician killed since September. A lawyer, he was representing the families of nine Mormons killed in a Nov. 2019 alleged cartel attack in La Mora. By the way, Mexico City has just completed its fifth century, on May 22, the start of the Spanish siege of Tenochtitlán, the Aztec city that preceded it.
On a sad note, the beloved Darwin’s Arch, a rock formation in the Galapagos Islands, has collapsed from erosion. The arch breakdown happened on the 17th., one day before the actor Leonardo DiCaprio and a group of environmental organizations announced a $43 million pledge for efforts to rewild the “home of giant turtles.” The funds will help protect existing wildlife and reintroduce species extinct since Charles Darwin’s visited it in Sep. 1835.
Back in the U.S., the Supreme Court is now the most viable way for conservative, religious, and far-right minorities to impose their discriminatory views on everybody else. Issues such as racial equality, voting rights, and climate accountability hold no interest to the country’s highest court at this moment. Instead, a bill with the potential to reverse Roe v Wade has gotten their partisan attention. Time for a Great Summer of Women’s Marches.
To be sure, in seeking to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Mississippi is not asking the court to overrule the 1973 decision. But reproduction rights activists say that by allowing states to further restrict access to abortion, the court would have to end crucial protections of the breakthrough law.
As for that giant iceberg, first, there will more. Bigger. More frequent. Secondly, what many expected to happen years from now may be here already. Oceans are warming ever faster, and temperatures rising ever higher. Worst, governments are using more excuses to ignore the warning signs and not to act. A few more such breakups per year and many coastal areas will be flooded. More and New York City and Miami will be partially underwater.
It was arguably the longest, cruelest, and most abject 9min29sec footage ever gone viral: George Floyd pleaded for his life and lost it while a crushing knee slowly shut down his airways. The police officer who killed him was convicted of the crime and will be sentenced while other cops who helped him haven’t yet faced punishment. Since the murder, an uncountable number of Black people were killed by the police as if their lives did not matter.
Americans and the world have proved they do thanks in part to a year, or rather, an entire decade of a movement for racial equality that has grown into an ethical challenge confronting America’s very foundations. Legislation addressing some of it though has not yet been voted by Congress. To pass it would be a fitting homage to his memory, but for now, brace for “prayers and thoughts,” and speeches, and not much else. Time will come, though.
As Palestinians search for loved ones and indeed their own lives in the rubble of a pulverized Gaza, many wonder where do they go from here. While the Israeli army targeted infrastructure, hospitals, schools, water and power, even sewage plants, one thing became clear: once more, the world did not come to the rescue. It may now offer help to rebuild it but it still hasn’t committed to confronting the issue of apartheid in Israel. Neither is Israel.
On the contrary, residents who have been fed a barrage of government half-truths and downright deceit by the media truly believe they’re the victims, not the people who’d been displaced once, to form their nation and have since been slowly stripped of their land or rights to even raise their voices.
The latest bombing did not reveal anything new. The radical, militaristic right-wing parties dominating Israel politics have undermined its historical role as a pluralist society, or what it was imagined possible in 1947: peaceful coexistence between two peoples who share a history and genetic pools. There’s no two-state solution now as much as there are no two equal sides fighting each other. Israel holds the master-control keys; Palestinians do not.
“We really need a new relationship with the natural world.” That’s Jane Goodall, naturalist extraordinaire who’s just won the 2021 Templeton Prize for her lifetime of work in animal intelligence and humanity. Her 1960s groundbreaking studies of Tanzanian chimpanzees have inspired a generation of primatologists and are now part of the lexicon of animal research. At 87, she’s not slowing down and we’re all the better for that. Well done, Jane.
Also forever young is Robert Allen Zimmerman who turns 80 today. Just a teenager when he adopted the “Bob Dylan” moniker, the singer-songwriter so redefined parameters of pop music, with long and elaborated lyrics, some inscrutable, others as clear as punches, that made him one of the most original artists of all time. The 2016 Nobel Prize of Literature sort of ratified years of dialogue with America and the world. Happy Birthday, Bob.
“How many roads must a man walk down Before you call him a man? How many seas must a white dove sail Before she sleeps in the sand? How many times must the cannonballs fly Before they’re forever banned? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.” Stay thirsty and carry on. Cheers.

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5/17/2021 We All Desire Life, Colltalers

The first crack in the up-to-now overwhelming support for President Biden suddenly exploded like, and due to, Israeli strikes in Gaza, which shocked the world for their viciousness and unrestrained violence. For a change, public opinion is turning and more Americans now care about the Palestinians.
Thousands around the globe rallied to decry Israel’s apartheid policies even as the U.S. stands firmly to its side. We’re on our own again. For if not, this week would be marked by a serious pipeline hack and in Brazil, by a Congressional inquiry into President Bolsonaro’s disastrous handling of Covid.
A Senate panel is trying to establish a timeline of Brazil’s failures to contain the virus and the still current lack of vaccines to cover every citizen. The probe however is unlikely to change what’s already public knowledge: the president downplayed the crisis until it was too late, hence the staggering 430,000 casualties so far. Friday, a Supreme Court Justice ruled that ex-Health Minister Eduardo Pazzuelo won’t even need to take questions about it.
The nightmare of vital energy hubs in the U.S. being attacked was reawakened May 7 when an international extortion ring threatened to disrupt the Colonial Pipeline, which carries transportation fuel to the Southeast and New York area. That it wasn’t attempted by a so-called rogue nation, or a well-known terrorist group brings little comfort: it means we’re more vulnerable than we expected and all talk about national security was just that, talk.
Or, as often, only invoked to go after dissenters. Naturally, the attack had an immediate impact on pump prices; funny that one of the richest, most heavily government-subsidized industries seems to be always on the verge of breaking down if prices are not raised. One also wonders if some of the money the Pentagon will save by bringing U.S. troops back from Afghanistan will be spent reinforcing cybersecurity of essential utilities. Just kidding.
While the DarkSide hackers have reportedly been paid $5 million in bitcoin by Colonial to release its grip on its information systems, it’s unknown whether another group, Babuk, was paid by the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Dept., even after it released personal data of many of its officers.
Finally, with all due respect, few were expecting more bad news coming from India, apart from its struggle against the coronavirus. But as it turns out, 18 Asian elephants have been found dead in a forest reserve and no one knows yet why. Since poaching has been ruled out, a team of veterinarians and officials are studying possible causes, including poisoning. India is home to nearly 30,000 elephants, about 60% of the wild Asian elephant population.
The eruption of hostilities in Israel, triggered in part by resistance to an Aug. 1 eviction deadline given to old Palestinian families living in the Sheikh Jarrah East Jerusalem neighborhood, has dislodged even the pandemic’s mostly bad news out of the headlines. Ironically, that’s what exposed Israel’s uniquely cruel vaccination strategy: despite inoculating citizens in record time, the Netanyahu administration neglected to vaccinate most Palestinians.
Always challenged by any nuanced view of the Middle East and its incredibly complex relationship with the U.S., the president is trying to error on the side of weakness. And that’d be a tragic mistake. Biden is being pressured to stop being the Biden of old and to demand accountability from Israel. Isn’t what we require from foes and allies alike? No one in the White House or Capitol Hill can claim not to know about Israel’s years of illegal settlements.
The result of decades of outright Fascistic policies, with no call for accountability from the part of its biggest sponsor, the U.S., irrupted this week not as a surprise but as a culmination. It’s a coincidence that it all happened in the days leading to Nakba “Catastrophe” Day. At this point, Palestinians do not need excuses to protest their brutal occupation: they live in a prison, with no possibility of ever getting equal rights to a productive, dignified life.
The disconnect between the Democratic and Republican parties, plus the president, and what an ever-larger segment of Americans think about U.S. support for Israel hasn’t been picked up yet by the established media. The coverage is still stuck trying to give the impression that there are two equal sides fighting. But it isn’t hard to see which side has one of the most powerful armies in the world, and which has an arsenal of short-range missiles.
“Airstrikes, shooting, and stun grenades are visible, while laws, military orders, bureaucrats, policy-makers, and judges who uphold the system remain mostly invisible.” The statement of Jerusalem-based human rights groups B’Tselem appeals to the world to intervene and stop the bombing of the Gaza Strip and all hostilities, so emergency health care and services can have access to Palestinian victims. “We all desire life. For every single one of us.”
At 11, Damon Weaver once asked President Obama an unanswerable question: “What are you going to do about violence and to keep me safe?” It was in 2009, during a 10-minute interview at the White House. We mourn Weaver who has passed away at age 23. R.I.P., Champ, you’ve risen to the top.
“Then what? A woman soldier shouted: Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you? I said: you killed me… and I forgot, like you, to die.” An excerpt of “In Jerusalem,” by late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darvish, published in 2007. Had we known then what we know now, would it be different? Ila-liqaa’

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5/10/2021 Satellites Crash, Ideals Don’t, Colltalers

A police massacre in Rio, political unrest in Bogotá and Jerusalem, and a blast in Kabul; some capitals had a hell of a weekend. Speaking of it, as rich countries walk to full Covid immunization, impoverished ones still suffer from a lack of vaccines, even if drug patterns may be temporality lifted.
An assassination attempt against the Maldives’ ex-president and environmentalist Mohamed Nasheed rocked the tiny archipelago. Which made a surprising second appearance in the week headlines: as it turned out, the out-of-control 10-store Long March 5B Chinese rocket crashed off its waters.
In the U.S. there’s a growing concern that, unless Congress axes the filibuster, much of the Democratic agenda won’t be even voted on, or it will but after being washed out. The party that controls the presidency, the House, and the Senate hasn’t yet passed any of the badly needed plans outlined in Biden’s campaign and first 100 days in office. Thus a word of advice: stop harassing progressives and do what only you can do, end the filibuster.
In fact, some of those proposals have already been criticized for being too timid, too vague, or not fresh enough, but it’d be definitely worst if they’d be buried before hitting the Senate floor like its ex-leader used to do with bills he didn’t like. Wise up, Lib warriors, the GOPtrumpt is coming to roost.
At this moment, a lot of well-established elected Democrats have been disliked not for being too rich or for lacking cohesion, but for being in the pocket of big corporations. Consider the pharma slash healthcare industries, for instance. Ask, is there something more abject than billionaires, or Amazon, profiting from the pandemic? Yes, there is, the already obscenely profitable industries selling the cure. And those paid to do their bidding.
Why would already wealthy public representatives, who got elected on a premise of upholding the will of the majority, insist on flaunting their support from and for the side that’s scoring so high on the abject scale? Is that new yacht that important? Be honest and just admit it, “I am not a Democrat.”
In the past 20 or so years, drug companies have spent $4.7 billion lobbying the government, according to data presented by Senator Bernie Sanders. He excluded another near 1.4 billion in direct campaign contributions. Whoever thinks this is the natural order of things should immediately switch aisles.
The Kabul car-bomb explosion outside a school that killed over 60 students, all children but mainly girls hoping to make something out of themselves, didn’t need to be so cruel. The point has already been made: if American troops leave Afghanistan, the Taliban will take over. It’s their “sales pitch” even if they denied having planted the bombs. Incidentally, that’s also the pitch defense-contractors will use to justify staying there beyond 9/11.
In Old Jerusalem, Palestinian civilians faced off with the world-class Israeli police with predictable results: an Israeli police “hurt” and much property lost. Oh, and a lot of Palestinians may have been hit too. Or so supporters of troubled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would like the world to see it. But that’s unlikely. As the longest-staying P.M. can’t form a new cabinet, political turmoil seems imminent in Israel even if change may not be.
That is, some may be inevitable with causes obvious to anyone but his closest allies – and, as it happens, his main political opponents. Like Netanyahu, Yair Lapid, now under deadline to form a cabinet, and Naftali Bennett, on whose support he depends, stand on the right side of the political spectrum.
Pressure on Israel is mounting. A Human Rights Watch report has accused it of “pursuing policies of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians.” It followed the International Criminal Court’s announcement that it’d investigate Israeli war crimes. And the BDS movement, to boycott, divest, and sanction the country for its occupation of Palestinian land is finally getting some tracking in the U.S. Congress. Yes, change is indeed badly needed.
In Bogotá, an uprising against right-wing President Iván Duque has taken a nationwide turn after a teenager was shot to death for kicking an officer. Dozens have been killed or are missing and the unrest, which started in protest to a new government tax reform, has now expanded to challenge police brutality and demand social equality too. “Colombians have nothing to lose,” Pueblos en Camino’s activist Manuel Rozental told DemocracyNow.
In Rio, a police raid into the Jacarezinho shantytown left 25 dead, in what residents called a coordinated “execution” of drug traffic suspects. It was a bloody reminder that one of the most beautiful cities on Earth is routinely terrorized by one of the planet’s most truculent police forces that answers no one but President Bolsonaro. His family has been linked to Rio’s biggest militia and to most Brazilians, nothing happens there without their approval.
On top of that, the president is being probed for his tragic mishandling of the coronavirus; Brazil is still second only to the U.S. in the number of deaths and like India, it’s in desperate need of vaccines and life-saving supplies. Except that there are almost seven times more Indians than Brazilians in this world. The massacre echoes past tragedies inflicted by state and local police. This time though the tide may turn for the embattled ex-Army Captain.
Backed by the first family or not, the Brazilian police still strongly support the president and has a lot of clout within the government. Last week, it issued a subpoena to Sonia Guajajara, head of APIb, Brazil’s largest indigenous coalition, after she accused the government of genocide for not protecting native Brazilians from Covid. She could’ve said “all” Brazilians and still be right. A judge disagreed with the government and has halted the probe.
The saddest part is the ingrained Fascism that’s now re-established in South America. In colonial Goiás, the former capital of its namesake state, some thought that parading with a banner saying “Forgive the Torturers,” fully dressed up in KKK white hooded costumes would be a fitting display of support to Bolsonaro. He may’ve been pleased but the sight of such a repulsive symbol of racial oppression happening in Brazil is nothing less than frightening.
Getting back to devastating gun shootings, there’s been another in the U.S. just as this Newsletter is being rushed to the presses – old editorial speak dies hard. A gunman shot and killed seven at a birthday party in Colorado Springs, CO, before killing himself. So many details are so similar to so many others just like it to the point of numbness. Yet we know that trauma and wounds opened by this calamity won’t ever heal for everyone who got caught by its grip.
Nasheed, the first democratically-elected president of Maldives, made headlines when he announced in 2008 that he planned to buy land to relocate the archipelago’s entire population. Reason: they are sinking into the Indian Ocean due to climate change. He became a global star of the green movement but attracted fiery opposition at home. Ousted by a coup, he was about to start serving a long prison sentence when in 2016 he was granted asylum in the U.K.
He has since returned to the Maldives and last week, there was a bomb attempt on his life when a device detonated outside his home. He underwent a 16-hour surgery but is out of danger. The government said that a suspect has been arrested and an inquiry will determine how his security detail was breached.
It’s great that he didn’t die and neither have we, thank you very much. What with a huge malfunctioning piece of hardware falling fast from the sky to maybe crush us all to death, we should all be thankful. So it happens that the rocked that went up in a blast some 10 days ago, has come down hot and heavy right outside Mr. Nasheed’s home – old fisherman speak, for sure. But closer than our place and that counts. There’s more to come down, though.
Rather than following it up with a talk about dinosaurs, however, let’s remind everyone at home what happened on this day in the Oval Office four years ago. A sitting U.S. president disclosed classified information about the terrorist organization Daesh, i.e., Isis, to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. It was a colossal mistake but like everything else about the transgressor, any punishment is still to be exacted upon him.
Be it sooner rather than later. In the meantime, let all May-to-September romances blossom and spring into full bliss. No one needs to be reminded about how hard this has all been to everybody. It’s time to start anew either with your trusted partner or, well, someone new. “More than this, I wish you love.”

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5/03/2021 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 Amazon.com, 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

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4/26/2021 Bear Ears Is Listening, Colltalers

There’s a lot of goodwill for U.S. President Biden as we approach his 100th day in office. The economic relief package, rejoining global treaties on Iran nukes and the climate, calling genocide the massacre of over a million Armenians by Ottoman Turks. But do we want more? Let us count the ways.
As Covid-19’s overwhelms India, calls intensify for rich nations to share their vaccine surpluses. But some may need to be forced to do it. Elsewhere, FIFA got a rare challenge, and soccer fans, a beef with social media, the FBI needs clues, and it’s the 35th anniversary of Chernobyl’s nuke explosion.
Speaking of radioactivity, there’s a startling new report about American honey, the bee product not the sweetheart of yore. As it turns out, the more than 500 nuclear detonations the world’s superpowers conducted since the late 1940s impacted the sweet nectar loved since ancient times. According to a Nature Communications study, honey in the U.S. has still alarming levels of cesium, the longest-lasting fission product generated by a nuke explosion.
While respected environmental groups cite nuclear power as an unredeemed threat to our civilization, Earth Day celebrations this year were correctly focused on the still weak response by world leaders to the climate emergency threat. But regrettably, all awash in corporate memes and propaganda.
Now, it’s bad enough notorious environment-depleting corporations such as Apple and Google go on capitalizing on concerns about ‘Mother Earth,’ as twisted as the rationale behind it may be. But it’s an outrage that say, gas-burning Florida Power & Light is also welcomed to this free goodness ride.
Reporters Without Borders identified 132 countries where journalists have been routinely attacked or prevented from reporting on the coronavirus. The 2021 World Press Freedom Index says that authoritarian regimes have used the pandemic to “perfect methods of totalitarian control of information,” in countries from the Asia-Pacific region, to Eastern Europe, to Latin America. But the good news is that some nations in Africa have actually improved.
The Sinixt are known for having inhabited parts of today’s Canada and the U.S. for over 10,000 years. But for more than three centuries, descendants have fought for rights over their ancestors’ land. Friday, Canada’s highest court agreed, ruling that the Washington State-based Colville Confederated Tribes are rightful successors to the Sinixt and as a result, have a constitutionally protected right to hunt on their traditional lands across the border too.
Back in the U.S., the FBI has been probing, and in some cases, charging hundreds of members and co-conspirators of the Jan. 6 terrorist attack on the Capitol Hill. But it’s made a stunning admission: it hasn’t found evidence they’d planned the invasion. That contradicts what non-profit Advance Democracy along with almost everyone else has found: thousands of online posts detailing plans by Trump supporters to travel to DC and engage in violence.
Many could be found on the now-gone TheDonald.win site but anyone could find incriminating proof against rioters online. Some even bragged about their illegal stunt on social media and dating sites, including their own faces for good measure. So how come the world’s most feared criminal agency couldn’t find any evidence? Well, hasn’t the breach of the Capitol happened in the nation that spends on defense more than 10 others? So there you go.
Turkey “will continue to defend truths against the so-called Armenian genocide lie.” That was Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan in anticipation of Biden’s calling the ethnic cleansing of over a million Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces just that, genocide. It’s also what most historians believe happened during WWI regardless of whether Erdogan believes it himself, but today about 11 million Armenians are elated with the prospect of justice.
From the get-go, over a year ago, something became very clear: dictators and would-be despots tragically mishandled the Covid pandemic. Whether they’ll ever admit it or were ever affected by it, unlike the misery that millions under their watch faced, the U.S. under Trump, the Brazil of Bolsonaro, and the India of Modi have always had the lead on infections and fatalities. These three are accountable for those we’ve lost due to their negligence.
That adds up to over a million coronavirus deaths of Americans, Brazilians, and Indians, out of the over three million who died worldwide. India’s now reaching the critical mass that Brazil reached a few weeks ago; both countries are in dire need of vaccines as their health systems are about to collapse. Question is, will rich nations force labs to lift pattern rights, so doses can be manufactured locally, or share their over-supply to alleviate such woes?
That’s a false choice given that most of the research to find a treatment was developed in taxpayer-funded universities, with big pharma showing up only at the end of the process, exclusively to purchase the rights to commercialize it. And also, because there are extra doses that could be given away.
The U.S., the U.K., and the European Union nations must establish an immediate action plan with the United Nations to expedite the delivery of enough vaccines to impoverished economies. Such an unparalleled humanitarian crisis cannot be ignored and it’s bound to negatively affect the world economy.
FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, is only now emerging from a demoralizing corruption scheme in 2015 that threatened to recast the century-old institution into a more accountable setup. Little came out of it, though, besides some chair-changing. Then, two weeks ago, all hell broke loose as a group of billionaire-owned elite European clubs announced they were creating a new international entity and competition. It didn’t go as planned.
There was an immediate backlash and surprise, surprise, FIFA got to play the aggrieved part with unusual support from fans who believe correctly that they’re living a golden era of soccer, as a game and mass entertainment, and changes needed to be made won’t be those that wealthy owners would choose. Last week, clubs apologized to fans for making such a hasty decision to join the new league, and for all accounts, it’s all over now baby blue.
Unrelated to that, English soccer clubs and leagues are set to stage a three-day boycott to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, in protest against online – and off it too – racism. The action will take place next weekend, and it may catch some momentum as slurs are now regularly thrown at soccer stars not just in the U.K. but throughout the world too. Who knows, maybe the NBA, the NWSL, and the beloved USWNT will join in. We would.
“We have within our cultures a familial bond. We know these lands as a mother knows her child, as a child knows her mother.” Eloise Wilson, Mary R. Benally, Ahjani Yepa, and Cynthia Wilson, the Women of Bear Ears, write on the need to protect that national monument. They count on another “matriarch of our ancestral lands,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo, the first Indigenous woman to be part of a U.S. Cabinet.
And they count on us, who are grateful for the exquisite care Native Americans through millennia have always taken of the land and wonders of this planet. It took us only four centuries to bring it all down to the brink of extinction and now perhaps it’s our last chance to start a reversal; but without their guidance, we’re doomed. “We know the names of the mountains, plants, and animals who teach us everything we need to know to survive.” Aho!

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4/19/2021 Guns, Hate Will Kill America, Colltalers

Would that be possible, America’s longest war will be canceled on Sept. 11 of all days? The president said it so, repeating what Obama and Trump had promised before. Will it happen? it should. Did it work? no, but now it’s done. What it did was what every conflict does: it killed people, lots of them.
Not that we don’t do plenty of that in the U.S. too; there have been new gun massacres we’ll do little or nothing about it. Just as we manage hunger: the media glows over billionaires but food banks are overwhelmed across the nation. Tomorrow is Pot Day, though, and Thursday, Earth Day, so light up.
Let’s begin our weekly world tour in Taiwan, which is nervous about the buildup of Chinese war vessels off its waters. After pulverizing Hong Kong’s drive for democracy, Beijing’s now eager to re-litigate an old imperialistic folly: to rule the democratic-run “Republic of China,” which lost control over the mainland in 1949. The military “drills” seem designed to rattle the pro-West nation, already shaken Sunday by two non-damaging earthquakes.
Questions abound in Russia as it builds up combat troops near Ukraine’s eastern border – the largest since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, according to The Guardian. After being publicly chastised by President Biden, who ordered more sanctions against his country, critics are unsure about Putin’s strategy at this time, since an invasion would not be cost-effective, and he may soon have another problem in his hands: Alexei Nalvany’s death.
But analysts such as Anatol Lieven, senior fellow for Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, also warn Ukrainians that “they may be a kind of partner of the U.S. but they’re not an ally.” In a DemocracyNow interview, he calls up the example of Georgia and how the U.S. did not, and will not again this time, engage in a war with Russia. And how Putin is unlikely to have plans to wage war with the U.S. over them either.
In France, Kobili Traoré beat Sarah Halimi, 65, before throwing her out the window of her Paris apartment in 2017 to cries of “Allahu akbar,” or god is great, and “I killed the devil.” Now, the country’s highest court has ruled that he cannot stand trial because he was under the influence of cannabis, of all things. Note: Traoré is a Muslim and Halimi, Jewish. Naturally, her community took it to the streets to protest and express anger about the ruling.
Back in the U.S., the president is still going forward with a $23-billion weapon sales to the United Arab Emirates, endorsing his predecessor’s decision. Given UAE’s support for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen, the decision to sell them more F-35s and armed drones can’t be more absurd. And tragic: don’t they know that U.S.-backed airstrikes are methodically exterminating the Yemeni people and sending the once proud nation back to the Stone Age?
It boils down to money, of course, or rather, the U.S. defense budget. For immediately after Biden’s announcement, the conversation turned into what to do with all those billions that have been poured year after year into Afghanistan? Can we use the average annual $45 billion for something else?
May we suggest eliminating hunger in America? It’s immoral that in the world’s richest country, 35 million people go hungry to bed every night, while a new billionaire is born every day. But you won’t hear a peep about it from the Pentagon, most elected officials, and maybe even the president himself. It’ll be up to the American people to step in and prevent the next U.S. defense budget to continue to be more than that of 10 other nations combined.
It’s fitting that Sept. 11 is mentioned along with the Afghan war because if you remember, that was the initial U.S. response to the terrorist attacks: to invade the country whose graveyards are full of ghosts of past invading empires which, like the U.S. and Soviet Union, could not bring it to its knees.
Even Osama bin Laden had already fled to Pakistan at that time, said an intel report that President George Bush did not care to read. Soon enough, with no signs of a plan, the administration got bored and embraced the real geopolitics it had prepared for the region: to invade Iraq and take charge of its oil industry. Problem is, they moved most troops out of Afghanistan but never took steps to officially end the hostilities. So the war raged for 20 years.
If the invasion of Iraq is even now still inadmissible, the Afghan conflict had absolutely no need to last this long. It did only due to militaristic gung-ho and an “unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” in President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell words. So many lives lost should be worth at least our commitment to never repeat such criminal adventure, but unfortunately, we don’t live in that kind of world.
Deadly shootings in Indianapolis, Texas, and Wisconsin, once again proved that the America that sends people to kill people in distant lands also eases ways for people to kill people here too. Lots of them. This heartbreaking assumption is the one that pierces the soul of any American who refuses to endorse this state. But it matters little when food, water, housing, jobs, freedom, are unaffordable to most, while guns and lives are sadly very cheap.
The Universe is estimated to be 13.8 billion years old. Earth, 4.5 billion years. And human ancestors appeared first between five million and seven million years ago. But today, levels of climate-warming carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere are higher than 3.6 million years ago, according to twin reports. In March, the level reached 417.14 parts per million, 50% higher than the average between 1750 and 1800, just before the Industrial Revolution.
Way to go, Earth Day on its 51st anniversary. For despite the sobering NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography studies, the day will focus on the relative – and “relative” is being generous here – progresses we’ve made, along with lots of marches, speeches, dancing, and singing. In that world that we don’t live in, the president would take that opportunity to commit full-heartedly to a Green New Deal. But as we said, this is a different place.
A place where super-crook Bernie Madoff “made off” with billions and spent only 13 years of his 82 in jail. He died there last week, but none of his partners or enablers will ever be identified, and most of the money never returned. At this point, those who got schemed may not even need it anymore. In fact, apart from 788 billionaires, most of the 331 million Americans can’t even understand how can anyone get so rich without having a real job.
We will never know either. We just know that that’s the money always missing from communities to stay safe, parents to raise kids, working people to stay healthy. That’s the funds that are never there for schools and their teachers, for regional hospitals and their dedicated essential workers, for low-cost housing and shelters to fight rampant homelessness. The money Madoff and his Wall Street friends make is what’s missing to rebuild this nation.
This is bound to be a different “420” for aficionados. Almost half of the U.S. states now allow the consumption of cannabis for personal enjoyment or medical purposes. Even Mexico caught on the fever and more places will surely join in. The crucial question, one that not even liberalization solves, is the role of the financial system for the new industry to grow. The root of criminality associated with drug consumption is linked to the money it raises.
So far, banks have remained moot about the issue, which is unfortunate. The only way that this multi-billion business will have a positive impact on the economy is if they can operate like any other business, without having to resort to training small armies to protect the physical transportation of cash.
Meanwhile, after you pay your dues and fulfill your duties today, it may be a treat to light one up and enjoy. Even jaded warriors need to dream, so dream on.

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4/12/2021 Bring the Whole Crew, Colltalers

The world is about to hit three million obits by Covid-19, with a fifth in the U.S. and Brazil as a steady No. 2 with over 350.000 deaths. Yup, little has improved: rates are still rising in the West, poor nations have had little access to vaccines, and big labs are still unaccountably in control of all patterns.
Elsewhere, the explosion of split-up families and their lost children at the chaotic U.S.-Mexico border is becoming the Biden administration’s greatest challenge. Also, Peru and Ecuador choose a new president, Northern Ireland is in turmoil over Brexit, and somehow related, Prince Philip had died.
Let’s get busy first with Iran, where a suspicious ‘accident‘ disabled the Natanz nuclear facility’s electrical grid just a day after it’d started to enrich uranium. Iran said that it won’t turn off its centrifuges till sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy are fully lifted. Israel, a strong opponent of the nuke agreement that the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from and that now may be revived, is suspected to have a part in the ‘terrorist‘ incident.
Poland, with over 2.6 million coronavirus cases, may be using the pandemic to crackdown on civil rights. The government, which wants ‘repolonize‘ the media, is being accused of picking winners, cutting down on ads for independent newspapers, and orchestrating lawsuits against the press. There’s even talk that President Andrzej Duda’s Law and Justice party plans to form a nationalist front with Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Italy’s Matteo Salvini.
And in Australia, the storm season hit early with a rare, gigantic cyclone that left a trail of damage and power outages. It may be probably time to retire terms such as ‘rare‘ or ‘gigantic‘ when speaking about the weather. And as the weekend landfall of Tropical Cyclone Seroja and its 100 miles gusts was not at all unexpected, let’s never fail to mention – as down under media outlets have done once again – the words ‘climate emergency‘ in these stories.
In one of its wrongest moves, the U.S. has passed once more the opportunity of supporting a ban on antipersonnel land mines, which killed over 3.000 people in 2018 according to Statista. President Biden was expected to confirm the 1997 ban treaty adopted by 164 nations. Instead, and contrary to a campaign promise, it’ll be ‘further reviewed‘ which given that mine victims are overwhelmingly civilian and young, it’s indeed the wrong thing to do.
Speaking of errors, lawmakers have turned Arkansas into the first U.S. state to ban gender-affirming medical procedures supported by medical and child welfare organizations. Republican-controlled house and senate overrode a veto by governor Asa Hutchinson to pass what may aggravate already high levels of depression and suicide in the community. Way to show you have people’s priorities straight, GOPers. 10% of Arkansans have Covid.
The disappointing note of the week was the defeat of a push to unionize workers at an Amazon.com plant in Bessemer, AL. But unlike what’s already being reported, the loss did not ruin an organized labor revival in the U.S. and other efforts will arise. Amazon did what it usually does: it cheats, it lies, it threatens, and in the end, it tries to buy whoever stands in its way. Only 2.500 workers of a universe of 6,000 have voted. Does it sound familiar?
Something else that should be expected: loyalist anger in Northern Ireland. But the U.K. leadership, which since 2015 has been fueling the nationalist hate that ultimately delivered them Brexit and the premiership at the commonwealth, now acts ‘alarmed,’ promising to dampen the violence. Good luck with that. The unrest threatens peace brought upon by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which Belfast Protestants fought tooth and nail to derail.
As the trial of the Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Black father George Floyd’s neck for 9:29m, killing him almost a year ago, brings up some horrific, graphic description of the murder, the president has just announced a package of proposals to enact a few gun control laws. They’ve been called ‘sweeping,’ – what’s with all those media superlatives when referring to Biden? – but the measures are basic, at the most. But a right step, no doubt.
The inflow of asylum seekers continues uncontested at the U.S. border, and as many as 35,000 unaccompanied minors may require safe housing with proper legal support, something that hasn’t happened in years. In other words, perhaps the administration may consider starting it all over from scratch rather than trying to fix incongruities of current U.S. immigration policies. For it seems clear much more has to be done both domestically and abroad.
Besides start building capacity both physical and professional to shelter all these people while their processes are being judged, America has to come to terms with the consequences of its colonialist foreign policy, especially in Latin America. Without a fully comprehensive approach, that targets those at the bottom of the income scale within these countries, with respect to the rule of law, things should not be expected to change much. More will come.
American misguided policies and the scourge of the coronavirus have conspired to all but destroy the economy of countries South of the Equator, and we may have a sample of things to come with results of presidential elections held in Ecuador and Peru today, even if they are not conclusive yet.
In Peru, leftist candidate Pedro Castillo is leading right-wing Keiko Fujimori and liberal Hernando de Soto, with the two most voted heading to a runoff. And in Ecuador, banker Guillermo Lasso has the advantage over former president Rafael Correa’s favorite, socialist economist Andres Araus.
The Duke of Edinburg who died at 99 last week, the consort of British monarch Queen Elizabeth II has been a British Empire’s staunch defender but has also had the wisdom of remaining in the background. As times changed, and his power and influence came to be questioned by subjects and the majority of people alike, having a costly monarchy has been rendered obsolete and as such, so has the whole royal family. R.I.P., Papa Prince Philip.
The rapper Earl Simmons, known as DMX, was the other influential personality to leave us last week but the parallels mercifully stop there. DMX has become a symbol of resilience as Black, poor, and disenfranchised youth who pulled himself to the top of the heap. He was not alone, naturally, and neither was his lifetime struggle with substance abuse. But in the end, he did change popular music and will be well remembered. R.I.P., Dark Man X.
It’s fitting and wholly deserving that Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama would win the prestigious Masters right in the middle of a wave of anti-Asian hate in America. But he did with honors at Georgia’s 88-years-old Augusta National Golf Club which shouldn’t waste this opportunity to speak up on behalf of Asians and all other minorities facing violence today. May this accomplishment in sports be extended further. Congratulations, Hideki-san.
When those so close to you depart it may make you wonder whether it’s still worth going. Yes, you do hold them tight to your heart and will carry them until your own time comes. Still, the questions abound. There are no ‘right‘ words or advice to give anyone at that time but it helps to be around. You know you can handle the pain, you just would choose not to if you could. But you can’t, it’s there, and it’s ok to cry a lot. Chin up, champ. Cheerio

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4/05/2021 Kids Are Getting Frustrated, Colltalers

A new Capitol Hill attack showed that the U.S. Congress still hasn’t got the memo. Since the attempted Jan. 6 coup, members who supported it are still in, there’s no attack weapons ban or action on the filibuster. Don’t take for granted what it took to get us a Democratic majority or next year you’ll lose.
The week’s sore points: Biden’s immigration mess and the GOP’s shameful vote suppression efforts. Great news as Iran agrees to revive nuclear talks. But there’s also a new global push for a U.N. treaty banning all nukes and/or any kind of fuel that can kill us and destroy the planet. It makes sense.
We start in Mexico where femicide – women being murdered by former or current partners only for being women – is now rampant, aggravated by lockdowns and a weak judicial system. President Andrés López Obrador, still popular despite coronavirus mismanagements and the poor economy, hasn’t done much about it, as rape and child pregnancy increase. Ten women are killed every day and last year, near two thousand were also murdered.
In Ethiopia, an investigation by BBC Africa Eye found evidence of a massacre of at least 15 men slaughtered by the military. The attack had not been disclosed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who finally admitted it’s been a ‘difficult and tiresome’ fight against that Tigray People’s Liberation Front. There are increased concerns about Ahmed, who despite winning the 2019 Peace Nobel, is fully invested in crushing the guerrilla group.
As the U.S. reaches four million Covid-19 doses per day, Brazil had 300,000 deaths on Saturday. It’s Ok to compare the two topping the grimmest list of fatalities and most cases. It shows leadership – and money, surely – can change a nation’s dire straits. But someone with a brain has to be the leader.
Former president Lula da Silva’s return to political life has certainly driven the latest cabinet shake-up by President Bolsonaro. Which in turn, seems to have annoyed the high command of armed forces: Brazil’s all three top military leaders quit this week in protest. A nefarious legacy of fear pervading nations that suffered a coup is, everyone minds the military. Their move hurt the president who some see now as dangerous as a wounded beast.
Now for something most people already know but it’s still shocking to see it on paper: 77 American fossil-fuel companies got $8.2 billion under a tax code set by last year’s stimulus bill, according to advocacy group BailoutWatch. But they still fired thousands of workers amidst the pandemic.
Plus, another study compiled by several environmental non-profit groups found that the world’s largest banks have invested $3.8 trillion in the fossil-fuel industry over the last five years. The reports make clear that the financial system must divest if we’re to succeed against climate change.
The Biden administration heads to its first 100th day more or less the way it was expected, with clarity about investing in people and infrastructure, but much less so when dealing with the hairy situation of immigration. No one said it’d be easy but the basic mistakes it’s perpetuating, along with a lack of solutions have shown way more is needed to heal this open sore that shames Americans, festering with every new wave of desperate asylum seekers.
Increasing policing and patrolling the border is not the solution. Ignoring what’s fueling these sad caravans coming from Mexico, Guatemala, or Honduras, or the toxic U.S. presence in these countries for the past several decades, won’t move the needle either. Any comprehensive immigration policy has to address its root causes and be absolutely transparent about it. It also helps to keep families together and to treat people like human beings.
Meanwhile, Georgia is trying to lead us back to Jim Crow country. It’s insane how much support is getting from copy-cat states but is utterly disturbing to see representatives elected to uphold the laws of the land – and the unrestricted right to vote is certainly one of its tenets – betraying their vows and openly supporting the insurrection. Those who taxpayers elected to be their leaders have the responsibility to strip these traitors from their position.
There’s a promise of change still in the air, still to be fulfilled. But it’s impossible to overstate the costly defeats the Democrat leadership has made us endure in such a short time. The minimum wage blunder seems to have set such a low standard after it was beaten by the word of an unelected Senate bureaucrat. Now, already three weeks since the year’s first shootings killed a dozen people, and a bill to ban assault weapons is nowhere to be seen.
Those are opportunities that had the best chance to be worked on in several years and we missed. But the next one, the end of the filibuster, cannot be wasted, and the leaders of both houses are on notice: no loss acceptable. If we don’t fix it after the president received 80 million votes, we never will.
But the biggest international news is that Iran will resume talks with the U.S. and several other nations about its nuclear program. Except that, because of what the former American president did, terms may differ and may not be able to prevent the sophisticated Theocracy from building its own bomb. That’s certainly up to professional diplomacy to decide it, plus public pressure. But for as much as it’d be fair, under some geopolitical views, for Iran to have its own nuke program, there’s a growing movement in the opposite direction, seeking to ban the technology we still can control after 76 years.
The Appeal of the Hibakusha, which seeks the elimination of all nuclear weapons, for instance, was just awarded the 2020 Sean MacBride Peace Prize after collecting 13 million signatures in support of the ban. The appeal was conceived by a group of Hibakusha, survivors of the 1945 U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This year, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has set the Doomsday Clock to an unprecedented 100 seconds before midnight.
Perhaps those around the president should stop comparing him to FDR, based mainly on what he ‘may’ accomplish, and focus on the two biggest issues of our time: climate emergency and the proliferation of nukes. Biden must set us on a new course where Pentagon hawks don’t get to set our defense priorities. It also means that neither fossil-fuel corporations get tax breaks and government subsidies, nor banks and Wall Street may profit from them.
The tragedy of the coronavirus has an added layer of despair in Brazil: it’s been taking too many indigenous leaders, heroes who helped preserve the Amazon Rainforest and often fought to save it. Aruká Juma, the last surviving man of the Juma people in the Brazilian part of the jungle, died in Feb. wiping out at least five centuries of history and memory. With him goes one more hope for our generation to prevent the disappearance of the Amazon.
‘April is the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.‘ The opening lines of T.S.Eliot’s epic poem The Waste Land may be a rare case when a full month earned a stinging epitaph to tell people of the future about its true nature. Given the world that we know for almost a century, it got it right every time the calendar came across it. Thus here’s to the unflinching eye of a poet.
As we overuse terms such as ‘hero,’ ‘survivor,’ ‘warrior,’ ‘rebel,’ with such abandon, billions of young activists around the world must be getting quite frustrated. For they’ve spent their precious teen years fighting for the only future that may be suitable for us, and now hear that it may not be possible and excuses as to why so little is done. They are right and what they miss the most are us and our own commitment. Will you step forward? Tchau.

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3/29/2021 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’ve cost a fortune but all is fine now.
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.

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3/22/2021 We All Came From Elsewhere, Colltalers

The Atlanta massage parlor massacre has a clear provenance. It began by the ex-president calling Covid-19 the ‘China virus.’ It escalated unimpeded through attacks on Asian-Americans as police looked into the debunked ‘lone wolf’ theory. Thus who’s ever doubted it all would end up with bullets?
As the U.S. hits the 100-million-dose mark, there’s growing pressure for President Biden and other Western leaders to force a suspension of patterns owned by big labs, so everyone can get a shot. AstraZeneca has some explaining to do. Plus floods and rats in Australia, and the unwavering Burmese.
We start in Russia where President Putin congratulated himself on the anniversary of his unilateral annexation of Crimea in 2014. He’s got away with it so far, except for his complicated relationship with Ukraine and its president, former actor Volodymyr Zelensky – yes, that Zelensky of the first Trump impeachment. See, he may be against it, but millions of Russians, Ukrainians, and even Crimeans may be just fine with it. Thus Putin wins again.
In Brazil, 1,290 people lost their lives to what President Bolsonaro once called it ‘a little flu‘ in just 24 hours last week while adding near 48,000 new cases. Brazil seconds only the U.S. with near 300 thousand Covid deaths, but they’re almost twice those in India, which has 6,5 times its population.
As for Myanmar, the Burmese people are offering the world a tremendous lesson on resilience and dignity, fighting the truculent army that took power on Feb. 1. The military has conducted night raids resulting in thousands of civilians ‘disappeared’ besides enforcing a policy of summary extermination, shooting street protesters at will. As refugees reportedly seek asylum in India, the country’s ambassador calls for U.N. sanctions against the spoilers.
Residents of Mandalay have helped railroad workers relocate over the weekend after the junta determined that they must pay their support to a growing pro-democracy movement by leaving their subsidized housing. The world has been way too slow to act, and when it finally does, it may be too late.
For those wondering why the U.S. has a defense budget larger than the next 10 nations combined, a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report found that in five years, over a third of all arms exports came from the U.S. No war or repression will be undersupplied, be it Yemen, Syria, in a Rio shantytown or at the corner of Park and 125th. None of these expensive weapons however were used to defend the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill.
After two years when apocalyptical wildfires destroyed some 50 million acres of bushland, it’s time it seems for Australia to face yet another round of biblical curses. This time is rats and floods. Don’t mean to be flippant about the heavy downpours that are threatening and evicting people from their homes. But like in most rich nations, the emergency of climate change is still not driving policy decisions hard enough to begin reversing it just yet.
And then there are the rats, multiplying like there’s no tomorrow because in fact there may not be one, coming to think of it. Those who reminded the Aussies that not long ago, they’d a plan to kill millions of cats have received the usual contempt from animal lovers – or cat haters. Surely they were talking about feral cat killers, not your lovely pussy. Ahem. In any event, now may be too risky to outlaw felines; the alternative may kill humans too.
Grief and sorrow in the Asian community were embraced by millions of Americans of all races who took the streets over the weekend to demand justice. Naturally, for this day and age, the police had to say something completely inappropriate in what looked like an attempt to protect the murderer and turn anonymous those he assassinated. It won’t work this time. We all already know that more police won’t prevent violence, only aggravate it.
As with Black Lives Matter, law enforcement institutions in this country are having a moment of reckoning even if it’s hardly being acknowledged by them. Society weights the rationality of sending armed guards to resolve every dispute, from traffic violations to mental-illness breakdowns. Above all, police departments have shown a clear racial bias with catastrophic consequences to the communities they’re supposed to serve. Asians deserve better.
Reported deaths and complications from the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are concerning and may have been the by-product of secrecy and monopoly exercised by big lab corporations. But they don’t validate any of the anti-vax arguments, except for the unavoidable fact that there isn’t much time to test them to absolute safety. Too many are dying too fast, and many more have actually survived due to it. But we’re far from being out of the woods.
Almost everything about Amazon.com has an extra-large dimension to it, from the billions it’s been making to the pitiful benefits and taxes it pays – when it pays; it paid ‘$0′ in 2017 and 2018, just when some two thousand Americans were being audited and fined by the Internal Revenue Service.
The delivery-on-roids company is, of course, owned by the infamous Jeff Bezos, who became a ‘trillionaire’ during the worst pandemic in 100 years. Now, though, his company may unwittingly make history, due to its courageous Alabama workforce who are voting until next Monday to unionize. It may be the trigger millions of American workers are hoping for, one that will create a chain reaction, and the revival of collective bargaining in labor relations. Unions, villainized and fought by corporations for most of the past century, were key to turn the U.S. economy into the biggest in the world.
Paul Rusesabagina. The name may not ring any bells, unless you’re familiar with Rwanda, Africa, or a fan of the actor Don Cheadle who portrayed him in a hit movie. Yes, he’s the hotel manager credited with saving over a thousand people in the 1994 genocide conducted by the Hutu majority against the Tutsi minority. Now he’s on trial accused of being a terrorist. On the surface, it’s a stunning turn of events for someone many consider their hero.
As it turns out, the story is slightly more complicated as his former ally and now President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, has become his biggest enemy. Whether he is or not conspiring against his old friend is uncertain, but what no one has disputed is that his country has become a brutal dictatorship.
Rusesabagina is a U.S. resident but it was his country of adopted citizenship, Belgium, that opened an investigation into his involvement in a 2018 militia attack by the leading Rwandan opposition group, the FNL. That gave Kagame all he needed to kidnap Rusesabagina and put him on trial.
It was also in 2018 that a video of 12-year-old Sementinha singing and armed with a machine gun in Angra dos Reis, Brazil, went viral. At that tender age, he was already a drug war veteran. But his malnourished body and weary smile betrayed the fate of millions of Brazilian children, left to fend for themselves in an unforgiven world. Last Thursday, a life started too early and ended too fast couldn’t dodge one last, final bullet. R.I.P., Lil’ Seed.
Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian Formula 1 driver would’ve been 61 yesterday. Considered one of the finest of his profession, he died in 1994, leading a race in Italy. Some saw his skill at winning as a contradicting mix of his workmanship and dedication to the sport, and privileged access his wealthy upbringing allowed. He was also an empathetic human, who funded charities and brought joy to his still mournful Brazilians. He’ll be forever missed.
It’s generally blamed on the dimension of this planet, on the vast distances between cultures and times, on widening gaps of development and progress throughout the centuries. Or on religion. Ethnic strife, racial hatred, xenophobia belong to ancient eras when people lived far apart, and the ‘other‘ was most likely bound to cause harm. Humans still need this tribal sense of identification, of being blessed by their ancestors’ knowledge and memory.
Assuming that most people know who else is out there today, though, hate is no longer a primal self-preservation instinct. It is, instead, an anachronism manipulated by the powers that be to instill loyalty and obedience. In other words, it’s an abomination now. Keep your songs, your rituals, and your spirit alive. But hate has to go. Foreigners are you at some point of your journey, we’re all displaced refugees. Protectors wanted. Care to apply? Cheers

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3/15/2021 What Legacies Are Made of, Colltalers

Daylight Time Savings is on, a sight spring is not too far. Covid-19, though, is yet to receive the memo; global cases have beat the 120 million mark, and the U.S. has a quarter of them. Good and bad news about vaccines: many got their shots in the global north but billions worldwide remain uninoculated.
Brazil, second on that grim list of virus casualties, experienced an earthquake of sorts with the return of former President Lula da Silva to politics. And there’s also a string of sad anniversaries to mark: Breonna Taylor, Marielle Franco, the Syrian civil war, and the Fukushima nuke disaster and tsunami.
Let’s start with Bolivia, where far-right Jeanine Añez was arrested on terrorism and sedition charges. She instigated the 2019 military coup that ousted the country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, and led a brutal regime that persecuted and killed countless pro-democracy activists. Morales has since returned and in Oct. his ally Luis Arce won a closely-watched special election. Bolivia, population of 11 million, has 260,000 coronavirus cases.
In Poland, as around the world, massive marches marked Women’s Day on Sat but the focus this year was the draconian anti-abortion law that went into effect on Jan. With increasingly restrictive measures against sex minorities – the country has now what it calls ‘LGBTQ-Free Zones!‘ – religious zealotry seems to have been inscribed into law. Poland may be ready for a gifted leader to take it out of a past of coal, war, and prejudice and back to the future.
And Scotland, whose efforts to become independent from the United Kingdom have increased since Brexit, was told by the U.K. Prime Minister that he’s against another referendum. The first one, in 2014, failed to grant autonomy to Scots, but F.M. Nicola Sturgeon has since pushed for a new vote.
A few other issues of note include Myanmar, where the now indiscriminate killings of civilians by the military that staged the Feb.1 coup continues to sow terror in the country. And Mexico and Marocco which are fine-tuning legislation to make marijuana legal, or at least for medical condition therapies.
A report by the World Health Organization found that nearly one-third of women and girls will experience some form of sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. Even as lockdowns have exacerbated violence toward women, numbers don’t yet reflect what the U.N. calls ‘a shadow pandemic.’
And the scary climate emergency-related reports keep rolling on. One, from Rainforest Foundation Norway, found that human activities have destroyed 34% of old-growth tropical rainforests worldwide. And another, by over 30 scientists sponsored by the National Geographic Society, determined that the Amazon Rainforest is now a net contributor to the warming of the planet. What used to be called ‘the lungs of the world‘ is now grasping for air.
When President Lula was sentenced to 12 years in jail, on what’s now been proven to be trumped-up charges, it was the official end to a sort of spring to Brazil. After all, after two landslide elections, Lula and his successor Dilma Rousseff led the country to the greatest economic growth and social mobility period of its history. But by 2016, Rousseff had been ousted, again on unproven allegations, and Brazil had started a long, painful plunge from grace.
From 6th- to 12th-economy in the world in three years, from a leader of emergent markets to a fire sale of its most valuable assets, from rescuing an estimated 30 million people out of extreme poverty to rejoining the list of nations where hunger is rampant, it was a fall from what never quite looked like a paradise to a much worst place. The tragedy of Covid and its unrestrained path of death may be another fallout of the legislative coup against Rousseff.
Lula and his Workers’ Party, still Brazil’s largest representation in congress, touched every segment of the economy and society, even when banks’ record profits at times seemed at odds with the party’s leftist governance manifesto. The coordinated attack, by a far-right alliance of big landowners, rich Evangelical leaders, and conservative media that ultimately cost Lula power and freedom, will surely be dissected by historians of the future.
Not by coincidence, President Bolsonaro launched the first mass vaccination program – with a vaccine produced by the country’s own Butantã Institute. Despite rising deaths and entire states still locked out of it, some may be breathing a bit easier. Others are simply elated as Lula could potentially beat Bolsonaro next year. If he runs. But the country remains split and there’ll be always many who hate him and will vote for the other guy no matter what.
Ten years ago, a nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Ōkuma, Japan, triggered by an earthquake, created a giant tsunami that killed nearly 16,000 people. Beyond the reminder that natural disasters can throw any society back to its Stone Age, the ultimate cost of the horrific event is yet to be precisely drawn. But to be sure, the entire planet was actually spared from an even worst fate as reactors melted but cooled off in time.
Around the same time, what started as peaceful rallies against President Bashar al-Assad has escalated to an international conflict on Syrian soil. In this past decade, it has destroyed much of the countryside but the forces still fighting there are but proxies, making the bid for Russia, Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Shia Muslim militias, Israel, Saudi Arabia, a U.S.-led coalition of Western countries, and an assortment of violently distraught Islamic groups.
What al-Assad started as a push to crush internal dissent has completely spiraled out of his control, but he’s still in power. While big powers refuse to take the lead to broker peace among warring forces, behind the scenes, they continue to fund it and bomb it. As a result, over half a million have died.
There are similarities between Marielle Franco, a Brazilian councilwoman and LGBTQ activist assassinated by militiamen linked to Rio police three years ago yesterday, and Breonna Taylor, an emergency room technician, shot by the Louisville, KY, police inside her own home, a year ago. Both were poor, working-class Black women with a will to make a difference, and that’s what typical garden-variety macho tugs working for corrupt systems hate.
Marielle was killed for her ideas and accomplishments, daring ascent, and her true-telling political trajectory. Breonna was shot by a police force known for racial profiling. But ultimately they were killed by rising femicide, whose numbers especially during the pandemic rose to inconceivable heights. There’s also something else, though their brutal demise brought forth to the world: at their moment, they’d already given their 110% many times over.
None of their assassins has been brought to justice – banners with ‘Who Ordered the Murder of Marielle?’ are all over her city – even though in her case, two of the shooters are in jail. The mark they’ve left however is indelible. After all, poor ‘Cariocas,’ and BLM activists continue to fight for justice.
Our time here is brief. We get busy with our lives, dreams, and aching backs but often forget that it’s what we leave, not what we can’t take with us anyway, that counts. Be on the lookout, dear reader, to jump at the opportunity to make peace, plant a tree, kiss your mom. It’s great too if we can match at least a tiny part of what Marielle and Breonna’s legacies are all about. But if it’s love that it’s important to you, then you’ll be remembered. See ya.

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3/08/20201 Raise Girls as World Leaders, Colltalers

Once again Brazil shocks the world and not in a good way. As President Bolsonaro told Brazilians to ‘stop whining,’ it hit 10 million Covid-19 cases, almost two thousand a day last week. They could use some of the $1.9 trillion relief bill Republicans fought tooth and nail not to give to Americans.
The far-reaching bill seems well poised to boost the U.S. recovery but it also shows the limitations of President Biden’s ‘mandate‘ as it failed to raise the minimum wage. The Pope’s in Iraq and, in Minneapolis, the trial of the police officer who brutally killed George Floyd last May gets started today.
More on that in a moment but let’s start with Myanmar where the military is shooting to kill protesters of the Feb 1 coup and the junta seems unfazed by the international uproar. Not that it’s been particularly strident. While the army reportedly conducts overnight raids, the casualty count rises, and China takes its sweet time before stepping in. Since the European Union is not acting, the U.S. should put its diplomacy corp in a state of high alert.
Serious violations of international law, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.’ Amnesty International’s assessment matches United Nations’ fears that invading Eritrean troops in Ethiopia’s Tigray region may bring about more deaths, violence, and potentially mass starvation. Eritrea’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, now is accused of ordering illegal troop raids across the border.
Pope Francis may be arguably presiding over the Catholic church’s biggest decline but no one is crazy to count the Vatican out just yet. Argentina-born Francisco, who leads 1.2 billion devouts, has then been entrusted with revitalizing the church’s dwindling attendance using a favorite from the Dark Ages playbook: playing kingmaker. It’s not clear whether the U.S. has offered him pointers for his meeting with Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
$45 billion. That’s the combined amount that Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca are expected to make with vaccine sales in 2021. Which has its upside: after all, these and other companies are offering a safe cure and treatment to an illness that in one year, killed almost three million people, safely developed at a fast clip, and that’s already benefitted some of us. Other companies and nations are also getting into the race.
But what about those who didn’t get a shot yet? That’s the biggest argument coming from the U.N. and other consumer advocacy groups worldwide. Over a hundred nations still have no deal to inoculate their populations and that’s not a problem for the labs – they’re doing just fine as it is – but it is to the world: for as long as enough people are carrying the coronavirus, variants multiply faster than rates of infection or the expected dose efficacy. No catastrophic public health crisis should be managed purely on a commercial basis. Governments must work together to curb profiting from tragedy.
Where’s John Lewis? It’s poignant that the late Georgia Rep. couldn’t mark the 56th anniversary of the first march for Black voting rights in Selma, Alabama. He’d never missed it. In celebration, the House has passed comprehensive legislation to renew, restore, and protect the Voting Act, gutted by the Supreme Court a few years ago. Now it’s the ‘H.R.1′ itself that risks being gutted but by a Senate minority that apparently still runs the game there.
When Bolsonaro got elected in 2018, he publicly praised the then U.S. president and pretty much followed his mentor’s style and absurd decisions to the letter. As a result, when the Covid-19 struck, the two countries got perfected aligned around two issues: ‘the virus does not exist,’ and ‘we don’t need to do much about it.’ You won’t find these made-up quotes, but in speech after speech, both presidents led their nations to the top of a terrible heap.
That tragic pile is the list no one wanted to be on, that of the most fatalities and the most cases in the world. While the virus spread out globally, they both insisted that it was going away, even while neglecting to act in case they were wrong. But wrong they were and 800,000 people die as a result.
A combo of tragedy, incompetence, constitutional crisis, and political manipulation of information – thanks, media everywhere! – has brought the ex-6th-biggest economy of the world to a standstill, with the collapse of a surprisingly resilient healthcare system, and rising public dissatisfaction. All elements that could help defeat the president two years from now. Except that there’s no known candidate with the clout to run and beat Bolsonaro.
For proud Brazilians, it’s a desperate situation. So far, only 7,6 million have had their first shots and there aren’t enough to cover the population. The president had some unsympathetic, and not quite truthful words for those demanding action or at least government emphasis on mask use and social distancing practices. ‘Fools are saying, ‘I’m gonna buy the vaccine.Only if it’s from own their mothers’ house. There’s none available in the world.’
Meanwhile, U.S. Democrats have passed a $2 trillion relief package designed to recalibrate the country for a world without coronavirus. In some ways, given its potential breakthroughs, such as child allowance for families, billions in aid for state and local governments, plus the $1,400 direct checks and an extra $300 unemployment help, it’s a quasi-radical set of policies, with one major flaw: minimum wages remain frozen at a ridiculous $7 an hour.
It was a broken campaign promise and if Biden wasn’t able to help pass it this early into his presidency, it’s doubtful he ever will. For what good is in this relief bill is not a reward but what should be already in effect since the pandemic. Real change, however, would’ve been a higher minimum wage.
When a cop kneeled over George Floyd’s neck for 8min46sec until he died of suffocation, it triggered a nation and worldwide movement and made the term Black Lives Matter a battle cry for action against racial injustice in this country. It, sadly, didn’t stop police brutality or the killing of unarmed people of color but it posed questions that still need answers. Maybe today, when his murderer faces a judge, starts the process of justice for George.
It’s Women’s International Day, a date first celebrated in New York, in 1908. Even if there were no pandemics, we’d have a long list of names to honor today, starting perhaps by VP Kamala Harris. But we’ll remember three media workers, Shahaz Raufi, Mursal Waheedi, and Saadia Sadat, killed Tuesday in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in coordinated attacks by the Daesh. It’s been a while but they’re still coming out of their hellhole to murder women.
Despite tensions generated by the planned withdrawal of American troops in the country, slated to May 1, and also their rumored ‘distaste‘ for Western-style journalism, what it’s common to ISIS as it’s known as well as to other terrorist organizations is their unofficial ‘oppression of women’ strategy.
Freedom and democracy can’t be donated.‘ RAWA, a women’s advocacy group founded in 1977, dreams of a free and secular Afghanistan. For it, it’s fought along with the resistance first against the Soviet Army, then the U.S. Now, as hopes for independence are on the rise again, it’s getting back to its original purpose: ‘Our mission for women’s rights is far from over.’ And so is ours. Never give up, no time to rest. We all begin as females. Cheers

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3/01/2021 By All Means Necessary, Colltalers

Lacking strong world censure, the Myanmar military has moved to phase 2 of its power grab: shooting civilians. President Biden, who bombed Syria instead, has also been criticized for ignoring an intelligence report that accuses Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince of murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
But the week in America may be dominated by two arresting issues: the battle to include in the government’s Covid relief package raising the minimum wage to $15h, the first such rise since 2009; and a bombshell revelation about the murder of Black leader Malcolm X, 56 years ago this February.
We begin with a disturbing Guardian report about the more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, who died since 2010 while building stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The data highlights the failure of the secretive ‘absolute monarchy‘ ruled by the Al Thani family to protect its over two million migrant workers, as it blames the average 12 deaths a week on ‘natural causes.’
As it becomes almost a dark tradition, 317 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped at gunpoint on Friday. What started in 2014 with the abduction of 276 girls by the armed group Boko Haram, which opposes Western education, has become a cottage industry in Nigeria. Different groups have been staging kidnappings for money in recent years. But 100 of those abducted seven years ago remain missing and are now presumably their captors’ property.
From India comes a breather: in a landmark decision, the Uttarakhand province will grant women co-ownership land rights over the hilly fields they tend to while their partners search for job opportunities elsewhere. Property rights in India are usually transferred only through the men in the family.
China seems unwilling to challenge the Myanmar military but remains fully invested in crushing dissidence in Hong Kong. It’s charged forty-seven pro-democracy activists with conspiracy to commit subversion, which is what it calls the island’s widespread opposition to Beijing’s iron-fist tactics. Unfazed, the activists charged back by issuing the HK19 Manual, a Google-available crowdsource guide for rebellion specially translated to Burmese.
And in Russia, opposition leader and Putin’s foe Alexei Navalny has reported to jail to begin serving his two-and-a-half-year sentence amid still strong protests nationwide. He’d accused the Russian president of attempting to poison him, but the courts instead reactivated a 2014 suspended sentence for probation violation. Amnesty, however, has revoked his status as ‘prisoner of conscience‘ based on raging anti-immigrant statements he’d made early.
It is the Congress, not the President, who has the authority to declare war.‘ That’s Senator Bernie Sanders expressing frustration with Biden’s decision to bomb Syria without warning or authorization. It’s a terrible habit, repeated by every president in recent years, and a frontal constitutional violation. It’s a disappointment having to remind the president that using bombs instead of diplomacy and humanitarian relief only leads to more death and ruin.
And since we’re at it. it was also a big letdown that Biden did not mention to Saudi Arabian officials a U.S. intelligence report linking Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder of Saudi-American journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It not only looked like a cheap political calculation but it also empowers the prince and other tyrants like him. We’re not quite at the 100-day mark yet but executive decisions like these could undermine our trust.
Meanwhile, the Myanmar military has shot and killed 18 protesters over the weekend, possibly more, and leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still missing, presumably detained since the Feb. 1 coup. How far the generals will go depends on how much sway China and the U.S. still have over the country. Whether he does interfere or not, it’s a win-win for Xi Jinping, for sure. But the U.S. must lead a global effort to send the boots back to the barracks.
U.S. wages have been frozen at $7 an hour since 2009, and many earn even less than that. But whenever Congress threatens to raise wages, the entire GOP plus a few millionaires across the aisle vote it down. It’s happening again even though raising the minimum to $15, far from enough for a decent living income, is literally the bare minimum to be done at this time of crisis. So much for having a Democrat president and the majority in Congress.
When Malcolm X was gunned down in Manhattan on Feb. 21, 1965, he, not the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was the incendiary force of the Black movement, often taking risky instances as when converting to Islam, to express his contempt with the white culture of oppression and segregation. Now his family has released a letter attributed to an ex-New York police officer that accuses the NYPD and FBI of being involved in the assassination.
But the case became more complicated almost immediately after the revelations when Raymond Wood’s daughter Kelly said that the supposed ‘death bed‘ letter from her father is a forgery perpetrated by an uncle. Family affairs aside, time is indeed ripe for a new investigation to finally solve his murder.
Johnson & Johnson joins Moderna and Pfizer as Covid-19 vaccine producers, which is great to those who’ll be vaccinated, the corporations, and pretty much nobody else. The issue is not their efficacy or different posology, but how to get them fast and cheaply to the rest of the world. For there’s no excuse that 130 nations out of a give-or-take 195 have no doses to offer their populations. Let’s be consistent: vaccines belong to the people.
‘Democracy is not a spectator sport.‘ Lotte Scharfman’s saying has been misquoted and misattributed ever since the Internet has hit and yet it perfectly encapsulates what’s our role in it. Coup plotters and enablers of the Jan. 6 murderous rampage of Capitol Hill may fancy themselves as participants but they’re just corrupted players who should have been already kicked out. It’s us who are expected to protect democracy ‘by all means necessary.’ Cheerio.

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2/22/2021 Percy & US Will Persevere, Colltalers

There’s no shortage of ‘I told you so’ being thrown at those facing jail for their murderous Capitol Hill rampage last month, and at Texas officials. After all, only the rioters didn’t expect their leader’s cowardice at that key moment. Or only a fossil-fuel-based state economy would deny climate change.
500,000 Americans dead of Covid-19 also means that the U.S.’s less than 4% of the world population has a fifth of all deaths reported. As President Biden reenrolls the country into the Paris Agreement, the WHO, and Iran’s nuclear treaty, still unfulfilled campaign promises are back to pressure him.
We start our roundabout this week celebrating NASA and its nothing-short-of-epic landing of the rover Perseverance on Mars. In usual fashion, the arguably most popular U.S. government agency reliably achieved yet another technological feat. It sent the artifact through seven months and millions of miles to skydive amid toxic fumes and land safely on the Red Planet. All so mankind knows it enough to exercise bragging rights. Well done, Percy.
The Nov. 3 elections will be forever marked as the day a U.S. president was stopped from proclaiming himself a king. The Democratic Party gained control over the Senate, we’re closer than ever to decriminalize pot, and a number of other good things were made into law too. But in ‘liberal’ California, the so-called gig economy scored a major and deeply demoralizing boost: the passing of Prop 22 allows some employers not to comply with labor laws.
Uber and Lyft, the U.S.’s two biggest car-services companies, can keep calling employees ‘independent contractors,’ that is, no benefits, no paid time off, and no health insurance, and it’s all for minimum wages. Oh, and you may be fired too, no questions asked. No wonder other companies plan to follow suit.
It’s a kind of backward step that will undermine what many hope for: a boom of the U.S. economy once vaccines take hold and restrictions are lifted. But if it all goes according to plan, jobs will come both from the public and private sector; thus even if the government creates a market for, say, skilled workers, a third-party company may be the one doing the hiring. And if they’re not ‘required’ to pay benefits, who thinks they’ll offer them anyway?
It is, to be sure, a faulty business model, one that forces thousands to have two or three ‘gigs‘ to pay for basic necessities, while making a few at the top, billionaires. Wealthy entrepreneurs and avid upper management types are hardly around when the fallout of the policies that enriched them rains on the lives of their one-time employees. That’s when the government is asked to pick up the debris of millions of families destroyed by systemic poverty.
There are better ways, of course, and the question in everyone’s minds now is: is an economic recovery of a post-Covid-19 world even possible if most nations won’t abide by labor laws? In other words, will Capitalism justify its quest for ‘permanent growth‘ by hiring and tossing workers like straws? To fix this issue may take the entire administration but it’ll help us keep track of how different things may really become. Otherwise, ‘we was robbed…’
Changed things could really be, using a Yoda speech-pattern. Just look at the aforementioned issue of legalizing Marijuana, weed, Canja, whatever; suddenly there’s clarity about how the ‘Drug War‘ was racially-biased and led to our current overcrowding imprisonment of Black and brown people. Also how crucial it is for those most repressed by law enforcement to now have not just their records wiped clean but also a stake in the new business.
Many also expect that kind of clarity from the president about Medicare for All, fracking, student debt, teacher promotion, defunding the police, and weapon sales, among other issues. So it happens that he’s displayed the kind of misconception that fueled wrong policies in the past. Nothing in the scale of the ignorance and mendacity permeating the previous administration, but still hardly any acknowledgment of issues that progressives fight for.
Some thought that drug decriminalization wouldn’t have a shot in the U.S. and yet, here we are starting to implement it. The same with free healthcare for the above-65 crowd which many want to be extended as a cost-effective way to protect everyone and eliminate the scourge of mounting medical debt.
As the concept of sending government checks directly to people is now considered an appropriate way for addressing the pandemic-caused almost total lack of jobs, it brings up ‘Universal Income.’ An idea first discussed in the 1960s, by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, it’s not exactly on top of anybody’s head at the moment but it’s something that should be debated at the cabinet-level and in town meetings across the land.
As we learned more from the deadly attack on Capitol Hill by armed militia members of white supremacy groups, it’s becoming clear that there’s been planning, funding, training, strategizing, and above all, help from the White House for them to achieve the level of hate and disruption that they did. And again, even though their ring leader won’t spend a day in jail, they must, according to all legal procedures they made a public point of breaking.
It may take a few years but it’ll cause the necessary alarm among hate organizations even if many law enforcement organs will drag their feet about it. But while the FBI does its job, Congress should do its own too and proceed to expel from its ranks all those who conspired to destroy our democracy.
More than 50 people already died from the cold snap affecting Texas, a chill made worst by the collapse of the state’s stand-alone, deregulated power grid. Millions who were left without power and running water at the peak of the winter will nevertheless receive expensive consumer utility bills to pay. Regardless that the state’s fossil-fuel-driven economy has been impervious to the environmental damage it causes, Texans deserve our support.
To make sense of how the ‘two sides‘ are not the same or are made of people who actually think radically different from each other for a reason, it’s easy to compare Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, caught fleeing the state with his family, to New York Representative Alessandra Ocasio-Cortez who has raised millions of dollars for relief efforts. One is routinely execrated by the established media for being too radical. The other is just a Ted.
The disgraceful legacy and a particularly nasty strain of a virus, now mutating into other lethal variants too, can be invoked as some of the reasons why we’re still struggling to get vaccines to people most in need. Granted, the coronavirus has been defeating formidable foes and healthcare systems way more humane and effective than ours. But there must be a time when we may reaccess why labs and medical companies profit from world tragedies.
That, or allowing taxpayer-funded academic research facilities to charge private labs when they hit the jackpot for marketing a vaccine for a pandemic. No medical cure should be sold like soap; no healthcare should hassle the elders for past due bills.
If we’re to build a more equitable society, there’s no room for profiting from the human body’s basic necessities: food, shelter, education, health. None of that should be for sale. Wear two masks. Cheers

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2/15/2021 They’ll Come Back For More, Colltalers

It’ll be long before we fully take in the implications of the second Trump impeachment acquittal. The unpunished Fascistic rampage at Capitol Hill though has sure pried opened a back door to power. Senate may prevent the ex-president from ever running again but not someone else, likely smarter.
While few are paying attention, femicide continues to wretch the lives of countless women throughout the world. In times of deception, it’s often what we don’t see that hurts us the most. Thus unseen until detected was the serious cyberattack into the water supply of an entire community in Florida.
But before anything, let’s take a moment to carve the half a million mark, as in, 500,000 Covid-19 deaths in America. And the even more staggering fact that despite all celebrated technological breakthroughs, the reality is that not enough vaccines have been produced so far to go around. Globally. Not yet anyway, and part of the glacial path of immunization is due to unaddressed inequalities and the focus of Big Pharma on their own bottom line.
Americans have mourned and grieved for those gone and those being hit by it but still stings to bear witness once again to privilege and influence buying a ticket out of any trouble. It’s not just rich countries purchasing and storing way more shots than they currently need, to detriment of poorer ones. But even within states and cities, wealthier citizens are managing to get spots in suburban lines, originally set to locals. And getting away with it.
That’s why it’s so important for the U.S. and other nations to let the World Health Organizations manage all global health crisis so as to allocate resources according to humanitarian need, not wealth or convenience. The villainization of the WHO was part of a misguided effort to isolate us from the world.
As this happens, femicide remains rampant. Successive lockdowns allowed many women to be trapped with their domestic tormentors leading to tragic but predictable consequences. Hundreds have marched in Argentina, where a woman is killed for her gender every 30 hours, to protest the murder of Ursula Bahillo, 19, in the Province of Rojas. She’d filed 18 complaints of violence against her ex-partner and policeman, who stabbed her to death.
Keila Martinez, 26, was in police custody for violating a coronavirus curfew in Honduras when inmates heard her screaming for her life. And the body of Brittany Simone Smith, 28, pregnant and missing for days in Greensboro, N.C., was found in a suitcase. An allegedly suspected couple was arrested.
Even as the murderers of others like them remain unpunished, there’s little doubt about what’s actually killing them: their gender. They paid with their lives the price that monsters usually charge their partners for wanting to quit and flee an abusive relationship and attempting to build a life of their own.
At the same time, such sobering reality was temporarily counterbalanced with joy for Loujain al-Hathloul, 31, the Saudi Arabian activist freed after spending three years in jail for the high crime of campaigning to legalize driving for women. She was tortured and sexually assaulted while in prison.
The depressing thing about the second impeachment acquittal is that it was going well. By Saturday morning, there was the prospect of calling up witnesses, some of them who’d have an extremely hard time explaining away the ex-president criminal behavior before, during, and throughout Jan. 6.
But within minutes, the Democrats who now control de presidency, the House, and the Senate, still couldn’t work out a deal, or whatever it’d take, to go through with it. Once a vote was rush-called, we were back to the same despair that followed the first acquittal, despite all the proof gathered. The ex-president can now happily return to the smarmy GOP core, to continue the work of destroying the U.S. democracy along with those who voted for him.
Of course, there was also Mitch McConnell, the paradigm of self-interest who seems to have not relinquished an iota of his former clout. In typical fashion, he did say that the Crook-in-Chief’s ‘morally responsible‘ for the assault at Capitol Hill, but not before making sure he voted to acquit him.
Through the astonishing videos that Impeachment Managers played on even for some elected officials whose names were searched for by the white supremacist mob, there were two seminal moments: when looters called out to hanging Mike Pence – there was a noose outside the building, waiting – right before his boss tweeted against him, and when the ‘nuclear football’ was spotted being carried by a member of the vice president’s security detail.
That the Liar King – King Liar? – would throw absolutely anyone under the bus was not news, even if it were someone who degraded himself beyond redemption in order to serve him. But Pence was actually in mortal danger when that vicious Tweet was posted, and arguably having his sole honorable moment in four years of White House: he was about to certify Joe Biden as the new president. To the VP, sorry, life is unfair, but you’ll get over it.
As for the suitcase with codes to detonate the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the implications are indeed devastating. Why didn’t the Pentagon prepare for the possibility of rioters getting a hold of one of the most dangerous artifacts in the world? Even if such codes are probably not user-friendly, it’s baffling.
Speaking of scary things, and granted, we’ve been gathering a hefty amount of them, few were expecting what happened in Oldsmar’s water treatment plant. In what’s being called the most successful cyberattack in the U.S. to date, hackers raised the sodium hydroxide, or lye, used in the city’s Bruce T. Haddock facility by a factor of over 100, which is harmful to humans. They’ve used a remote-access software to raise the caustic substance levels.
Yet by tapping a city utility that serves millions, likely from their cellphones, the attackers enacted a nightmare those in charge of protecting us have all the time: a dystopic scenario of cybersecurity attacks in the U.S. infrastructure causing immediate mass casualties. This time we’ve ducked the bullet.
No man is good enough to govern any woman without her consent.’ Susan B. Anthony, the abolitionist, and suffragist, who was born 201 years ago today, knew a thing or two about female empowerment and the importance of electoral representation. She didn’t live long enough to see her biggest dream become reality in 1918, 12 years after her passing: the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution making women’s vote legal in America.
And yet it moves on its own,’ said the other birthday person of the day, Galileo Galilei who would’ve been at the ripe age of 456 years young. Sent to the gallows by the Catholic Inquisition for rejecting the Earth-centered model of the universe of his times, he died in prison but triumphed in life over the church and its blood-thirsty enablers. What’s common between Susan and Galileo is how much better the world has become with their lives.
It’s also easy to imagine their dissatisfaction today – and not because Carnival has been canceled this year. The acquittal, the presence of enemies of democracy within, the inequity of vaccine distribution, the brutal gap between the haves and the have-nots, all are compelling reasons for us to want to make a difference too. It’s been a month of the Biden administration but for the American people, change is already overdue. Let’s get to it.

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2/15/2021 To Impeach a Wrongdoer, Colltalers

5.077 Covid-19 American deaths. That’s the audited total registered Thursday. We’re speeding toward the half-a-million cases before the month is out. The virus spreads by jets while vaccines are hand-delivered; guess which is faster? New variants may arrive even faster but immunization will prevail.
The Burmese are out in the streets trying to undo Myanmar’s military coup before it grows roots. They’ll need help. ‘Incitement of insurrection.’ That’s the charge on the second Trump impeachment starting tomorrow as the FBI rounds up members of the deadly mob that stormed Capitol Hill on Jan. 6.
We start on a related note as Canada has just declared the Proud Boys, which took part in the tragic events in DC, a terrorist organization. Court filings charge that the group spouses political violence, Fascism, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant, and white supremacist ideologies. As many face criminal penalties in the U.S., they may forget delusions of freedom that many a Wild West gunslinger has shared: to run away North.
In Brazil, an investigation on over 230 thousand coronavirus casualties concluded that President Bolsonaro is personally responsible for allowing the pandemic to run amok through an ‘institutional strategy to spread the virus.’ The Conectas Derechos Humanos and São Paulo University study also has exposed the administration’s lack of a national plan or provision for vaccine availability and still blames the media and others for the pandemic.
Meanwhile, indigenous leaders and human rights groups asked the International Criminal Court at The Hague to charge Bolsonaro with ‘ecocide,’ the dismantling of environmental policies and violation of native rights. Since 2018, Amazon deforestation jumped nearly 50%, invasions increased 135% in 2019, and at least 18 people were murdered in land conflicts. Back in Nov. 2019, activists had already delivered an ‘informative note’ to the ICC.
Cuba has joined the selected group of nations that developed vaccines. But unlike the publicly-funded research, pattern-holding multinational model that has – inefficiently – controlled global demand so far, it’ll produce 100 million doses of two vaccines to immunize 11 million citizens before sending to Asia and Latin America. While it also faces challenges of distribution and safety as the others, Cuba’s doing something else too: giving it to tourists.
For reasons that extend far beyond the space and level of expertise of this newsletter, it’s arguably fair t***
o say that the world did take a turn to far-right authoritarianism in 2016. That is the forces that finally conjured the global phenomenon had been at work for years prior, but it was then that the U.S., the U.K., Europe, Asia, and Latin America saw conservatives suddenly being able to compete for power and, whenever in disadvantage, staging coups.
While Putin was already in power for the duration in Russia, as was Erdogan in Turkey, a handful of countries were either sold on the preposterous idea of xenophobia as the sole cause of their woes, or were simply won over by disguised forms of power grabs, as was the case of Brazil and others. But unlike those believing the resistance got itself together to elect Biden, it’d be foolish to hope that it’ll stop such a global wave of conservatism.
The president did display the urgency and resolve necessary to move the needle. His first 100 days in office have been a good textbook on actions to address the crisis and so is the current battle in Congress to approve a meaningful relief while immunization doesn’t reach critical mass. That is so even if such relief will leave millions out of the loop. In many instances, it’ll be up to lawmakers to write and enact legislation to help the undocumented.
All around the world, as historians gather evidence on how this all has happened not by happenstance but by design, there’s an urgency to prioritize common human needs, health, reproduction rights, self-expression, shelter, environmental protection, and access to justice, over greed and the pursuit of endless economic growth. Perhaps that’s the most critical difference from four years ago: we know now what they all did when they got to power.
The same four countries, whose leaders tried to dismiss the coronavirus and failed to act even when casualties started to mount, the U.S., Brazil, India, and Russia, are still the places where more people have died of the virus; roughly half of all 107 million world deaths have happened there. The U.K. could also be included here, not for being a repressive regime but for its many Brexit leadership blunders which have surely mined public confidence.
Speaking of repression, the military who staged the coup in Myanmar continue to ignore global outrage and clamor to put down their weapons and let a civilian legislature decide the country’s fate. And free its iconic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who’s been detained and hasn’t been seen lately. It’s likely that, behind closed doors, they’re talking with China’s Xi Jinping and Putin; as for the U.S., it may take a while for it to earn a seat at that table again.
So many have doubts about whether this second impeachment will bear any useful fruits. They’re afraid the ex-president will manipulate headlines as he’s done so well while in office, and that the mainstream media will go for it at full clip. But let’s not underestimate the power of symbolism of this moment, when this country’s democratic institutions may showcase the full strength of their normative powers to enforce and enact the rule of law.
It’s not a show and we all should take the proceedings with the utmost sobriety they require. No one believes the former president will do time. Bus his public condemnation may help solidify the idea that the Office of the Presidency belongs only to those with an upstanding record of personal integrity.
Congrats to Tom Brady and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers who thrashed Kansas City in SuperBowl LV by an impressive score: 31 x 9. But let’s also raise our glasses to another character of the play who performed flawlessly: referee Sarah Thomas, the first female official to work the NFL’s biggest game. Change does come slowly until it doesn’t. As in, sorry, we’re not in Kansas anymore and American women are far from done. Next, the presidency?
There’s much to talk about getting the kids back to school, even without being vaccinated, but any discussion has to start with protecting the teachers who’ll be there for them. We need to discuss how to prioritize those who work so we can stay at home, frontline food and health workers, Black and brown people disproportionally dying from coronavirus. But first, comes our commitment to help each other and find our common ground as humans.
Many indicators point to a year with many changes for mankind, some drastic, others labored and hard-earned. In other words, even playing the lotto and having lots of dreams of fame and fortune, keep up the hard work of every day as the poor person you may still be for a while longer, just in case. As long as we don’t forget how badly we’ve been taken last year, things may look up. Let’s be grateful while we can and carry on as we must. Cheers

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2/08/2021 People Own These Vaccines, Colltalers

The expectation, chaos, and general anxiety over a vaccine that’d start defanging Covid-19 are holding for ransom the world’s breath. Over 100 million cases and 2.3 million casualties justify public concerns. But why no one is holding the big labs accountable for such appalling distribution failures?
Also, why terrorists arrested by the FBI for their Jan. 6 Capital Hill murderous rampage have been freed by local judges? And an irrelevant bruhaha, staged by small investors against Wall Street, had predictable results. Hint: they lost. And even without the virus, 2020 was deadly to asylum seekers.
We start the new month near a town across the Rio Grande from Texas, where 19 burned bodies were found a week from last Friday. Believed to be migrants, at least two of them from Guatemala, they’d been shot first, and their full identification may take months. A year and a week before, 21 had been burned to death in nearby Ciudad Mier, which prompted the Mexican army to kill 11 alleged gunmen, which all but doomed the investigation.
In India, tens of thousands of landowning farmers have been protesting new agricultural laws they see as unfairly stacked against them. On Saturday, the government blocked the Internet in areas surrounding Delhi as some started one-day hunger strikes to mark the 48th anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi’s assassination. Clashes with the police left at least one farmer dead last week but it’s unlikely that the Modi administration will back down.
The European Union, however, did back down on sending vaccines to the Republic of Ireland while skipping Northern Ireland and that was perceived as a relief. The open-borders issue that almost derailed Brexit – with many hoping that it would – just proved again how it can still crush some sensitive toes. The real issue, of course, lies elsewhere: the U.K.’s exit from the E.U. was never driven by people’s best interests but by those of its architects.
As for the bumbling handling of the virus, it’s run roughshod of any common sense in the U.K., throughout the E.U., the U.S., and in many countries. For all vaccines now reaching the market and making billions to Big Pharma are mostly funded by taxpayer money and should be labeled as such, say healthcare activists, rather than advertising their maker. Please follow the #ThisIsOurShot hashtag for further actions promoting a ‘People’s Vaccine.’
Concerns about gargantuan inequalities in vaccine access and distribution have grown steadily as the epidemic starts its second year of terror. While rich nations can afford to buy and store extra doses, a global forecast group’s new report has found that 84 of the world’s poorest countries will not get enough for their populations, and some may not get anything before 2024. That’s alarming: no one will be safe without total global immunization.
‘If you have declared war on the U.S., you’ve become an enemy combatant. You should consider yourself lucky that you’re not in Guantanamo now.’ The comment overheard on an NYC subway platform sounds like a lucid take on what happened in DC and what it should’ve been its law-enforcement consequence. Instead, the arrests so far have followed a white privilege’s sick pattern: easy bail and defiance. For much less, according to lawyers and laymen, people have rotted in Cuba for the past 20 years, some still to be formally charged and most out of luck for a fair and lawful trial in the U.S.
It’s been noted that many of the thugs who killed cops inside the hallowed walls of the People’s House expected to be pardoned by their impeached president but no fat chance. They must be prosecuted as it’s of utmost importance that President Biden sets an example and pursues all of them to the full extent of the law. No, we won’t see thousands of arrests and charges as we’ve routinely seen being applied to Black Lives Matter activists but still.
The president, busy trying to jump-start the process of refocusing America according to its best ideals – rather than appealing to the worst of it as was the norm for four years – will need help making sure that we rid the stains, i.e., the Capitol rioters, but preserve the outrage over their attempted coup. Most Americans believe that neither the ex-president nor his enablers will serve prison time, but that shouldn’t stop us to throw everybody else in jail.
Wall Street hedge funds had a taste of their own medicine this week when ‘amateur’ investors drove some stocks to stratospheric value. It’s all pretty arcane and frankly boring for anyone who has no penny to throw at the stock market, but red flags were not missed by those who used to be called (by themselves), ‘masters of the universe.’ They’re still at the top, of course, so if you have something to spare, donate to a humanitarian cause instead.
And 2020 was a deadly year for migrants, even without considering the brutality and tragedies they already face for the dream of a better life. Remains of 227 migrants were found last year, said Humane Borders, left by ‘coyotes’ to fend for themselves in the middle of the desert. While ICE built huge for-profit facilities across the U.S., to hoard immigrants (and lose their children), many asylum seekers didn’t make the cross and died anonymously.
More sad news: a study found that the majestic Monarch butterfly is now down to less than 2,000 individuals in the wild, as the species may be closer to extinction than ever. The Xerces Society, which counts them yearly, points to the destruction of milkweed habitats along their migratory routes. To save them, the Biden administration must reign on the pesticide and herbicide industries and implement measures to preserve the insect’s population.
Speaking of the BLM, to get motivated to charge murderous white supremacists, the president should check Norway where the movement has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Also nominated are climate activist Greta Thunberg, Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, and even the con-man-formerly-know-as-president. Millions have rallied against police brutality but 99% of those killed, hurt, or charged with disorderly conduct were black.
From a four-year-old to his final 35th year of life, Wolfgang Mozart composed over 600 pieces of music in many categories and styles and inscribed his name among the greatest music masters. Along with his contemporary and peer Ludwig Van Beethoven, he was celebrated in life but in the end, couldn’t put up with the gruesome scheduling of public performances and constant production even if no one knows for sure what exactly killed him.
The depth, energy, and unbounded optimism of Mozart’s art make our species look and feel better and inspire generations to reach out to greatness. On Jan. 27, he’d have become a 265-years-young, surely still ready to experiment with say, digital music. Or rap. There’s no knowing what he’d be up to these days, but we’re lucky enough to have his music in our lives, even without realizing it. Here’s to a lovely yearlong Happy Birthday, Amadeus.
Finally, say goodbye to Earth’s little friend, a leftover from a lost-and-found 1960s-era rocket from the Surveyor 2 mission. Launched more than 50 years ago, it was captured by our planet’s gravity for a visit but alas, not to last. As it’s headed to outer space, it won’t be back again for reasons that may have to do with its next place of address: the sun’s fiery orbit. We bid you farewell, wee wandering space junk, until never more. Happy February.

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1/25/2021 A Work Cut Out for Us, Colltalers

There’s a potential new U.S.A. ahead of us. But we may still get stuck with our nation of yore or with what it’s been in the past years. Only a new dawn is worth pursuing, though, and yes, that may include the second impeachment. In any event, Americans must wisely choose before the 2022 elections.
The future we pick may be in response to the Doomsday Clock, which is been closer than ever to midnight, i.e., global annihilation. That may change Wednesday when atomic scientists unveil the new time. But with 25 million COVID cases, the U.S. still has ways before regaining the world’s respect.
Hold those thoughts while we do our abridged version of a news round-up. Starting by Russia where thousands took the streets in support of Aleksei Navalny, the opposition leader Putin tried to kill by poison and who was arrested as soon as he arrived home. As the Kremlin sets up a court hearing in Feb. that may send him to prison on trumped-up charges, most Western nations accused of supporting him have no idea what he actually stands for.
In Portugal, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa won in a landslide five years more in office, while far-right and progressives had mediocre showings. It was likely a vote for continuity as Portugal has now over 600 thousand coronavirus cases and more than 10,000 have already died from the virus.
In a surprising row over media regulations, Australia may face a future without Google, as it presses the search behemoth to pay for the news it quotes from media organizations. It’s unlikely that the trillion-dollar-valued Alphabet Inc., owner of Google, will back down but after recent moves by the European Union to curb its privacy infringements, along with Facebook and other social media companies, some see a possible change on the horizon.
The great national conversation, about what new role the U.S. is prepared to play, has or may get started right now. Global challenges such as viruses, the climate emergency, hunger, refugees, income inequality, and internally, racial justice, women’s reproductive rights, immigration, and labor reform, are simply too crucial not to require urgent and radical measures. And although there’s now a president ready to listen, the focus should be law-abiding.
In this context, the impeachment must start right away. And so should the debate over augmenting the Supreme Court, to rethink and reform flawed laws it’s approved in recent years which are a threat to our electoral system. Mainly among them, the Vote Rights Act and the Citizens United ruling. Also important is to retool our environmental and public health legislation. We need to get a far-reaching national reconstruction plan up and running, for Americans need jobs and the country’s infrastructure is falling apart, despite all luxury real estate development and fortune-making abilities. We need a national housing policy in place by 2022’s end or is that asking for too much? No nation can be that great when millions are left homeless.
Above all, we need a new institutional framework to assist and support a democratically organized society eager to have its voice heard. It could be up to Congress to enact legislation creating civil organizations to defend democracy, protect diversity, and stick by the rule of law at all times.
President Biden and VP Kamala have their work cut out for them. But it’ll be Americans who refused to normalize lies, who marched by the thousands in peaceful rallies for justice and respect for the law, and anyone who wouldn’t trade their conscience for a seat at the table of power, who may assure that this new America is closer to its ideals than ever. It’s been said, Biden has the chance to grow into an FDR of the modern era. Let’s help him do it.
One last word about the pardons issued by the criminal president to his criminal sycophants: heinous. Not just because it granted relative immunity to known crooks and petty thieves, but because it kept the architect of our past woes, Steve Bannon, alive and well to do more damage. For a moment, it seemed as if he was done, what with being fired by the president and all that. But the pardon gives him an actual afterlife. Hang on to your wallets.
We start the year weary and fatigued but also upbeat about the future and ready to demand a better country, world, and times. Vaccine rollout has been far from reassuring in part because it is still been dictated by commercial interests and market competition. It’s time to support a People’s Vaccine, with no pattern costs attached to it, and that can be produced faster worldwide. As the U.S. rejoins the WHO, let’s take the profit out of this deadly scourge.
It feels good to get the Newsletter back into circulation. It’s been hard to recover from 2020, which is not just tied for history’s hottest but it was also one of the deadliest for Americans, killing more than WWII. With a quarter of all 100 million cases, the U.S. has a moral responsibility to get back to being a positive force for the world. Yes, our despicable side was unmasked but the better people are still the majority. Love must win the day. Cheers.

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12/21/2020 The Year We Cannot Forget, Colltalers

If you’re neither a billionaire nor had a lucky break in 2020, chances are you’re happy this year is finally (almost) over. Also, because it’s not hard to feel grateful for having pulled through while so many did not. For it’s Ok to be thankful amid tragedy but it feels better knowing we did make a difference.
Yes, there’s been Covid and the 1.6 million-plus lives it took with it, including over 300,000 Americans. There’s the brutal reality of millions going to bed hungry every day. The scourge of climate emergency and injustice of racism and rising femicide. There was Trump. And yet, we’re still breathing.
Naturally, most of us would like this moment to be a celebration of what humanity has done so well, but we’re at loss for words; so many of us stepped up to the plate and saved lives, showed compassion, risked life and limb, stood on bullets’ way to speak and protect those whose voices were silenced.
Their sacrifice has countered the horror of having a president who lied, mocked, denied, chastised, and ultimately, ignored the pleas of his own citizens at their most vulnerable time. In the end, it didn’t matter whether Trump’s deceived his own supporters or tried to disenfranchise dissenting Americans; everything he’s done in office was to advance his own cause and at times, that of his family and friends. For that, there must be no redemption possible.
We also didn’t want the year to end so badly to Black people, killed mercilessly by a truculent police establishment. We wished for better things to happen to people of color, asylum seekers, or the poor all over, freezing and dying in cold prisons, forced to be contaminated, slated to be executed no matter what, but all our wishing were only that, wishes. We wanted the election to be a landslide which was not but that small miracle we’ll keep.
No one deserved to have a politician so corrupt, so insensitive to the pain of ordinary citizens, so in synch with the interests of the wealthy few like him, but here we are: a reelected Mitch McConnell is still the Senate leader burying every relief legislation designed to alleviate people’s suffering. He may lose his main job but will still have plenty, make no mistake. For many, though, his actions cost more than they’ll ever get it back: their lives.
Of course, we’d want to leave this year with democracy flourishing everywhere, not under attack in so many countries. The turnout at U.S. elections has finally increased, but one too many Americans still did not show up to vote. That there wouldn’t be so many journalists threatened or killed all over. Or that lawsuits and public pressure were enough to break up those tax-free behemoth corporations for good, but all that will have to wait for now.
It’s unsettling to realize that the era of hacking of arsenals and public utilities by rogue states or deranged ego-trips may be upon us and we can do little to avoid it. It’s disturbing to see the Democratic Party already forgetting those who kept it in contention, or President Joe Biden, like his former boss, set to waste his mandate trying to ‘reach across the aisle‘ to an opposition that tried to steal his victory and whose agenda is to sabotage his every move.
It’s in fact disheartening to know that so many would-be despots, who cheated and persecuted their own people, still enjoy a certain level of popularity and support. Be it Brazil’s Bolsonaro, Russia’s Putin, the U.K.’s Johnson, China’s Xi, India’s Modi, Israel’s Netanyahu, Turkey’s Erdoğan, North Korea’s Kim, Belarus’ Lukashenko, let us know when to stop, Hungary’s Orbán, so many others, they are all fine and kicking and ready to do so more damage.
It wasn’t among anyone’s wishes to have this year to be tied for the hottest ever. Or that carbon emissions would be on the rise. That we’re closer than ever to a nuclear event and no one is talking about that. That deadly drones of all sizes are now popular by waging-war nations, and that daily death and bombings and refugees in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Nigeria, and 14 other African countries, will most likely remain as it is.
Despite being thoroughly beaten, the Lame Duck still raised over $200 million under the false premises of fighting ‘election fraud.’ But Congress, which approved his trillion-dollar tax cuts to the rich and corporations, and once more to companies profiting from the pandemic, can’t come up with a relief that’d include a one-time, miserable $1.200 for those who lost jobs and ability to have an income. And nothing for those who labor outside the system.
Yes, definitely 2020 could’ve been better in all senses. Instead, we mourn those we’ve lost, the heroes who went so others could live, the unsung and unseen hands and minds that helped us quarantine while they braved the virus and the elements to show up to work. Our eternal gratitude goes to them.
Today is the winter Solstice and also the peak of a rare conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the sky. It’s the shortest day in the North Hemisphere and the longest in the Global South. For all we care, the year could end today, and 2021 could get on with its business a bit earlier than usual. But it is what it is: we must thank our lucky stars and wish each other a better time on this Earth while we take a break. Happy Holidays and New Year, friends.

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12/14/2020 Who’s On First, What’s On, Colltalers

The Covid-19 vaccination rollout is about to start and with that comes another stage of the pandemic. And questions such as, who will be first? how will the process work itself out? and how much big pharma corporations stand to make? That’s why there’s the ‘People’s Vaccine Alliance‘ on the rise.
Facebook, the social media that’s richer and more powerful than many nations, is facing antitrust lawsuits filed by the Federal Trade Commission and 48 U.S. states, ultimately seeking to break it up for buying out its competition only to crush it. But hang in there, you may not need to quit it just yet.
Let’s start on a sobering note, though (hoping to improve it later): last Tuesday it’s been 1000 days since Rio’s Black councilwoman, rights activist, and LGBTQ firebrand Marielle Franco was executed, on March 14, 2018. There’s no secret who killed her but seemingly no proof of who ordered the hit.
Hated by corrupt police and militia alike, a fierce advocate for the shantytown dwellers of her city, there’s no mystery why she was murdered either. Her still unpunished assassination is a stain on Brazil’s justice system, and as many fingers point to President Bolsonaro and his politician sons, hers is yet another indictment on the impunity of crimes perpetrated against women, Black communities, sex minorities, and the poor, all of which she not just embodied but used her platform as an elected politician to defend. She’s still sorely missed and the silence about her true killers is simply an outrage.
Four years after the U.K. unexpectedly voted to split up from the European Union, the reality that the vote was a fluke and the separation would be in fact a mistake may have become self-evident. Not to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, of course, for it helped him move to 10 Downing Street. But to his fellow Brits, the official Dec. 31 divorce, even if it lasts beyond that, will be a rude awakening and much hardship for the entire Commonwealth.
Great Britain is about to leave the union without any trade or security agreement, the worst possible outcome for a long list of terrible possibilities. But reminding everyone of you-know-who, Johnson chose to recast reality as a ‘wonderful‘ outcome: call it good what’s essentially only good to yourself, and blame others when questions get too inconvenient. Many awful things happened in 2016 but Brexit is among the top three or four certifiably bad.
Speaking of dreadful things, ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft spent over $200 million to pass Proposition 22 in California, in a win for the so-called ‘gig economy.’ It’ll help them deny basic job and labor rights to workers, while they amass a fortune taking advantage of the pandemic’s impact on public services and the American workforce. Even worst, there’s talk now they’re ready to invest to turn the measure into some national legislation.
It’s perhaps the final straw for 75 years of prosperity of U.S. workers, hard-earned through union organizing and improved labor relations. Although it may date to the Reagan administration the start of the undermining of the labor movement, something else was at play in the approval: deceiving advertising. A survey found that 40% of ‘Yes‘ voters thought they were supporting gig workers’ ability to earn a living wage. But it does the opposite.
‘Independent contractors‘ at DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates, which Uber now owns, are no longer eligible even to minimal job protections, such as overtime pay or retirement contributions matched by the employer, and may be fired in a whim, with no possibility of collecting unemployment for it.
The U.N. World Food Programme, the humanitarian organization for hunger and food security, has been awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. Wars, climate change, and now the pandemic may drive 270 million people to the brink of starvation, said director David Beasley while accepting the award.
With global vaccination set to start, as vaccines owned by big pharmaceutical companies but partially developed with taxpayers’ funding reach their final testing stages, there’s a growing call for accountability. The People’s Vaccine, a coalition of Amnesty, Frontline AIDS, Oxfam, and other non-profit groups, wants vaccination to be free and accessible to anyone in the world, starting with the sick and first responders. But now, not in 2022.
Facebook’s revenues last year were over $70 billion and profits, above $18.5 billion, according to the FTC whose suit is separated from the one led by N.Y. Attorney General Leticia James and other 47 AGs. But despite support from users for splitting up Mark Zuckerberg’s creature, two of its most nefarious aspects are not part of either suit: the implicit but still immoral sale of private information, and its veiled support for right-wing extremists.
We mourn journalist Malalai Maiwand who became the 10th media worker killed this year in Afghanistan, and yet another woman assassinated by sectarian violence around the world. And former Uruguay President Tabaré Vázquez who died on Dec. 6. His stewardship of the South American nation was a turning point for the ‘Pink Tide,’ a period of prosperity and progressive leaders and policies in the region during the first decade of 2000.
The sudden, lovely visit of a humpback whale to the NYC harbor this past week reminded us of why we take so seriously climate change. For it may offer us a spectacular sight of a majestic animal frolicking within sight of the West Side Highway. But we wonder, what is he or she doing here?
And we couldn’t possibly end this without a warning to penguins living in South Georgia Island: the world’s biggest iceberg is heading your way, no two ways about it. The trillion-ton, 97-mile-long megaberg has been on a long track since it broke off in 1997 from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf. Roughly the same size of the entire island – and many times the size of Manhattan – a collision could be disastrous for the birds. Would you tell them?
We may have to postpone Christmas and find ways to go back to lockdown over the holidays without losing our minds, but if over 16 million cases in the U.S. and 34,000 deaths only in Nov. are not strong enough arguments to anyone, why bother pretending ’tis the season of joy, ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo‘ and all that jazz? Who needs religion if it’s not about compassion for your fellow humans? Don’t answer that, just please wear a mask. Cheerio

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12/7/2020 Dreamers Have the Power, Colltalers

The repulsive spectacle of our non-conceding president seeking to pre-pardon himself, his family, and friends, is not just an admission of guilt. It’s also why those related to 15 million dead and alive Americans with Covid-19 deserve full accountability for the Trump administration’s criminal ineptitude.
When 65 years ago last week Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, AL, hers was neither a first for such a rebellious act nor the most dramatic but a turning point. Her courage still dwarfs our current resolve to set racial equality in the U.S.
More about that later but let’s start with ‘Make Amazon Pay,’ the movement to force the world’s largest online retailer to fulfill its social obligations. Launched on Black Friday by over 50 organizations, it demands better working conditions and full tax transparency (Amazon paid 0 taxes in 2018).
A letter by over 400 lawmakers from 34 countries to founder Jeff Bezos, who became a trillionaire exactly during the pandemic, says the company has ‘dodged and dismissed … debts to workers, societies, and the planet‘ on its way to market domination and to top the $11 billion profit it made last year.
Good news to those who were born in the U.S. but remain in the limbo of draconian immigration laws: a federal judge ordered the ‘Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,’ or DACA, to be restored to protect the so-called ‘Dreamers‘ from deportation while providing a path to their citizenship. Being but a fraction of undocumented immigrants living in the country, the ruling still benefits over a million and their families, currently terrorized by ICE raids.
An outpour of sadness has been expressed by scientists the world over about the destruction of Puerto Rico’s Arecibo observatory. A spate of accidents, with causes still unknown, culminated with the total collapse last Tuesday of the once largest radio telescope on Earth, the source of many scientific breakthroughs. There’s a campaign to rebuild it but this was yet another hit to the Commonwealth, besides hurricanes, earthquakes, and, well, Trump.
Let’s take a moment to report on three women activists, Loujain al-Hathloul, Agnes Chow, and Nemonte Nenquimo. Saudi Arabia has jailed al-Hathloul for defending women’s rights; China sentenced Chow for co-leading the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong; and Native Ecuadorian Nenquimo was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for fighting to protect the Amazon Rainforest. Their predicament mirrors their struggle.
Saudi and Chinese authorities share similar despotic urges to control everyone, especially women, and are unlikely to refrain from muzzling their most vocal opponents. As for the sole positive development in this list, the prestigious award will help long-time forest protector Nenquimo and members of the Waorani people to continue on their mission. Last year, they took the Ecuadorian government to court and won, saving 500,000 acres of rainforest.
A special note about student scientist and inventor Gitanjali Rao, chosen as Time Magazine’s first ‘Kid of the Year.’ The 15-year-old from Colorado, who used artificial intelligence and applications to tackle contaminated drinking water, cyberbullying, opioid addiction, and other social problems, patented her first invention at 12: a portable device to detect lead in water. Picked among 5,000 others, she surely gives us all confidence in the future.
Speaking of Indigenous activism, today Hoksila White Mountain will push for his native-supported indication to the city council of McLaughlin, SD. Over the summer, he’d been prevented from running for mayor despite gathering all appropriate documentation. A seat for him at the mostly-white council will represent a first in the city and a guarantee that his community will be heard at important decisions. Here’s our support for his candidacy.
It’s an abject scandal that, as America’s coronavirus death toll approaches a record 300,000, the president’s only concern is to avoid persecution once he leaves office. But it’s all been made worse by daily media speculation about his future or deranged dreams of running again in four years. Meanwhile, questions about vaccine distribution, priority candidates, safety, and above all, costs, will surely keep optimism about it a few degrees below bubbling.
Parks’ gesture was planned but few expected it’d provoke a 381-day boycott of Montgomery city buses, or that it’d ignite what became the civil rights movement. Given the kind of year we’ve just about to wrap up, with numerous, peaceful Black Lives Matter marches violently repressed by police and white supremacist goons, the seamstress fully deserves her place in history. We honor her heart and vision, but we still live in a segregated America.
‘Say you want a revolution/we better get on right away/Well you get on your feet/and into the street/singing power to the people/power to the people.‘ No one was prepared to lose John Lennon on Dec. 8, 1980, and 40 years later, few made peace with his loss. Even now that he’s gone for as long as he’s lived, we can’t make sense of the brutality of his death. Except that his music endures and shows he was mostly right on while alive and kicking.
Some of his songs sound as fresh as when he sang them, with and after The Beatles, and their simplicity can have the power of bullets. Yes, we’re still fighting to be counted, still being arrested for demanding dignity and humanity. Even his beloved NYC is back to a more violent, gun-infested time. But we still share his positive outlook; death can’t kill a well-lived life. So here’s to John, Rosa, Agnes, Loujain, Nemonte, and Gitanjali. C-Ya.

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11/30/2020 Stand For Those Who Can’t, Colltalers

These are uncertain times. Covid-19 is at calamity levels of transmission and no healthcare system seems capable of handling its ravenous expansion. Months from a vaccine, we’re all we’ve got to keep ourselves safe. While Americans die by the thousands, a lame-duck president refuses to concede.
The assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, though, fuels rumors of a desperate attempt to keep Trump in office – with a little help from Israel? Elsewhere, there were massive street protests in France and Thailand, and municipal elections in Brazil brought grief to progressives.
For a change, let’s open with some upbeat news: in Scotland, menstruation products will be free and available to anyone. Let’s turn the idea into a right in the entire world; there’s plenty of exploitation and abuse of the female body but not nearly enough support for being a woman and all that it implies.
Tomorrow is World Aids Day and speaking of epidemics past and present, the news about HIV contagion is again mixed. According to the CDC, fewer people died of H.I.V.-related causes, but survival rates for women and people of color did not improve as much. There are surely lessons to be learned from the Aids outbreak and crisis since the 1980s, the wreck it’s left in its wake, and how it came under control, including the fact that’s still around.
France is having its ‘George Floyd moment,’ as cameras captured the violent beating of Michel Zecler, a Black music producer. Thousands took to the streets to protest racial violence and the law that would’ve prevented the incident from being filmed. The graphic images, all too familiar to Americans, flooded airwaves and may be a turning point in the Emmanuel Macron presidency, already plagued by corruption claims and for spreading fake news.
In Thailand, thousands are rallying for democracy and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who seized power in 2014. The pressure is on King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who supports him and is arguably the world’s wealthiest monarch while near seven million live in extreme poverty.
And in Brazil, results from municipal elections represented a blow for those anxious to see some light on the other side of the Bolsonaro presidency. Even without campaigning much, the defeat of some new, progressive leaderships in big cities such as São Paulo, Rio, and Porto Alegre, showed that the majority still supports him over change. Now there’s the fear of what a reenergized religious and conservative far-right movement may do next.
Staying a bit with this story, the fact is that since President Dilma Rousseff was ousted in a legislative coup four years ago, Brazil has become all but ungovernable. Its economy has nose-dived, it faces an international outcry for allowing the Amazon forest to burn, poverty levels have risen, but the president who’s in part responsible for it still enjoys high ratings. ‘Does it sound familiar?‘ may become an outdated cliché but for now, it’s still usable.
The Fakhrizadeh murder comes at a sensitive time in U.S.-Iran relations. Since Trump declared the 2015 historic nuclear agreement null and void and ordered the assassination of major general Qasem Soleimani, they’ve got busy trying to produce bomb-grade Uranium, the exact reason for the accord in the first place. But many see Israel, which has killed several of Iran’s nuke scientists in the past, trying to tip the balance to keep its friend in power.
Back in the U.S., President-elect Joe Biden has been equally praised and criticized for his choices to populate his future administration. While naming capable people with diversity credentials is important, critics are pushing for more nominees with a record for fighting climate change, protection of the environment, racial injustice, income inequality, and women’s reproductive rights, to face a possible GOP-controlled Senate and Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, it’s been a depressing spectacle to witness former Trump operatives attempting to extort his supporters on false claims of electoral fraud. Since no courts will entertain such claims what they, and the man himself, are ultimately doing is getting people to pay for debts and future campaigns. Some, like businessman Fredric Eshelman, is suing Trump to get back the $2.5 million he’s donated but not for that. All we can say is good luck.
The tragedy of the coronavirus goes, of course, beyond lacking healthcare for billions or science’s shortcomings producing a timely response. It also boosts already extreme world poverty, hunger (millions of Americans stood at food bank lines over Thanksgiving), and uncontrollable climate change-fueled disasters. Yes, it takes a different class of political leaders to face this crisis but it also depends on those who can get out to demand change.
Most of our fellow humans live lives of despair and hopelessness, and to them, even the right to protest is consistently denied. Some risk everything anyway for there’s no other choice. That’s why ‘lucky‘ ones living in nominally democratic societies have the moral obligation to speak up for those who can’t. That’s the ripples of change that visceral movements such as Black Lives Matter or groups fighting against the climate emergency can generate.
Often, it’s the most flawed, controversial individualist who takes upon themselves to stand up for the rights of others, even if unwittingly. When the Argentinian genius of soccer Diego Maradona passed away this week, waves of grief washed over not just his compatriots but everyone who admires the sport and have no qualms about political outburst from those who practice it. At the peak of his brilliance, he was still a rusted nail sticking out.
The game’s powers that be stepped on it and cried wolf. They’ve tried to beat Maradona into an agreeing pawn, shaming him for his big appetite for life, drugs, and for expressing uncomfortable truths. It didn’t work. His rebelliousness may have cost his life but his honor was never for sale. R.I.P.
We must close if we may by repeating the public service warnings we should be seeing all around us, even if they’re annoyingly repetitive: the virus does not recognize holidays or take into consideration the hardship we’ve all been through this year; contagion is still on the rise, and more people are dying now than even at its Spring outbreak in some places. Wear a mask and keep your distance. It’s not about you. Other Xmas will come. Be safe.

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11/23/2020 Tell Him to Vacate the Premises, Colltalers

Georgia’s recounted its votes and certified Joe Biden as the presidential winner. Today Michigan and Pennsylvania will do the same, and by Dec. 1 so will Arizona, Nevada, and Wisconsin. That’s why President Donald Trump may be about to concede his defeat and congratulate his opponent. Not.
Thus, upon careful consideration, we offer that the President-elect should lead a great march to the White House to tell in person our current lame-duck leader that he needs to move out so America may move on. If not by Thursday Thanksgiving then before the 300.000th American dies of coronavirus.
But before dwelling on the disturbing and entirely avoidable constitutional crisis that may make or break the olde U.S. of A., let’s start with the other pandemic which has been unwittingly aggravated by the virus lockdowns: femicide. Even before the global health scare, the number of women being murdered, including transgender and other non-binaries, was already rampant in Latin America, with Brazil and Mexico leading the despicable way.
Now, it’s ever more visible that the sad phenomenon is not restricted to that region only; Australia had 45 women killed this year, according to Destroy the Joint. In the U.K., a Femicide Census found that over a ten-year period, more than 1,400 women have been violently killed by men, foe or friend. Wednesday kicks off a U.N.-sponsored ’16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence,’ which will hold global activities to increase awareness.
Despite significant support from women for the confessed rapist who’s just lost the U.S. presidential race, the trend runs counter wise around the world. Women are having a decisive impact on government and authoritarian regimes, and Turkey, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Canada, South Africa, Israel, France, and many others have seen huge rallies, for not just women’s reproductive rights but also the sacred right to remain alive, being disrupted by the police.
Speaking of Australia, it’s also been shaken by an official report about elite forces that allegedly killed Afghan civilians and prisoners in ‘competition killings.‘ Unlike what happened in the U.S., though where the president granted clemency to war crimes-accused troops, the Australian Defense Force has apologized and recommended a full investigation and possible criminal penalties to many of those involved, some of which are still on active duty.
In Brazil, the beating to death of João Alberto Silveira Freitas by security officers and an off-duty cop at a grocery chain has ignited widespread protests, augmented by nationwide municipal elections, some now heading to a second round. The killing caught on video was witnessed by his family on the eve of the national holiday Black Awareness Day. So far, neither President Jair Bolsonaro nor close members of his cabinet have cited the tragedy.
And in France, former president Nicolas Sarkozy appears in court today to defend himself from accusations of corruption and influence peddling. He’s been charged with trying to bribe a magistrate overseeing yet another probe against the president who presided over the French from 2007 to 2012.
Mostly, the Trump administration will leave no good deeds in its wake, and the fact that he’s still ensconced in the White House entertaining all sorts of ways to overthrow the results of the election shows clearly that he’s not interested in a new mandate so he can finally put an end to the pandemic. The reality is that he no longer feels the need to even address the devastation, let alone lead us out of it. Thus, why he wants to stay president so badly?
Don’t answer that. Trump is still using his power to plan a way out – and sign vicious executive orders: he’s just lifted protections on pristine Tongass National Forest, an American treasure. President Biden may reverse that but not before exposing Trump’s extreme ill-intent upon leaving his office.
The man who beat all U.S. voting records and will be sworn on next January has been all but prevented from having any hold in the present crisis. Which is unfortunate to near 13 million Americans struggling to survive Covid-19 and who may not be at the frontline of vaccine lines. Only Biden can mandate that treatment be administered to anyone free of charge and in order of severity, not to those who have other means of paying for the shot.
Which brings us to the not completely transparent process of forming his cabinet. Over the weekend, ‘Biden Be Bold,’ a movement to pry open the nomination chain to include more minority members, has started pushing for more seats at the table, alarmed by some notorious corporate names being considered. Despite the Democratic Party, they want decisive action against climate change, institutional racism, and income inequality right now.
To show how he won’t easily forget that progressives in this country decisively helped him get elected, President-elect Biden should lead a great march to symbolically reclaim the White House to its now legitimate administrators: the near 80 million who voted for him expressly to remove Trump.
Biden should stand side by side with environmental activist groups, human rights organizations, Black Lives Matter, Women’s March, immigration law advocates, citizens for labor justice and gun regulation, that is, the broad coalition that defied the status quo – and all disenfranchising attempts by the Republicans – to register and help people to vote. It’d be risky but beautiful and proof that a new dawn is rising in America and Trump is not part of it.
Friday marked 75 years from the start of Germany’s Nuremberg Trials, which judged and sentenced 24 Third Reich political and military leaders, for the Holocaust and widespread crimes against humanity. The trials set crucial jurisprudence for war crimes, such as the dismissal of ‘following orders’ defense argument, and the practice of genocide, or ethnic cleansing, as an acceptable military tactic. They held the world’s breath for nearly a year.
Many believe that only a type of international, high-profile trial such as the Nuremberg, with a focus on accountability and illicit enrichment, would reset parameters for what a fair and honest administration should be. Word has it that the president loses sleep about the possibility of being sued as a civilian and that fuels his anger and refusal to concede. 22 failed, frivolous lawsuits later, he may not have a choice or even the support of the GOP.
In fact, the president is becoming ever more irrelevant to the reality we’re all living in. It’s obvious that Senate Leader Mitch McConnell while talking the talk, has no longer anything to gain from Trump’s survival; he stands a good chance to keep his job and now the Supreme Court is also his to take. It’s not that the president has no support; just that now it’s only the people he deceived and convinced to vote for him who nevertheless are powerless.
But no one should underestimate the breadth and depth of four years of back-room deals, nepotism, corruption, and above all, incompetence to govern. The wealthy folks he helped – while he mismanaged the crisis, 647 of the richest Americans added almost a trillion dollars to their fortunes – got what they wanted and may continue to do so with Biden. Even those he picked to lead the pillage have the means and the self-survival sense to withdraw support. In the end, Trump’s just an old corrupt man used to discarding people being himself discarded. Still, we say, ‘Get the Hell Out!. Now.‘ Cheers

***

11/16/2020 Time to Get Those Keys Back, Colltalers

Elections are designed to settle, a period placed at the end of a cycle, a clean slate for the future. Democratic nations rely on such normality. Defeated leaders are to graciously get out of the way, so a new day may rise. But not the president. To Donald Trump, America simply can’t quit Donald Trump.
As the U.S. faces a potential constitutional breakdown, the world shivers. Foes and allies gingerly prepare for what may come but can’t afford to ignore their own political turmoil. Uncertainty spreads like wildfire but ultimately, it’ll be up to Americans to keep it up or stop this whole insanity. Will we?
For while we correctly fret about the presidency, there’s an upsurge – second wave? third wave? does it matter? – of Covid-19 cases. What the president has affirmed at least 38 times it’d ‘disappear, like a miracle,’ has now killed over 250,000 Americans and more than 1.3 million worldwide. Record-breaking spikes threaten to overwhelm healthcare systems and a vaccine is still a long shot, but Trump’s only concerned about remaining in power.
We’ll go back to these issues in a moment but let’s conference the world first. Starting with Bolivia which finds itself in the solitary position of looking forward towards the future. The last Sunday’s inauguration of the socialist Luis Arce government and the return of its first indigenous president, Evo Morales, ousted about a year ago by a coup, has filled the small Andes country with joy and the hope it’ll build this time the nation its majority wants.
But if in the north people are afraid things may go south, in most of the global south, they’re pretty much there already. In Peru, where President Martin Vizcarra was impeached and his foe and successor, Manuel Merino, has resigned amid violent nationwide protests, no one can tell what’s coming up.
And in Mexico, a journalist and an elected official were killed by hired assassins last week. Israel Vásquez, a news site reporter, was shot at a crime scene he was reporting from, the third in as many weeks according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. And the body of Florisel Ríos, Mayor of Jamapa, was found riddled with bullets, in another bloody battle of the war between local drug lords, corrupt politicians, and the police. No suspects.
Meanwhile, China has all but wiped out the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong as it’s ‘disqualified‘ four lawmakers of the Legislative Council. The move, which prompted other members to resign in solidarity, exposes the Chinese government’s raw push for total domination over the territory.
For a country that has never had a succession crisis of this magnitude, the number of U.S. votes cast for Democrat Joe Bidden, 77,9 million, the most of any president in history, the 5.3 million difference over Trump’s, and 290 vs 232 electoral delegate votes advantage, with a likely 16 more if Georgia is called for Biden, should be insurmountable reasons not to contest the results. Until the Dec. 14 certification, though, Republicans will try anything.
A GOP win depends, of course, on twisting rules not quite etched in constitutional stone, massive disruption of counting sites, to justify intervention and the directing of electoral votes to the sitting president, hundreds of lawyers arguing the case to submission, and of course, the illegal partiality of the Supreme Court. All these scenarios are unlike and have been resoundingly rebuked by the courts. But the fear is, what if it all falls into place?
More than that, what counteroffensive has the Democratic Party to offer to prevent this from becoming Florida 2000? The answers one gets are truly frightening because they’re mostly toothless. The party that’s now accusing progressive members of having caused the loss of House seats, has made no public statements about what it’ll do in case Trump is reelected on a legal technicality, despite the voters’ will registered in history’s biggest turnout.
With the latest staged row against those who demand immediate action about the climate, healthcare, labor and immigration laws, and brutal income disparities, the party has been mostly missing from the frontlines. While the established media repeats false claims and lies echoed from the far-right, white supremacist rallies held in DC Saturday, with civil rights groups fighting back, Democrats are mostly relying on lawyers to make their cases.
The American democracy is in mortal danger and we can only count on ourselves and on some of those we’ve elected to stand up for our rights and speak truth to power. Out of the general feeling of relief of having officially fired Trump from the White House, there’s also a dangerous complacency, underestimating the survival instinct of those who lost. They’re clinging to their perches and it’s hard to see them being dislodged without mass rallies.
We may begin by stopping thinking that sanity or legality or even almost three centuries of constitutionality will prevail and wake up to the reality that this is indeed happening and won’t go away, ‘like a miracle.’ What’s at the stake is not the next four years but how we may become China or Russia.
No offense to these great countries but the truculence of their regimes was once thought impossible to exist in America, land of the free, etc. We now see the fragility of our government’s ‘to the people, with the people, and for the people‘ mandate, though. A slight shift and we may wake up in a nightmare billions are already living in. Trump’s nightmare is to hand back the White House keys on Friday, Nov. 20, which is Biden’s 78th birthday.
‘The Problem We All Live With‘ is Norman Rockwell’s 1964 painting of Ruby Bridges being escorted to by federal marshals in New Orleans on the first day of school desegregation in America. It showed the level of engagement of the great American painter. Now, in a fitting homage, fellow artist Bria Goeller revisits the image, this time adding Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris, the first Black and Asian woman to ever occupy high-office.
For it’s not all doom and gloom: SpaceX’s ‘Resilience‘ capsule has been launched with four Crew Dragon astronauts heading to the International Space Station, just in time to celebrate its own 20-year anniversary with Expedition 64. Many people associate our quest for interstellar travel with the best qualities of the human spirit as the Space Station’s message of human cooperation is never out of date. Thus, God Speed to the folks up there. Cheers

***

11/9/2020 A Battle Won, More to Come, Colltalers

It’s been a big ‘Aaaahhhhhh,’ an extended, cathartic, long-overdue sigh of relief. Joe Biden has thoroughly beaten Donald Trump, celebrations erupted across timezones, and America has finally caught its breath. Even the world’s sleeping better too. A swell party but this nightmare is not quite over yet.
For Covid-19 is on the offensive again and several countries are now back into lockdown. 10.2 million Americans got the virus, and worldwide over 1.2 million have already missed the new day. The election is done but the presidency ends only on Jan. 20, so a lot may happen between now and then.
Expect a backlash from the president, and Republicans still pretending to like him. Calls for recounting, lawsuits, desperate appeals to put out the fire. But unlike what many feared, there’s really no close-enough race to justify a recounting and no serious questioning of the system’s integrity. Not that this will keep them from trying. In the end, it’ll be the American people who will guarantee the legality of the process. And they have already decided.
Except for Trump of course. The president who has already turned the U.S. into a Banana Republic now threatens to muck up what makes America functional: the peaceful transition of power. It’s been abundantly clear that he’s not equipped to understand what’s just happened so few have seen him. Or his execrable family. Or VP Mike Pence. Or the network of peddlers and sycophants who used him to advance their careers. There’s no one there.
Some say that he’s lost because he failed to rouse his crowds up a notch one last time. But how can you say that of someone who’s just got 70 million votes? No, it’s just another lame-duck president learning the hard way why adulation never lasts. The White House is now the loneliest place on earth.
Again, they’re down but not quite out yet. The next 73 days will be critical. If shunned by the same courts the GOP worked so hard to rig so to serve him in this time of need, Trump may start executive-ordering pardons to himself, family, and friends, and wrecking havoc on extremist legislation, be it against the environment, civil rights, or foreign policy. It’d be just like a surly teenager breaking stuff up out of spite just for being grounded for good.
It’ll also take weeks to become clear what has changed in America with the election, what new laws were approved, and who are the new faces brought to DC by the sheer power of representation. If black women carried the victory to Biden and Kamala Harris, the first female, Black, and Asian taking the Oath of Office, then Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s former minority leader, deserves all accolades for her ground grassroots work turning the state blue.
We’ll learn the names of all others who, like her, spent years organizing, creating strategies of resistance, and getting ready to assure that every vote would count, unlike what happened to herself. The Democratic Party was in fact a relatively minor, people-less factor to contribute to its own victory.
We know that six native Americans got elected to Congress Tuesday, now also enhanced with its first two openly gay Black New Yorkers. It’s legal now to smoke marijuana in New Jersey and legally purchase any drug in Oregon, both measures to potentially free thousands of inmates nationwide.
Illinois couldn’t pass legislation to better tax high incomers and California, despite its perceived liberal bias, won’t let recreational pot to become legal. Worse: car-service giants Uber and Lyft successfully kept their free ride through labor rights, by classifying employees as ‘independent contractors,’ a euphemism that spares them from paying benefits and job guarantees to their drivers. Florida did it better by increasing to $15 its minimum wage.
One would be tempted to say that this election did affect everyone on the planet, mostly for the better. But not to weapon manufacturers and defense contractors, according to nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Its latest report shows that both candidates received money from the industry.
Still, the president-elect has correctly picked the most urgent issue to be tackled down: the coronavirus. It’ll be important too to create new institutions to deal with issues of race, labor legislation, climate change, and immigration, besides other timely needs such as rebuilding infrastructure and taking steps to transition the U.S. into a green economy. Biden will need to be pushed to act upon these issues, so Americans have their work cut out for them.
For that to work, however, he also needs a vital piece of the puzzle to swing in the right direction: the Senate majority. The decisive votes will come from two Georgia runoff races on Jan. 5: respectively, the GOP’s David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler versus Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
There were fireworks in London and church bells in Paris, street parties in Berlin and well wishes from Amsterdam. But there’s been utter silence in Moscow and no congratulations from Ankara. The world remains divided and Americans have just got a shot at rewinding to a less terrible time but still one no one should be longing to go back to. The U.S. got a humbling lesson on how easy it is to kill democracy and fall into an authoritarian regime.
To even those who didn’t need any proof, the elections exposed the reality of a growing white supremacist movement, of law enforcement institutions tainted by an unjust system, and too many millions facing hunger and inhumane living conditions. An America where people get elected by swearing by the Qanon conspiracy canon cannot be the America we need to rebuild anew. Besides, Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham still got reelected.
It’ll take more than what we’ve done so far and let’s not talk about turnout. Historic, yes and yet, still below half of the U.S. population. Once sworn in, the president won’t be the most direct route to change; the people will. If we get satisfied now, thinking that this was some kind of championship win, our team is already losing the next battle. The world thanks to the brave Americans who still dream of an alternative. From now on, we’re it. Well done.

***

11/2/2020 There’d Be Days Like These, Colltalers

We’re entering an extraordinary week in American history. Books, theories, films, college disciplines, and brand new laws will be written about what’s happening in the U.S. Billions of people, entire regimes, wildlife, and the planet itself will be impacted by it. Will Americans choose wisely or poorly?
The terrifying global spike of Covid-19 – the U.S.’ still on top with over 9.4 million cases – and a just-retooled Supreme Court on track to reelect Trump will certainly headline the period. That and the U.S. officially leaving the Paris Agreement. Oh, did we mention there’s a major election tomorrow?
We start the news roundup with the brutal murder of three in Nice, France, by a young Tunisian, supposedly in the name of Muhammad. It’s the third of such attacks in two months, but there were other near-miss tragedies averted by law enforcement. The attacker survived and will stand trial. All because the satirical Charlie Hebdo paper – itself targeted in 2015 – decided to republish cartoons of the prophet. 2020 can’t stop breaking our hearts.
In Poland, it’s been the second week of protests against the far-right Andrzej Duda administration, which has enforced a draconian abortion ban. It’s all part of an effort to cancel women’s reproductive rights, despite them being the majority of the population, by its mostly Catholic male demographics. But it won’t work for that’s a fight conservatives can’t win, neither in Poland nor anywhere else. When women rise, they usually get what they need.
Before going any further, let’s correctly identify the source linking both events: religious intolerance, the exact reason invoked by the Pilgrims to flee 16th century England and settle on its brand new colony. The difference is the degree of violence employed, which by no means is negligible. Still, it’s important to relate both incidents as pre-planned and executed to the letter by its perpetrators and not forget their common goal: to shut down dissent.
Let’s also mention yet another migrant tragedy at sea: the 140 people who drowned off the coast of West Africa last week. 200 migrants had set sail from Senegal to Spain’s Canary Island, but only 59 were saved. Hundreds of these staggeringly sad calamities happen so often most don’t even get to be reported. The need to flee extreme poverty and death by political strife, to build a better future however will still be there. But will our empathy?
An earthquake in Turkey and Greece, and a tsunami that followed; Typhon-driven floods in Vietnam; wildfires in Colorado and California; and the strengthening of Eta, the season’s record 12th hurricane. There’s some good news from the natural world though: a huge, ‘taller than the Eiffel Tower’ new coral reef was found off Australia, likely part of the Great Coral Reef. Exploding with wildlife, in a week like that, we’ll surely take it with joy.
So it came to this. The enemies of Democracy have carved us a pretty deep hole and we’re supposed to lay down and mostly fail to fight back. They’ve been gerrymandering districts in their favor for years. They’ve undermined the Post Office to near collapse, so as not to deliver mail-in votes. They created confusion and even fake vote collection boxes, besides throwing thousands of people of color off the election records. They’re ready to litigate.
All to reelect someone who called immigrants ‘animals,’ mocked disable people, attacked dozens of women and went on record telling us all how to do it, and lied, lied, lied an average of 50 times a day for four years. A self-appointed businessman who burned through millions of his dad’s money, and broke or bankrupted every business he’s ever touched. A tax cheater, who’s proud of paying less than under-the-poverty-line hard-working Americans.
Don’t worry, over 30 million of our fellow citizens believe his con and will show up to reelect him or else. Or rather, yes, worry, a lot. It’s from this springboard of sure votes that he counts to build his victory at the polls, which may be unlikely. But he’s not worried: the Supreme Court he rebuilt is set to serve him, not the nation, just as it’s been doing for the past weeks. The shameful partisan, conservative minority will do his bidding, no sweat.
As far as the president and his despicable band of sycophants and self-motivated acolytes are concerned, the 236,000 Americans who died of neglect and Covid-19 are a non-starter when it comes to his ‘victory’ over the virus if one pays attention to his campaign. They and big pharma have already profited from the ‘vaccine’ even if there isn’t one yet. What? Thousands being killed globally every day from the climate emergency? Not his problem.
Just think if we were heading to the election to decide between two views of a peaceful, generous, wise America. Would the police nationwide now be preparing for battle? Would businesses be boarding up in fear? Would violent, armed gangs planning to ‘show up’ be as unchallenged as they’ve been?
Trump and his party have all but overturned what’s a democratic tenet, that of the right of everyone to safely cast a vote, unharmed and unharassed. They’ve used their financial prowess to garner even more power and sway legislation in their favor. They dumped principles of civility and decency and put themselves above the law. Thus they broke the Constitution and the most basic laws of the land. There must be accountability and reckoning.
But if the president is reelected, there will be neither. He’ll proceed with his agenda, allowing oil digging in pristine national parks, preventing asylum seekers from finding shelter in America, prioritizing the rich and the powerful over the poorest and the dispossessed, as well the authoritarian and the despotic over our global allies, all while openly profiteering from his White House position. He may even shoot that man on Fifth Ave. and go free.
There’s no question about it: Trump has been undoing 200 years of American democracy, which it’s far from ideal or even extendable to so many, but at least is geared towards us, the people who can change it. And he’ll replace it with some sort of Fascist regime not even he’ll be able to control. You may have reservations about Joe Biden, as some did about Hillary Clinton. Neither would be nearly capable of sowing so much chaos and destruction.
Your mission should you accept it is to be an agent of compassion, of solidarity, of peace. Vote if you haven’t yet, but remain vigilant. Not for violence or for ‘breaking stuff up.’ You’re there to speak for those who have no voice, no claim, no political representation. You’re a rep for the planet, defending its interests and helping make people’s lives better. You’re human, you oppose hunger and income inequality. Help usher a new dawn in America. Vote.

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10/26/2020 A Witching Hour Upon Us, Colltalers

Many Americans haven’t been sleeping well lately. Some worry about Nov. 3; others about how early voting is beating records across the land. Those concerned about that were sure their anti-democratic efforts to prevent people from voting had been successful. They may be up to a rude awakening.
Yet it’s Covid-19’s record of 83,000 cases in a day that the majority is rightfully scared about. Or an FBI report confirming foreign interference in the elections. On the other hand, most people support an antitrust lawsuit against Google. And others are celebrating the United Nations’ 75th anniversary.
Other issues worrying folks everywhere are climate change-driven wildfires, rising sea levels-boosted coastal flooding, and pandemic-aggravated hunger. In this particular, there’s Brazil, ironically one of the world’s four-largest food producers. In fact, with the U.S. and India, it also shares the top spot of coronavirus-infected countries. Combined, these countries have less than two billion people but over half of the 43 million cases worldwide.
What’s behind the stats however is the brutality of income inequality and our insatiable war machines. Although food insecurity and starvation are old foes of poor Indians and Brazilians, there are more Americans in similar dire straits now than the 35 million with nothing to eat for most of last year.
Colombia’s indigenous peoples took the streets of Bogotá to protest the methodic extermination of natives and environmental activists that’s reaching a fever pitch in the country. Four years since an agreement with leftist guerillas, it’s now right-wing paramilitary groups that are crushing their dreams of peace and stability. More than 230 civic leaders have been killed this year, often in mass executions, to little or no action by President Iván Duque.
Still in South America, an E.U.’s trade accord with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, would boost meat and ethanol imports to Europe, and machinery, chemicals, and drugs to the Mercosur countries. But it’d also be bad news for the Amazon forest, which in case you’re wondering, is still burning. It’d open up more land for agriculture, according to the Friends of the Earth group, and with it, more predatory mining and oil exploration.
And finally, – ‘homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family‘ – Pope Francis’ spoke out in support of same-sex unions. While most would greet such news with joy, it comes out as too little, (and a lot) too late. It neither addresses the threats to the LGBTQ community nor the Vatican’s own dogmatic position. It also fails to acknowledge the church’s own closeted members or the vicious and mostly unpunished sexual abuse of children by the clergy.
On Oct. 24, 1945, the world was reeling from the war and faced the daunting task of reconstruction. As the U.S., the Soviet Union, and the U.K. set to determine how they’d manage the new reality, there was the need for a common forum for them but especially for nations now under their control to have a voice and role in global decisions. That was the aim, anyway, of the United Nations charter, and for over 75 years, it more or less did just that.
It became the place where international cooperation and respect for human rights had their best chances to succeed even as the three powers conspired against its independence. Nevertheless, a transcendental document such as the Universal Declaration of Humans Rights would be possible only with the U.N.
As the victors broke their own ban on military force, the nobility of its original purpose lost some substance. Institutions were created or implemented to compensate for it, but to this day, the U.N. is still the best arena to air national grievances and resolve conflicts. The World Health Organization, for instance, has been instrumental in saving lives and coordinating a global response to the Covid-19, regardless of the White House’s nonsense about it.
One would be hard-pressed to find a single Silicon Valley fan. Unlike what its leaders may believe, among the world’s wealthiest people, the sway of hi-tech companies over the most intimate details of our lives, and their potential to control us based on their mega storage-capacity is not just mostly unwelcome but downright frightening. Mainly because they’re deceiving, unaccountable for, and act like a typical cartel. So yeah, sue the bastards.
The House of Representatives had already come up with a 400-page report on Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, and grilled CEOs Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai about how come they became several billion dollars richer while the country and world wilted under the pandemic. There were obvious silence and contempt in their response, though; after all, the House report has no enforceable power.
It may be different now with the Justice Dept.’s lawsuit. But in what could be a good opportunity for the U.N. to enter the fray, even government suits may have no teeth with the current laws. That is, unless the action is globally coordinated, incorporating aspects of a previous one brought up by the E.U. Problem is, these corporations have clenched all levers of power and the muscle to pass favorable legislation. It’ll be a worthy but tough fight.
Another bad legacy to be left by Trump upon leaving is the undermining of our intel community, in particular, the FBI. Without proof, no one should question their loyalty as he did; we own our lives to their service. But they did lose their nerve. That’s clear in its latest report about Russian electoral interference, which most people already knew, and the puzzling addition of Iran as a co-conspirator, which lacks the clarity of a proven fact.
See, anyone can understand that Iran would like to get back at the president for being so wrong and irresponsible with it. But to put it in context, to believe that it’s doing that amid an economic and political down spiral, with heavy sanctions to boot, is a bit of a stretch. It reminded everyone of 2016, when at the last minute the FBI said that there was ‘something’ in Hillary Clinton’s emails with no further details. Then and now, neither passes muster.
With the illegal, amoral, and open criminally-intended measures to prevent, disenfranchise, and make it all but impossible for people of color and minorities to vote, the Republican Party is now the world’s biggest anti-democratic organization. And the Trump administration its sole beneficiary.
So to see so many determined to vote this early must be unsettling for the architects of the death of American Democracy. Yes, they’re counting on the Supreme Court, and years of groundwork gerrymandering to assure victory to the GOP. But at least a few million people are on to their scheme and won’t fall for it. What remains to be seen is what the newest, and likely decisive minority to join the electorate, first-time voters, will do next week.
But before, of course, there’s Halloween even as it sounds redundant to call it one of the strangest. For apart from the coronavirus, this may be the last All HallowMany Americans haven’t been sleeping well lately. Some worry about Nov. 3; others about how early voting is beating records across the land. Those concerned about that were sure their anti-democratic efforts to prevent people from voting had been successful. They may be up to a rude awakening.
Yet it’s Covid-19’s record of 83,000 cases in a day that the majority is rightfully scared about. Or an FBI report confirming foreign interference in the elections. On the other hand, most people support an antitrust lawsuit against Google. And others are celebrating the United Nations’ 75th anniversary.
Other issues worrying folks everywhere are climate change-driven wildfires, rising sea levels-boosted coastal flooding, and pandemic-aggravated hunger. In this particular, there’s Brazil, ironically one of the world’s four-largest food producers. In fact, with the U.S. and India, it also shares the top spot of coronavirus-infected countries. Combined, these countries have less than two billion people but over half of the 43 million cases worldwide.
What’s behind the stats however is the brutality of income inequality and our insatiable war machines. Although food insecurity and starvation are old foes of poor Indians and Brazilians, Americans in similar dire straits now are likely more than the 35 million with nothing to eat for most of last year.
Colombia’s indigenous peoples took the streets of Bogotá to protest the methodic extermination of natives and environmental activists that’s reaching a fever pitch in the country. Four years since an agreement with leftist guerillas, it’s now right-wing paramilitary groups that are crushing their dreams of peace and stability. More than 230 civic leaders have been killed this year, often in mass executions, to little or no action by President Iván Duque.
Still in South America, an E.U.’s trade accord with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, would boost meat and ethanol imports to Europe, and machinery, chemicals, and drugs to the Mercosur countries. But it’d also be bad news for the Amazon forest, which in case you’re wondering, is still burning. It’d open up more land for agriculture, according to the Friends of the Earth group, and with it, more predatory mining and oil exploration.
And finally, – ‘homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family‘ – Pope Francis’ spoke out in support of same-sex unions. While most would greet such news with joy, it comes out as too little, (and a lot) too late. It neither addresses the threats to the LGBTQ community nor the Vatican’s own dogmatic position. It also fails to acknowledge the church’s own closeted members or the vicious and mostly unpunished sexual abuse of children by the clergy.
On Oct. 24, 1945, the world was reeling from the war and faced the daunting task of reconstruction. As the U.S., the Soviet Union, and the U.K. set to determine how they’d manage the new reality, there was the need for a common forum for them but especially for nations now under their control to have a voice and role in global decisions. That was the aim, anyway, of the United Nations charter, and for over 75 years, it more or less did just that.
It became the place where international cooperation and respect for human rights had their best chances to succeed even as the three powers conspired against its independence. Nevertheless, a transcendental document such as the Universal Declaration of Humans Rights would be possible only with the U.N.
As the victors broke their own ban on military force, the nobility of its original purpose lost some substance. Institutions were created or implemented to compensate for it, but to this day, the U.N. is still the best arena to air national grievances and resolve conflicts. The World Health Organization, for instance, has been instrumental in saving lives and coordinating a global response to the Covid-19, regardless of the White House’s nonsense about it.
One would be hard-pressed to find a single Silicon Valley fan. Unlike what its leaders may believe, among the world’s wealthiest people, the sway of hi-tech companies over the most intimate details of our lives, and their potential to control us based on their mega storage-capacity is not just mostly unwelcome but downright frightening. Mainly because they’re deceiving, unaccountable for, and act like a typical cartel. So yeah, sue the bastards.
The House of Representatives had already come up with a 400-page report on Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, and grilled CEOs Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai about how come they became several billion dollars richer while the country and world wilted under the pandemic. There were obvious silence and contempt in their response, though; after all, the House report has no enforceable power.
It may be different now with the Justice Dept.’s lawsuit. But in what could be a good opportunity for the U.N. to enter the fray, even government suits may have no teeth with the current laws. That is, unless the action is globally coordinated, incorporating aspects of a previous one brought up by the E.U. Problem is, these corporations have clenched all levers of power and the muscle to pass favorable legislation. It’ll be a worthy but tough fight.
Another bad legacy to be left by Trump upon leaving is the undermining of our intel community, in particular, the FBI. Without proof, no one should question their loyalty as he did; we own our lives to their service. But they did lose their nerve. That’s clear in its latest report about Russian electoral interference, which most people already knew, and the puzzling addition of Iran as a co-conspirator, which lacks the clarity of a proven fact.
See, anyone can understand that Iran would like to get back at the president for being so wrong and irresponsible with it. But to put it in context, to believe that it’s doing that amid an economic and political down spiral, with heavy sanctions to boot, is a bit of a stretch. It reminded everyone of 2016, when at the last minute the FBI said that there was ‘something’ in Hillary Clinton’s emails with no further details. Then and now, neither passes muster.
With the illegal, amoral, and open criminally-intended measures to prevent, disenfranchise, and make it all but impossible for people of color and minorities to vote, the Republican Party is now the world’s biggest anti-democratic organization. And the Trump administration its sole beneficiary.
So to see so many determined to vote this early must be unsettling for the architects of the death of American Democracy. Yes, they’re counting on the Supreme Court, and years of groundwork gerrymandering to assure victory to the GOP. But at least a few million people are on to their scheme and won’t fall for it. What remains to be seen is what the newest, and likely decisive minority to join the electorate, first-time voters, will do next week.
But before, of course, there’s Halloween even as it sounds redundant to call it one of the strangest. For apart from the coronavirus, this may be the last All Hallows’ Eve when the scariest ghouls are in the White House and not buried underground. The other currency the holiday caries, fear, has no way in hell to upset what frightens us the most.
That said, don’t let it spook you. Have fun, wear a mask, and vote them out. Bats and spiders are welcome.s’ Eve when the scariest ghouls are in the White House and not buried underground. The other currency the holiday caries, fear, has no way in hell to upset what frightens us the most. That said, don’t let it spook you. Have fun, wear a mask, and vote them out. Bats and spiders are welcome.

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10/19/2020 Sixteen Days to Reality, Colltalers

2020 could end now and still be one of the deadliest. Over a million Covid-19 deaths worldwide, a savage rise of hunger and dispossession, wildfires, climate change-driven superstorms, Democracy at risk, we thought we were done. But no, not until a religious zealotry murder had been committed.
Thousands of women marching over the weekend though offered a powerful counternarrative to the criminal negligence, hate incitement, and sheer malfeasance coming out of the White House lately. Paraphrasing Lincoln, another past, way more dignified occupant, they can’t fool us all, all the time.
It’s great to see a mass mobilization of women at such a crucial juncture. Given that the issue of reproductive rights has just landed at the core of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, any progressive change in the status quo has to necessarily go through how mankind treats half of the population.
But to be fair, women are already protesting in Belarus, France, Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere, and their fight against corruption, domestic violence, for equal pay, racial justice, and yes, the right to safe, legal abortion, is one with the rest of society. For patriarchy can no longer deliver us our future.
Thus the significance of the re-election by a landslide of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Domestically, it was her outstanding leadership that neutralized the pandemic and kept Kiwi casualties to only five. But even before she’d already become the embodiment of a morally-sound leader, concerned about all her constituency, with her handling of a racially-motivated murderer who shot and killed 51 Christchurch people over a year ago.
Women have also been a driving force behind political protests in Lebanon, Iraq, and Nigeria, which has been rocked this month with massive Black Lives Matter-inspired rallies in several cities, against police violence. Despite President Muhammadu Buhari and state governments trying to crack down on the protests, which has at the forefront organizations such as The Feminist Coalition, they have only grown in size and impact. #EndSARS.
Back in the U.S., #1 in coronavirus deaths, 225,000, despite its less than 5% of the world’s population, vaccine development has suffered setbacks that further hinder Trump’s prospects. Eli Lilly halted its antiviral trials, and Johnson & Johnson its own therapy, both out of potentially harmful effects.
In a separate, much larger study, the World Health Organization said that Interferon and Remdesivir, this one long pushed by the Trump administration as a ‘cure’ for Covid-19 without any evidence, has failed to increase survival. Once infected, Trump was given a cocktail of Remdesivir and other drugs and declared himself cured, all while lying it’d be available to everyone besides his family and close friends. Well, it’s actually better that it wasn’t.
Two billion people go hungry every day, with no access to essential foods, according to the U.N. Food Program. On World Food Day, Saturday, it also reported that the pandemic may kill more people from its economic impact than from the virus itself. So much for being upset about the new iPhone.
It’s been a trying week in America, what with a sham confirmation hearing rushed to place radical right-wing judge Amy Coney Barrett in the Supreme Court in time to assure a Trump victory. She knew it and so did the entire Senate. The same court that’s about to help Trump exclude the undocumented from the census numbers used to reallocate Congress seats, which will also result in less funding to support the growing diversity of American cities.
Almost six years ago, Islamic terrorists broke into the French satirical zine Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, and massacred 12 people. Among them, Georges Wolinsky and other well-known cartoonists. The ‘reason’ for the attack was depictions of Prophet Muhammad, considered sacrilegious by Muslims.
Friday, Samuel Paty was stabbed and beheaded within sight of the school he taught and had just left, and suddenly we’re back into the Dark Ages when people got killed for picking the wrong god. Or none. The excuse: he had discussed freedom of speech and showed Charlie Hebdo cartoons in class.
It’s not a stretch or ‘unfair’ to relate these extreme cases of religious obscurantism with the push to prevent women from owning their own bodies. Many of the armed militias who seem ready to kill those who disagree with their psychopathic beliefs are devout Christians who pray to go to heaven.
Trump, who has unequivocally invited them to patrol the polls, uses religion as political expediency, but VP Mike Pence, the Attorney General William Barr, and many in this administration and in Capitol Hill do have the ill-intended, and unconstitutional, aim at eliminating church and state separation.
That’s not going to happen because, unlike what they preach, the great majority of Americans, religious or not, has no problem living according to the laws of the land and worship the deity of their choices without proselytizing. ‘Nones,’ as in the non-religious, are now up to 26% of Americans. The Founding Fathers, some of them themselves Christians, wanted no one using allegiance to a king or god as an excuse to break the law. They were right.
The Women’s March should be the opening salvo for the most important 15 days for the future of humanity most of the living have ever experienced. There’s no exaggeration and if a reminder is needed, here it goes: Trump has broken the law in office so many times to disrupt almost three centuries of peaceful political transition. If he doesn’t win the vote, he’s textually promised to do anything to yank that victory out of voters. If he succeeds, there won’t be respect for the rule of law left, and these violent gangs will come after us. He needs to be defeated so to show that the U.S. is bigger than him.
Call back the Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ activists, those amazing kids who promoted large gun-control rallies, immigrant advocates, labor unions or what’s left of them, your friends and family, the support of the world which is surely on our side. Let them peacefully stake out streets and media, the polls and public squares of America to send a clear message: we’re all equal under the law, votes must be counted, democracy is not up for sale.
This is what many of us will be thankful for just a few years down the road, or forever regretful for not having acted when there was still time. Either most of us or another eight billion will be cognizant of this reality, and some of them will be ‘blood of our own blood.’ But even if you care not about what your relatives can do for you, or how they’ll choose to curse our memory, there’s a once upon a time world that took 13 billion years to evolve and become the only survivable place for humans to live out of this vast, wholly indifferent but splendid universe. A world that made us what we are.
Don’t be afraid if your contribution is only making a few calls, or taking just but a few steps, to dispose of a matter of only a few minutes daily till the election and possibly beyond. For if on that Tuesday the evidence of this landslide that some are talking about with such unearned confidence does turn into reality, a number big enough to overcome the electoral college, no amount of litigation, threats, or high-heeled lawyererese spoke will snatch our future out of our hands. It’ll be over just like it will if Trump is still standing and willing to destroy our democracy to remain in power. Do not let him.

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10/12/2020 Tainted as Sick Folk, Colltalers

It’s disturbing how President Trump’s knowingly contaminating supporters and cabinet members with the coronavirus. It’s execrable he’s spreading it to the press corps and White House staffers too. But it’s downright despicable that the GOP and those invested in his reelection remain oblivious to it all.
A domestic far-right terrorist plot caught by the FBI, to kidnap and harm a sitting governor, or 220,000 American lives lost on the president’s watch are not of their concern. Although history is never kind to lack of moral compass, sycophants and enemies of democracy are seldomly bothered about that.
We begin in Guatemala our news roundup with the calls for justice for Laura Daniela Hernández and Litzy Cordón, kidnapped and murdered a week apart from each other. 350 women are estimated to have been victims of femicide so far this year. Defined as ‘a sex-based hate crime,’ the term coined by author Diana E. H. Russell in 1976 identifies one of the most serious consequences of domestic abuse, which is rising throughout Latin America.
‘Why Do They Want To Kill Us?‘ The Amnesty report published last week is about the murder of activists in Colombia and the lack of action by the government. Some 223 social leaders fighting for human, environmental, and land rights have been assassinated only in 2020 with no relief in sight.
And a referendum on Oct. 21 will determine whether Chile will finally bury its dictatorship-era constitution and start writing a new one. According to polls, Chileans are likely to approve it, and the process may take up to two years to complete. It’s an overdue move to cleanse the county from a bloody legacy left by the U.S.-backed 1973 military coup that killed many of estimated 30,000 people by simply dropping them from helicopters into the sea.
Devastating climate fires in California, Australia, and Brazil; floods in Southeast Asia, and now in Louisiana and surroundings, brought by Hurricane Delta. All on the account of climate change which made September the hottest on record. Again. It was 0.05C hotter than last year’s, then the record high for the month. In response, tech companies have increased investments in solar power since 2019, according to the Solar Means Business group.
That’s good news. Meanwhile, a House of Representatives report calls for four of these same corporations, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook, to be restructured and anti-trust laws to be reformed. Lawmakers want to break them up in ‘structural separations,’ to prevent them from abusing their monopoly of power, and grow bigger by swallowing smaller companies. But the plan will draw opposition by ‘sponsored’ officials and politicians.
Outside of Michigan, few had heard of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer before June, when she correctly ordered an extensive shutdown of most businesses in her state, to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But by April, alarmed with the rise of cases, lack of protective equipment for healthcare workers, or help from the federal government, she ordered a lockdown that would place her literally in the crosshairs of right-wing terrorist militias.
Fortunately, the FBI stepped in and arrested six members, accused of a plot to kidnap Whitmer, occupy the legislative, and even blow up some bridges to delay responders. Apparently, this particular group had been planning it for quite some time. It’s a good exercise of law enforcement used against the ‘very bad hombres‘ Trump refuses to denounce. But it won’t end there and there’s a chance that all may be dismissed if he gets to remain in charge.
And that’s the scariest part: that one day we may have such organizations operating directly from the White House, which in a sense, they already are. The rise of vigilantism, of armed extremists, and ideologically repressive groups is yet another sight of a dictatorship in the making. A Trump legacy.
The picture doesn’t improve much with the prospects of the Nov. 3 presidential election. Despite being behind in the polls by several points in crucial so-called swing states – just like he was four years ago – Trump and the Republicans may have already succeeded in implanting two false narratives that will have a dramatic impact on voters: that the Post Office won’t be able to handle mail-in votes, and that voter fraud is so rampant to nullify votes cast.
They’ve been relentlessly working on all fronts, be it by removing mailboxes and sorting machines in USPO branches, by gerrymandering districts in Democrat-dominant areas, by spreading falsehoods about voting accountability, or by, of course, loading the Supreme Court with judges attuned with White House’s wishes. Thus the former party of Abraham Lincoln resumes today its attempt to jam on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination process.
They’re preparing for the fact that Americans may just want this president to fade into the dustbin of history, along with his ever-growing entourage of wealthy hacks and spineless lackeys by voting him out. Given all the intricacies and surprisingly uncertain terms determining who can be the winner of a chaotic presidential election (See Florida, 2000, chad votes et al), they’re counting on a partisan court to give them what the people may not: power.
It’s astonishing that, given the million people worldwide killed by Covid-19 and 37 million cases still in progress, the president has been allowed to campaign while sick with no mandated-protection to anyone but him, who’s just had a first-class, taxpayer-funded drug therapy to rid of his symptoms. For as far we know, everyone who has ever caught the virus has infected others. And in the case of Trump, through tracing, there’s even proof he did.
Don’t waste your breath telling it to his supporters but even at this late in the game, the president shows that his first priority from Jan. 1, 2017 on was to be reelected, and nothing will stop him now from pursuing that. Unless, of course, his symptoms take a turn. Or you and you and you vote. In fact, never mind how it’s beginning to look like; the apparent chaos he speaks of at his rallies is a smoke and mirrors trick to get us to give up and surrender.
But we won’t do it, not if we’re still breathing a few weeks for now and beyond. While the Democratic Party contently surveys its focus groups, just as certain of victory as they were in Oct. 2016, grassroots movements are left with the gigantic task of bringing those who never voted or don’t usually vote to cast their will, knocking on every door, and patrolling every poll and post station, so no one is left out. Except for the Spreader-in-Chief of course.
It’s Indigenous People’s Day. Take a look at this still beautiful planet and the youth we brought to this world to enjoy it. See how much wonder and wisdom will be lost if we drop the ball. That’s a realm of existence essential to all living beings, but invisible to the likes of Trump and his henchmen, alien to Putins, Johnsons, and Bolsonaros. Kids, the Amazon, the Great Barrier Reef, they count on us. Let’s answer their call and fight the good fight.

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10/5/20 No Karma. Simply Reality, Colltalers

So Trump caught Covid-19, a ‘fake’ virus that’s nevertheless killed over 200 thousand Americans and is nearly lodging 40 million cases worldwide. To say that chickens have come to roost doesn’t do justice to the irony of this cataclysmic event. Now the presidential election is officially up for grabs.
Suddenly all world headlines are locked below yet another stunt by the U.S. President. To the media, the galloping resurgence of coronavirus cases, the Amazon on fire, mass protests in Israel and Mexico, an armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, all pale in comparison. Except that it doesn’t.
Thousands took the Israeli streets over the weekend calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign. One of Trump’s staunchest supporters, he’s been indicted for bribery, corruption, and breach of trust, but that may not be the rallies’ main reason. Some say there’s anger at surveillance tools used during the virus lockdown, which is being reinstated, that’s made citizens face tough measures long associated with the suppression of Palestinians.
Mexico’s President López Obrador is facing criticism from both civil and women’s rights organizations, for his failure to curb the Covid’s rise, now at almost 800,000, and apathy towards rampant femicides in the country, and by the Chihuahua, the state bordering New Mexico. The president accuses opposition governor Javier Corral of denying by political reasons, to send water to the U.S., as dictated by terms of a little known 1944 bilateral treaty.
And Facebook, which is not a country but has a budget larger than many, has again blocked environmental and social justice groups, this time for an online event against the Coastal GasLink pipeline, set to cross land belonging to the Wetʼsuwetʼen, a First Nations people. Greenpeace USA, Climate Hawks Vote, and Rainforest Action Network were zoomed out, just when the ‘lungs of the world’ burn to the ground. Ads for Trump though remain.
There was consternation last year when fires of the Amazon Rainforest broke records; nothing close to it has happened in 2020, when the devastation is twice as bad, according to NASA’s Global Fire Emissions Database. The world seems to have settled into blaming President Bolsonaro’s ineptitude, which is not wrong but only part of the problem. Brazilians are still not reacting strongly, with the proper indignation to this tragedy in their backyard.
It’s been said that the wave of totalitarianism infecting the world for the past four years has followed similar patterns in the U.S., the U.K., parts of Europe, and Latin America, mainly Brazil. Some would even call it an agenda, a combo of indignant but phony, conspiracy-infused claims against humanism, history, and even the role of science and rationality in society. It got a boost with the collapse of neoliberalism and took off like bushfire.
Now, in times like these it’s very easy, and dangerous, to slip into conspiracies, or unwittingly create one that goes viral and ultimately further damages this world. So we won’t dwell on a debunked theory linking the stabbing of Bolsonaro one month before his election in 2018, to claims that his attacker knew his sons and even shared a fire-range membership with them. But it did spare him from exposing his poor verbal acuity in candidate debates.
For all accounts, however, Trump’s diagnosis breaks up a Republican streak that started the moment Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg departed this world and put the party in lock-step to replace her with right-wing Judge Amy Coney Barrett in the Supreme. Right to when the president himself opened his mouth at the debate with Joe Biden and mainly didn’t shut it up. It was a karmic curveball for someone who’s belittled and discredited the pandemic.
Worse, it’s placed a terrifying prospect for his supporters in Congress and at large: if VP Mike Pense, who’s been in almost every rally and presser alongside the president, also falls sick, Madam Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will take charge of the country in these crucial weeks before the election. However limited, she’ll have presidential powers to say, postpone hearings for the Supreme, or opening up polling stations and Post Offices.
Noted journalist and author Naomi Klein fears that Trump will exploit his infection to further destabilize the election, but the quest is now one belonging to ‘the Richard Nixon’s smoke-and-mirrors’ realm: what did the president know about his condition and especially, when. As it turns out, a quick look at the news of the past few weeks show an array of potentially infected supporters and reporters who may or may not know they were being exposed.
The Superspreader-in-Chief, of course, will deny knowing anything and this time he wouldn’t be too far from the truth. But a likely outbreak within the White House may have originated with him, and we simply don’t know how the massive spread will affect each one of those involved. Starting with the VIP. It’s more than an embarrassment for him and his party, and a giant task for operatives to spin the reality and articulate a way out of it. Fast.
Lastly, the moral angle, which poises some difficult views on the president’s predicament from those truly concerned about the pandemic. The man who showed a callous reaction to those suffering and dying from a virus he was incapable or unwilling to protect them from, will now receive more than his share of solidarity and well wishes. So be it, our compass shouldn’t flinch as a result. But we still know what he did throughout the summer.
We’ll know whether his illness will help him, out of sympathy or on the sheer disruption of the election process, something he’s been sowing non-stop since the inauguration. But besides guaranteeing, as usual, the command of the media narrative, time is running out for him and the alternative too. The Poor People’s Campaign has been working hard to keep our compass straight and eye on the ball, and another ‘Moral Monday’ like today will help it.
We need to connect the dots between what’s happening in the world and the morally bankrupted attitudes of egotistical leaders like Trump, Bolsonaro, and others. Climate change-driven wildfires, rise and rise of coronavirus cases, repression and racial wars, the undermining of institutions, and even the powers of the republic, these are harbingers of the worst to come. To lose this election means literally losing this planet. We won’t allow it.

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9/28/2020 A Record Turnout Beats All Lies, Colltalers

Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s seat at the Supreme Court all but assures two things: the court’s conservative majority for years to come, and the urgent need for its reform. Critics say too that the Obamacare and Roe v Wade rulings now top an endangered list.
It may be worse if the Nov. 3 election is contested and that new majority keeps Trump in power, even if he loses again the popular vote. In these 36 days left, Americans who want to pick a new president must go back to basics: the battle cry now is, break all voting records, win to leave no doubts.
There are indeed few doubts about certain things. Covid-19 will still be rising from the current 33 million-plus cases worldwide, and so will the U.S.’s ‘leadership’ position, after adding a million cases in less than a month, to over seven million. No safe vaccine will be ready before at least six months, no matter how much the administration lies about it, and by then, if there’s no change in Washington, its interest in the cure will be greatly diminished.
Another pattern that emerged early on was that the ranking for most cases and fatalities is headed by nations whose democracy is under siege: the U.S., Brazil, India, and Russia. That is, calling them ‘democracies’ may soon become inappropriate. For obviously, the more economies reopen and public spaces are filled with unconcerned people, the higher will be the contagion rates. Some see the coronavirus becoming endemic just like the annual flu.
But it’s not just that most viruses take time to be studied in-depth and for vaccines and therapies to be safely developed; it’s also for the scandalous U.S. response to the virus, which could’ve inspired the world but rather treated it as a tool for political gain. Also, the U.S. and China chose not to be part of a global effort to find a cure, which is an unqualified misstep; instead, the two, plus Russia and others, are funding corporations to develop their own.
That launched a global race to sell a proprietary therapy, a precipitous and downright greedy step that will likely be available first to those who can afford it. It breaks with a long tradition of making vaccines free and readily available to all since it’s most advantageous to the majority that no one has the virus. And it may give Anti Vaxxers validation to use people getting sick from untested methods to justify their stand and increase their profile.
Saturday marked the sixth anniversary of the kidnapping and likely murder of 43 students who disappeared near Guerrero, Mexico. Protesters took to the streets demanding answers, just as the government has issued the first arrest warrants for police and military personnel accused of involvement in the murders. The case caused a commotion within the Mexican society as the young would-be teachers are believed to have been killed by mistake.
There’s yet another climate-emergency tragedy unfolding in Brazil, of the many we should expect in the coming years. The Pantanal, one of the richest biodiversity regions in the world, is ablaze and killing an unbelievably vast array of flora and fauna species. As the wetlands’ soil, trees, and exotic animals are burnt to a crisp, just as it’s doing in the Amazon, one wonders how much more environmental devastation Brazilians will put up with.
Breonna Taylor, the Black medical worker killed in an unwarranted, no-knock police invasion of her Louisville, KY, home couldn’t have imagined that her death would inspire months of nationwide protests against police brutality towards African-Americans. The trial of her killers could’ve become a landmark for racial justice. But even as others were killed in a similar fashion, it became instead an undignified way to absolve trigger-happy officers.
Six months of Black Lives Matter protests, a half dozen police killings of Black Americans, a public outcry for justice, it all seems to come to this: no murder conviction to any police officer involved in the fusillade. No, her life and our grief are not in vain. But it shows the limits of our criminal laws. It’s unlike that much will change till election day. The submission of the U.S.’s highest court to the whims of our egotistical leader had already started earlier in his term, and they will side up with him again. So will the entire GOP. Financially, this campaign has already set records as history’s most costly, and there’ll be no stop to the xenophobia, misogyny, and the obliteration of our voting rights. All that’s left for us to do is to go vote.
Let’s get the early voting going as never before. Let’s make sure that women, the Black community, people of color, immigrants, and especially first and second-time voters do exercise their power to change the future. We know with almost certainty that thousands of votes will be discarded, and minorities will be once again disenfranchised. The only way the majority will regain power in this country is to every minority to step into that booth.
There’s no more time to convince the unconvinced; if they still don’t know, they can stay at home. There’s no need to proselytize on social media about how much better off we’d all be if healthcare were affordable, if women’s and gender rights were respected, and fossil fuel was a thing of the past. It’s even harder to find any sense in spending millions on TV ads, when there’s so much that needs investing on the ground, at the polls, from door to door.
But there is something that may top all the outrage the Trump administration has caused in the last four years, from openly stoking racial mistrust to inciting armed crowds, to intimidating governors and local leaders not in sync with the official word, to sheer incompetence to save American lives. It is the possibility, repeated so often in the past week, that the president won’t accept a defeat and may turn the election into an unconstitutional circus.
In just over a month, issues such as healthcare, climate change, race, and immigration reform, women’s reproductive rights, and press freedom, to name a few, will either fuel a crucial turnaround in U.S. priorities or be buried for four more years. The greatest loss a Trump win will mean however will be the death of American democracy as we know it and the Founding Fathers conceived it. The difference is going to be how high will be the turnout.
Americans have only themselves to rely upon; we can’t count on the fairness of the process, or expect to beat every dirty trick Republicans may come up with for preventing us from voting. Above all, until it’s extended and parity is re-established, with term limits imposed on justices, don’t expect the Supreme to avert Trump’s bid for reelection, even if Joe Biden wins. But the reality is, if all those who want change, vote, America wins. Let’s do it.

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9/21/2020 Real Change Comes at a Price, Colltalers

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg won many women’s rights battles in her life. In the past years, she became a leading dissenter at the Supreme Court and a hero for her progressive stands. She beat cancer too. But not even her could’ve pulled this one off: when the time came, she crossed it like a champion.
Her death may’ve upended the election – and vaporized Joe Biden’s polling numbers. It’s also topped the week’s other staggering news, from revelations that the U.S. immigration agency forced hysterectomies on asylum seekers, to seven million Americans sick of Covid-19, or climate-change wildfires.
The superstition-inclined sees the ongoing mass die-off of migratory birds across the U.S. and Mexico as an omen for what’s coming. Theories abound but there’s no clear scientific answer to what’s going on. Maybe they took off too early, or maybe it was the wildfires. It’s quite a sight to suddenly see a bird drop lifelessly from the sky, but it does happen. On a related plea, can we be done with the weirdness and heartbreak of this year already? Thanks.
As for the coronavirus, it’s still doing its thing: it passed the 30 million worldwide mark, and daily cases are still on the rise in many countries. Worse, there are unfounded expectations that a vaccine will suddenly deliver us from this scourge. As with most things these days, from rallies ‘for freedom’ against lockdowns to mostly American skirmishes of people refusing to wear masks, it’s all pre-fab and its purpose is to instill confusion and fear.
That’s Trump’s strategy to win. So perhaps getting as many people to vote as to take it to the streets and protest may be the perfect counter-strategy. He wants the chaos that may frighten his base into voting for him; but when the unrest is for racial and social equality, for dignity to dissent and freedom to protest, if it’s all to fulfill citizens’ constitutional right to choose their own leaders, then be it. We’ll be out there too, at the pavement and at the polls.
Speaking of it, Italians are choosing regional representatives today, but the biggest draw is a referendum on whether to reduce the Parliament’s size. It’s a move that shows a high level of voter education since such an important issue completely lacks mass appeal. Perhaps other countries with oversize congresses may consider a similar call, as size and number of parties almost never reflect diversity or choice. For more on that, see (Brazil, Congress).
The surprising issue of animal rights is causing a stir in Poland and may force an early parliamentary vote on last week’s ban of fur farming and the ritual slaughter for the Kosher market. Rather than Covid-19 – 80,000 cases, 2,000+ deaths -, the European Union, Belarus, or relations with Russia, what has tickled the Polish and may break up the ruling coalition has, of course, involved a cat: PiS party leader’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski is a cat lover.
The news that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement gynecologist was performing hysterectomies without consent of detained women fell like a cruel and unnecessary sucker punch at the end of a fairly brutal beating. What? kids in cages, families split, mass arrests, deportations, subhuman jail conditions, deaths, virus outbreaks, and who knows what else goes in those concentration camps, learning about this make us all gag in disbelief.
We’re now in Joseph Mengele territory, and quickly turning the unredeemable tragedy of the Holocaust into a practical guide to terrorize immigrants. But let’s not even ask what’s next, just dismantle this new Gestapo, and put in jail all psychopaths at the service of White House before it’s too late.
‘I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor and had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going.’ revealed the whistleblower, nurse Dawn Wooten. She declined to tell the doctor’s name but news organizations reported that he’s Dr. Mahendra Amin.
The loss of Justice Ginsberg, who once said, ‘Enduring change happens one step at a time,’ quickly threw the elections down the stairs and prompted one of the most unkind and dirty politics-driven moves by a man who came to embody unkindness and dirty politics, Mitch McConnell. The Senate majority leader wouldn’t wait for a humane ‘five-minute warning’ of her passing to rally his troops and rush to name her replacement at the Supreme.
By the way, that’s what he does: he won’t pass relief legislation for working Americans hit by the pandemic but has given no-strings-attached billions to Big Oil. By naming dozens of anti-abortion and pro-Trump judges for lifetime court benches throughout the land, he puts Roe v Wade on notice – an Evangelical wet dream – along with the Obamacare, besides assuring top of the line legal counsel for his boss and party in case they lose at the polls.
His attitude elicited an unrequited 2000s flashback and just the coordinated Republican mobilization has already caught Democrats off guard. The only way to assure that a new justice will be named only after the vote goes through convincing some spineless politicians, especially those up to reelection, that they must listen to their constituency. And surely, popular mobilization; every one of the 165 million American women must be on board for that.
The late Justice couldn’t have picked a more meaningful time to depart: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and/or the ‘universe’s birthday.’ And the Autumn Equinox, when days and nights have the same time length. Maybe as the late great Prince put it, ‘This is what it sounds like when doves cry.‘
It’s so hard to lose Ruth, John, and last year, Elijah, so close to an election with potential for saving the world, or watching it going down in flames. Hooray to whistleblowers, and dissenters, and conscientious objectors; they’ve given us their best and that now lives on inside us. So please, vote.

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9/14/2020 The Path We Choose, Colltalers

Why don’t they call it climate change? The apocalyptic wildfires burning California and Oregon are frightening enough to trigger public outrage. But the fact that only 15% of media coverage mentions it shows how gas and oil corporations are spending their Covid-19 bailout money to avoid scrutiny.
It’s the United Nations’ 75th anniversary and the General Assembly gathers in New York to reassess its relevance. It’s not part of Taliban-Afghanistan talks and has had only a limited role in the pandemic, and yet, it’s as crucial today as ever. Meanwhile, there’s been bad news about a virus vaccine.
Before diving into that, let’s also reassess the week that’s been, starting by a WWF report on the two-thirds of the world’s wildlife wiped out by human activity in the past 50 years. It’s a staggering loss only compounded lately by catastrophic wildfires and man-made climate change. A vicious circle, it begins with rising global demand for forest clearings for agriculture, which then become out-of-control fires, ultimately killing more flora and fauna.
Adding to the Amazon Rainforest, for instance, which it’s burning at a faster clip than 2019, fires rage now through Pantanal, Brazil’s wetlands, home to jaguars and other endangered species. Then and now, though, President Bolsonaro remains unmoved to the fate of animals and indigenous peoples. There as in the West Coast, it’s the countless anonymous heroes who supply the compassion that counters these horrifying tales of tragedy and despair.
There’s an uproar in Mexico against femicide, the rampant violence and killing of women, which lockdowns only aggravated and may surpass last year’s record of 3,833 deaths. As President Andrés Lópes Obrador calls such protests a ‘conspiracy,’ feminists at NiUnaMenos and Aequus groups have joined Marcela Aleman and Silvia Castillo, whose daughters were either raped or killed or both, to occupy the country’s Human Rights Commission.
Violence against women has been on the rise throughout Latin America, in tandem with their enhanced role as mothers and providers to their families during the pandemic. ‘Intentional killing of women because they’re women,’ as well as rates of rape and abuse, have also spiked among minorities and impoverished indigenous communities in Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, among others. Strangely, there’re not many studies about the situation in the U.S.
On a related calamity, Mexican journalist Julio Valdívia was beheaded in Vera Cruz last week, a sobering reminder that many of those reporting on the violence may also fall victim to it. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called Mexico and the entire continent one of the deadliest to the press.
The dystopic, red-intense ‘Blade Runner‘ images of California and Oregon wildfires couldn’t be a more explicit example of the devastation a warmer planet has in store for humanity. Some half a million people may have been evacuated to no one knows exactly where, and we’re just at the beginning of the season. For the media not to link that to fossil burning and negligence about the climate emergency should indeed be treated as a criminal matter.
More than 7,000 oil, gas, and petrochemical companies have collected from $3 billion to $7 billion in funds from federal bailout programs set to help Americans cope with the coronavirus epidemic, according to the Sierra Club. But while Republicans have blocked and short-changed workers and low-income taxpayers, companies had immediate access to the funds. The industry that must be dismantled or it’ll kill us got a lifeline from Washington.
Talks among the warring forces fighting the U.S. in Afghanistan have started and ended in the past with no time set to end the war or even discernible improvements. Whether this time will be different remains to be seen. But we know what the Trump administration is trying to accomplish by joining the talks, and it’s nothing to do with bringing the troops home. Just like a planned ‘vaccine’ announcement, it’d be another timely prop for re-election.
For there’s no safe vaccine to hit the market in the next 60 days, only the ‘promise’ of one, including the one being developed in Russia. In fact, the most eagerly expected one, that AstraZeneca is developing with Oxford University, has had a serious setback last week and it’s added even more trials before it can be approved. Regardless that Anti-Vaxxers stage phony indignation rallies, vaccines must be thoroughly tested or they may indeed kill.
Trump has taken steps to profit from whichever reaches the market first, even if it proves ineffective or toxic. For that is beside the point: just its mere announcement is likely to deliver him four more years. For those seeking comfort in poll figures showing him behind in the race, just consider the U.S. is near seven million Covid cases and 200,000 deaths, but according to the GOP retelling, the patient may be dead but the operation was successful.
Since the 1980s, Rieli Franciscato had been working on getting to know and contact Amazon tribes that refuse to come out of their secluded existence. Last week, he was killed by an arrow from the one known as the Cautario River group. It was a great loss to the movement of protection of isolated tribes which are now under even more danger. Fires and the spread of Covid-19 in the Rainforest have been decimating local indigenous populations.
Brazilians are a little ambivalent about natives peoples, and their remoteness to the mainstream of society, both geographically and culturally, has been a too wide a gap to cross. We admire and fear for those who dedicate their lives to bridge that gap. Not just because they’re usually vulnerable to the kind of fatality that took Franciscato, but because they’re also all but ignored by average citizens. But there’s no survival without these original peoples.
The guy at your corner deli, the rain-soaked mail lady, the kid who delivered your dinner, the sanitation man who took away your rubbish, they’re all carrying on often in better ways than you and I. They’re not losing their sleep over your tip, or think twice about helping you cross the street. Like the nurse who saved your neighbor, they serve because life without tending to others doesn’t make sense. Like us, they too don’t deserve to being lied to.
We work hard to become better, we refuse to give in to cynicism, we teach our young that the world is theirs but they still have to earn it. We don’t need to put up with greedy billionaires, or leaders who’d do anything to remain in power. We may need to work harder but some things we do know: there’s no saying when the next virus or climate catastrophe will hit us, only that next time, we must have an honorable government to stand by us. Cheers.

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9/07/2020 Prepping Up a New Season, Colltalers

It’s Labor Day in the U.S., Independence Day in Brazil, a coincidence that adds to the ill-advised pax de deux both have been engaged on lately. Other Latin American nations have their own day this month too. But only Canada and the U.S. mark today what everybody else honors on the First of May.
The end of the Northern summer also ushers mournful Sept. 11 remembrances, both from 2001 and 1973. And global isolation as the U.S., leader in Covid-19 cases, is out of the World Health Organization’s 170-nation coordinated strategy against the virus and chooses to ignore the changing climate.
We’ll get to that but first let’s go out to the races, the belated 148th Kentucky Derby, and the almost normalization of sports events being held without a crowd. As it turns, it’s fine, the horses still run and this year Authentic came out on top. What cannot be normalized though is the scary presence of squads of incredibly armed far-right supremacists, aching to pick a fight with social and racial justice protesters, such as Black Lives Matter activists.
It’s no longer possible to believe that Big Media is mistakenly equating their hate and intent to harm with earnest calls for a better nation and a safer planet. Short of condemning civilians for having such easy access to military-grade arsenals, it’s fair to assume that their narrative itself is crooked on purpose. Their faulty reporting benefits the Arsonist-in-Chief on his quest to put the country on fire and name himself as the one who’ll put them out.
The Trump Circus is as ratings-lifting as a train wreck and few can take their eyes off it. Thus, big news corporations have spent the past four years playing on the crowd’s bemusement while collecting fat advertising fees. As the Orange Clown diverts with gimmicks, hordes of pickpocketers feast on gullibility and work the audience. Every time they buy one of his many crate-full of snake-oil bottles, they unwittingly surrender their citizenship.
He cannot conceive of courage because he is a coward.‘ Retired Capt. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, a pilot who in 2009 safely landed an airliner in NYC’s Hudson River and save all its 155 passengers, has had enough and is not going to take it anymore. His was the indignant response by a combat veteran to a draft dodger who has reportedly called ‘losers‘ and ‘suckers‘ those who served and died in wars for this country, according to The Atlantic.
It’s not about how far down below the belt the bone spur-prone, bankruptcy-manipulator, scandal-ridden MC is willing to hit; we’ve already been in bottomless territory even before he blamed the late John McCain for ‘being caught.’ It’s about how well we all fit next to his enablers and sycophants.
Switching to the climate emergency, records have been set in California, for most land scorched by fire, in the Arctic Circle, for greenhouse-gases emissions, and in the Amazon, for yet more man-made destruction of the Rainforest. Owners may mourn the loss of property; everyone else grieves the indigenous lives, flora, and fauna lost to the smoke, the coronavirus, or oblivion. But that’s not just Trump; Joe Biden is still reluctant to take action.
Hundreds of wildfires rage in California and firefighters can only hope to control but not to extinguish them. Temperatures in the triple digits and toxic smog are forcing evacuations and threatening even people living far away. But as a Blue state, no one expects help from the Trump administration.
Siberia – who’d have expected it? – is now one of the hottest places on Earth and giant craters have begun to pop up on its tundra. The latest, a 164ft.-deep hole, was caused like the others by climate change-induced cryovolcanism, a process when ancient built-up deposits of methane explode and break through the melting permafrost. The bad news is, greenhouse gas methane has a global warming potential 84 times greater than carbon dioxide.
The majestic Amazon may have reached a point of no return but we won’t know it until man-made fires stop. Amnesty International said deforestation increased 34.5% between Aug. 2019 and July 2020 compared to a year before, and 9,205 km² of the forest have been razed. As of Sept. 5, Amazon Day, 63,000 blazes have been reported. Untrained Army troops sent by President Bolsonaro neither helped nor an extra hand is expected from Brasília.
It was also in Brasília that a legislative coup ousted democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff halfway her second term and sent Brazil back to constitutional and administrative chaos. The same artificially-inflated chaos that now boosts Trump’s reelection hopes was used on Aug. 31, 2016, to justify deposing the South American giant’s first woman president. But unlike her, many of those who conspired against her are now facing the law.
But even though they may be now either in jail or being indicted, none has been held accountable so far for the dismantling of Brazil’s Democracy. It’d been hard-earned after 20 years of military dictatorship, and it lifted the nation to the world’s sixth-largest economy. But after Rousseff, trumped-up charges sent previous President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to jail and gave his front-runner stand to a then distant Bolsonaro. Then Brazil hit the wall.
Short of the staggering celebrity deaths, nothing came close in importance to the three disastrous political turnarounds that happened in 2016. In June, a disingenuously-induced referendum set the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and with it, to bury the dream of a future with no borders. In Aug., the Brazilian state collapsed and set back the clock. And then in Nov., of course, a blowhard TV show host got elected to the world’s top spot.
Even with England already on the path to further dissociation and economic hardship, what with a ‘lite’ Trump model as Prime Minister and a total lack of vision for what’s coming, the undeclared Annus Horribilis will come full circle first in the U.S. There’s just one way this tide may make a turn and let us all take a breather: a new American president. The planet desperately needs to reset its timer and simply cannot afford four more years of ‘this.’
There’s good news about Brazilian Indigenous Chief Raoni Metuktire, believed to be 90; he’s been discharged from a hospital after being treated for Covid-19 and is already back to his village in the Xingu National Park. But he’s not out of the woods yet, so to speak, and remains under medical care.
There’s sad news about David Graeber, one of the Occupy Wall Street movement founders, who passed away last week. An anthropologist, author, and anarchist, two of his many books informed and inspired the OWS upheaval, ‘Debt, the First 5,000 Years,’ and ‘Bullshit Jobs.’ R.I.P., Master Agitator.
And there may be news today at the extradition hearing of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in London. The U.S. wants to try him on conspiracy charges for publishing classified documents and footage of American troops shooting and killing civilians and journalists. Army Intel Officer Chelsea Manning, who brought him the material, was court-marshaled and then pardoned by President Obama, but remains in jail for refusing to ‘cooperate.’
It’s Brazil 198th anniversary but few are celebrating. The coronavirus scourge only added to Brazilians’ palpable sense of despair and helplessness. We’ll come back, is all one can wish for at this time. May Day is named after the 1886 violent repression of workers pushing for an eight-hour workday at Chicago’s Haymarket Square. President Glover Cleveland created Labor Day eight years later exactly to unwisely cut this link to the workers’ cause.
It’s a long, long while/From May to December/And the days grow short/When you reach September…’ Kurt Weill & Maxwell Anderson’s September Song may be over 80 years old but still fits with today’s mood. That is, grieve for another summer gone but prepare to have spring to come back a bit sooner, say Nov. So rather than enduring a winter full of fire and lies, we’ll be all out in the streets celebrating a new season for the world. Be well.

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8/31/2020 Don’t Watch it From the Shadows, Colltalers

The Democratic Convention brought comfort and hope to part but not all of the party’s constituency. But the Republican one, held while protests raged against police brutality and white supremacists killed three (white) people in the ‘inner-city chaos‘ they see, was everything supporters wished it to be.
Meanwhile, the U.S. still tops the world with six million Covid-19 cases and near 190,000 deaths, California wildfires are burning an area larger than Delaware, and about 20 million Americans are unemployed. To the GOP, though, these are not a priority; only the consecration of Donald Trump is.
We’ll go back to the Democrats’ half-delivered message and to the Republican lying feast, but first, let’s ask once again, why almost as many have rallied in big cities against the use of masks as those denouncing the killing of Blacks and people of color? While the latter rebel against an unjust system that perpetuates itself, the former is an absurd, spoilt demand that could be called ‘Save the Virus,’ for it’s the only one to gain from it.
There’s no global vaccine – and mercifully, no anti-vaxxer to deal with – yet and despite the extraordinary efforts by some nations other than the U.S., the virus is alive and kicking. That’s why many doubt the sincerity of such rallies as they don’t make any sense given rising casualties and seem rather childish on their complaint about social restrictions. So, when do people fight against their own interests? When someone paid them for it, that’s when.
There’s no cynicism or intended irony though after China ordered the arrest last week of Lam Cheuk-ting, a Hong Kong lawmaker. He’s charged with publicizing on social media a 2019 subway attack on activists returning from a pro-Democracy rally by an unidentified group wearing white T-shirts and armed with clubs. Along with denying visas to foreign journalists, the arrest is another nail on the coffin of the once-proud island’s freedom hopes.
When Pakistani-American Tahir Ahmad Naseem was arrested last year, many fear the severity of Blasphemy Laws which could send him to life in prison for his ‘crime’ of expressing an opinion. But few expected him to be shot and killed inside the courtroom and even fewer see the teenager who murdered him out of religious hate to be ever convicted of the killing. Instead, people paraded with his picture and lawyers are lining up to defend him.
Amnesty International has been keeping track of blasphemy laws that ‘violate rights to freedom of religion‘ and of opinion and expression. ‘They have been used to target some of the most marginalized people in society‘: children, the mentally disabled, religious minorities, and, surely, poor people.
And for those who haven’t yet connected the dots of floods and wildfires, Cat. 4 and 5 hurricanes, plus the 100° temperatures in Siberia this summer, not to worry: the president plans to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of most pristine regions on Earth, even as global oil consumption is actually declining. Environmental groups are challenging the administration but their biggest shot to succeed will be a new president.
The Democratic convention did deliver on a few important goals, presenting detailed plans on how to accomplish them. What to do about the virus, the economy, new jobs, a new dignity for the White House, and a nation healed and united to face the future. All to end before bedtime for the aging but still influential part of its target crowd. For even with so many common people having a moment on camera, it may still have bored the young to death.
There were many fresh voices, people truly engaged in saving Democracy in this country, others fully committed to community building and social justice. But there was much to be missed. Julián Castro, for instance, sole Latino presidential candidate and a member of President Obama’s cabinet, was not invited, but anti-abortion GOP’s Dennis Kucinich spoke at will. Many legendary Black leaders and poor people activists were also missing.
To have an idea, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, arguably the most visible voice of the progressive caucus within the party, spoke for less than two minutes, at the invitation of Senator Bernie Sanders. Nevertheless, several days after the convention she was still battling hate conservatives and far-right trolls in social media. She holds the crucial support of the youth vote and yet she was not allowed to have a slot. It reminds us of the 2016 convention.
Then too, a respected but not universally liked candidate had the best shot for a woman to break the glass ceiling and win in a landslide. That’s when filmmaker Michael Moore went to Bill Mahrer’s program and, against all apparent odds, declared, ‘Trump will win.’ Four years later, after watching ‘off the charts‘ support for him in battleground states, he cryptically asks: ‘Are you content with the trust you’ve placed in the DNC to pull this off?‘ Neither are we.
Not even when tens of thousands descended to Washington DC over the weekend, to mark the 57th anniversary of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.-led March for Jobs and Freedom. They came from all over to the Lincoln Memorial to pay homage to a historic turning point to the civil rights movement. But just like the several Women’s Marches, the Anti-Gun and the Climate Change many parades, and even the many Black Lives Matter rallies, the DNC didn’t send rank-and-file by the busload to support the crowd. Biden’s missed a great opportunity to show that he doesn’t always do as he’s told.
It’s been the BLM’s turn now to lead the charge but all of these groups have contributed to keeping the message of justice and equality alive, more so at times than the party itself. So it’s poignant that during the same weekend, while crowds rallied all over the country, the actor and activist Chadwick Boseman, the Black Panther, passed away. While the president was busy destroying the country, Boseman built a new dream. R.I.P., King T’Challa.
Republicans are out to put America on fire for all the wrong reasons: racism, xenophobia, corruption, nepotism, inequality, and white privilege. They do not want people to vote and even used footage from riots in Spain to foil their base. As for Democrats, the majority is now convinced that Trump is an existential threat to the world, but we’re still coming up short and time’s running out. For Democracy’s sake, get all those kids to join us. ‘Yibambe!‘

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8/24/2020 All That We’ll Ever Need, Colltalers</

Another week, another member of the Trump administration gets in trouble with the law. But Steve Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist who makes a living advising would-be despots, is arguably the greatest grifter to be caught. Given his influence, though, it’s unlike that he’s down and out.
130° F. That may’ve been the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth if it’s confirmed. The scorching heat in Death Valley, CA, was the opening salvo of yet another season in hell for the state, courtesy of the climate emergency. Wildfires and the deadly coronavirus: 2020 is not nearly done yet.
But before having another crack at those two headlines, let’s get going with the newest episode of poisoning in Russia suffered by a political opponent of Vladimir Putin. Despite his denials, the dissenting voice of Alexei Navalny was muted by strong symptoms of poisoning; he’s now in a coma em Germany, where he’d been flown to. He’s the sixth well-known foe of the Putin regime to suddenly experience a devastating, likely lethal intoxication.
Now, there’s a demonization of Russia spoused by most of the Western media, after it’s been reported that it did interfere in the 2016 election and may be at it again as we speak. Such heavy-handed coverage all but clouds facts and drive us to unwittingly fall prey to conspiracies, for lacking the tools to make the right call. Putin may deny it but these poisoning incidents, if Navalny’s indeed another one, have the clear purpose of silencing his critics.
The armed forces of Mali staged a coup d’etat Tuesday that ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, in office since 2013. EcoWas, a group of West African nations, and the United Nations are negotiating with the mutineers to end the mostly bloodless coup. The military blamed the president for bad economic decisions and corruption as their reasons to intervene, and promised to hold elections sometime ‘soon,’ but most of us have heard that before.
In Iraq, Reham Yacoub, a feminist doctor and activist, was shot dead in a country where political and journalist assassinations have become routine. The murder of Yacoub, 29, who organized women’s marches and protests, and that of Tasheen Osama a week before may’ve started a new grim cycle.
And then a rapid rundown of what’s happening in Belarus, Lebanon, and Hong Kong. In Minsky and other cities, government troops have clashed with protesters over a presidential vote largely perceived as rigged. In Beirut, the Lebanese face the gargantuan task of rebuilding after an Aug. 4 blast razed the city’s port and economy and killed a still undetermined number of people. As for Hong Kong, it’s being discretely crushed by China as we speak.
The Republican Convention that starts today is bound to ignore it but the biggest Trump-related news is the arrest of Bannon, arguably the world’s most recognizable white supremacist. Accused of fraud, he was yanked out of a blissful sunbath on the deck of a Chinese billionaire’s yacht by the ‘lowly’ Postal Police (yes, there is one). Apparently, he and other grifters pocketed $25 million in donations for a Trump’s wall at the Mexican border.
Whether he saw it coming, and above all, that he’ll be convicted remains to be seen; he was freed on a $5 million bail. That the under-attack USPO was involved is nothing less than a bit ironic, since its attackers are people of Bannon’s ilk, including the president. The convention could do us all a favor explaining how come so many in this administration, from top to bottom, have been accused, arrested, often convicted, and in jail for breaking the law?
Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos, to name just the most notorious bunch, all have been accused, some confessed, and a few are doing time for lying and abetting on the president’s behalf. The difference with Bannon is that he’s also ‘helping,’ under not too shabby fees, governments around the world to squash dissent and take as much personal advantage of public office as they can.
Marco and Laura. Perhaps it’s the climate emergency, but hurricanes now may come in pairs, and these two are slated to landfall in Gulf Coast states, Louisiana included, just in case we missed them too much. As warnings have been issued, one wonders how communities still recovering from past storms, and now struggling with wildfires and floods, will fare in a nation of 40 million unemployed and an economy grinding to a near-total halt?
Hopefully, not the way New Orleans was forced to cope with an incompetent president when Hurricane Katrine struck 15 years ago this week. When thousands drowned in their own homes and a Bush crony left international donations of trailers and supplies rotting unused in ports of call, Americans suddenly had a first glimpse of what it means having no government help when it’s the most needed: people die and wealth is redistributed upwards.
5,874 million cases, 181,000 deaths. That’s another thing you probably won’t hear talked much at the GOP convention: Covid-19. The disproportionate toll exacted on Blacks, the poor, and minorities, and that we have no uniformed testing system, as claims of a vaccine have been greatly exaggerated. Or worst, we may actually hear hypocrites and sycophants praise the U.S., based of course, on no proof whatsoever. And then there’s the vaccine.
In two months, we’re likely to see an onslaught of claims about a new vaccine, even knowing that trials should not be abbreviated for the sake of rights to brag, or that it will even be effective. Trump, of course, will claim victory and tide himself up nicely for Nov. 3. After all, he and his friends are all set to profit from it, even if it proves ineffective. And then, as a deranged twist, there are the anti-vaxxers, who are mounting a campaign to reject it.
As the most unusual summer of despondency draws to a close, humanity wonders whether we’re up to what’s coming: will the coronavirus finally be tamed? will this election be the turning point towards planetary healing? will any of those Lotto tickets stuck in a drawer for so long hold the winning numbers to lift us out of such overspread misery? The fact is, it’s irrelevant. Just a look at your loved ones is enough to get all the answers you crave.
We’re not following an agenda, no one has a roadmap for the future, few even believe they’ll stick around much longer. We do what’s being asked from us because there’s no longer a choice; we choose to be kind because not to be is to cast yourself askew. Yes, we have a pandemic that keeps punching back, an economy for the ultra-rich only, a raging climate set to burn the Earth to smithereens. But we have ourselves, and that’s all we need. Rock on.

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8/17/2020 The Cheater’s Playbook, Colltalers

A deceptive Middle East diplomatic agreement has shed some light on what the president is willing to do to get reelected. Sold as a peace accord, it’s in fact a coalition of Israel, the Arab Emirates, and the U.S. to put Iran on notice. If a Covid-19 vaccine won’t work, an Iranian blast could come in handy.
The first-ever virtual Democratic Convention starts today to deliver its strategy to block the White House and the GOP from preventing people from voting them out. It’ll also name Joe Biden for U.S. President and Kamala Harris, the first Black and Asian woman in a presidential ticket, for his VP.
With 78 days before the election, headlines may be dictated by these and other related themes. But let’s begin today with a class of profiteer directly related to people’s misery: health insurers. The pandemic has killed over 170,000 Americans, probably more, but your plan may cost more, thank you.
You may no longer afford it – and still owe for that 10-minute doctor’s visit last March – but top U.S. insurers’ profits doubled in the second quarter compared to the same period last year. They’ll certainly be joined in record-topping earnings by big pharma when a vaccine becomes available. Even if it’s under-tested, useless, or downright dangerous, shareholders and the Trump administration will cash in their investments either way. But not us.
Healthcare coverage in the U.S. was a failure way before the coronavirus scourge. Now it’s also helping the industry to pack billions in profits. That thousands are struggling and can’t spare a dime on their health even if their lives depend on it, which they often do, are not a glitch but a feature of the system. In the richest nation in the world, don’t dare to fall sick unless you’re, say, a CEO of a healthcare corporation. Or work for the White House.
The aggravating factor, of course, is candidate Biden’s refusal to embrace Medicare for All. If the evidence is not enough, that the system is broken and the Obamacre Act has proven vulnerable to manipulation that renders it ineffective, then only public pressure to change a new president’s convictions.
Almost in tandem with the rising power of insurance companies is, surprise, surprise, the staggering accumulation of wealth by U.S. billionaires. Their combined net worth jumped $685 billion since March to an uncomprehensibly sky-high pile of $3.65 trillion. They could as well be living on another planet but instead, they are here, riding the same decrepit bridges and roads and making sure Congress won’t grant the unemployed livable benefits.
Of course, Jeff Besos or Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, could individually or together support a decent living to new teachers, healthcare workers, food professionals, or housing authorities, just with the billions they’ll never be able to spend in several lifetimes. But why would they? It’s not that they can’t; they truly believe they made it on their own and the rest of us should be so lucky like they’ve always been. But a president could and must.
In Belarus, thousands took the streets of Minsky to protest the result of the elections that gave president Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, 80% of the votes, at odds with poll estimates and the unusual enthusiasm for his opponent Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Fearing for her life and family, she’s gone into exile in Lithuania. The turmoil around his supporter has hardly rattled Vladimir Putin so far; his priority is still that ‘other’ election.
The insidiousness of the domestic violence issue, of killer partners eating up American homes from the inside, still weights down heavily on the literal backs of women. The lockdown has partially hidden this national public health emergency as if there’s any shortage of them. But it can not be ignored.
Speaking of violence, survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests are again dissatisfied with Pope Francis leadership. As Poland’s Archbishop Slawoj Glodz, long accused of protecting child rapists in their midst, handed him his resignation, the pope’s failed to live up to his word and demand accountability from a notorious apologist of cleric misconduct. By the way, as a whole, the church’s been spectacularly indifferent to this pandemic.
The UAE and Israel have a long, albeit ‘reserved,’ trade and cybersecurity partnership. The announced ‘deal’ merely formalizes what’s already a reality. It is ‘historic’ as some have called it but not a breakthrough. With UAE’s support, though, Israel can pressure Iran and do Trump’s bidding. It does look like a fail-safe strategy in case no vaccine works out. Short of curing Covid-19, an old-fashion little war would be a great distraction for the president.
It’d be worse than the 2003 invasion of Iraq, likely bloodier, and just like it, completely purposeless. But it may bring many a famed anchor, say, Brian Williams, to praise on a news broadcast the ‘beauty’ of Tomahawks missiles taking off for war. A quick strike may immediately empty the news decks for 24/7 war reports and cheers for the commander-in-chief and all that; fear of a world catching fire always leads people to vote for the status quo.
It’d be a travesty, for sure, one not even the ‘shock and awe’ campaign in Iraq couldn’t hold a candle to. But the tragedy of that is that the White House thinks it can control such an apocalyptic nightmare from going full spread. It won’t and the resistance may become strong enough to topple democracy. And that’s ultimately the excuse they seek, even if it won’t mean much in the Nuclear Winter that would follow it. Yes, we’re talking about nukes here.
Domestically, the agenda is coming along nicely. Forget the half a million new coronavirus cases since last week; turn press conferences into headline-hogging stump speeches; destroy the Post Office’s ability to deliver mail-in votes. But the self-sustained agency is not going into the sunset without a showdown and that’s what’s expected next. The Trump donor leading it may not last, but vote-suppression tactics will continue. It’s that or the Iranians.
In reality, a functional vaccine won’t be in place till next year, and there must be vigilance for the moment a fake one is propped up as such before that. Besides that, we must pull all stops to protect the USPO which is often the only game in many a town for folks without Internet access and poor long-distance service. If they won’t discuss canceling the Electoral College, then by Betelgeuse, they won’t tear up the Constitution right in front of our eyes.
In 2018, a ‘blue wave’ rode the Democrats to House majority and a slew of progressive new leaders calling for a revolution. But this year’s Convention, as in 2016, will be dominated by conservative, donor-rich old-party foxes, ex-presidents, spouses, and assorted moderates. Bernie Sanders will speak but the most recognizable face of the party’s future, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, will have exactly a minute to talk. We do hope she’ll let them have it.
Democrats fell behind on climate change, the Black Lives Moment, the Women’s Marches, young protests for gun control, and voting rights. They need AOC and her ink to bring out first-time voters and new libertarians. They’re in control but this is our moment. Don’t let them screw this up again.
Elvis Presley ‘has left the building‘ 43 years ago Sunday. It was also the 100th Anniversary of Charles Bukowski, a chronicler of skid rows and lost lives everywhere who was actually a USPO mail carrier too. And today, not to extend the ‘celebrity watch moment,’ is Robert de Niro’s 77th birthday. Their art and lives went beyond fame to actually mean something to the world. We’re getting to the home stretch. Let’s make it memorable. Banzai.

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8/10/2020 Notes on a Planned Failure, Colltalers

When the first American caught Covid-19 in Jan., there’d been plenty of warnings from China to the WHO. But the world was not worried because the U.S. had top epidemiologists and detailed pandemic playbooks to guide us through the crisis. America would lead and save the day as it’d done before.
Instead, it ‘leads’ the world but in cases, over five million, and logic-defying health polices. Everything the Trump administration has done contradicted what we’ve learned in a hundred years of knowledge and public health practices. Puzzling, though, Americans are not quite fired up with indignation.
In fact, one wonders if the Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t already on the streets, people would be even up in arms protesting. In Israel, Bolivia, Lebanon, Russia, and other nations led by authoritarian regimes, citizens are confronting their leaders’ self-serving attempts to cover up the tragedy.
The BLM unrest hasn’t let up either, but its fight against racial prejudice and police violence has been hijacked at times by other pressure points of popular dissatisfaction. It must not lose its clarity but it’ll have to welcome those hurt by Trump’s neglect. All the way to the polling pols of Nov. 3.
For at close to 20 million cases worldwide, Covid-19 has become the darkest horse running against democracy all around. Since it’s still rising and a safe vaccine is at least months away, it’s already exposing the sheer incompetence of some political leaders and leading to multiple, violent rallies.
We’ll come back to that right after checking what else is news. And it turns out, plenty. Starting by the month-long marches in Israel against four-time Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies, a position he fought charges of bribery and corruption, and three election cycles in one year in order to keep it.
It’s a sight for sore eyes for those who don’t get how come 64% of well-educated Israel’s 18 to 34-year olds identify themselves as right-wing. They’ve been major P.M. supporters and of most of his even more far-right opponents in the last 20 years. People have just grown used to the fact that for one reason or another, they have apparently no sympathy for the Palestinians’ fate or the Gaza Strip. So maybe something’s different about the coronavirus.
The virus may have also been the excuse for what’s happening in Bolivia. The caretaker government of Jeanine Áñez has canceled the scheduled election for a new president that would replace Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, ousted in a coup a year ago. Senator Áñez, who grabbed the nation’s helm bible in hand, promised new elections, declared herself a candidate but has gone after poor Bolivians ever since.
The native majority has faced brutal repression of their demands for clean elections, even if Morales can’t run. They’ve set up highway barriers and roadblocks throughout the mostly rural nation, while also reporting close to 100,000 Covid-19 cases, and just under four thousand confirmed deaths.
As for that tragic, spectacular explosion in Beirut that pretty much razed the county’s port, its main structure of economic support, never mind what our Orange Menace has said about it, it was not a military or guerrilla attack, that much is clear. Much less evident though is where aid is supposed to come from to what was once known as the Paris of the Middle East, in a nation buried deep in mountains of government corruption and high poverty.
In quick sequence, also worth mentioning is the New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit to dissolve the National Rifle Association; the obscene death toll the coronavirus is taking in the U.S. jail population, the biggest in the world, including immigrants and asylum seekers; and the record 32% drop in second-quarter GDP, with the correspondent 30 to 50 million Americans unemployed, who saw their benefits dried up this week.
Ms. James may succeed where others didn’t want to and if she does it’ll be due to the pro-gun group’s own arrogance and malfeasance. Good riddance. That the U.S. economy is in the toilet even the president knows it. That’s why he’s forcing children to get the virus, rather than an education, at their schools; he needs the appearance of normality rather than saving lives, even if it implies false hopes for a vaccine or the death toll reaching skyward.
‘I’ve been detained for five months in this center with my lung condition and problems with my liver. Do you think that proper nutrition for a sick person is bread and ham every day?’ The poignant letter is among dozens from detainees at ICE facilities, smuggled out to The Intercept. After kids in cages, families split-ups, secret deportations, violent raids, this is a new shame to stain Trump and its immigration enforcement agency. Heartbreaking.
It’s not the Covid-19’s pace that is numbly fast, but the administration’s response that’s been always inept, ever since the virus outbreak in China back in Dec. From just one case in Feb. to over five million now, the president’s turned America into the land of the sick and the home of the virus.
It’s unacceptable that 165.3 thousand died from this. It went from that first case to over 18,000 in March, 27K in April, and down to 23,000 in May. In June, cases reached 41.5 thousand, and July 65,000. Then in roughly a month, it more than doubled. It’s still rising fast. See what we’re getting at?
New Zealand, for instance – yes, it has only five million inhabitants but the scale of comparison is still off the charts – had no new cases to report last month. Other nations are following careful steps to reopen while making sure their workforce, now unable to find jobs, receive enough aid to survive. But the U.S. is a mess of contradictory efforts, no uniformed policies, ill-reputed acts of political theater, no leadership, no testing, and no vaccine.
About that. ‘Can you patent the sun?’ asked American virologist Jonas Salk in 1955, about the vaccine for Polio that he’d spent years developing. But that was then, certainly a time of more generosity than the one we lived in now. The administration has not just pitched state against state for the ‘right’ to receive protective gear for health workers, but it’s also provoking an international, literal lab race for the profits generated by a patented vaccine.
Down in Brazil, which has just broken the three million cases threshold, second only to the U.S., and 100,000 obits, COVID-19 has taken yet another indigenous leader. Cacique Aritana Yawalapiti, 71, was instrumental for the 1960s creation of the Xingu National reserve, home to 16 tribes. His is one of over 600 deaths of Brazil’s indigenous people, just when the Amazon Rainforest has lost a São Paulo-sized area to fires just last month. R.I.P., Chief.
Numbers and stats make us numb and abstract the flesh-and-bone costs behind them. The coronavirus is challenging but only for those who ignored the scientific evidence, the same way climate emergency may cause a shock to those who chose not to face its reality. That’s what you get when you elect a game show host as your president. When stuff hits the fan, they usually get caught covering their own behinds. That’s why Nov. 3 is so crucial.
We must stand for the Post Office, a self-sufficient agency that predates the constitution and it’s under attack by paid nimrods. They may close polling stations, create hurdles for the poor, and prevent Americans from expressing their will. But they can’t stop us from voting by mail. The BLM has earned the right to lead this fight, but every single progressive group must join in. We need a new president, we need a better world. Buckle up, Sonny.

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8/03/2020 Guts to Not Repeat the Past, Colltalers

A sample of four of the biggest threats to the survival of humanity highlights the week ahead: a virus nearing 20 million cases worldwide; the faltering democracy in the world’s strongest nation; a mild but still powerful hurricane; and the sobering 75th anniversary of Hiroshima’s atomic bombing.
Plagues, oppression, climate change, and nuclear power are of course what makes these apparently unrelated events relevant as we’re helpless against any of them. It’s been sheer luck that they’re yet to strike us all at the same time. But it’s getting closer to it and if they do, we’re certainly doomed.
More on that later, but first, Asia’s monsoon season is up to a particularly nasty start and a quarter of Bangladesh is already flooded, with millions left homeless as per reports. Millions more have been dispossessed in China, in torrential, climate change-boosted rainfalls. Monsoons are known for ages but were never as deadly as in the past 30 years. Sad then that, unless we address the climate emergency, all we can do is wait for the water to recede.
Speaking of China, it again did something while no one was looking: it postponed Hong Kong’s September elections that a moribund pro-Democracy movement was counting on to remain breathing. Officially, it was COVID-19 but if you believe that, we’ve got a 2008 Beijing Olympics ticket to sell you. Which does not justify Sec. of Sycophancy Mike Pompeo’s warmongering threats, since his boss wishes and may still do just that in the U.S.
Another piece of scary news comes from Germany, where an underground militia was just uncovered. It had elaborate plans with artillery to match for taking over the government with a Nazi 0.2 regime. Politicians and members of law enforcement were involved in a sort of echo of what’s happening in America, including the police involvement. Even scarier is to think of a present-day Axis, with the U.S. and maybe Russia replacing Italy and Japan.
That’s as good as any a moment to mention the Anti-Fascist movement, born in the 1920s to fight the rise of Benito Mussolini in Italy, and later, Hitler in Germany, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ research on victims of politically-driven events and killings in the U.S. since 1994.
Unlike false claims by the president and contemporary white supremacists, Antifa is not a violent organization as the thinktank’s database has compiled a grand total of one death related to it, and that was of the attacker. During the same period, however, far-right terrorists have murdered 329 people.
The U.S. has reported 1.86 million new coronavirus cases in July, a whopping 41% of its staggering total of 4.8 million. The worst month since the pandemic started also matched almost seamlessly the massive re-opening of public places in Florida, the current epicenter, Texas, most Southern states, and California. Looking at pics of those places fools us into thinking that the virus and its devastation are both done. Sadly though we are far from it.
Even worse, July also saw COVID-19 taking its first pet in its wake. Seven-year-old German Shepherd Buddy, by all accounts an exceedingly good boy, succumbed before anyone knows exactly how transmission occurs between humans and their companions. It’s a red flag for pet owners all over and an untimely event for Buddy’s loved ones. If it’s of any consolation, he didn’t go in August, the infamous month of Mad Dogs. R.I.P. old champ.
As for red flags, they were all up, along with fittingly outrage and alarm, since Trump floated the idea of postponing the November elections. He did get clobbered even by Republicans, but don’t rest assured just yet. It was one of his devilish genius impromptu tirades that somehow hits the target. Don’t expect him to drop the whistle as he’s bound to come back to it now that the issue is part of the national, and global, conversation. Be prepared.
U.S. elections were never postponed in 244 years of Republic, and have been held during wartime, hurricanes, and every other kind of circumstance in the book. It’s one of the most solid trademarks of American democracy, one that was never contested either. So, of course, Trump will come back to it.
Floods and landslides in Bangladesh, China, Nepal, and other areas haven’t been the worst ever but they’re still increasing in overall intensity. The same about the Isaias storm. But climate emergency is not just the weather, the warming of the oceans caused by greenhouse gases, or our sick fossil-fuel dependency. It’s also aggravated by the astounding income inequality and other nefarious realities we experience in our world, circa 2020.
At this point, the wide array of factors causing the planet to heat up, in some places to a crisp, helps feed and exponentially worsens knuckle-headed policies, extreme greed, and the appalling lack of empathy by those profiting from pandemics and misery, who believe they’re rich out of divine grace.
On that note, Amazon Rainforest fires have risen 28% more in July than in the same month last year, because of, well, Bolsonaro. And keep in mind that a record 212 environment protectors were assassinated in 2019, in the Amazon region and worldwide, according to a new Global Witness report.
At 8:45 am on August 6, 1945, 80.000 people were instantaneously killed in Hiroshima, Japan, by an atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. Three days later, the same happened in Nagasaki. 75 years on and that day is ever more marked by the infamy of murder and mayhem brought about by war than by a frantic effort to stop the conflict for good. It was both, but at the end of this long day, what really counts is the brutal loss of life any war causes.
And the most disturbing thing about it all is, we haven’t learned our lesson. It’s not just that Trump withdrew from nuclear treats and made the world unsafer than ever. But that we and pretty much every nation in the world are still actively seeking to build nukes with the same unreliable technology. We’re closer than ever to a global nuclear disaster, and the Atomic Scientists-managed Doomsday Clock is now counted in seconds, not in minutes.
There it is, in a nutshell, the multi-pronged challenge staring at us all whether we ‘believe’ it or not. Divine intervention? more like the luck of the draw: we’re all here, no one knows why or wherefrom, but there’s nothing else more important for us to confront and conquer while we’re indeed here.
We do know what we need to do to survive: vote for better leaders, yes, freely share knowledge to combat diseases, absolutely, stop consuming fossil-fuels, for certain, and elect only natural sources of energy to get moving, obviously. But the reason it hasn’t happened, or rather that our efforts haven’t reached critical mass yet is that we do need to come to a common understanding about life, the planet, and the worthiness of our very existence here.
Don’t even start with how heavy a load this is, and if you need to, brush up your history books to see what ‘difficult times’ are really all about. The difference this time is not that we are here, but that the world may soon not be, and that’s a first for mankind. Since the 1950s, we’re living on borrowed time, so it’s time to find ways to pay it back. Welcome home astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. We’re glad, now back to work. Cheers

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7/27/2020 Riding Out the Storm, Colltalers

150,000 Covid-19 deaths; paramilitary forces kidnapping activists; steps curbing minority voting. What’s going on in the U.S. has been alarming. But to Trump believers and the Republicans, all is fine. For he’d promised, ‘We’ll determine the course of America and the world for many years to come.’
But despite a still-rising number of cases worldwide, the European Union for instance is managing to flatten the contagion curve while passing a new stimulus package to help workers and safely reopen their economies. That surely gives Trump’s inaugural speech a dark, contrasting shade, doesn’t it?
If anything, the virus has exposed the contrast between the pandemic response by actual or soon-to-be restrictive regimes, and countries more focused on preserving their democratic ways. It’s a difference that shows how nations led by repressive leaders, China, India, Brazil, Russia, are facing growing resistance and social turmoil, while others have experienced mostly a tragic disruption of their way of life but are still engaged in keeping people safe.
China, which had a strategy in place for the novel coronavirus and followed scientific procedures to control it, couldn’t help itself though, taking the opportunity to crush dissent in Hong Kong. Similar to India, which has been using the virus spread to raid minority communities and arrest dissidents.
For Brazil’s Bolsonaro, four times is apparently a charm: after three positives, he now says he’s tested negative for the virus. For the other 210 million Brazilians, however, it has been an awful escalade of deaths – the second highest in the world, with over 87,000 obits – and despair. As the president is not interested in supporting a stimulus package for a crisis that up to a few weeks ago he denied it even existed, the poor has no way to turn for help.
Except, well, to organized crime, which has been fulfilling the role of local governments and providing minimal aid for people. For a price, of course. Drug and weapon gangs operating in shantytowns are known to dispense exacting policies to those under their aegis and require a pathological, Trump-like style of loyalty. Amazon communities though have no such ‘luxury,’ and the virus has been reported navigating freely through the Amazon river.
There’s a surprisingly robust anti-Putin movement in Russia’s far east region with thousands protesting the arrest of governor Sergei Furgal allegedly on trumped-up murder charges. For now, such unrest is far too remote even for other Russians to challenge the ex- KGB agent in power, or risk a contagion of another kind. But knowing how he treats foes, and now that he’s set to rule for 16 more years if he wishes too, the future still looks bleak.
Europe, which has banned U.S. visitors just in case, has been jockeying to step on the U.S.’ shoes for global leadership. But it hesitates while tyrants solidify their grip on power and use the crisis to go after opponents, as corporations and the rich, dictatorship enablers, grow, well, even richer.
In France, like in other nations, the Black Lives Matter movement has triggered an important conversation about how the French see their own past and present sins dealing with racial inequality and police brutality. Protests Saturday marked the fourth anniversary of Adama Traoré’s death, a Black man killed while in police custody. The murder of George Floyd is said to have been a crucial factor for the new push for accountability for Traoré’s killing.
And while nations sharing with ours a cruel past of colonialism and indigenous extermination have tried to come clean about their origins, America’s image as a safe harbor for the dispossessed, the wronged, and the persecuted, has suffered a blow when a Canadian court declared it ‘unsafe’ for asylum seekers. And another when the president ordered the Census to exclude the undocumented from population totals that determine congressional seats.
To add yet more clarity to the race issue, a new Duke University study found that a North Carolina’s Eugenics program – a debunked effort to prioritize ‘desirable’ racial characteristics – prescribed mass sterilizations to ‘breed out’ Black folk between 1958 and 1968, way after the Nazi had conducted their harrowing Eugenic experiments during the war. The study calls the decision to sterilize over 2,100 people across the state an ‘act of genocide.’
The sight of ‘stormtroopers,’ which in the U.S. were revealed to be federal agents disguised as Swat-like platoons, arresting and shoving people out of the streets into unmarked vehicles is familiar to millions around the world, not lucky enough to have a constitution declaring that all people are born equal. But it’s also a symptom of something more profound: the resolve to intimidate law-abiding citizens into supporting state-sponsored terrorism.
Media airwaves in the U.S. should be flooded by now with documentaries and every sort of cultural expression depicting what happened in Germany in the 1940s and how regular, well-intentioned citizens were used and took an active part in the extermination of six million mostly Jews, penalized out of racial hatred.
How many were murdered themselves and how, in the end, excuses that they didn’t see it coming were considered just that, excuses. Late repentance was deemed irrelevant not just because by then, people had already been killed, but because we all have a moral obligation to do the right thing now, not in a future that may never come.
Many believe that hordes backing Trump even though he’s personally responsible to more than 100,000 deaths are simply misinformed. But that’s simply not true and unfair to the many putting the skin of their own teeth in the game, so to speak.
It’s clear that the president has turned his back to the record and heartbreaking daily deaths many in his constituency are facing, and his fumbling of the Republican Convention location, now officially moved from Jacksonville, Florida to parts unknown, show that he’s s well aware of the danger around.
Just like he’s bullying public schools to reopen – potentially exposing millions of kids to the coronavirus – so to give the world a phony resemblance of normality, while the private college his own son goes to is allowed to remain closed. Worse: the president has one priority at this time: reelection and for that, he’s prepared to do anything, including sending people to their graves. And yes, he’ll keep on holding his scary rallies to ensure that it happens.
The resistance and turmoil in Portland and Seattle may have been stealing part of the BLM’s thunder but they’re necessary and should escalate to the entire nation. When moms and veteran combatants take to the streets to fight with and protect activists, many, yes, Black and people of color fighting for their dignity, it should inform all Americans that it’s time to spring into action. For there are people willing to take a bullet (again!) for justice.
The Americans With Disabilities Act completed 30 years, and here’s yet another minority struggling to gain respect and the opportunities they deserve. It’s been a fractured trajectory, no pun intended, but it’s a human cause worth defending by everyone for all the empathy and solidarity spirit it sows.
The BLM movement has been a lightning rod for America’s neglected issues. It’s been connecting and galvanizing people, not the opposite. We must sign on for its struggle for it represents everybody. It’s July’s last call but don’t hang out in front of its counter: take it to go to prevent the spread. Salut.

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7/20/2020 Lives Making Ours Better, Colltalers

Record COVID-19 cases and no federal action to reverse them show that President Trump’s mind is elsewhere: reelection. But with falling polls, many say he may not leave the White House if he loses. Law enforcement and the military won’t go along with that, but his new, unmarked police force may.
As Black Lives Matter strikes nationally today, after months of protests against racism and police brutality, it’s fitting that two giants of the 1960s’ civil rights struggle, Rep. John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian, passed away on the same Friday. Both have made this world better than when they came to it.
Let’s start the news roundup with the imminent danger of annihilation faced by Brazil’s indigenous peoples due to rampant coronavirus infection rates. President Bolsonaro’s just vetoed legislation that would support heavily affected native communities in the Amazon. Under pressure from corporations and investors, the administration had enacted a bill temporarily banning forest fires but it still refuses to address the seriousness of the pandemic.
A ‘stillborn decree,’ calls it Dinaman Tuxá, coordinator of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples Articulation, about an act seen as largely ineffective for lacking funding to be enforced. Over 500 natives have died from the virus out of an estimated 15 thousand cases, Tuxá told Mesa Para Seis, a virtual panel with journalists. Over two million Brazilians – and Bolsonaro – have COVID-19, the second-highest number after the U.S.’ near four million cases.
Something else became apparent in the tragically incompetent response to the pandemic by the most powerful country in the world, closely echoed by Brazil, India, and Russia: apart from the fact that most of their misery is of their own making, they’re all regimes ruled by autocrats solely focused on self-preservation. While these nations still call themselves democracies, they’re heading to institutional authoritarianism. So many more will perish.
But don’t count on nature to offer us a reprieve from the climate emergency, while we sort out petty issues related to intellectual property of medicines. A Global Carbon Project study showed that atmospheric levels of methane, a greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat and increasing Earth’s temperature, beat the record in 2017, the latest estimates available. Raising cattle and coal mining are the main culprits for the spike.
As is, such rise undermines goals set by 195 nations at the 2015 Paris Summit, to keep global warming under 1.5° C, and further reducing that later. In what may be a first, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden took the cue and presented his comprehensive, $2 trillion plan to fight the climate emergency. Even without embracing the Green New Deal, the current standard blueprint for changing the economy from the ground up, and pressured by progressives to deliver a platform that would rile up first-time voters, Biden proved that he can be coachable and geared into the right direction.
The four-year plan addresses key issues such as adopting clean energy in the transportation, electricity, and building industries, to revive the economy onto an entirely different set of fundamentals. Leading in the polls and relatively protected from too intense media exposure, the former vice president still has a major hurdle to clear on his way back to the White House, apart from curbing his occasional mental slips: his VP choice. It has to be great.
On the other side of the pond, the European Union has struggled to fulfill the vacuum in global leadership since the U.S. has left the building of that capacity. In a virtual meeting last week, the 27-member bloc has pledged to cut down greenhouse gas emissions by 40% against 1990 levels by 2030, but failed to define how exactly it plans to do that. Not to mention that some nations are still resisting phasing out all fossil fuels from their economies.
No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.’ That was Trump’s answer to Fox News on whether he’d abide by the results of the presidential election in case he loses. In a nutshell, that’s the stuff democratic nightmares are made of: a president clearly stating that he won’t obey a law that he doesn’t like, which has also been his M.O. throughout these ghastly times. How can he possibly do that, you wonder.
By the omission of the other powers of the republic; by the complicity of members of his party; by dismayed citizens; and by creating a paramilitary force to enforce his decisions. The scenes broadcast from Portland, OR, last week, of heavily-armed squads of unidentified soldiers kidnapping people in the streets and shoving them into unmarked cars to usher them away to parts unknown, were not just disturbing but also unheard of in the U.S.
Later in the week, Homeland Security Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli acknowledged that they were federal agents, deployed for who knows what other than to add yet another military squad to oppress peaceful protesters. It was also an attempt to arrest the public perception that these forces have been created ultimately to serve the president’s needs, not the public’s. The scenes, though, of what looks like a banana republic, are utterly scary.
The American Civil Liberties of Oregon dutifully sued the administration for deploying the unnamed forces made up of agents from the DHS and the U.S. Marshals Service. According to the ACLU, rather than helping out, they were there ‘to crush demonstrations’ against racism and police brutality.
Rep. John Lewis, 80, a Democrat from Georgia, and Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian, 95, a longtime civil rights activist, were both friends and collaborators of the Rev. Dr, Martin Luther King Jr., and together put in motion the conditions needed for the great mass movements of the 1960s. That they passed away during the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests just shows how interconnected people and historical events really are. Rest in Power, Two of a Kind.
July is the monthlong StopHateforProfit boycott against Facebook which still insists it can’t curb hate speech and/or the president’s lies. Owner Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said it’s all just a big coincidence that since 2016 it’s been hosting and sheltering thousands of shady conspiracy groups that support Trump. With 2.6 billion monthly users, to quote a Biden’s favorite intro, ‘the fact to the matter is’ that FB is too big and should be broken up.
Speaking of the BLM, today’s strike is a call for ‘Black workers and allies to walk off the job,’ demand anti-racism changes for society, and push back against worker exploitation. It’s yet another step forward for accountability and to heal and rid the nation of its murderous beginnings. All Americans are being asked to do something symbolic if they can’t strike, to show they know which side the toast is buttered on and which will land on the floor.
Revolution is always an act of self-defense,’ said the Rev. Vivian. Voting ‘is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have’, said Rep. Lewis. These twin towers of the civil rights movement never deviated from their principles, which still power the Black Liberation movement and all changes their lives brought about to the American society. One raised by a single parent and the other, a son of sharecroppers. And yet their spirit represented multitudes.
No one is a hero at birth and the accolade rarely defines a person even at the end. We grow through our flaws and warts, not by virtue of being special. While some rise above the heap for inherited circumstances, or for their extreme physical ou artistic ability, and yet others simply land there without any purpose, a few get to the mountaintop on the sheer power of their empathy to strangers. Vivian and Lewis were it. So can we. Keep on breathing.

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7/13/2020 A Trail of Tears Haunts Us, Colltalers

It’s now frighteningly easy to predict the COVID-19’s expansion. With the U.S. set to reach 3.5 million cases, and Brazil, two million and counting – the two top spreaders have no discernible health strategy to slow it down – worldwide cases may reach 14 million next week. Will they change? Nah.
Not even if Trump gets sick, as Bolsonaro and many members of their inner circle did. There’s no pro-democracy movement in Brazil, as Hong Kong had, and in the U.S., the Supreme Court just wrapped its ‘full of sound and fury, signifying‘ well, little term. So the president pardoned another crook.
To begin unpacking this chock-full of news week – you’d be surprised – let’s get to the issue affecting most nations around the world: when should kids go back to school? Many leaders have detailed plans to proceed in stages, along with testing and tracing for new cases, while social distance measures are to remain in place. Some countries have also enviable public policies for child care and health coverage so it all can be orchestrated accordingly.
Not the U.S., of course, and neither Brazil, as it’s clear their leaders’ rule number one is to self preserve by any means necessary. They’re not just quickly becoming global pariahs but their policies have the potential to encourage other far-right would-be despots to seize more power on the slight.
India and Russia, the two following coronavirus record-holders, have reportedly close to a million cases each, even though knowing what’s really going on in any of these four nations is a game of educated guesses. The bottom line is countries with virtually half of all cases have no school plan at all. In families struggling to remain above the poverty line, no classes also mean less time to earn income, and worse, no school meals available for the kids.
In the U.S., as daily cases of infections are beating all-time records, the president is bullying schools to open, threatening to suspend federal funds if they don’t. It’s not hard to know why: businesses running, schools open, rallies and a promised vaccine by October, all mean just one thing: reelection.
Many of the nations signing off from the pandemic’s casualty roll have implemented unemployment benefits and extra protections far beyond anything considered by the ‘sleeping giant’ below the Equator, and its big bro in the North. The nearly 50 million Americans who filed jobless claims in the past months may see benefits dry out as soon as the end of July. Other temporary protections, against evictions, for instance, are also set to be phased out.
Will that spell a robust opposition to the discriminatory, racist, and incompetent policies of the Trump administration? Meaning that Black Americans and their allies will soon be joined by every American affected by this crisis and Trump’s tragically misguided response? Let’s not trust twice-told tales.
While conservative estimates see the COVID-19 scourge being extended to the far side of 2021, there’s something else that may extend for a thousand years: global warming. A study by U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization found that annual global temperatures could exceed 2.7°F over the next five years. That goes against the below 35.6°F or less which 195 minus-the-U.S. nation signers of the Paris climate accord had committed to pursuing.
That may drive another nail to the Amazon Rainforest coffin. Scientists at NASA have predicted a season of hell there, as nearly 800sq.km of forest were cut down during the first three months of 2020, 51% more than in the same period last year, and the extra dry season may set widespread fires.
For now, as no one is tending to the store, what’s widespread is the land-grabbing of government and indigenous territories, plus illegal mining and logging. A new law bans forest fires but lawlessness in the region has increased since Bolsonaro ordered an overhaul of environmental agency Ibama for conducting a single raid that irritated big landowners in his constituency. Result: the beating (of the forest) will continue until morality gives up.
In the latest package to address the rising number of obits and new infections registered in Brazil, Bolsonaro vetoed legislation that would guarantee natives free potable water, hygiene, cleaning, and disinfectant products, and access to hospital beds. Not completely unrelated to that is the passing of Chief Domingos Mohoro last week, another indigenous leader who’s died either by the coronavirus or by an assassination squad. R.I.P. old warrior.
To offer a reprieve, we’ve got some good environmental justice news: thanks to the effort, moral compass, and sacrifice of Native and African Americans, major oil pipelines have hit the dust or at least, halted for further reviews of their environmental impact. The first was the stoppage of the Dakota Access Pipeline construction, fought against by the Standing Rock Sioux and tribes of the Lakota People, along with help from the EarthJustice group.
On July 5, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy canceled the 600-mile-long Atlantic Coast Pipeline, that’d have carried fracked gas from Virginia to North Carolina. Tribes including the Lumbee, Coharie, Haliwa-Saponi, and Meherrin had opposed the project for years and so have Virginia’s Black communities.
On the next day, the Supreme rejected Keystone XL’s permit, which the Cheyenne River Sioux had opposed from the get-go, in 2008. The last one was one of the rulings by the highest court on land that led many to believe there’s a silver lining on its term that’s just ended. There isn’t.
In fact, the Supreme Court has clearly had its favorites that, one can bet their soul, will be enforced, no matter what. One is to avoid a wrestling match with progressive forces. The other is faith, or rather, its free reign interfering in state matters even when that poises a blatant constitutional challenge.
The court ruled, for instance, that religion-devout employers can deny health coverage for abortion. Viagra, however, is fully covered. Court decisions like this have little to do with morality and everything with values cheered by a patriarchal society. While abortion is a personal decision with social implications, forced upon by harsh realities, the Blue Pill is mostly prescribed for vanity and age-old sexual delusions. Self-interest? Let’s not be crass.
The arguably most enduring decision of the court presided by Justice John Roberts was about Trump’s tax financial records, maybe a crucial indicator of his misdeeds before and while president. In a verbose, overwrought, and pompous decision, the court proclaimed that no man is above the law. But the many caveats it encrusted onto the ruling put any chance for the American people to gain access to them right up there where the sun won’t shine.
That’s why only Shakespeare to put it all properly as he did on Macbeth. In four terms under Trump, and in many before, the U.S. Supreme Court has consolidated a political and partisan role in decisions that have affected the lives of the majority of Americans. That’s why there’s so much money in electoral campaigns, voting became subjected to the ill will of corrupt leaders, and now, a woman remains a second-class citizen for getting pregnant.
The decision was one that unmistakenly favors the powers of church and religion, of the extreme kind, who still insist that abortion and homosexuality are worse crimes that the sexual abuse of kids by priests. Speaking of the Catholic Church, it’s one of the groups that’s received what most Americans have not: a substantial federal aid to compensate for COVID-19 disruptions. It’s got a cool $1.4 billion that it will likely use to fight victim lawsuits.
‘On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise.‘ That how starts the winning argument, written by Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch, no less, for the Supreme Court ruling that much of eastern Oklahoma falls within an Indian reservation. Despite a dissenting opinion by chief Roberts, the decision has positive implications to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and all Native Americans, even as it does not mean that land will change hands.
It was a good week for descendants of the ‘first Americans,’ those already here when the Europeans arrived. But like the land, it won’t change much. Indigenous communities continue to be ravaged by COVID-19 all over the Americas. So are Black and Brown people. Thus, they’ll all be present at the July 20 Strike for Black Lives. As will all ‘thoughtful, committed citizens,’ to quote Margaret Mead. And so will we (wearings masks). Get it on.

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7/06/2020 The Sad Disparity Among Us, Colltalers

Psst, hear that? It’s the frightening silence of China crushing Hong Kong’s bones of democracy. Now there’s a second generation of young Chinese to mourn the missing opportunity for regime change. Not that it was ever in their hands. Would this have happened if the West cared just a little about it?
As if 12 million cases, over 500 thousand obits, and vaccine research still far from trials were not enough, here comes the greed of big pharma not to help us but profit from it all. Gilead has priced its COVID-19 drug, Remdesivir, which is not even a cure at $3,120 per treatment. And ‘experts’ like it.
Throughout the U.S., Black Lives Matter protests continue, even if in a subdued way. But as the movement decides its next steps – may we suggest start working for getting a new president at the White House? – gratuitous police confrontations and despicable acts by white supremacists are still on the rise. Rewards from the top can be significant: the St. Louis couple who pointed loaded guns at peaceful marchers got a tweet from the president.
But in Seattle, it again went too far when a car drove through a police barrier on Saturday hitting a crowd and killing Summer Taylor. The hard-to-watch video, as many to come out lately about police brutality against African-Americans, doesn’t show that the 24-year-old BLM supporter was actually white but it doesn’t matter. Hate towards people of color includes their allies. (In case you’re wondering, we won’t name these criminals here).
The fact that black Americans amount to 12.3% of the U.S. population and yet just in 2020 have already been killed 105 times out of 506 fatal police shootings, according to business platform Statista, stands akin to the odd logic of the U.S. to having less than 4% of the world population but more COVID-19 cases than anyone else. That’s not for the stats to explain, but to corrupt leaders that fuel such a tragic disparity to be held accountable for.
Speaking of accountability, in Brazil – second to the U.S. in coronavirus cases – pandemic-denying, rainforest-destroying Presidente Jair Bolsonaro is fighting to survive a likely string of revelations to come from Fabrício Queiroz, the arrested driver of the president’s son and also politician Flávio, and longtime friend of the family. The laundry list of crimes associated to Queiroz and Flávio includes the charge that they assassinated Marielle Franco.
A Rio councilwoman and a rising black leadership in the LGBTQ community who came from a shantytown and was known for a progressive agenda, Marielle was executed two years ago last March and albeit her assassins are known, and one has already been killed, Queiroz and virtually everyone accused in the conspiracy to murder her was at some point connected to the Bolsonaros, even living at walking distances of the family’s big compound.
Now, long-dormant institutions such as the Supremo Tribunal Federal, the Brazilian supreme court, decided they’ve had enough and, shock, are doing their job. Naturally, the president is telling his supporters that he’s a victim of vengeful judges and politicians who want to oust him as leader of Brazil, which by the way, has gone anyway but down, both economically and socially. Yes, we’ve just heard the same message at the foot of Mount Rushmore.
Queiroz was a member of the ‘Office of Crime,’ the militia that controls Rio’s law enforcement organs and terrorizes its slums dwellers for years. Many Brazilians, however, wonder if ‘dethroning’ Bolsonaro and welcoming again the military into power, as his VP is a general, is really what’s best for the country. Yes, many still beg for the return of the dictatorship, which ruled Brazil for 20 years, but to be blunt, they’re usually considered psychopaths.
In Botswana, hundreds of elephants have been found dead in the past months and no one can explain it. This time, the usual suspects, poachers, are not deemed involved since tusks having been left intact. Research continues into the causes but lab results may take a while to be completed. For now, we mourn this yet new threat to the survival of such a magnificent creature, whose numbers have been steadily declining. Poachers, circuses, now this.
We also grieve the death of Regan Russell, an animal activist killed by a truck last month in Ontario, Canada, while protesting a pig slaughterhouse. And Santiago Manuim, Awajún indigenous leader and Amazon Rainforest defender, who succumbed to the coronavirus. Their losses are irreparable.
‘Welcome to the Security Law’ reads an irony-free banner on a barge navigating Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor. Inland, there’s been a depressing round of arrests, intimidation, and even deportations of activists to the mainland. And around the world, the silence about this has been too insufferably loud.
China has the confidence of facing even less pushback than it did in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which the current movement for autonomy has echoed. If Bush senior did nothing then, don’t expect, as some students did, help from the White House occupier. But it’s inconceivable that civil rights organizations in the U.S. and Europe haven’t so much as protested against this unequivocal act of authoritarianism. Thus, China grows stronger.
Of our sinister scoreboard of last week, China got its way, and so did Putin who now may rule Russia for 16 more years. But Israel backpedaled on its plan to annex Palestinian land in the West Bank. Publicly, only art group Partners4Israel produced a giant mural in Tel Aviv protesting annexation.
A group of 239 scientists is calling for the World Health Organization to step up warnings about the airborne transmission of COVID-19, as cases rise worldwide. Unlike the U.S.’s criticism of W.H.O., this one is based on evidence and with the reopening of the global economy, it’s crucial to control it.
Remdesivir’s initial tests were positive for some patients but they need to be proven on trials; it certainly won’t cure the infection. But Gilead, which developed the drug with taxpayer funds, is already projecting a windfall to its bottom line once it hits the market. What’s disingenuous about this is that it’ll charge over $3,000 per treatment regardless of whether it works. And the Trump administration has already purchased its whole production of it.
It’s so obvious that the company, and you-know-who, will make a killing not on the substance of the resolution of a global pandemic but on the account of backdoor deals. It’ll almost surely serve to ‘trump the Trump’ comes November, as he’ll probably declare total victory on some bogus claim. Again.
Otherwise, this administration is doing nothing else to stop the coronavirus since, well, the beginning. Just thought it’s important to remind everyone.
This Fourth of July was arguably the most dispirited to date. That is, crowds were out, as maskless and in close contact with each other as any stock pessimist would have it, but something was missing. Would it have to do with what abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass – whose toppled statue in Rochester, NY, has been replaced – had pointed to back in 1852? ‘Your independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us.‘
Invited to speak about Independence Day, the former slave who rose to prominence on the strength of his convictions, said, ‘the sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. (…) You may rejoice, I must mourn.‘ It’s mourning in America, indeed, as someone has already said it. But for Douglass and so many others, to give up was never an option. We must climb that wall and topple the monster. Free at last.

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6/29/2020 Rulings & Reparations, Colltalers

The scary but thoroughly expected explosion of new COVID-19 cases in the world has a common cause, the rush to restart economic activity even if people are dying as a result of it, and a disheartening realization: the coronavirus is now an integral part of our near future. But a vaccine may not be.
Meanwhile, constitutional decisions in Israel, Hong Kong, and Russia may further erode human rights and the ability of democracy to truly represent people. That’s why the Black Lives Matter uprising has been so crucial exposing the racist complacency of American society. Now, to reparations?
But let’s start with the proposed settlements of lawsuits brought up against Bayer and Johnson & Johnson over two of their cancer-causing products. Bayer offered $10.9 billion to settle 75% of 125,000 cases against its subsidiary Monsanto’s weedkiller Roundup. And J&J agreed to pay $2.1 billion in damages for people who got cancer from using its asbestos-suffused talc product. As noted, other lawsuits against the same products will continue.
Don’t get too impressed with the amounts, though, or expect either company to give up or stop pushing those products to impoverished communities and minorities. Even as lawyers have been already paid millions, corporations always try to slash the compensation awarded to its harmed customers.
Furthermore, in the case of Bayer, it’s had the help of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to whom Roundup does not cause cancer, despite all evidence. And J&J, which like Bayer has issued statements supporting the BLM movement, is working hard to deny the allegations. They shouldn’t, people died using their products. But it’ll be enlightening to watch how they will wiggle out of their social responsibilities. For they certainly will.
To provide clarity about the law of the land is why there’s a Supreme Court. But the current term presided by Justice John Roberts doesn’t seem to see it that way, at least as far as immigration is concerned. After granting a temporary but much-needed reprieve to thousands of children born in the U.S. to foreign parents, the so-called Dreamers, it made a 180° turn and gave the Trump administration rights to fast-track deportations of asylum seekers. It contradicts not just last week’s decision, but the very principle of habeas corpus, the jurisprudence basis supporting the naturalization of immigrants.
The president suffered a defeat on another front of his quest to further isolate the U.S., though, not by the court but by a federal judge: ICE, Trump’s border enforcer agency, must release all immigrant children it holds by July 17, as coronavirus cases increase in its detention centers. But as the ruling falls short of also granting freedom to their parents, due to legal constraints, it remains to be seen how these forced orphans will fend for themselves.
A quick note about things falling from the sky. Starting with a bigger-than-usual Sahara plume arriving over the U.S. that may aggravate COVID-19 symptoms. Also, a study on Science about the estimated 1,000 tons of microplastics – equivalent to over 123 million plastic water bottles – raining down on the U.S. each year. And then locusts taking over air space over Gurugram, India, a kind of terrifying event that’s popular among bible readers.
The virus has crashed through the 10 million-case threshold, with over 500 thousand dead by it. But that hasn’t changed how the U.S. and Brazil, leaders of the ‘Welcome Virus’ pack, and India, are handling the crisis: that is, doing nothing and wishing that underreporting new cases will help it to go away.
Within days, Chinese lawmakers may pass a new security law that outlaws political protest and crushes dissent in Hong Kong. It’ll be the end of the political independence and democracy on the island, which for a century helped China moved from a rural economy to an industrialized superpower.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may present his plans to annex about 30% of the West Bank as soon as July 1, even as António Guterres, U.N. Secretary-General, has warned that’s ‘against international law’ and may destabilize the region. Palestinians and most of the world seem to agree.
And in Russia, the government is on an all-out campaign to promote a week-long, single-vote referendum that raises pensions and minimum wage, and bans gay marriage, among other things. Oh, and it also resets President Vladimir Putin’s term limits. If approved, he may remain in power until 2036! At 84 then, few believe he will. But since he’s been on top for 20 years already, don’t bet the voting machines he won’t. These three decisions will hurt the world.
The BLM uprising has turned racism, police brutality, and social inequality into issues relevant to all Americans, but the movement has to keep the pressure on if it is to lead to real change. Even considering the relative brevity of this new spike of awareness, it’s time to be concerned about passing laws that effectively keep the momentum going. And one of the ways that that may happen is having far-reaching goals to achieve. Thus, reparations.
We applaud the decision by the Mississippi legislator to take down its 126-year-old state flag with the Confederate symbol on it. It’s a step in the right direction. But beyond that, what used to be a non-starter in discussions about the plight of African-Americans is now considered a possible solution to reboot race relations in America. Reparations are the fastest way to bridge four centuries of inequality and rescue black families from a life of poverty.
The pandemic and the way the administration gave away half a trillion dollars to corporations, no questions asked, while shortening aid to its victims shows that what’s been missing is not resources but political will. There’s no need to print money, just slashing the staggering defense budget will do it.
A 10% cut in the U.S. military budget – which is larger than the next 11 nations combined – for education, healthcare, and poverty programs is what Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed last week. But one doubts he’s willing to murder Mitch McConnell, the only way such a plan could be approved.
‘How our labor is used (…), who we’re working for, and who benefits from the labor of our lives.‘ These are some of the questions tech workers should ask themselves according to ex-NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden. Speaking on a teleconference about technology and surveillance, he was referring to recent actions of dissent by industry workers. But he could as well be thinking about his evil twin Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.
Unlike Twitter and other social media, which have taken (timid) steps to curb fake news and support to criminal misconduct that the capo at the White House often does, the Zuck instead has reportedly held private meetings with him and other Republicans about his reelection, just as he did in 2016.
Here’s something else to remind us that life is precious and that we should keep an eye on the sky, just in case: June 30 is Asteroid Day, when we’ll be informed on what’s being done to prevent a civilization-ending impact. For dust, plastic, and locusts, a hardhat suffices. But it’s much harder to divert a giant supersonic rock. People are more likely to be hit by one than by lightning and in 2036, Earth will be visited by one that may actually hit us.
As we now know, Putin may be the president then, of an ember and cinder world, no doubt. Trump’s reelection may anticipate that. So, work against it. Sunday was Pride Day, sadly with no NYC Gay Pride Parade to celebrate its 50th anniversary. But we do, so here’s to the LGBTQ community. Ba-bye.

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6/22/2020 A Confederacy of Dunces, Colltalers

As long as you keep a person down, you cannot soar. It’s fitting to paraphrase the great Marian Anderson to mark yet another fervid week of protests in America, for black lives lost and re-energized. Nearing the first act’s end, we cannot yet soar. But ours will be a better country by heeding to this struggle.
Despite a brutal push back, racists and xenophobes sustained big blows to their hegemony, as the Supreme Court refused to endorse deporting citizens born here from foreign parents, and supported rights of working LGBTQ people. Would a favorable ruling on abortion be next? Don’t hold your breath.
The world, however, is not helping much as we hit nine million COVID-19 cases, two million in the U.S. and a million in Brazil, the title holders of a ‘confederacy of malefic dunces,’ as an exhausted nurse put it to a sympathetic bodega audience. There and here, as more choose to ignore the reality, the coronavirus keeps its neck-breaking rate of contagion. Half a million lost their lives to it and many will never have one worth living after this.
The protests have been revealing to Americans, in what the majority is now fully behind the Black Lives Matter movement, appalled by police caught on camera murdering black people. Starting of course with the excruciating killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day, which ignited the current unrest.
They displayed a scarily heavily-armed police force acting as the army they are not, ready to steamroll peaceful protesters in the reassurance they won’t be held accountable for their crimes. Well, they now are, and the whole institution of law enforcement was put on notice with calls to defund the police and/or simply, dismantling it. Starting with the Minneapolis cops who killed Floyd and those who’ve tried giving the guilty cover under their badge.
Protests also highlighted the indiscriminate use of tear gas, a so-called ‘safe’ weapon of mass control that nonetheless is banned from the battlefield and has caused permanent injuries to many a peaceful city marcher. An Amnesty study found that its global use has become a gateway to yet more police violence and poor trade regulations have turned it into a highly toxic substance about which little is known, apart from the fact that it’s far from safe.
To the toppling of statues of confederate generals, put up long after the Civil War and with the sole purpose of glorifying slave profiteers, and demands to rename Army bases that perpetuate such unjust distinction, white supremacists responded in the only way they can: but showing up armed at rallies and shooting black people. Still, it was a relief that a deflated and under-attended first Trump rally in months failed to stir any deadly confrontations.
The highest point of this cycle was, of course, the celebration of Juneteenth, a date hardly known by many before but now a candidate to becoming a national holiday. It marks the official liberation of slaves, over two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. It’s also a reminder of the 1921 massacre of an entire black neighborhood by white supremacists in Tulsa, the city Trump picked to resume his reelection pitch. But it wasn’t to be.
Lastly, two more news to keep us up at night: a string of hangings of black men in three states, along nooses found elsewhere; and a study on JAMA, the medical association journal, about the impact of climate change on pregnancies, affecting black mothers at higher rates than the population at large.
Two of the hangings, of Malcolm Harsch and of a Texas teenager, seem to have been suicides, according to video evidence. Still to be probed further are the cases of Robert Fuller, from California like Harsch, and Dominique Alexander, a Hispanic black man found in a Manhattan park. Still, their graphic reminder of the horrifying past of lynchings in the U.S., and peculiar timing, raise disturbing questions about racial dispossession and despair.
Among some 32 million births in the U.S., the medical research found that high temperatures and air pollution may cause premature, underweight, or stillborn children while social-economic factors place African-American and Latinx mothers at the most risk since they are more likely to live in areas vulnerable to climate disruptions and pollution. Climate is indeed disrupting: want to know what was Saturday’s temperature in Siberia, Russia? 100°.
If you seek relief from bad news don’t look at Brazil and the disastrous and possibly doomed Bolsonaro administration. In the latest round of a war among the powers of the republic, the police arrested long-sought-after Fabrício Queiroz, a former driver of the president’s son Flavio, himself being investigated for possible ties with Rio’s corruption rings and militias accused of having assassinated black councilwoman Marielle Franco in 2018.
Queiroz was a member of the inner circle of the Bolsonaro family since the 1980s and is expected to sing like a jailbird to avoid heavy sentences. But since it’s Brazil of late, one never knows. They are all part of a nefarious cadre of sinister characters that are looting the nation, but the greatest crime to be blamed on Jair and his sons is not even part of any probe: the neglect leading to the destruction of the Amazon and killing of its indigenous peoples.
Paulinho Paiakan, 67, who died last week of COVID-19, was a controversial chief of the Kaiapó tribe who rose to prominence decades ago for leading the fight against the construction of the giant Belo Monte dam. He was also accused of rape and served time in prison. What no one denies, though, is that he was a natural leader, whose ardor will be sorely missed by a population that’s being decimated by the virus and natural habitat losses.
Like the murder of Franco, if indeed the president’s family was involved, the destruction of the Rainforest and abandonment of its vulnerable natives to alone and unarmed fend off loggers, miners, and big landowners-hired hitmen, is among Bolsonaro’s greatest crimes and for that, he deserves every harsh sentence in the book to be thrown at him. It may take long, though, or it’ll never happen. Brazilians have never been so depressed. With reason.
We salute the Dreamers in their quest to be legal in their own homeland, and hard-working gay and transgender people for their deserving protections. It’s about time the Supreme reaffirms its independence but we remain wary. All and all, a time of progress in America, despite the risks and false starts. We’re almost done with act 1, so let’s get ready for the second, our highest priority: a new president in November. For that, yes, all lives matter. Cheers

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6/15/2020 The Making of a New Day, Colltalers

It’s clear by now that the administration doesn’t care about people. Massive worldwide protests against racism and murder of African-American George Floyd by the police, and eight million COVID-19 cases, are not as important to Trump as the economy. And now, cops killed Rayshard Brooks too.
Many say that Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro closely follows the U.S. president but there’s one big difference: he’s not up to reelection. Thus, besides a threat of a coup, he’s free to pursue his deranged denial of almost a million coronavirus cases and the unforgivable killing of the Rainforest and its natives.
We’ll be back to these two intertwined topics but first, let us have our usual world roundup. Starting with some good Middle East news, as Israel’s High Court canceled the Regulation law that’d retroactively legalize settlements built on Palestinian land. But the ruling may as well be symbolic; on July 1, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will bring up to vote the law for the annexation of West Bank, which may render this and other rulings irrelevant.
Speaking of Israel, Europe’s Court of Human Rights sided up with pro-Palestinian activists convicted of campaigning for the BDS movement, which seeks to condition support to the Israeli government according to its treatment of Palestinians. The non-violent movement has found resonance around the world, from civil rights to peace in the Middle East organizations. But not from Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who spoke against it.
On Saturday, Ilyad al-Halaq, an autistic Palestinian with a ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner, was killed by the Israeli police. His death happened in the context of traditional Palestinian support to African-American causes. According to black liberation activist and scholar Angela Davis, commonalities of their struggle and alliance reach far back to the 1960s when Palestinians led the international pressure to free Davis, jailed on unproven murder charges.
Also on the good side is the spontaneous Twitter movement of women in Turkey who are switching genders of misogynistic assumptions and making the Turkish society rethink its view of feminism in the process. But don’t let the humor of Tweets such as, ‘I’m a modern woman, so I help my husband with housework,’ or, ‘Men should be chaste. They should not laugh out loud in public,’ fool you: it’s gotten a powerful response. And of course, threats.
A note of solidarity to the heroic Navajo people in New Mexico who are facing yet another devastating battle. Besides being one of the world’s worst-affected communities by COVID-19, they’re also waging an unfair battle against the U.S. Land Management Bureau’s plans to lease land to the oil and gas industries to dig some 3,000 wells for fracking. It’ll disrupt sacred native sites, destroy pristine extensions for millennia, and make everyone sick.
And then there’s Russia, the country most likely to welcome a reelected Trump – yeah, we’ve run out of good news, sorry. It’s been battling, apparently without much success, an over 20,000-ton spill of diesel fuel in Norilsk, Siberia, above the Arctic circle. After Greenpeace sounded the alarm, that it’s comparable to the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, Putin declared a state of emergency while curbing info and help from abroad. But it doesn’t look good.
The timing of this new spill could hardly come at a worse moment. NOAA and the Scripps IO have just announced that atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory reached a seasonal peak of 417.1 parts per million for 2020 in May, the highest monthly reading ever recorded. Nothing less than the highest CO2 level in 23 million years, according to a separate study by Geology. Yeah, good news is hard to come by.
‘My worst nightmare.’ That’s how Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called COVID-19, an accurate assessment of the crisis, in the same week that he also sort of backpedaled, by saying that a second wave ‘is not inevitable’ in the U.S., at best, his educated opinion. Such inconsistency undermines the only role we should see fit for him to play: that of the knowledgeable expert, calling it as it is.
Which brings us to a tenet of the scientific method: replication. As in, the more a result can be replicated, the likelier it is accurate. We’ve seen what happens when people isolate, wear masks, and dutifully sanitize hands: the pandemic shrinks. Consequently, we know also what happens if that stops: the virus thrives. But that proven experience, replicated millions of times globally, doesn’t seem to be the basis for the reopening of the world economy.
Instead, the U.S., Brazil, and too many countries are restarting their economies while contagion is still on the rise, and it’s only logical that it’ll have nefarious consequences. How hard will it be to lock up people at home again, once they’re out, basking in the sun? when did the cat return to the bag?
To no one’s surprise, Trump supporters will need to sign an agreement not to sue the campaign if they contract the virus. Thus if his legacy will be the few million casualties of the virus that he did not take seriously, and was incompetent to fight it, Bolsonaro’s will be the deforestation of the world’s biggest Rainforest. Near 10,000 sq.km. have already been cleared, and 2020 may beat all records of casualties in the region under his pitiful watch.
Which is also a grave concern for indigenous communities in the Amazon. The coronavirus may usher a large-scale genocide so considered because it’s happening mostly either from neglect or policies of extermination, which have also caused deadly confrontations of natives and landowners’ hitmen.
The killing of Rayshard Brooks follows a nauseating ritual by the U.S. police: called to referee a routine incident, they wind up killing another black man. It gets terribly worse: since Floyd’s agonizing final breath, there’s been a half dozen assassinations, either recently or on videos resurfacing only now, some eerily similar, others obscenely cruel, but all inexorably brutal. Protesters were shot and beaten up while marching against police brutality.
It seems that now that the reelection season is on at a full clip and will increase its pitch in the months ahead, any racially-motivated crimes bound to happen again will continue being ignored and chastised by the GOP candidate. He’s made clear that he’ll do anything to get his campaign going, (even if he’d have to shoot someone on Fifth Ave.) The BLM movement and those who support it must transition now from rally to action to face this threat.
Biden, who continues to be tone deft about most of the issues facing America today, may not represent the dreams and aspirations of all of those who may vote for him. But he must win if we’re to have a chance to promote real change, despite himself, his party, ingrained prejudice, or the status quo.
Perhaps toppling statues of traitors and slave-traders is a place to start. Or making cops accountable for murder. But if protests won’t evolve into a new society, prisons will remain loaded with people of color and profits for corporations. As Angela Davis says, ‘if reforms have failed to have a transformative impact on police or jails, does it make sense to simply call for more reforms?‘ That will require guts as hell but we’ll fight to win. Happy Juneteenth.

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6/08/2020 Stop the U.S. of Lyncherdom, Colltalers

‘Get your knees off our necks.‘ The eloquence of Rev. Al Sharpton’s eulogy of George Floyd, choked to death by a white Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day, was appropriate to match the public horror about his death. Hundreds of thousands across the U.S. and the world marched in protest.
The massive 11-day rallies are not only a response to the horrifying 8:46min video of Floyd’s killing but also a demand for change, redress, renewal of our tenets as human beings. Not surprisingly, the police behaved badly all along, arresting and beating people up. So now there’s talk of defunding it.
The crowd also paid respects to Breonna Taylor, whose 27th birthday was Friday, and countless of young black lives cut short by police brutality and cruel social inequality now reigning in the U.S. Breonna, an African-American medical technician, was shot by police at her own home in the middle of the night, mistaken by someone already in custody. And then there are all the people of color who face daily the wrath of white supremacists.
The grief also brings up our desperate need to comprehend the magnitude of what’s happening for 400 years. The toxic legacy of slavery boils up again about the disproportional number of COVID-19 fatalities among minorities, biased laws, overcrowded jails, prison-for-profit, police unions, restitution, and, yes, police defunding. In four decades, wages, safety nets, health, and education budgets got all savagely slashed. But not the funding for security.
American police forces today act like armies and there’s always a tragedy in the wake of their street deployments. And a crucial reason for such status quo is rarely mentioned in the same sentence, or articles about it: defense budgets. If city and state budgets prioritize police over community building and other badly needed social reforms, it’s almost redundant to remind everyone that the U.S. military budget surpasses entire groups of nations.
That includes billions of dollars allocated yearly to weapon makers, military equipment suppliers, intelligence, and especially, defense contractors, the expression that replaced the word ‘mercenary’ in the crooked lexicon of Pentagon insiders. Now, these agents spent millions scouring the world for potential conflicts to which sell their wares. Until recently, there seemed to be no limit for what they’d do to promote just that: wars, small and large.
But even they could see that there’s actually a limit and we probably already reached it circa 2001. That perceived diminished demand had no impact on arms production, though. After all, the funding for today’s continuing development and manufacturing of sophisticated weaponry may’ve been set over 10 years ago. So, what do to with this expensive surplus of rifles, tanks, bullets, handguns, ‘legal’ chemical gases, and such: sell it to the police.
And that’s why talk about defunding police has to be in synch with cuts in federal budgets dating back from the 1990s. So, while state and municipalities make sure their local police forces destroy the unappropriate tools they were given to fight traffic violations, for Pete’s sake, Congress has to show the cojones needed to get it done. It’s complicated but absolutely crucial. Will it happen? Of course not, not now anyway. But it’s worth the fight about it.
As a demographics, African-Americans, and people of color could hit the streets every day for the next 20 years demanding what was taken from them long ago, what used to be called the American Dream. And organize. And vote for people that will have a place at the table with the powers that be. But it won’t be enough; we know who’ll stand against it to defend their privilege. We’ll need a bigger boat but with another president as its captain.
Speaking of which, with due respect to President Obama, a man whose arousing and brilliant oratory was never matched by radical actions, he should sit this one out if he’s not coming out to protest. He’s more valuable behind the scenes turning the Joe Biden candidacy into something meaningful.
What we need is grassroots efforts of countless groups dedicated to human rights and social reform, the Women’s Movement leadership, organizations fighting for climate change action, antigun groups, all aiming at getting a seat at that table. Black Lives Matter is an American cause: it’s essential to the survival of our democracy just as climate action is for mankind’s survival. No armed-to-the-teeth police force can beat these issues into submission.
For now though, as curfews are being lifted and a misguided order to reopen the economy goes into effect, as global cases of coronavirus cross the seven million mark, with hundreds more and their implicit fatalities expected to increase, the police will have the momentary reign. It’ll continue to oppress rather than protect Americans, using military antics to dispel peaceful protests, and, naturally, going after reporters and journalists.
Just as the NYTimes published a list of black people killed by the police on its front cover, Bellingcat, an investigative online forum, accused U.S. law enforcement of deliberately targeting journalists during protests against police brutality. Reporters were shot with rubber bullets, hit, assaulted, sprayed with tear gas, and arrested, all for doing their job. Remember the bit about democracy being under siege? there isn’t one without freedom of the press.
The world keeps spinning around; we are the ones stuck with hate that defies comprehension and challenges our self-attributed ‘democratic spirit.’ But there’s no room in this newsletter to cover even the highlights of what afflicts us. For instance, in Brazil, apart from a reduction of 14% of the Amazon Rainforest due to President Bolsonaro’s policies, there’s now a threat of widespread genocide of indigenous populations contaminated by COVID-19.
Just as solar, wind, and other renewable sources have toppled coal production in the U.S. for the first time in over 130 years, the president has relaxed regulations allowing commercial fishing in marine sanctuaries. It wasn’t a sneaky attack: he’s been doing that for years, climate emergency be damned.
Friday was also the 76th anniversary of D Day, the fateful sacrifice of thousands of American, British and Australian troops to land in Normandy and start the final cavalcade that ended WWII. And while the illiterate leader of the free world promised to go after ‘Antifa terrorists’ supposedly abetting protesters – which is not true, according to the FBI – someone had to remind him that it stands for Anti-Fascism, the scourge the U.S. helped defeat.
In fact, it was a sitting U.S. president, Ike Eisenhower, who founded Antifa in 1945. And if it was involved at all in the Floyd protests, it’d be doing the exact job for which it was created: to fight the threat of Fascism. They’ve thought they’d beat it but the beast’s back and it has now a White House ally.
In 1901, after witnessing a lynching followed by the carnage of hundreds of African-Americans in Pierce City, MO, hunted down and killed by white citizens, the great Mark Twain wrote ‘The United States of Lyncherdom,’ a devastating indictment of his contemporaries. But despite being at the time the most celebrated American writer, Twain thought it over and ended up not publishing his essay, something his biographers say he bitterly regretted.
When it came out, 13 years after his death, it lacked the authority of being spoken by a living legend. Twain’s humanity is beyond reproach. But let’s not repeat his error: let’s keep flooding media and the Internet with true tales of oppression told by those whose lives were snapped out by a murderous police knee or bullet. We’re witnesses, participants and architects of our time here. It’s up to us to make it better. So put your mask on and join the resistance.

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6/01/2020 We Do Not Lack Conviction, Colltalers

All the suffering COVID-19 has caused – over six million cases worldwide and close to 400,000 dead – almost pales in comparison with what the 200-year-old open wound of racism has exacted upon people of color in the U.S. Even if they’re also the majority of the virus’ victims. Yup, it’s on again.
The explosion of protests that erupted over the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, knee-chocked to death by a white police officer caught on camera is not only absolutely justified but has now a troubling component too: white supremacists disguised as allies inciting violence and looting.
It’s been hard to focus but did you hear that? It’s the silence about what should’ve been major news: Hong Kong and its struggle with its motherland’s crushing hug. The Trump administration rushed to help Beijing again by revoking H.K.’s special status, a colonial relic that allowed Communist China to do business with the West. No one needs that now. As for the violent repression and persecution of pro-democracy activists, there’s now just silence.
Another one? hunger. Actually the threat of child starvation, not in remote African villages or war-ravaged Yemen, Gaza, and Syria, all caused at some level by one-sided U.S. foreign policies, but here in America. Be it for the temporary lockdown, as school lunches are often the only meal millions of American children eat daily, draconian cuts in the welfare support systems, or downright neglect by the administration, the fact is, hunger is growing.
Study after study has shown that what was already a disturbing trend, that of academic scores getting lower as food availability becomes scarcer, may become a catastrophe of its own. Given that most data was collected before the crisis forced 40 million to file for unemployment benefits, the potential negative impact of childhood hunger on the future is obvious. Worse, it also exposes how the world’s richest nation treats and feeds its own children.
And Brazil, a sentimental favorite never so riddled with political dysfunction as now. As it’s crossed the half-a-million mark of COVID-19 cases, President Bolsonaro stuck to his ‘little flu’ posture. Like Trump, he won’t mention the rising number of deaths. Or wear a mask. Rather, he’s oblivious to the infection; on Sunday he paraded on horseback at a supporters’ rally against a Supreme Court probe into his campaign’s spread of fake news.
There’s another disgrace going on under the cover of the coronavirus crisis and that’s led by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency Trump has instructed to deny even the most basic human rights to asylum-seekers and refugees, and deport the greatest number of them as quickly as possible. Thing is, ICE’s not equipped for the enormity of what’s happening and as a result, it’s causing its own spread of the virus among detainees.
Not that it cares either way; for weeks immigration and justice rights advocates have demanded it to release all those potentially infected, which may be the majority among the detained, and immediately stop deportations and relocations of the undocumented, in some cases workers living and paying taxes in this country for decades. The same goes for for-profit prison companies, whose overcrowded facilities have also become virus epicenters.
But the big story is an old one with no relief on sight. After the president called ‘thugs’ people seeking justice for the murder of Floyd in Minneapolis, of Breonna Taylor, a medical technician shot multiple times ‘by mistake’ by the Kentucky police inside her own home, and of course the execution-style murder of Ahmaud Albery, in Georgia, the lid blew off. And now come reports of the presence of out-of-state instigators among the crowds.It’s a scary prospect, that of having far-right extremists using the unrest as a cover to further destabilize already hurt communities of color. Some have been seen leading the destruction of property and businesses that locals would hardly think of harming, and their actions seem to be well coordinated.
It’s insult added to injury, and black leaders disavowed these imposters who pretend to be allies. But their trail of destruction does put the Black Lives Matter under unfair pressure. For at the end of the day, even the language conspires against the already victimized, by calling ‘riots’ a democratic right to dissent, or demanding peace and conformity when black, Latinx and every minority community is being targeted and ravaged by police brutality.
In this context, the timid and inadequate measures Twitter took, placing labels on the president’s inflamatory tweets, are a flash in a pan. And the cynical, tone-deft Mark Zuckerberg statement, about Facebook not ‘getting involved’ in content, is a just lie and a shameful admission of where his true loyalties lay. It’s an unrequited, amoral intervention of yet another billionaire whose greed and ambition knows no limits. FB should be broken up.
As for now, police and, reportedly, army helicopters scrutinize crowds in their fourth-day of NYC protests. The absurdity of having the police arrest and at times beat up participants of a protest against police violence is not amiss among those calling for accountability by law enforcement agencies. That some police officers were honorably kneeling with protesters doesn’t take away the fact that these killings don’t happen in a vacuum.
We’re way past the ‘bad apples’ excuse; only institutional reform, starting by setting jail sentences to killer cops, will show that America is serious about crime. That includes those using their own vehicles against protesters, and the unlawful-behavior-setter-in-chief, the orange cockalorum himself (look it up).
‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world./The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned.’ When W.B.Yeats wrote the often-quoted The Second Coming, in 1919, the world was still in the throes of two scourges, WWI and the Spanish Flu. Millions had perished but ‘the worst are full of passionate intensity.’ These are just such times and it’s fine to find ways to grieve.
We pay homage to Antonio Bolívar, an Amazon indigenous elder, the last of the Ocaina tribe, and an actor who died of coronavirus at 72, in Colombia on April 30; and to Larry Kramer, longtime AIDS and LGBTQ activist who never lacked any conviction, to paraphrase Yeats again, at 84 in New York on May 27. Both Bolívar and Kramer embodied an ideal, an aspiration for a just and happier world, and by applying their lives to it, they’ve changed it.
Not everyone is a hero, a champion, an outstanding member of society. We’re mostly painfully aware of our flaws and have missed way more than got anything right. But we do come to moments when our name is called and we must choose. Whether there are witnesses around is irrelevant; in a split-second, we are our own judge. There’s no knowing what’s coming but there are ways to be ready for when it does. Prepare to do the right thing. Cheers

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5/25/2020 Don’t Let it Happen, Colltalers

Norma McCorvey never meant to be part of an American cultural landmark, the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S. Then she switched sides and became a ‘pro-lifer’ activist. But in her deathbed she confessed that she did it for the money. The Evangelical money.
China thought the tragic COVID-19 diversion was perfect to crush Hong Kong pro-democracy movement. Instead, it turned the world against it and fueled President Trump’s conspiracy claims blaming it for the virus and for all he hasn’t done about it. Also, Hongkongers won’t take it lying down.
Not to sound spoiled, but let’s face it, we’re not doing too well. With close to 5.5 million cases worldwide, the coronavirus pandemic is still expanding albeit at a slower rate in some places, and according to epidemiologists we’re still at least a year from a vaccine if one can be developed for this virus.
You’ve seen the numbers, with the U.S.’ unquestionable ‘leadership’ in cases and fatalities, and now Brazil in second place. Numbers may jump again in the coming weeks as U.S. states start to reopen for business and nations that have ‘flatten the curve’ of contagion set to fire up their economic engines.
The rhetoric for some governments to get it all going again, before any semblance of a coordinated global effort is in place, stands at odds with what most citizens think they should be doing instead. But the emergent authoritarianism currently dominant around the world has no place for dissent. Just now, the U.S. threatens to cut funds of the World Health Organization, the very entity that for 70 years has been dealing with this kind of global crisis.
As for Brazil, which seven years ago had the sixth-largest world economy and now is mired in political turmoil and subjugated by the coronavirus, its 360,000 cases may not include the devastation of Amazon indigenous communities. It’s also out of luck with Jair Bolsonaro who’s seen raging in a vulgarity-laced (in-person, mask optional) cabinet meeting viral video against governors, health officials, and anybody who’s against reopening Brazil.
Back in the U.S., the president who’s inspired Bolsonaro and once lent his name to a book called The Art of the Deal has failed to sign a single accord with anyone and often blundered the proceedings. He’s now after deals others successfully put together. Warning: civilization hangs on the balance.
Last week, by announcing he’ll withdraw from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, Trump will have quit or terminally undermined four major, world-impacting treaties: the Paris climate change agreement, the Iran nuclear accord, both of 2015, and the 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. At near 100,000, the U.S. has now more than a third of all casualties of COVID-19, even as Americans represent only 4.25% of the world’s population.
But despite thousands of deaths, the virus putting half of the world’s workforce out of jobs – the U.S. has trashed records set still during the Great Depression – and the likelihood of at least one major climate-caused natural disaster, there’s a group of individuals who are doing extremely well indeed.
They’re the infamous ‘0.01 percent,’ the less than ten thousand silver-spoon-fed folk who make way more than the remaining 7.999.992 billion people combined. In fact, this crisis, like others before, got them over $400 billion richer in three months. Such gargantuan income disparity prevents even the few well-meaning among the lavishly wealthy from letting go of all this privilege. That’s why change never comes from the top; it’s fought for.
Why would anyone hold on to so much wealth knowing they can’t spend it even if they’d live to be 500, or, anathema, billions starve outside their luxury estates? Longtime civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson offers a quip about it: ‘The gated community does not protect you from the pandemic.’
Before ‘Jane Roe’ McCorvey passed away three years ago, she recorded a ‘deathbed confession’ for a Nick Sweeney-directed documentary about her life. ‘I took their money ($450K, according to tax filings) and they took me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say,’ she said. ‘They’ are the Evangelical groups still behind the drive to outlaw abortion in the U.S. Her confession has delivered a revealing punch to the so-called pro-life groups.
It’s not only exposed how religious and far-right organizations use their monetary muscle to shape legislation and public opinion, but also how they lobby politicians and finance campaigns to intimidate the medical establishment. By ignoring the nefarious social consequences and the unholy price paid by disenfranchised women caused by their hypocritical moralism, they assert to all but the faithful their true intent: it’s always about the money.
By imposing a new ‘security law’ on Hong Kong, Xi Jinping risks reenacting the atrocious massacre of Tiananmen Square on the eve of its June 4th 31st anniversary, and to irk the world. That though is already happening ever since the Trump administration thought it could beat China on trade, a typical fools’ errand given its history. But the generation born after the 1987 British handover is nothing like the doomed Chinese students of the 1980s.
For one, they’ve been practicing civil disobedience and not even recent ‘disappearances,’ the stealth way Beijing uses to get rid of dissidents, has scared them off. What happens next may depend on the world’s resolve to step in, a move that used to be led by the U.S. but that now may be moot if Europe doesn’t act decisively. Either way, it doesn’t look good so brace yourself for rough months ahead at the island at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta.
‘You better start swimmin’/Or you’ll sink like a stone/For the times they are a-changin’,’ sang Bob Dylan in 1964. And changed they were, along with the song’s author who became 79 Sunday. Lyrics like those helped blow the winds of change throughout the 1960s and beyond. Happy Birthday, Bob.
History has shown that we always overcome daunting obstacles when we find commonality with one another, not through our possessions but with our shared sense of empathy, need, solidarity. When George Orwell wrote 1984, his view of the future was of ‘a boot stamped on a human face – forever.’
But what he and others have written is not about discouragement but fair warnings. For just because it can happen, it doesn’t mean that it has to. 72 years ago this June 8, Orwell was near the end of any hope that things would turn out Ok. Thus he warned: ‘Don’t let it happen. It depends on you.’
It’s Memorial Day in the U.S. and the date carries extra poignancy this year as scores of veterans have succumbed either to COVID-19 or to Trump’s irresponsibly promoted hydroxychloroquine drug, which has already been given to at least 1,300 of them, and it’s still being prescribed to elderly vets. We can’t postpone upholding our humanity, our will to serve, our unwavering solidarity. Let’s get it right, including that recipe for Margaritas. Cheers

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5/18/2020 When Leaders Play With Matches, Colltalers

Daily acts of courage, altruism, and compassion by common people have been overwhelming on the Internet. But none has come from Trump, Xi, Putin, Bolsonaro, or others alike. Would it be fair to expect that the three billion-plus under their rule are ready to kick them out of office? Hardly.
The toll of having the coronavirus on the hunt; a continuous flow of lies and false promises; and the staggering pace of deaths of people of color, the elderly, and indigenous natives has caused yet another dark side of the crisis: depression. By the way, Antarctica’s biggest iceberg just broke off. Again.
There have been devastating times in our history before. But none had a combination of too many nuclear bombs, a terminal climate emergency, and the resurgence of lethal viruses to haunt us. As democratic institutions are attacked by many, even those benefitting from them, manipulated by leaders with a book of matches at hand, there comes to mind the acuity of a popular line in a comic book hero: ‘some men just want to watch the world burn.’
But whereas in fiction heroes catch the bad guys to exact revenge, in real life, flesh-and-bone heroes run to tend to the victims left behind from the explosion. They can’t wear capes; in fact, they chronically lack protective gear but still they go, for life wouldn’t be acceptable to them if they wouldn’t. While we’re busy mourning loved ones who died or are in the throes of the pandemic, the world’s stockpile of nukes is slated to increase dramatically.
That’s an assumption based on credible information: the U.S. has withdrawn from treaties with Russia and Iran; China’s just said it’s reinforcing its arsenal; and Saudi Arabia is investing billions to add some to its own. They all speak the same language to justify these dangerous policies: to ‘protect’ ‘us’ from aggression as if there’s no absurdity in trusting a weapon that can destroy the planet to save us. Or polluted it to death, whichever comes first.
The breakoff of A-68, a behemoth of an iceberg seven times the size of New York City, is fully credited to a rise in Antarctica’s temperatures. Its not-too-slow meltdown will help increase sea levels, especially combined with the melting of the Andes ice cap and ancient glaciers near the Arctic Circle. There’s a solution to stop that, widely demonstrated by the global lockdown: stop greenhouse-effect-causing emissions. Retool the economy. Survive.
Yet, the order is to reopen economic activity now now, damned the dead, and let’s resume our suicidal policies of deregulation and subsidizing oil, gas, and coal industries. That is, most current heads of state are not interested in doing any of the lifestyle changes required. The tragedy of climate emergency is not lacking effective solutions to deal with the implications of throwing away the old book; it’s that we lack the power and political will to do so.
The instability of climate and weather patterns, as well as overpopulation, are triggers for new virus outbreaks. They’ll become more frequent as living settlements advance over wildlife areas and disrupt ecological balance. Predator and prey, natural foes, and all the elements evolution put in place do not take into consideration humans; there’s only so much our immune system can handle before becoming prey to new organisms eager to spread out.
Amidst the cultural turmoil of the 1960s, there was a brief discussion about the role of leaders in a revolution, a still-raging discussion in times of political turnaround, or a leader’s assassination. It’s an argument that became a losing proposition, for counting on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, or Malcon X, who’d be 95 tomorrow, to still lead from beyond the grave and keep the movement alive.
Time proved it all pointless. For although both still inspire us, they no longer can do what they did best: point the way, keep the powerful in check. They both helped usher the civil rights and anti-war movements and pushed for social justice, but in the end, their clout has sadly faded away.
At the same time, we’re living extraordinary times which are known to produce new leaderships. We already recognize some of them, speaking to elders with the authority of someone who’ll inherit the planet, which they will. But they still lack the democratic power that gives idealists legitimacy.
We grieve over our losses and for the mortal threat poised against democracy, as rulers of today use this crisis to turn institutions into their personal advocacy clearinghouses. For instance, the U.S. Supreme Court should announce soon its decision on whether the president must disclose his income tax filings, or that he’s above the law, and there’s no thrill to expect that they’ll make the wrong ruling. After all, that’s why his nominees are there for.
We worry over the firing of watchdogs and whistleblowers, those courageous enough to step forward and declare, ‘the emperor has no clothes.’ Their heroism, however, will mean little to biased judges, picked for their loyalty and not for their sense of justice. That we see simple demands like these from a lifetime judge as shifty is indeed deeply troubling. To whom will we appellate in case the president loses the election but tries to stay on longer?
We’re concerned about disputes among Canadian native tribes over how to handle invasions of their land, this time under the excuse to cure, not kill. Some are adamantly against it while others want to be pragmatic about this real threat. We’re heartbroken by the carnage the COVID-19 has inflicted on worldwide indigenous communities. No wonder everybody has been so depressed. But we desperately need their leadership and wisdom right now.
The coronavirus exposed the sheer ambition and psychopathic lack of empathy of Don, Wlad, Xi, Jair, Kim, Recep Erdogan, Viktor Orbán and so many authoritarian rulers, but now people are focused on surviving. What a gift to the powers that be: an obedient and disenfranchised constituency. But we’re not quite there yet, and they’re far from crushing our spirits. Before they’ve got a chance, we’ll crush them. Be prepared, wounded scouts.

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5/11/2020 The Killing of Native Sons, Colltalers

No matter the national event or moment: a virus killing thousands or a rogue government with no competence or decency: in America, racism is never far away from anything else. COVID-19 should be a glaring example, but there had to be a cold-blooded execution of a black man in the mix too.
‘Skyrocketed.’ That’s what happened to deforestation of Brazil’s Amazon between Jan. and April, according to a Greenpeace analysis. While President Bolsonaro got busy dismissing the coronavirus, the razing of indigenous lands increased by 59%, raising fears of fatal contamination and genocide.
But let’s start with the grim task of reporting the tragic, broad-daylight ‘lynching’ of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old stalked and shotgunned to death in February, while jogging outside Brunswick, Georgia. The father-son duo of murderers was known by local police but hadn’t been charged until now.
That’s because the video of the slaughter surfaced last week, and while the elder killer has been arrested, neither his son nor the friend who captured it on camera has been so far. The case reminded us of the late Trayvon Martin, another black youth murdered eight years ago, who’d also be 25 now.
Even as the killings of black young men by police or white supremacists, or a combination of both as in this case, is so terribly frequent, just as mass shootings of any kind, it never ceases to devastate us. Their brutality and banality of their killers’ obsession convulse our guts deep down to near exploding our hearts and minds over it. Why? Not why they do it and mostly get away with it, but why we accept living in a society that allows that?
As if the profoundly unfair toll of this pandemic hasn’t b een enough to shock us all, for its crushing majority of casualties among people of color. A preliminary study by Amfar, an AIDS research group, found that despite one in five counties nationally is black, representing only 35% of Americans, they account for nearly half of COVID-19 cases and 58% of deaths. As of Sunday, there were 1.35 million U.S. cases with over 80 thousand deaths.
Factors such as ‘health care access, density of households, unemployment, pervasive discrimination, and others drive these disparities,’ the study notes. A new ProPublica report adds a twist to the disparity of fatalities due to institutionalized racism: the undocumented, the millions of Trump-villainized quasi-invisible workers who nevertheless are still tending to our every need, even without any government relief or leniency from law enforcement.
Even when trying to enforce the law, the majority of our urban security forces can’t help it but go after the black and brown. Despite crowds of armed, mostly white people protesting the lockdown in major cities and on behalf of far-right, pro-gun, and militia activists, the great majority of people charged and arrested for violating lockdown regulations are black, a ProPublica report found. Some arrests caught on video are truly terrifying.
Thus, only in America, every instance of social upheaval and disgraceful display of inequality seems to have a racial overtone to it. And we usually know who’ll be murdered, beaten, dispossessed of their dignity, or denied legal support. It’s a moral bloodstain we can’t seem to be able to wash it out.
Before we go, remember the climate emergency? It hasn’t been canceled and we should count our dwindling blessings for it hasn’t ‘attacked’ us this year yet (knock on wood). Research by the U.S. academy of science, PNAS, shows that ‘over the coming 50 years, 1 to 3 billion people are projected to be left outside the climate conditions that have served humanity well over the past 6,000 years.’ It’d be up to us to radically cut down emissions. Now.
Speaking of moral bloodstains, the Department of Justice’s appalling case dismissal of self-confessed Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and the shameful ‘history-will-be-written-by-the-winners’ comment by U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr has to have set a new, even lower bar to this administration. It shows that there’s definitely a claque of undignified officials who no longer even bother with the rule of law at the White House.
Lastly, the clumsy attempt, by former Green Berets, of staging a coup in Venezuela last week, and possibly kill President Nicolas Maduro follows a long string of failed unlawful attempts, even if none as feeble as this one. What, you wanted to take over a nation with a dozen combatants? Seriously?
A shout out in protest against what’s happening to Mubarak Bala, a Nigerian human rights activist arrested for criticizing Islam on Facebook. Many are very concerned that he’s been taken to Kano, a state ruled by Sharia law, which determines that ‘blasphemy’ against the religion is punishable by death.
So we have our work cut out for us. And so does the person dressed up as the Grim Reaper who last week tried to scare off Floridian swimmers and sunbathers, now allowed to congregate by the thousands, virus be damned. It didn’t work but thanks for trying. Florida and other states now reopening seem unfazed by paying for their foolery in human lives. Trump and the GOP are not kidding though: their goal no matter what is to win the election.
So from Republicans to Fox News to the president’s own minions, it’s time to call victory over the virus, even as its death toll continues to escalate. We still have no mass-testing, not enough hospital beds or medical supplies, and frontline and essential workers are making the ultimate sacrifice so to help the sick. But for the administration, an estimated loss of over 100,000 lives, likely many more, is worth opening the country for business. Heinous.
Plus, with 33 million unemployed – again, possibly way more – hundreds of thousands of small businesses closed down for good, and a general feeling that the U.S. will be left behind to deal with this pandemic, while the rest of the world slowly gets on its feet, what economy they plan on pushing as a ‘success story?’ We’ll pay with our lives, but Trump will need so much money to buy up his second term that one almost doubts he can win. Almost.
It’s a sad time for America, and more so if, like the black writer James Baldwyn, one takes it up for its fascistic ways. Our headline today paraphrases a book title by this great American who graced the cover of Time 57 years ago next Sunday, and to whom ‘power without morality is no longer power.’
On the somber 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, Americans need to heed the lessons of history and press for government accountability. We must throw the whole lot of them in jail for their crimes. Eugene Jarecki had the right idea: the Trump Death Clock lists in real-time fatalities from COVID-19. It’s up in New York Times Square for the whole world to see and never forget. No one guilty for this disaster will get away with it if we can help it.
We’ve lost so many good people, hard-working, dedicated, already victimized by income inequality and racial prejudice, people simply caught doing what they’ve been doing all along: helping others. We must not forget them and we must honor their radical altruism. We must be them now. Cheers.

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5/04/2020 Solidarity Is a Loaded Gun, Colltalers

How to measure a tragedy? by length? global reach? number of casualties? Heading to 70.000 deaths, the U.S. already passed the near 59 thousand American lives lost in Vietnam. The war that left America with PTSD ended 45 years ago last Thursday. Vietnam has reported no COVID-19 deaths.
Calamity also brings up strong feelings for those who’ve experienced it on a personal level. For instance, victims of mass shootings, a preventable social disease. Canada took a step in that direction by banning some assault weapons. Which are mostly purchased in the U.S. and may all return to it.
Let’s leave those heady words ending in Y behind for a moment and take a look at what else is news. Remember the glorious four-time World Cup U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, which had filed a suit against the federation for being paid less than the men’s team? Well, a federal judge dismissed their case.
The ruling found no Equal Pay Act violation, even though they were, in fact, paid less than their less brilliant male counterparts. Hero and all-around awesome person Megan Rapinoe scored another one of her defiant, beautiful goals when she tweeted, ‘We will never stop fighting for EQUALITY.’
Two traditional, community-building, utmost essential American institutions are under threat of being extinguished and that has little to do with the coronavirus crisis: the Postal Service, and restaurants in general. Yes, the tragedy has worsened everything but the former has had long-term foes, eager to privatize it and turn a civil right older than the Constitution into a for-profit cash cow. They’ve been trying for years and this time, they may get it.
Unlike false assumptions capitalized by the president and the Republican Party, the Post Office is not funded by taxpayers; it survives strictly on its own. And despite all bell and whistles advertised for the Internet, that in the future everyone would have access to it, the mail-carrying agency is often the only game in town for citizens to connect. It’d do much better if it could offer banking services too, but heaven forbid if the FDIC would allow it.
It allowed the end of the separation between commercial and investment banking, the root cause of the 2008 catastrophic financial collapse. That, in turn, cost Americans billions as their accounts and savings were used to boost the stock market. When it all crashed, the FDIC dutifully helped the financial system and Wall Street to recoup their losses with, yes, taxpayer money. But when it comes to saving the Postal Service, don’t count on them.
As for restaurants, we’ve been slow to recognize their importance as gathering places, altars for cultural exchange, in this and any other country, all the while being a source of jobs to both the unskilled and the top-notch professional, the part-time student and the undocumented. Great eateries may not come back but for its workers, this crisis has already been life-changing. That, however, is apparently not of the GOP and the White House concerns.
There have been four multi-billion ‘stimulus’ packages, which were mainly dumped into the already stuffed coffers of billionaires and corporations, including those that don’t pay a dime in taxes. But little has reached restaurant and fast-food workers. Since his clients are satisfied for the moment, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said he won’t support aid for deli workers, or renters, or anyone without a six-digit banking account for that matter.
Speaking of which, the rich won again, all viruses be damned. A hidden tax change introduced by Republicans in the economic relief legislation will let those making a million or more annually ‘avoid nearly $82 billion of tax liability in 2020,’ according to non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation. Taxpayers will lose nearly $90 billion they probably didn’t even know they had with the change which lifted restrictions to Trump’s 2017 tax cuts bill.
Journalism Without Fear or Favor. That’s the theme of yesterday’s World Press Freedom Day, as willful misinformation and censorship of COVID-29 coverage around the world have prevented reporters from exercising their right to inform. The crisis also cost the category lives and thousands of jobs.
Let’s celebrate it with a piece of good news (yes, they exist): the International Energy Agency said that measures to stop the new coronavirus have caused ‘a staggering drop in energy demand.’ That means the air has been cleaner lately that it’s been since most of us were born. The IEA also expects an increase in demand for renewables. Funny then that a few articles ran against that logic and declared that energy prices will actually hurt us all.
Hum, let’s guess who may be behind these strategically deflating statements floated all over the media. Just the other week, CEOs of the gas, coal, and oil industries were in DC collecting the bailout they wanted, amounts unknown. It’s as if they’re the unsung victims taxpayers must save and give money to, on top of the multi-billion dollar government subsidies they already receive to compete with renewables. They’ve definitely got a friend in Trump.
One world about meat: we may have to reconsider eating it. Look at workers at meat plants in the U.S.: many are dying and others are being forced to work without protection in virus-infested conditions. If they refuse, no healthcare for them either. This is absurd and wrong. All so we can have a beef? Perhaps vegetarianism or going vegan is not for you. Fine. But it is for the planet. Read about it and maybe start today; after all, it’s Meatless Monday.
The irresponsible, downright criminal handling of the pandemic by this administration may cost something else Americans are so used to: the U.S.’s relevance in global events has lost its commanding role, and whatever the president may say is now solemnly ignored by the world. Thus, if you care about others, remain mostly at home no matter what kind of snake oil Trump may try to push this time; our guess is that this week it’ll be China, again.
What Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did banning some assault weapons follows what New Zealand P.M. Jacinda Ardern had done over a year ago. But for all purposes, it remains a pipe dream for grieving Americans. Still, we should paraphrase Rapinoe: we’ll never give up fighting for it.
A moment to mourn with the Lakota People the passing of Andrea Circle Bear, a Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member, who died while pregnant in a Texas prison, weeks after giving birth. Her cruel death of COVID-19 transcends even the brutal reality of dying away from her loved ones. To them, her tribe, to Maddona Thunder Hawk, and the dignified legacy of all native Americans, our profound condolences and commitment not to ever forget.
We should also dedicate to her the Gastrodia gunatillekeorum, a new orchid species discovered in Sri Lanka. Orchids are widespread and numerous, and most are stunningly beautiful. Just as the late Circle Bear, and the Lakotas, and the Cheyenne, and the Sioux, and all our courageous brothers and sisters. We’re in this together and even if odds are often against them, they won’t be for long. Here’s to them, to us, and to the month of May. Cheers

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4/27/2020 Of Failing Leaders & Stardust, Colltalers

Rumors North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, who acts like a king, is dead and will be replaced by his next of kin, sister Kim Yo-jong, haven’t been confirmed yet. But as China, North Korea’s ‘sponsor,’ is expected to handle the situation, no new world order will be established. The future will still be redacted.
Down South America way, turmoil in Brazil reached a feverish pitch, as Minister of Justice Sergio Moro quit, opening a gash on the already porous Jair Bolsonaro administration. The corrupt judge who played a national hero until his illegal deeds were caught, is the latest to jump the sinking ship.
‘Is there a way we can do something like that by injection (of Lysol!) inside?’ It was the most irresponsible and staggeringly ignorant remark uttered by Trump, the world’s most dangerous president. And that on a long, extensive, exhausting list of risky, absolutely non-sensical, self-serving statements.
Obviously, calls to poison centers and medical facilities flooded the hotlines with members of his constituency, to whom everything he says is the law, nervously inquiring about the right dosage for their president-prescribed COVID-19 treatment. No, not one has died of it yet, but since when that’s the standard to which we should hold the president accountable for his words? Even Republicans, concerned about their own jobs, acted as if startled.
Don’t believe it for a minute, though. As we approach three million coronavirus cases worldwide, of which almost a third are in the U.S., and over 200 thousand deaths, again, with more than a quarter being Americans, don’t expect there won’t be another outrageous briefing, broadcast live, with some other set of criminally-uninformed statements. Insulated by the GOP and an army of sycophants, our only shot at shutting him down is in November.
If there will be one. Joe Biden, a presidential candidate who believes he can unseat the president from the couch of his basement, fears the elections may be postponed. Gee, who’d have thought of that? Well, Trump, who tweeted back on June 16, 2019, ‘Do you think people will demand that I stay longer?’
Somehow though Biden hasn’t yet launched a powerful, passionate national campaign to fire up Americans about the issue before it’s too late.
Maybe all that he and his Democratic Party wanted to do was to warn us about the possibility and that they’ll vehemently condemn such a shameful plot, about which nothing can be done and that’s absolutely not their fault, but Trump’s. Now that’s such a winning strategy. Thanks, Dems; no, really.
With unemployment at 20%, 4.4 million claims filed last week, and a loss of over 26 million U.S. jobs, there could be no better time for the party to articulate a clear, easy to understand strategy for November. But it’s already a month behind in one crucial instance: cash for the poor, unemployed, fired, sick, and hungry. While several corporations have already received millions in stimulus, most miserable $1.200 relief checks haven’t arrived yet.
It’s yet another cruel immorality that compounds the infamy of this administration which doesn’t even try anymore to pretend that’s not helping only the wealthy and the well to do. The president is desperate to reopen the economy in the losing idea that it’ll recover in time to win him a second term. Old foxes from his party know it better but are fully behind the idea, even if it may cause another, likely deadlier wave of infections later on this year.
The staggering number of victims mentioned above cannot be ignored or used as a ploy in some kind of evil calculation about who’s been selected to die and by whom. Thus it never seems redundant to remind everyone that without testing and an agreed-upon treatment, deaths will keep on rising.
Over 260 million people are forecast to be facing acute food insecurity in the world by the end of this year, according to both the U.N. and the World Food Programme. While last year, ‘only’ 130 million were estimated to suffer food shortages, it’s still too early to accurately estimate the global impact of the pandemic. Or the pressing climate emergency. One thing though is almost a certainty: hunger will fuel political upheaval of biblical proportions.
Many Americans are already being hit by this reality. NYC food banks have reported unprecedented daily lines of thousand of hungry people, going on for dozens of blocks, not only of homeless or severely dispossessed people but of many who just a month ago would call themselves middle class. But again, you wouldn’t know it by just watching the established media. Their coverage has been all about the few dozen paid-for lockdown protesters.
Now, here’s the thing about the ‘gradual’ approach to change professed by many political leaders including candidate Biden: it assumes radical change is impossible because things, well, don’t change. And then they go home, happy to have delivered safe and sound advice to the masses. As in, stay put.
But oil, of all things, proved them completely wrong this week. For who could’ve expected oil prices to fall below zero? Powers that be moved fast to increase subsidies of the industry that’s literally killing the world. So it’s not that things can’t change; it’s not seizing the moment what really remains encrusted on the minds of ‘gradualists.’
In reality, the lockdown offered a glimpse of how to stop toxic air pollution: shut down the fossil-fuel industry.To act upon that realization would take more than emphatic words or tweaks in the legislation. It’ll take political courage and a mandate that only the majority of Americans, who actually already think like that, put their will and pressure on the candidate they believe will lead to the change needed.
In the big geopolitics game, Western societies play with dictatorships and rogue states such as North Korea, the death of its ‘dear leader’ represents but a drop of unsettling news, not at all unexpected and already factored in their scenarios and war games. But it does concern over 76 million people. And even if their fate isn’t comparable with the plight of Palestinians, or Syrians, or Yemenis, it definitely draws global scrutiny about what comes next.
The fact is, no one knows for sure. It can play out a number of ways but none has the guarantee of a peaceful power transition. If Kim, the brother, shows up tomorrow, or Kim, his sister, makes an announcement instead, things are sure not to be the same. But at least the world will relax for a bit.
When a coalition of far-right parties, a powerful family-owned media complex, and some say, a bit of U.S. help, ousted Brazil’s democratically-elected President Dilma Rousseff, in 2016 (what a year!), halfway through her second term, it aborted the country’s most arresting government project without any semblance of a plan to replace it. Rather, preventing ex-Presidente Luiz Inacio da Silva from returning to office jumped to the top of their agenda.
For that, there was Judge Moro, portrayed as an anti-corruption paladin who, we know now from an Intercept exposé, has used tricks and illegal moves to build a case without evidence against Lula. By coercing witnesses to testify in exchange for leniency, Moro’s succeed in forcing the Supreme Court to ban a Lula candidacy. That gave Bolsonaro, an Army-ousted ex-Captain with a mediocre record as a politician, the chance to snatch the presidency.
But if Trump’s likely finally met his match on a novel, highly transmissible virus that’s killing thousands of Americans, Brazil’s president may fall by the betrayal of close allies. And not for having all but destroyed the Amazon Rainforest, though, an issue that consistently fails to captivate Brazilians. (It may be unfair to indict 200 million for not caring for a forest, most of them hungry and utterly disenfranchised, but this crisis grants it to be said).
30 years ago last Friday, the Hubble Space Telescope started providing earthlings with astonishing images of the vastness of the universe. As we accept that humans may never venture to those spectacular worlds whose pictures it sends home, we can still travel on its digital retina and imagine we’re one with them by what we share within. Yes, we’re small but our hearts have the same beauty and fire and life of those endless worlds. Keep on shining.

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4/20/2020 Racism Is a Deadlier Virus, Colltalers

We’re free but not equal,’ says civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson. He sees the coronavirus as a ‘reality check’ that exposes a disproportionately high rate of COVID-19 infections and death in black and brown communities. That’s not a glitch but a feature of race relations in America, circa 2020.
The world’s largest marine oil spill happened 10 years ago today. The lasting impact of the explosion of Deepwater Horizon’s rig and Trump’s plans to allow drilling in pristine areas will certainly dampen any cheerful mood for the week’s other environmental news, the 50th anniversary of Earth’s Day.
But let’s start by the phony controversy of the week, that of whether to open or not the economy and when. It should be a non-issue whenever there’s no exact account of infections, treatment is not reliable, and no one knows when a vaccine will be available. That is, in the U.S. and most nations. Not to the Trump administration and other far-right regimes around the world, though. They’re set to reopen for business even if kills even more people.
From an initial outrageous statement, that he had the ‘ultimate authority’ to cancel the nationwide lockdown, to a more tactical, constitutional backstep, since it’s up to state governments, not him, to decide, the events are already set in motion. Soon enough we should see some business almost-as-usual along with an inevitable spike in new cases and deaths. Ultimately, no one won the tug of war between Washington and the states, but everybody loses.
The U.S. president, a strict constitutionalist – not really – has already despatched his minions to put up ‘protests’ against the lockdown in the only way he sees fit: by carrying slogans and targeting officials with calls for ‘lock him/her up.’ Plus, by crowding streets that should be traffic-free for first responders, deluded ralliers are in fact endangering even more lives. That’s what ‘state TV’ Fox News won’t show in their round-the-clock coverage.
Don’t bother trying to understand why people whose own lives and those of their loved ones – assuming that they have some – are in mortal risk would willingly support corporate views that place profits above human life. How long do they think it’ll take for someone they love to fall sick and die?
Take Florida, for instance, where beaches have reopened and swimming (and maybe being devoured by a shark?) were deemed an ‘essential’ activity. Who’ll tell them now that even pastors who mocked the virus in social media have died? What’s unmistaken though is that the same playbook is being applied worldwide too. In tandem with U.S. Maga-hat wearers, loud parades wreaked havoc elsewhere too, including Brazil. And the media loved it.
Speaking of which, President Bolsonaro was out again this weekend, shaking hands and smiling at the cameras. The country is on a virtual stand-still, the economy is in the gutter, and there’s an incipient coup being set up against him, but his priorities are clear: get the economy going, never mind under-reported casualties. Or that basic healthcare precautious are being provided, and enforced, in shantytowns by their own wardens, drug gangs.
Up in the Amazon, the association of indigenous people of Vale do Javari is suing to prevent fundamentalist missionaries from invading their lands to proselytize. Evangelical pilgrims have occupied the region since the 1970s, trying to ‘convert’ natives without much success other than contaminating them with ‘white man’ diseases that resulted in death and illnesses to which they had no immune defenses. They succeeded in the rest of Brasil though.
They now form one of the congressional caucuses that support Bolsonaro, along with big landowners and members of the military. Like in the U.S. and other nations, the religious right has an uncalled for influence on political decisions that reversed long-standing civil and reproductive rights. All while amassing a fortune for its messianic preachers, who have encouraged followers to ignore scientific advisories and keep congregating weekly in church.
A message to those asking to return to normal, now, now, because freedom, et.al, should be straight: there’s no normal to return to anymore. And since we’re at it, the fact you’re demanding an end for the lockdown, not for the viral threat, shows you’re not aware to whom you’re doing the bidding for.
Back in Brazil, drug trials for the malaria drug chloroquine were abruptly suspended after 11 patients died. Trump, who has a previously undisclosed financial interest on the drug, has been pushing it for months – ‘what do you have to lose?’ he said at one point – with no scientific basis to back up his claim. But so far, he hasn’t been challenged on such blatant conflict of interests, or any other for that matter, by the docile White House press corps.
Trump’s immoral decision to suspend funding for the World Health Organization for supposedly covering up for China is also preposterous. From his January tweets praising Xi Jinping’s efforts to Chinese scientists themselves, who dutifully informed WHO and the U.S. about the coronavirus onset back in 2019, all about it reeks of scapegoating, blame-shifting, and coward refusal to take responsibility. We’ll mark that as another big, fat lie of his.
We need to repeat the crystal-clear, truthful version of what’s happened: Trump ignored warnings, did not act when he should, use the virus to rally his crowds, and thought he could skip the crisis altogether on his way to reelection. As a result of his inaction more than 35,000 Americans have died, the U.S. is the epicenter of the worldwide crisis and based on pure rational speculation, chances are that we haven’t reached a peak of infections yet.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30% of all U.S. cases were of black people even as they represent only about 14% of the population covered in the study. In NYC alone, blacks are dying at twice the rate of whites, and Latinos are also falling to the virus at a much higher rate than whites or Asians. The higher rate of casualties also reflects systemic racism, as racially mixed Queens and the Bronx are the hardest hit.
4.9 million barrels of crude were spilled in the Gulf of Mexico for several months until the leaking valve was shut in the U.S.’s worst environmental disaster to date. Giant BP corporation was ultimately charged with the accident and spent a few billions paying off its guilt. Losses of wild and marine lives, however, were irreplaceable as well as thousands of closed small businesses along the gulf. Oil is still found in fish and on the ocean’s bottom.
It should make it for a sobering celebration of Earth Day, which for half a century did help raise mankind’s awareness about pollution. But it also happens as wildfires near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine continue to burn and contaminate the air of its capital Kyiv. That’s so ironic as most cities around the world have shown improved air conditions due to the suspension of global industrial activities. Not to mention, well, nukes.
The coronavirus destroying lives of impoverished, black and brown communities, the elderly and the vulnerable, the sick and the working poor, health care and first responders, food workers and immigrants, is an extension of the already reigning unequal social order within the world’s richest country.
Our best shot at overcoming this is to not listening to the fox and his friends at the White House. We must stay together, at home if it’s possible, trust science, and resist. It’s murderous to reopen the economy with the potential for an explosion of new cases, while our brothers and sisters are still down, trying to survive the first wave. The Trump reelection campaign is doing great but the nation is dying. Let’s not let him get away with it. We are one.

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4/13/2020 The Beauty That Still Remains, Colltalers

In February, most people here and abroad suspect it; by April, they were sure this was already a tragedy. Now, COVID-19 has killed near two million worldwide, 20,000 just in record-holder U.S., and it’s evident who else also knew it all along: the president. Many told him about it; he ignored them.
As more black and brown people catch the lethal virus, though, the conversation’s shifted: not so much about how this crisis reflects income inequality but when to reopen the economy. Never mind that it may cause a deadly reoccurrence; the established media will latch on this topic the whole week.
It’s the absolutely wrong thing to focus on right now but when did that stop this administration from going ahead and perpetrating another avoidable blunder? Some 2,000 are dying every day in the U.S., there’s no widespread testing or sign of a vaccine, and we don’t even know when it’ll strike next. But the people who dismissed this threat when they’d a chance to stop it, and kept denying it for over a month, now want to make that fatal decision.
The half-full version of any scourge is how some rise to the occasion, usually followed by a technological leap that lands us on the other side with a better outlook in life. The half-empty one sees an pandemy as an opportunity for leaders to tighten up their grip on power. To hold contradictory visions within one’s mind is Ok but while being half-full is grounds for a cheer, leaders trying to seize even more power is something worth fighting against.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. The past week, all hopes that the U.S. presidential election would represent a change of pace toward a more humanitarian, progressive even direction were dashed. Bernie Sanders has bowed out and Joe Biden is the Democratic presumptive candidate.
It was a contest that started unusual and promising, with lots of diversity candidates, several women to break the glass ceiling, and great debate on issues crucial to the well being of Americans. Climate change, Medicare for all, and to a lesser extent, immigration, and a green new deal were all debated at length. That was a first, at least in numbers and intensity. But it’s all gone now. First the Latinos, then blacks, then women, and here we are.
Once more, the dominance of white males of a certain age prevailed and we’re left to dream on about a time when the President will resemble more of what Americans really look like. And then, down to Sanders and Biden, with one committed to full change, and the other, well, we don’t know it yet.
The candidate the Democratic establishment wanted all along has been mostly missing from the battle against the virus. Two months ago, his positions were alike that of any traditional Republican if there were any left: a gradual, incremental change of some kind at some point in the near future, but nothing to be done right away, as the moment requires, when the world is burning, millions of people are starving, and our democracy slowly wanes.
Rather, under such stewardship, it’s unrealistic to expect that income inequality, for instance, or an immediate stop of any fossil-fuel processing would be addressed any time within the next four years. And that’s too long, and it’ll be necessarily too little too late. Above all, can Biden beat Trump?
The seven months ahead will be though even as the election itself is under threat of cancellation. But every segment that has given us hope in these past few years that change can come if we really fight for, climate action, protection of the poor, labor justice, and reproductive rights guarantees have stated their conditions for supporting the former VP. Again we can only hope he’s listening, and the choice of a running mate will be crucial for that.
Two ideas he came up last week, though, reducing retirement to 60, and partial student debt forgiveness, do not address the urgency of their, and our concerns, as they both seem inadequate and out of touch. In fact, 20 years ago, Democrats were already proposing, with no traction, Medicare for 55-year-olds. And the student plan doesn’t even begin to tackle the crippling reality of millions of graduates who are slaves to their debts. Really, Joe?
Isn’t now the time to be bold and demand the impossible so as to at least get our foot in the door? These sound like an almost coward strategy to ‘ask for permission’ to change. But change happens, as Sanders has said, and it’s still on us to pressure Biden to fight for and represent most Americans.
One word about exempting churches from the ban on public assembling: why? Isn’t this whole thing about religion a matter of invisibility, of being alone with god, spiritual congregation and all that? So why are followers allowed to go to mass and spread a deadly virus in the name of their beliefs? Isn’t it enough that certified pedophiles like George Pell walk free among our children? Have you heard anything about it on the pope’s Easter sermon?
Compared to such callous behavior, virus hard-hit Italy again has shown its resilient spirit. Take the ‘solidarity baskets’ for the homeless of Napoli. Repurposing an old costume of busy mothers lowering baskets with money to purchase supplies from street vendors, two musicians decided to lower baskets too but with food for the hungry instead. It’s a simple and generous way to show true love to others in need. Maybe it’ll set a new standard.
The global threat of having half a billion people suddenly being thrown into poverty because of the lockdown requires an urgent economic rescue plan for developing nations, said international charity Oxfam. Or risk those broken economies collapsing and dragging the world into a much deeper hole.
So as the so-called king of reality TV shows that he can’t handle reality, and New York officials talk about burying people in public parks, at least for a while, we’re suffused with bad news we see on screens, and encouraging acts of heroism and solidarity we witness in our current predicament. Time to remember Anne Frank, who was killed in Berger Belsen just months before British troops liberated the concentration camp, 75 years ago Wednesday.
For all this time, she’s being a source of optimism people distill from quotes of her diary – which inspired our headline. She resisted and found ways to carry on. Just like our deli and grocery workers, our delivery people, the bus and train and cab drivers, farmworkers, GE employees demanding to make ventilators, and of course, nurses and first responders who are out there, so we can be in, sheltered as we can. That’s why we’re in, actually.
We’re not only protecting our immediate family. We’re but making sure we’re not actively infecting others under the excuse we don’t know any better, or we’re not in a risk group, or simply because we don’t believe in science. The longer we stay in, the faster everyone will be able to also stay in, safely.
If there’s the need for some encouragement, look no further than to the indigenous peoples everywhere. ‘Get up, because we can it,’ says Alessandra Korap, leader of the Amazon’s Munduruku tribe. She was born inside the cause of saving the Rainforest and protect the vulnerable, both universal values to live by. There are so many others, natives whose wisdom makes us stronger. Here comes week 5; don’t be discouraged, we’ll win. Salut

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4/06/2020 Adopt a Local Healthcare Worker, Colltalers

The oil industry ‘moved with breathtaking speed’ to seize the moment,’ says respected environmentalist Bill McKibben about the outbreak. And so did the whole fossil-fuel complex and their Congress acolytes. And Big Plastic. And an entire cottage conspiracy net that’s freaking out people to death.
But no matter how billionaires may trivialize it, a million of anything is a lot. This threshold of coronavirus cases in the world was vanquished, with no signs of relenting. And yet, it’s Trump’s knuckle-headed decisions, the breakdowns, and vile misery profiteers what really is making it all much worse.
Some Americans may think they’ve got the answer for the crisis: to buy another gun. Either incentivized by far-right radio talkshow hosts, or by that insane rationale that they’d be able to go to war with the world’s most powerful army, people are lining up to get ‘ready’ for a dystopic future that could come about exactly as a result of their thoughtless behavior. Wanna bet how many feet of distancing they stand from each other in those lines? Don’t.
COVID-19, the respiratory infection caused by the new coronavirus, has lodged some impressive records, and that’s without counting victims or even cataloging the industries that may have gone out of business for good. It’s been hard, for instance, to imagine a rebirth for the restaurant industry, which has been plagued for ages by labor violations, wage theft, waste, and plain, old-fashioned corruption. Servers, cooks, and kitchen help are out of luck.
Since the 1980s, the U.S. has moved from manufacturing hub to a finance and services-driven economy, and by a record of technological invention. The latter is hardly true now as brainpower required for scientific breakthroughs comes either from access to higher education or smart immigration.
As a result, most of the 13 million-plus restaurant and bar workers are out of jobs they most likely won’t be able to return to. Part of the relief package passed by Congress last week was supposed to provide immediate help to them, the small-business owners employing them, and to countless little eateries that contribute to life in the mainstream U.S.A. But Senate Republicans and the president were rather in it to aid those industries listed above.
Thus $500 billion of the $2 trillion funds have already been attained by the Trump administration to aid poorly-managed airlines and big polluters – and likely, his reelection campaign – while Treasury has announced that the stingy, one-time $1,200 checks will start being issued in weeks. Possibly.
Leaders of social movements to fight for the poor, such as the Rev. Dr. William Barber, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren and others are calling for a Truman Committee-like to supervise the distribution of funds, so they won’t solely benefit big corporations. But Trump, of course, has refused to even acknowledge that anyone but him has the power to demand accountability over this so-called free slush fund.
He has had a big hand from the established media, which insists on printing every lie and misinformation he has uttered about the coronavirus, covers live his infuriating ‘daily shows’ as breaking news, and won’t challenge his excuses to diffuse blame. Despite the catastrophic conduction of this crisis and a horrified body count, the president has managed to even raise his ratings among supporters; it’s what he spends most of the time talking about.
The crisis has affected the entire world in similar ways, but results vary according to who’s in power in each country. Sadly, most Western societies have been led in the past few years by an elite of incompetent leaders, if not downright authoritarians, and we won’t get anywhere under their watch. It’s a devilish logic, of a world where windfalls make the rich richer and the poor, well, they don’t ever get windfalls, to begin with, only bills to pay.
The first native Brazilian was diagnosed with the disease, sounding the alarm that the virus may wipe out whole indigenous populations before any help is forthcoming. It certainly won’t come from President Bolsonaro who’s under a threat of a coup orchestrated by the same forces that helped land him in Brasilia in 2018, by outlawing then front runner ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. So it’s been the volatility of current politics in Brazil.
In the staggering leadership vacuum, some are coming up with needed but unfortunately out of scale solutions. Thus for each lampost sign, advertising illegal sales of likely counterfeit n95 masks, the ones every medical worker should be given dozens every day to properly care for the sick, there’s a friend of a friend making simpler masks to give it away. Or volunteering to aid neighbors, even with no idea whether they’re immune or not infected.
For every bit of misinformation by the Cheater-in-Chief, there’s a ship full of medical supplies crossing the ocean, sent by goodwill nations to those in need. The U.S. is out of this noble loop, though, and American firms are still exporting the very supplies U.S. hospitals and healthcare workers are in desperate need of. Worse, Germany and France have accused the U.S. of diverting supplies headed to their countries by outbidding the original buyers.
That’s a form of cruel piracy. Back in January, the Trump administration had refused life-saving masks offered by the World Health Organization and other countries because, as it turned out, it was trying to have them produced to be used exclusively in the U.S. and sold at a profit to other nations.
When a 6.5 earthquake struck Idaho last Tuesday, its second most powerful ever, rattling roadways and wrecking people’s nerves, a lot was reported about its aftermath, damage to property and a sense that it shouldn’t be happening at all. But one word was missing from the coverage’s vocabulary: fracking, the highly-pollutant and unsettling procedure of injecting water and chemicals to extract gas from the shale, hundreds of feet below ground.
Producers are careful to mud the water, so to speak, about the link between fracking and earthquakes or environmental destruction. Try googling it and the first non-corporate study about the connection appears only after several screens. They call it ‘natural gas’ for a reason, and it’s one that can kill us.
For years, the black market for exotic species has Another week of this season in hell is upon us and while the virus still rages, the planet has had a reprieve but till when? Will we emerge from the pandemic more determined to fight climate change and income inequality? Time will tell but our odds depend heavily on whom we’ll vote to lead us.
Every day, at 7 pm, New Yorkers, and maybe other citizens everywhere, lead a round of passionate applause to healthcare workers and first responders who’re risking their lives to care for strangers. While we’re clapping, let’s remember who’s forcing them to work under these conditions, besides their own conscience: corrupt politicians, profiteers, merchants of death, smugglers. Take down their names and we will hold them accountable. Stay safe.

3/30/2020 Don’t Die to Save the Dow, Colltalers

Here’s Trump’s America: the world’s biggest climate-denying nation, with the largest prison population and a stellar healthcare system, of course. Also of note about this paradise are its 3.3 million-strong unemployment claims. Good thing Congress just signed a $500 billion relief bill. To corporations.
The world is in lockdown with more confined people than those alive during WWII. Numbers are staggering and bound to increase. But that sort of stats and its big numbers are mind-boggling: good for shocking headlines and little else. There are more important lessons to be learned from this all.
But first, our usual news roundup even as most seems to be either related to the new plague or to the catastrophic leadership of some top world leaders. Following the nefarious sway of the U.S. president, who called the virus a hoax and is still lying and misinforming the American people, many were caught flat-footed and are now behind the curve. Thus, there’s no global coordinated strategy and each country is doing its own thing. That is crazy.
The world spent 70 years signing agreements, forming alliances, and setting international organizations to protect dialog and peace, the food supply, labor and trade disputes, and the rule of law. Whether it succeeded is beside the point; Trump spent three and a half years cutting ties with allies and singing praises to tyrants. The ‘leader of the free world’ sowed distrust, threatened war, acted as a criminal brat while enriching himself and his family.
Even if Trump doesn’t get reelected in Nov. – which is as improbable almost as there will be an election in Nov., – the consequences of his acts will be felt for years. How will we survive in a world where China, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Venezuela, Ecuador, the entire African continent, and allies such as Germany, France, and others can’t trust us? He made us all look like violent pariahs, white supremacists thirsty for power and armed to the teeth.
Part of that predates the Liar-in-Chief, for sure. Historically, so-called American exceptionalism drove us to do despicable things as a nation and justify them as needed for our survival. In other instances, it served to highlight how even a then healthy democracy can open its doors to authoritarianism.
But there’s something about the history of this country that has always prevailed: no one is above the law, and people have the right to pursue freedom.
It’s been hard to abide by these constitutional principles these days or even prove that that’s still the law of the land. Slowly and suddenly quickly, the downward moral spiral of average Americans tilted heavily to a raw individualism and the pursuit of personal gain at any cost. It took a deadly virus to reunite the majority under a spirit of solidarity and empathy. It’s a sight for sore eyes seen all over America, no thanks to current White House lords.
As ‘social distancing’ enters the global chatter, this has been the worst of times for Americans, Italians, Spaniards, Brazilians, all leading in cases and fatalities, and the prospect of prisons, refugee camps, and India becoming the virus’ next playgrounds won’t improve things. While Europe as a whole continues to battle the spread of the virus with all their weapons, Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Narendra Modi, leaders of 1.9 billion citizens, keep lying.
India, which is now under the biggest lockdown in the history of the world, seems particularly problematic. Already marred in government corruption, brutal social inequality, and staggering poverty, it’s been asked again to sacrifice. Unlike other countries, though, there’s no place of progress and social harmony to return too. Modi made sure of that by all but outlawing 200 million Muslims. So even if there were no viruses, it’d still be in utter misery.
Brazil, which since the 2016 coup that ousted President Dilma Rousseff, is adrift amidst the dismantling of its industry and social institutions, is wising up to the fact that they’re stuck with the worst of the worst: no help on the way, and Bolsonaro. He presided over the start of death by fire of the biggest rainforest, the Amazon, and over the corruption of labor and retirement laws to favor bosses and the rich; now he wants people to go back to work.
Brazilians, who thought they had it rough with Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s social reforms prioritizing the poor over the elites, are now acting as if they couldn’t possibly have expected that an expelled Army Captain with zero experience or ideas, and a mean streak, would inflict so much pain to people. Worst, that he’d be an embarrassment to the country by becoming a groupie to the American bully, from whom he seems to crave the attention. Even repentant ‘bolsonaristas,’ or rather, those who claim now not having a clue that their leader was so incompetent, are shocked. But will still vote for him.
That’s nonsense, certainly. And so is surveys that rated at 47 to 49% the job the U.S. president is (badly) doing with COVID-19. Granted, without tests many a red state doesn’t yet know how many are infected and how many will die from it, which may undermine his approval rate. But given his luck – despite all diatribes and risky political moves, nothing with potential to destroy his presidency had happened till this – he should beat the latest rap too.
But not without causing unnecessary deaths, and that’s a prospect that scares everyone during the next few weeks. If it’s already impossible to prevent that from happening, we must at least press to hold accountable every member of this administration, from top to down, for their unforgivable actions.
And Congress, which unwittingly endorsed the biggest U.S. taxpayer handout to mega-rich corporations, while giving the working poor a few dollars.The record $2 trillion stimulus package, which should help those affected directly by the administration’s failure to act, that is, salaried workers, ‘gig economy’ slaves, the undocumented, and the elderly, turned out to be close to a cruel joke. While industries that squandered huge tax cuts they’ve got in 2008 and 2017 won’t need to answer any questions, regular people will have to run an obstacle-ridden track to get a ridiculous one-time $1,200 check.
Small businesses, restaurants, bars, services of any kind across America won’t have the muscle to survive being closed for too long while competing with MacDonald’s and other rich franchises for the funds. Similar political leaders will prescribe similar harsh recipes too. Meanwhile, that biggest of nightmares that humanity faces, a global climate emergency, won’t wait till we’re done with the virus before striking at its multiple fronts again.
But we can’t close on ‘welcome to America, where you are expected to die to protect the Dow.’ The quote that inspired our headline must be credited to Jerry Ashton, last week’s happy 87 birthday boy who co-founded R.I.P. Medical Debt, an organization that buys medical debt and forgives its debtors. Arguably a maverick as today’s birthday genius, Vincent Van Gogh, at the ripe age of 167, Jerry’s already has a legacy too. But it’s one of compassion.
And that’s how we roll with this atypical column for a most atypical week in recent memory. Experts say the coronavirus crisis will get much worst before getting any better, but don’t tell us to give up on anybody. Well, maybe all the above-mentioned leaders. We the people, however, will last. Cheers

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3/23/2020 Six Feet Apart, Not Under, Colltalers

The U.S. is far behind the coronavirus curve and, yes, the Trump administration is responsible for it. All headlines about COVID-19’s stunning spread are related to these two truths. No large scale testing is scheduled; no extra medical supplies will be provided; Americans are sitting ducks. Discuss.
And yet, elected officials have profiteered from the crisis just as Big Pharma and healthcare insurers surely will too. Keep that in mind as a depression approaches; when social justice is restored in this country, they shall be all accountable. Will American compassion have its own day to shine too?
The U.S. woke up this morning in a virtual shutdown. With unemployment set to break records and fatalities from the disease unfortunately set to skyrocket, Americans are doing their best to stay safe and together. But most don’t know whether they’re infected, or if there’s still time to be saved.
There’s such a gargantuan vacuum at the top leadership of this country that even billionaires with the muscle to move markets and create a path to solutions are confused and unarticulated. The same about the legions of healthcare and customer service workers thrown in the trenches of this battle with little more than a thermometer – don’t bother trying to get one; like face masks and rubbing alcohol, most retailers online or not don’t have them.
We’ll be back to that, but let’s first note China, whose brutal tactics to control the virus have finally reversed the curve. It kicked out the NYTimes, Washington Post, and Wall Street journalists in response to U.S. restrictions to its state-run news outlets. Yeah, bash reporters; that’ll teach them well.
On the other side of the spectrum, Cuba has stepped up to the plate and is offering medical and humanitarian help. Besides having developed a drug, Interferon alfa 2b, proven effective with dengue fever and HIV/AIDS, adopted by the Chinese medical authorities to this coronavirus too, it’s sending doctors to Italy to help out. It did the same during cholera and Ebola outbreaks but you wouldn’t know about it by just following the American media.
It even allowed last week a 1,000-passenger-and-crew British cruise ship to dock in Mariel, after charting what was dubbed the ‘voyage of the damned.’ Some 50 people suspected of being coronavirus-positive were among those it took care of and arranged for their flights home. To the deranged far-right, it’s all propaganda, but its Samaritan efforts of the past decades go beyond that and equate to what was one of the U.S.’s main export: solidarity.
A major crisis such as the one the world faces now has also another side effect: other stuff happens but no one notices. Or rather, some pick the time to advance their interests. Take Vladimir Putin, for instance. Last Monday, Russia’s Constitutional Court approved changes to allow him to remain in power till 2036, pending a referendum. As president or prime minister, he’s been there since 1999, so his latest maneuver surprised absolutely no one.
Also, speaking of washing hands, the United Nations marked yesterday the International Water Day by reminding everyone to use it plenty to protect themselves. Unfortunately, some 20% of humans don’t even have plumbing, others have to walk miles for a gallon, and in major cities such as Flint, MI, and Newark, NJ, drinking from the tap is not a good idea at all. That leaves us with all the extra water that’s being melted from ancient glaciers.
Consider Greenland. In a stark development, its melted iced raised global sea level by 2.2mm in just two months. That’s faster than anyone had predicted, indicating that, well, science was right, climate deniers have been wrong, and no matter what, humanity still has an even bigger fish to fry.
But if there’s a silver lining to the coronavirus worldwide pause is that it grounded economic activity, and its pollutants, to a halt and, guess what, air and waterways got immediately cleaner all over the world. That proves one remarkable thing: we can do it. We should take this worldwide idleness to apply a grand plan, say, a Green New Deal, and reboot the economy from a different, renewable starting point. Sadly, Congress is not with us in that.
Back to stuff that happens when no one is looking, here are some of the less honorable, and downright ruthless things the White House is setting up behind doors: a cut in food stamps for 700,000 Americans; a multibillion-dollar package for airlines – which spent their tax breaks on buying back stocks and let their business rot – and oil and gas fracking companies; and the immoral, pervasive rush to nominate the highest number of judges.
That’s an unforgivable travesty, to load the bench with utterly party-biased federal judges who by stamping rulings favorable only to the executive will simply destroy the independence of the judiciary. It’s been a well-planned tactic from the get-go by the Republican Party and it’ll take years to be rebalanced even if a combative, argumentative, visionary Democrat defeats Trump in November. Can Joe Biden be that people’s warrior on this issue?
Time will tell but the events of the last few days bode poorly to President Obama’s VP. While his adversary Bernie Sanders was all over the country fighting to prevent yet another bailout to big business, Biden was all but missing. He was part of the single stimulus Congress was trying to pass and failed. For it would neither protect over 20% of the U.S. workforce nor guarantee free testing and treatment and offered only a paltry 15 days of leave.
Now comes word that he was ‘preparing’ (which probably means, learning his lines). Indeed, many think Joe’s a nice chap, just as Trump rated a 10 his disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus crisis. We’re not giving up on anyone willing to lead the country into another direction before it sinks for good, but it seems Trump has successfully downgraded all expectations for this election. Disillusioned Sanders supporters may stay at home again.
With rampant profiteering from the crisis by all sides at the top, the impossibility of having massive protests around the nation, and imminent collapse of the entire hospital system due to an expected spike in demand, ‘Spring Will (Indeed) Be a Little Late This Year.’ Frank Loesser could never have imagined that his beloved Broadway, where The Fantasticks broke records, would be in the dark just before the new season. But here we are.
We’ll miss it to save ourselves and be around for the next spring. Instead, we’re actually calling people we’d talk to only online; we’re cleaning and doing stuff around the house; cooking, reading, digging the garden, or just being silly with kids and pets. And thoroughly washing hands, of course.
Over 500,000 thousand will sleep in the streets tonight; countless will perish either from exposure or the virus; many more will get infected. But we’ll survive and resist this ungracious leader who hasn’t offered a single word of comfort to Americans before and during this scourge. He’s actually made it worst whenever he opened his mouth. But we’ll find the strength. Yeah, it’s Ok to call Mom again. Rest well, we will need you tomorrow. Cheers

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3/16/2020 We’ll Take Care of Each Other, Colltalers

Over 160,000 cases worldwide; 6,000+ dead; nations in lockdown; doctors, authorities, even celebrities infected; travel restricted, a looming global recession. As Americans wonder how many got the coronavirus or will be tested for it, the leader of the free world says, ‘I do not take responsibility.’
Yet when markets crashed last week, the Fed injected $1.5 trillion into the banking system – and slashed interest rates to near zero. State bailing out a private enterprise is the kind of ‘socialism’ not available for 140 million with no health or labor guarantees: Congress can’t ‘find’ an $8 billion relief.
Despite a heartless Trump, who is indeed responsible for the jitters and misery caused by an unbound virus wreaking havoc wherever it’s coughed on or spat to, it’s on these occasions that humanity excels. Empathy and compassion were all over last week but look no further than Siena, Italy, where rather than cursing (or affluent people knocking on cooking pots for missing privileges), one heard home songs a capella sung by entire neighborhoods.
Such is the way that common people, otherwise known as heroes, cope with adversity: they rise, they sing, they volunteer. Even when facing imminent danger, as in the case of nurses and medical personnel, they still stop to offer help, run towards the fire, hug to comfort a stranger. We won’t forget this.
By the way, boards of elections across America are begging poll workers to show up during this busy voting season. Gerrymandering, draconian rules to keep people of a certain race and class from voting, and millions of dollars flooding campaigns, the exercise of democracy is having yet another tough call to make: how to protect thousands of skilled workers and more, how to assure they’ll get the professional, free medical care they may need.
And the answer is, like most U.S. government agencies and institutions, starting by the top, no one knows. Few have committed to free-of-charge care and/or vaccines when one becomes available, and the healthcare industry has all but said that they’re not on board for it. This crisis has shown why free universal medical coverage is better: everyone is accounted for, so everyone is cared for. How such a basic human right came under so much criticism?
At least, the human rights of one person were restored this past week and it’s a reason for rejoicing: Chelsea Manning, the ex-Army intelligence officer who leaked proof of American war crimes in Iraq, was finally released from prison. It’s not quite justice: U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga’s refused to vacate a $256,000 fine pending over her head. But for someone who’s spent seven years in prison and has been detained since May, it is something.
Manning, who attempted suicide in jail, was court-marshaled for passing footage of U.S. forces killing civilians and journalists to Wikileaks, which published it in 2010 and 2011. It’s founder, Julian Assange, has had his own ordeals through the years, but Manning suffered the indignity of having a major personal transition while in care of prison wardens. She was detained for honorably refusing to testify against Assange. Welcome back, Chelsea.
Another good news of sorts – we take all we can get – is about the lawsuit the victorious U.S. Women Soccer Team’s moving against the Federation. Its head, Carlos Cordeiro, has resigned after it was revealed that his defense against par parity, or equal pay for equal work, was based on such a rancid misogynous argument, not even his board would support. Again, not justice; there shouldn’t even be a need for such a suit. But something anyway.
Brazilians, who are also facing an unprecedented institutional crisis, with a president who may or may not be infected by the coronavirus – does it sound familiar? – had Saturday a moment to pause and revolt. Two years before, Rio councilwoman and LGBTQ activist Marielle Franco was executed by still unpunished hitmen, and the chorus throughout the country is, ‘who ordered her murder?’ Many fingers point to a Bolsonaro’s involvement.
Franco was more than an activist. As an elected politician, she immediately captured people’s imagination with her personal story of redemption and push to challenge powers that be. To her supporters, that did her in. But now, with her murderers, and their links to the government being uncovered as part of the public record, she’s also become a symbol of feminicide, the assassination of women which has been rampant in Brazil and Latin America.
It ‘could happen next in Rome, or a week later in France or in Germany. The U.S. might be a week or two behind that. It looks as if the same shifts in perception, the same shifts in political discourse, are taking place everywhere, delayed or accelerated only by a country’s ability to face the facts.’ That’s Italian journalist Monica Maggioni about the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused Italy’s lockdown and marked its record 368 single-day deaths.
Trump says he’s been tested negative for the virus, but like the Brazilian president and other strongmen at the top, he may be lying. Unfortunately, no one ‘s shocked by it. It’s not that the president stood shoulder-to-shoulder and shook hands with people who later were found to be infected. It is as if, like when he stared at the sun during an eclipse, he’s purposely trying to prove some deranged point against science by defying its safety guidelines.
Trump’s closed agencies and fired almost every scientist in charge of the U.S.’s medical and biodefense preparedness, besides hacking the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s budget. And then replaced them not with a trained doctor but with science-skeptic, climate-denier VP Mike Pence.
Worst, amidst the confusion he helped to sow among Americans, it came out that the administration was considering to bail out the.. oil and fracking industry. With declining oil and gas prices, all the White House considers is the ‘suffering’ of industries directly responsible for the climate emergency we’re facing. Never mind a likely mass contagion at makeshift immigrant camps or overcrowded U.S. prisons; the priority is to keep burning fossils.
‘It’s socialism for the rich. Everyone else is treated to harsh capitalism,’ wrote economist Robert Reich last year. Or as Rev. Dr. William Barber II tweeted, ‘Overnight they found $1.5 trillion for Wall Street, but they can’t find money to provide healthcare & living wages for 140 million poor people in America.’ The coronavirus is now the biggest argument for Medicare for All, and for having a new president in November.
A lot of what makes living bearable is being canceled: the performing arts, sports, restaurants, bars, even the St Patrick’s Day parade is off. As we wonder what else we’re about to lose to COVID-19 – wash your hands! – we must seize this opportunity to reach out and being there for others, friends, family, and neighbors. We’re better together. Often we’re all they’ve got and we’re forever in their debt. Ce la faremo amici miei.

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3/09/2020 Watch Out For Viral Excuses, Colltalers

Over 100,000 cases worldwide; 15 million Italians quarantined; no contingency plans in the U.S. The Coronavirus is doing what viruses do, including exposing authoritarian regimes’ ineptitude: good at self-preservation, ugly at saving lives. It’ll keep spreading and you’re on your own. Don’t catch it.
‘Torture, (cruelty), outrages upon personal dignity, rape, and sexual violence.’ The International Criminal Court is probing possible U.S.’s war crimes in Afghanistan. But peace talks won’t bar the Taliban from oppressing women. For this and other reasons, they’ve marched around the world yesterday.
Speaking of women’s independence, Elizabeth Warren became the last to drop out of the presidential race leaving us with, brace for the unexpected, two old white males who’ll slaughter each other for a while, big bucks vs youth enthusiasm, while Trump shadowboxes and weights a cancellation.
Wait a minute? Does that mean that if the virus explodes in the heart of America, against everything the White House had said about this health crisis,  the president may actually cancel the Nov. elections? Yes and the 50 million or so Americans who have seen this coming are not enough to prevent it.
Going back to Senator Warren, democrats of a certain understanding, and gender, are mourning her departure because she had actual ideas on how to change the national conversation. More than the other five women who’d already left and have now promptly endorsed Joe Biden, Warren was fearless and yet enthusiastic about the future. And she’s held steady her support to front-runner Bernie Sanders, a fact his campaign must consider carefully.
Most Americans grew up with the notion that, despite the First Amendment, to display Nazi symbols or to propagate supremacist ideas was illegal. So it was a shock to see someone boldly unfold a Nazi flag at a Sanders’ rally in Arizona, before being escorted out. But it’s just another step down the ladder of what the president started four years ago: hate of ‘them,’ the ‘other,’ or in a Maga kind of way, just calling the opposition enemy of the nation.
The seeds for this new, terrifying era of fascism have been sown right at the gate, in Trump’s inaugural speech. He remains as oblivious to the rise of attacks on Jewish, black, and brown communities as he’d promised to be on that address. It’s also from the same time his outrageous claim that he’d get away with shooting someone on 5h Ave. But while his supporters love him for even making that claim, let’s not let him have any chance to prove it.
‘The unchecked brutality of autocratic regimes and the ethical decay of democratic powers are combining to make the world increasingly hostile to fresh demands for better governance.’ Given the above example, many Americans would agree with this year’s Freedom House report’s assessment. The organization whose founders included Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Wilkie, a 1940 Republican presidential candidate, surveyed 150 countries and 15 territories and if in 2010 freedom in the U.S. was at par with Switzerland and the U.K., now it sits behind Slovakia and Mauritius. But despite its lucid conclusions, the report frames only the most obvious authoritarian regimes, such as China and India, and doesn’t mention Brazil and Mexico.
That’s a glaring omission that doesn’t compromise its results though. A U.N. report estimated that in 2017, 50,000 women were killed worldwide for their gender, a feminicide. But last year only, Brazil and Mexico have reported over a thousand murdered in each of their territories, a reason for anger and one of the themes of International Women’s Day marches in both countries, according to Brazil’s G1 and data from the Mexican Interior Ministry.
India, on the other hand, did get mentioned in the report for its quasi-government-sanctioned violence against Muslims, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal brand of cruelty is cited along with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Unlike these, however, India is still called ‘the world’s largest democracy,’ and is not featured with Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Somalia, and yes North Korea, among others as ‘the worst of the worst.
‘A survey conducted by the National Nurses United, the largest U.S. union, shows that most hospitals and healthcare facilities are unprepared to handle and contain cases of COVID-19. It found no plans, isolation procedures, and policies in place; poor communication between employers and staff; lack of personal protective equipment: and no training offered to handle the crisis. And that’s even before U.S. cases are expected to reach a critical mass. But that display of extreme incompetence, arrogance, and callousness comes from the very top. At the same time that the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention issued its initial guidelines to begin a resemblance of virus containment, the president was ‘advising’ the old and the sick to go to work.
And here’s one of the ironies of our present quagmire: over 40% of the American workforce can’t afford to skip a day of work: they won’t get paid for it. So it’s almost cruel to blame likely high rates of contagion on the backs of working people. Worst: the administration won’t commit to guarantee free treatment or vaccine to those affected. All overworked, underpaid Americans want to hear is that they’ve got yet another ‘out of pocket’ medical bill.
As the 19th American died from the coronavirus, almost the entire world is under lockdown and, spoiler alert to the president, markets will tumble and fall. That’d make no difference to average citizens but counts a lot to the 0.01%, backers of whatever is necessary, whoever the despot du jour, to keep the status quo. Would that be a destabilizing factor or a viral excuse for authoritarians to cancel elections they’re not sure to win? Tune in next week.
The Hague, Netherlands-based ICC, which began activities in 2002 and is recognized by 120 nations but not the U.S., decided to proceed with a probe into American armed forces in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, and later in clandestine C.I.A. facilities in Poland, Romania and Lithuania. Although it has the right to persecute non-signer nations if crimes were committed in any signer’s territory, it has no law enforcement arm to go after perpetrators.
On March 7, 1965, now Georgia Representative John Lewis and hundreds of voting rights activists began a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery. They got beaten and injured while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the crime of advocating that all Americans – regardless of their skin color – should have a vote and a voice in democracy. The 55th anniversary of that ‘Bloody Sunday,’ which ushered the passage of the Voting Rights Act, was celebrated in Selma Saturday.
The Act has since been bludgeoned by the court of Chief Justice John Roberts but that’s a matter for future litigation. While Women’s Day is marked rightfully so with rallies and marches in defense of women’s rights to live free and have agency over their own bodies, today is Barbie’s 61st anniversary, an event that’s no longer taken kindly giving all the appalling sexual, racial, and class stereotypes it helped inculcate on innocent minds. But we did evolve, slightly, and today no doll holds such strong sway over society anymore, not like tablets or cell phones anyway.
Still, in politics as in life, we must adapt however we can so to hold close to our principles, regardless of barking dogs, race supremacists, corrupt leaders, or social mores. We must honor those who were brutalized by what they were. Let’s not coward before the enormous challenges of our age. Carry on with the task at hand: protect democracy, fight inequality, restore the U.S. to standards of human rights, and save the planet from climate collapse. It may sound like it’s too much but it’s nothing compared to the ultimate sacrifice of early civil rights militants. What’s better in our world than it was in theirs is due to their courage to dream a new day. And R.I.P. Joyce ‘The number you have reached is no longer in service’ Gordon. Cheers

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3/03/2020 They Like the World As It Is, Colltalers

It’s spreading, it shows no mercy, and it may kill thousands. Not the coronavirus, though, but the bombing of Syria’s Idlib by Russian-backed Syrian forces against Turkey-aided rebels. Thousands more are caught between fire and freezing weather, but world headlines had little room to report them.
Instead, coverage has focused on the virus scare and not much else. Far-right governments in China, the U.S., Brazil, and others first tried to dismiss the crisis and then named hacks and climate-change deniers to manage it. It won’t work. That’s why so many believe that it’s time to vote them all out.
Speaking of elections, Israelis are at the polls today for the third time this year. But as before, no major changes are expected regardless of who wins. Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest acting Prime Minister, and his challenger Benny Gantz think alike about Israel’s major issue: neither is interested in treating the Palestinians as equals. Thus what seems obvious to the world isn’t to Israelis; there’ll be no peace without good-faith talks. Americans, on the other hand, are thrilled about what may happen tomorrow. Super Tuesday means 14 state primaries and American Samoa caucuses may grant to the overall winner over 30% of delegates required for nomination. Front-runner Democratic Party’s Bernie Sanders is being challenged by moderate competitors – plus arguably his own party, Vladimir Putin, the GOP, some billionaires, and most likely Steve Bannon. It hasn’t been pretty.
Let’s take a moment to wonder how his foes envision a government under their stewardship. Remaining moderates and the only billionaire left of a field once diverse believe they can bridge the gargantuan income inequality gap and the threat of extinction by climate catastrophe with few tweaks to deliver us from polarization, seeing Republicans and Democrats working together on an agenda of gradual change. No young voter will fall for that.
The Democratic leadership has stopped hiding who they don’t want to get the nomination and it’s mounting an offensive to control it at the convention. As a result, it’s already screwed up the first primary in Iowa and has been missing from the trenches for voter registration, legal support, and voting supervision. While its foes are unified and engaged in deep electoral sabotage, the Democratic Party is waging an internal war over its heart and soul.
No matter how much spin is put into this, there’s no question which administration Putin would be better off with. In four years of Trump, there’s been an unrestricted power-grabbing and buildup to an oversized global role for his Russia. But with Sanders or Warren, there certainly won’t be such luck.
GOP operatives are betting on inflaming anti-socialism sentiment among Trump supporters to break the hold progressives have held over the American electorate, today much farther left than even some candidates. Like a melting iceberg, though, the hardcore of their strategy is enmeshed within social media. Forget 2016; barely legal propaganda-delivering engines of Facebook, Twitter, and others will be the true superdelegates to be reckoned with.
Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe have developed a justified fear of candidates Sanders and especially Warren. And they did send one of their own to neutralize the latter and battle the former. Even a few hundred thousands of votes Mike Bloomberg may manage to buy will be greatly appreciated.
As for Bannon, he’s currently on a hands-on expertise tour selling his popular guide, How to Destroy Democracy and Elect Despots in a Decade or Less. To him, a Trump reelection will all but assure a new print. And the accolades of the ultra-wealthy. And more clients. Everything but oblivion. Some of these opposition hotwires are misguided and may indeed cause the reelection. Which would be appalling since the president seems bent into turning America into a fascist regime. Consider his attacks on Justices Ruth Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor for criticizing his use of the Supreme Court as a clearinghouse for approving draconian acts – which the court has mostly granted him. Stay clear of ‘Trump-related matters,’ he’s tweeted.
That sounds like a threat and it’s an outrageous attempt to influence another branch of the government which, like Republican-controlled Senate, has been quickly losing its said independence. Four more years and both may be constitutionally-amended to reflect their absolute subservience to the executive. Forget the Founders; that’s how it is in Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and other world authoritarian regimes. We may as well be next.
Changing gears, news that the 18-year-old Afghanistan war may be finally ending received only tepid response. As it appears here, major newspapers have already demoted it to below the fold. No wonder; there aren’t many people in the world who believe anything that the Taliban or Trump says.
In other news, mass rallies in the Dominican Republic are protesting the cancellation of local elections. Also, concerns grow in Brazil as over 4,000 requests for mining-related activities in indigenous and protected lands have been filed. Given President Bolsonaro’s posture, most of them are a-go.
But the news some waited for half a century to hear about came out on Thursday: the Emmett Till Antilynching Act that the U.S. Congress passed to mark the 65th anniversary of Till’s lynching, and also the 55-year anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights marches. On to Trump to sign.
A revolting aspect of war is that its mongers are willing to wage it anywhere, preferentially far from home soil. That’s the world where Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, his buddy Putin, and Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan, feel comfortable playing games of power and domination and sending people to their graves. None of them is invested in protecting Syrians and winning is relative; there are profits to be made before considering those caught in the crossfire.
As for the coronavirus, we’re still far from the last of it. As global contagion increases and casualties seem to head to epidemic levels, much fretting is going on about VP Mike Pence, the appointed czar of everything virus who mistrusts science and denies climate change. As governor of Indiana, he backed the grotesque trend of ‘fetus funerals’ while cutting funds for HIV meds and treatment; deaths spiked under his watch. Yeah, serious jitters.
This has been a particularly disheartening winter in the northern hemisphere – and a violent one below the Equator. While it cools down there, we may get some of that spring and summer heat of activism for causes relevant to the whole of mankind. Trump and these substandard tyrants are not up to what it takes to rescue civilization. We’re on our own but the world supports us. It’s Women’s History Month, so let’s march accordingly. Namaste.

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2/24/2020 Let Tomorrow Begin Today, Colltalers

Even before crashing the White House President Trump disliked the U.S.’s top law enforcement agencies. And once there, it became clear he had their number. But few expected that the FBI for one would willingly become such a tool for this administration. Or that it’d be still doing it three years later.
Meanwhile, 12 women are murdered every day in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a U.N. report. But while rampant feminicide is part of a larger issue of oppression against women, society has been all but indifferent. Some say, so has the chief of 1.2 billion Catholics: Pope Francisco.
But let’s get going with Bernie Sanders, the front-runner Democratic presidential candidate who’s causing severe heartburn within his party leadership.
Even holding his pole-position till July, he still may be challenged at the Convention. Not by voters but superdelegates and other regimental tricks aimed at crowning the party’s favorite, not necessarily its most popular one. Brace for griding discussions about party politics minutia. And a possible ‘consensus’ candidate. The big question then may be, will the most popular support the party’s pick, assuming it’s someone else, or give it all to Trump?
January’s temperature was 2.5°F above the 20th-century average, or the hottest since records have been kept. It was also the 44th consecutive January with heat being above the century’s average. Yet the climate emergency keeps falling off from headlines and the national conversation. A tweet from the president is enough to change the media coverage and set up a roundtable about his latest whim. Meanwhile, the Earth burns to a crisp everywhere.
‘We’re done playing by the rules,’ said an 18-year-old Sunrise Movement member, before being arrested at a protest in DC last week. The activist group supports the Green New Deal, so far the only proposed roadmap for survival from climate devastation. No other ideas but plenty of opposition though.
Other developments of note: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange appears at a U.K. court today to fight deportation to the U.S. where he’s likely to get life in prison. In 2010, the site published classified U.S. government communications, passed along to him by Army Intel Officer Chelsea Manning, who was court marshaled and remains in prison. And in the eve of the 2016 election, he leaked emails linked to Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Even his critics, who accused him of having helped Trump win the election, are offering support since he’s been prosecuted as a journalist and editor. With the administration so engaged in silencing journalists and whistleblowers such as Manning, there’s fear that the case will embolden it to pursue further restrictions to press and freedom of expression. Sore Democrats may find that challenging but there’s really no excuse to go after journalists.
‘A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.’ The Malcolm X quote may not be his after all, but he did stand for something and was killed, 55 years ago last Saturday, for unwavering convictions. A new doc refocuses public attention on his murder at Manhattan’s Audubon Hall, but his legacy, at pair with that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s and other civil rights leaders of the time and now, is that of a fighter for the dignity of black people.
As a visionary, he’s left valuable insights into America’s future, and given the current rise of white supremacism, his was also a legacy of defiance, of race empowerment, and justice. It’s why his words still resonate with millions of black lives still periodically visited by the nightmare of racial hatred.
The Boy Scouts of America became this week another male-dominated institution that had to file for bankruptcy protection from thousands of child sex-abuse lawsuits accusing it of covering up for pedophiles. As with victims of Catholic priests, many are no longer here to testify about the events that so traumatized them to the point of suicide or drugs and alcohol abuse. And like the church, the BSA had fought hard to discredit the accusers.
There’s no telling whether this can be fixed by lawsuits and bankruptcy, but the personal traumas it caused will certainly never be. We should have figured out by now though what these and other institutions have in common: a ban on women. Sex exploitation of children is more prevalent than we usually assume to be, but despite different cultural or social contexts, it tends to occur within a universe that excludes, oppresses, or berates women.
Religion, tribalism, and/or simply neglect are all factors in the exploitation of the vulnerable. Since sexual abuse is about power and control, it often escalates from classic male-bonding rituals that leaders like to encourage. But tradition should never be an excuse. The right of children to find their own way into the world, both as sexual beings and mentally sound citizens, requires a moral compass and a well-defined guardianship of the young.
The wave of women killings through Latin America and elsewhere, however, can be linked to fear of their power. Women are perceived as the ‘other,’ disruptive, undecipherable, threatening. So men created male-only clubs to help shape the world to their needs. Hazing, rites of passage, ‘traditional’ customs are all grooming ways leaders remind future soldiers sworn to their protection to whom they owe allegiance: those who stole their innocence.
This week we honor radio broadcaster Teresa Aracely Alcocer, known as Bárbara Greco, who was murdered in Juarez, Mexico. She’d become vocal about the increased feminicide in the country, and paid with her life for her defiance. Others like her will rise and are already pushing Mexican officials to face the issue. Last year the country was second only to Syria in the number of reporters killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Many Catholics believed that Pope Francis would not just publicly intercede in defense of women, but that he’d also announce the church’s intention to ordain women as priests as well as to allow married men to perform some clergy duties. But that was not to happen and it likely never will. The ‘C’ word – celibacy for the well-acquainted – is back to common usage, and that means no, marital sex is out of the question for priests. Anything else?
Two weeks ago, intel officials warned House lawmakers that Russia was already interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get Trump re-elected. That enraged Putin’s protegée who then fired acting national intelligence director Joseph Maguire. Then the very next day, the news was that the Russians were aiding Sanders, not Trump. Sanders publicly denounced it, but despite its suspicious timing, it was the latter piece of news that made headlines.
It reminded some of the 2016 election when then FBI director James Comey told Congress about ‘something’ on frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s emails. It was all debunked after the election, but the damage had already been done. Since then the president has insulted, ignored, or picked at the agency often distracting it from its mission of protecting the U.S. And Comey, now gone, was his favorite punchbag. So why they’re still so eager to please him?
If no disruption occurs – say, Trump alleging unspecified threats to remain in power, or an actually very specific threat – we may be closely repeating 2016, except that people are now more aware. Still, there’s only one condition that would break through it all, including all the gerrymandering and all efforts to curb minority vote: a record turnout. If that sounds like a cliche, don’t stop thinking about er yesterday, when Hillary lost. And then some.
It’s crucial that Americans understand what kind of world is one where fossil fuel industries expand as they please, and income inequality continues to grow. Pick the candidate demanding the most, not less. Any ‘moderation’ will grant this unruly president the keys to a new kingdom. Cheerio

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2/17/2020 Unsung Heroes to the Rescue, Colltalers

We can’t change the world while ignoring Earth defenders in mortal danger for doing our bidding. The Wet’suwet’en nation blocking a gas pipeline, or Amazon warriors, or Mexican butterfly protectors faced police and hit squads but the media’s top week headline was the misleading ‘Trump Acquited.’
The coronavirus is spreading and so are China’s draconian containment measures, but coverage is about death tolls. Climate change-triggered fires and floods abound, the U.S. boosted its brutal immigration raids, racist chants disrupted two major soccer games. But little about the news-related activism.
One promising news this newsletter did miss last week: Ireland. So it goes that Brexit has unwittingly opened the gates to a potential revolution – and likely its sole good news – with the surprising win by Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Revolutionary Army. Suddenly, Ireland’s reunification has re-entered the political lexicon. With Scotland also hot for independence, it’s the U.K. Commonwealth’s own future which is now hanging by a thread.
The possibility has revived old dreams of a stronger Ireland, while also soothing mourners of the Remain movement. They didn’t want any of this but now it actually sounds like a great way to get rid of the corrupted class that cheated and lied on its way to power, so to rebuild England for a new age.
The COVD-19 coronavirus ‘has a stronger ability to spread than the World Health Organization has estimated so far,’ according to researchers at Umeå University in Sweden. Their study considers its transmissibility at least equivalent to SARS, even as its lethality can’t be determined without reliable estimates of infection. There are officially 60,000 cases worldwide but their real number is likely higher than that. Oh, by the way, masks don’t work.
About that: as with any disease, misinformation and unproven methods of cure spread faster than contagion. There are types of facemasks that offer limited protection against viruses, but nothing stronger than personal hygiene and medical care. Most of those available in the market can’t do either.Worse: manufacturers of cheap and ineffective masks are profiting from the public anxiety, and not to accuse anyone, guess where most are made?
In the name of fighting the virus, China’s decided to showboat its construction might to the world by building hospitals in record time, but valuable lessons of epidemic management may be lost in the shuffle. That is because it’s still insisting on containment, which in an anti-democratic regime, counts as yet more ways to control its people. There’s little hyperbole in saying that 11 million Wuhan residents are not quarantined but in internment.
Eventually, the spread will plateau and the coronavirus will either get its own vaccine, or it’ll mutate into something less acute. Either way, diseases are and should always be about public health and scientific breakthroughs, not supporting repression, restrain political freedom or worsen social inequality.
‘All fires are now contained’ in Australia’s New South Wales, declared government officials, hoping that their climate-change-denying stand won’t be linked to this tragic summer. Dream on, environment activists say; even if the fires are gone for good, which they are not, it’ll take years and millions of dollars to rebuild the country. Then again, it all may change quickly if Aussies choose accountability and vote the incompetent out of public office.
Twin typhoons in a roll, Ciara and Dennis have battered Europe and more seems to be in store, especially for the U.K. where floods, high winds, and landslides have forced flight cancellations and drawn the Army. But as we expect, the news may be reduced down to how many are dead; two, btw. Wonder what a government with no policies for climate emergencies may do? Send in soldiers, thoughts, and prayers, and blame a foe or two for it all.
Just as the Trump administration is doing with undocumented immigrants, minus the thoughts and prayers. The past week, law enforcement tactical units joined scores of ICE agents arresting people in sanctuary cities such as New York and Chicago. The ill-devised escalation has already produced many an illegal deportation of thousands of long-time U.S. workers, some deeply involved in their communities, who’d actually qualify for residency.
Unfortunately to all those affected, the Democratic Party has already nixed any chances of offering workable alternatives to the immigration issue, via slight and opaque tactics. From an initially numerous, heavily diverse field of candidates, including Mexican-American Julian Castro, the party short-tailed it to its current contenders – four men and two women -, none of them Latino or black for that matter. Our guess is that it’ll choose the billionaire.
And then there’s the miserable trail of hatred around the world, sowed upon by American government-backed white supremacism. In Porto, Malian soccer player Moussa Marega walked out of the pitch due to racist chants. And in Würzburger, a local fan was arrested for hurling insults to his team’s German-born Leroy Kwadwo, of Ghanaian descent, but this time the offender’s own fellow supporters shouted ‘Nazis Out,’ while he was being led out.
As yet another journalist, Brazilian Lourenço Veras, was executed by hitmen in Pedro Juan Caballero, Paraguay, killings against the category continue to rise worldwide. 18 were killed in 2019 in Latin America, according to the International Federation of Journalists, and besides other regions, if one includes environmental activists and Amazon protectors, under the general subtitle of ‘freedom of speech fighters,’ then that number is much larger.
That’s why it’s so crucial what’s happening in British Columbia, where five Wet’suwet’en hereditary clan chiefs oppose the $5 billion-plus, 670-km pipeline that Coastal GasLink is building. And why even councils of tribes and nations that initially agreed with it are now seeking to withdraw their support. For they’re risking their lives on mankind’s behalf to prevent yet another fossil-fuel enterprise from helping destroy the land and the planet.
In all the most puzzling is the enduring popularity of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His carefully crafted public persona is that of a liberal painfully aware of the climate emergency we’re experiencing, all moving speeches and modern posture, including bad jokes about Trump. But in practice, his environmental policies have been all but disastrous. We wonder if, besides Melania, is there anyone else still infatuated with him? don’t answer that.
In 2018, Global Witness counted 164 murders of community leaders defending forests, land, and water ecosystems, by hitmen hired by illegal loggers, miners, and big landowners. Workers caught in the middle of these conflicts are often killed by bullets or die from the slavery conditions they endure. And yet, they’ve got no place in the headlines and/or hearts and minds of city dwellers, themselves mostly overwhelmed by own personal struggles.
Truthful, accountable information can help change that as long as it goes beyond good intentions and hopeful wishes. Whenever a defender or freedom fighter succumbs, it makes tighter the shoes we’d have to wear to replace them. Get to know your real heroes; there’s no film saga about them. Cheers

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2/10/2020 A Triple Threat Stalks Us, Colltalers

Trump’s crossed another line last week, to eyes-rolling everywhere: he went from firing not-loyal-enough staff to purge dissenters. Being a decorated war hero means little to a draft dodger. Stalin comes to mind. So does Don Corleone. But his spiked ratings owe a lot to the Democratic leadership.
64.9°F was also a crossed-line of sorts; Antarctica’s temperature last week was its highest ever. Will sea level be next in climate emergency immediate threats? Or will viruses like the coronavirus, now deadlier than SARS? Not if drama, not factual implications, it’s all one hears about in the media.
But let’s start with something less topic: the Catholic Church. It’s been accused of hoarding charity donations to fill up holes on Santa See’s budget. It reminds us of a certain president who’s also been accused, again, of misusing donations to his inauguration for personal gain. Corruption is contagious. On related news, investigative journalism ProPublica has compiled a searchable, 900-page database of priests accused of sexual child abuse. Finally.
This has been such an upsidedown era. Remember Gandhi? India’s arguably greatest global figure, whose non-violent resistance movement inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has fallen from grace in his own country. Even more depressing, it’s his assassin who’s not being named here the one now celebrated. This travesty may be attributed to rising Hindu nationalism, but blame must be placed at the doorsteps of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Since ascending to power in 2014, he’s presided over a lethal spiral of poverty and religious hatred against 200 million of its increasing 1.339 billion population: Muslims. Why Gandhi? misinformation perhaps for he opposed the 1947 Partition of India that created what’s today’s Islamic Pakistan.
In wild wild Brazil, one of the hitmen who executed Rio councilwoman and LBGT activist Marielle Franco two years ago this March was himself shot dead by the police. The news raised concerns that it was a hit job to silence those involved in the murder of the popular politician, as the nameless thug had been part of the entourage of President Bolsonaro and his sons. ‘Dead men don’t tell tales,’ as they’d say in his underworld.’ Heavens have mercy.
Which was not given to yet another protector of monarch butterflies in Mexico: Raúl Hernández Romero was stabbed to death a week after the body of Homero Gómez González was found with similar wounds. Thus the majestic creature has now another formidable foe, besides extreme poverty and a climate going berserk: illegal loggers linked to drug gangs operating in Mexico. How unsung are these environmental heroes? Let us count the ways.
The Trump administration’s immigration policies are blatantly racist, discriminatory, and we should all brace ourselves for it to worsen. But it didn’t start the fire so to speak. A Human Rights Watch report, for instance, found that 138 people deported back to El Salvador between 2013 and 2019 were either killed or abused or both. That is, they came for Lady Liberty’s help only to be given back to those they were fleeing from. Well done, America.
Speaking of which, the past week saw the president celebrating his impeachment acquittal with his trademark brutality: by going after those who dared to tell the truth about him. When war hero Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was escorted out of the White House like a criminal, it was a revengeful perp walk not even Joseph Stalin granted his enemies (before slaughtering them). Some day, history will come after those who stood silently by this.
But the Democratic Party should also take credit for his giddiness, and not just by the catastrophic Iowa caucus, still without an official vote counting. More troubling is the way it’s clearly trying to pick winners in its presidential candidate race. Liberal talk show host Bill Maher was no match to guest Steve Bannon, an archenemy of democracies everywhere, who ostensibly threw a bait at potentially disappointed supporters of Bernie Sanders, in case the now frontrunner’s schemed out of contention. It was a gift to his ex-boss and proof that he’s more than ever engaged in sabotaging the U.S. election.
As for the ‘heatwaves’ being ever more frequent around the poles, there’s no more question that the melting of ancient glaciers is already at full clip. It won’t be subtle: once multiple icebergs the size of Manhattan start getting loose, coastal areas will flood and people will die. It’ll put an unbearable strain in impoverished communities and force millions to flee or perish. It will happen but we’ll be informed about it only with waters suddenly cover Miami.
It’s been 56 years ago yesterday. When the Beatles performed at the Ed Sullivan show, it was a fateful correction to a decade that had started with much optimism only to be crushed by the weight of the nuclear threat, and in the U.S., by the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The four musicians started a new conversation, one about love and peace and faith in the future. But even they couldn’t stand for all our hopes and dreams and quit five years later.
It’s unfair to pressure anyone to please us to no end. It’s also irresponsible of grown-ups to rely on the young to carry on ideals of rebellion they once held dear to their hearts. But the new generations must change this world if they’re to survive and the least we can do is joining them at the trenches. Trump, nukes and the climate are here to wipe us out of our humanity. Fight them as if your life depends on it because it actually does. Cheers

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2/03/2020 Bad for the Constitution, Colltalers

If the bad comes in threes, get ready for another punch. The first two that hit us in 2016 are out toasting their luck. In synch too: as the U.K. left the European Union, the GOP was done defanging Trump’s impeachment. He’ll make tomorrow’s State of the Union his victory lap. But there are ‘buts.’
Democrats begin today in Iowa a gruesome marathon for the party’s presidential ticket. And as fears of the coronavirus subside, concern grows about its impact on China, now a global economic power. Ah, and the president’s son-in-law came up with a plan to give Israel land that’s not his to give.
Still, about China, it’s had its share of being underestimated both by foes and at times, its own citizens. But it’s adapted at each new millennium to find ways to out trade everyone else. It was unfortunate that a fire at a New York’s museum last week has destroyed a still unknown amount of records of the Chinese American experience, essential for clarity about their history. Challenging times indeed for the Chinese, here, in Hong Kong, and all over.
‘We do not accept mining, agribusiness, and the renting of our lands, nor logging, illegal fishing, hydroelectric dams or other projects that will impact us directly and irreversibly.’ The Piaraçú Manifesto was signed by indigenous leaders of 45 nations, gathered by the Xingu River in northern Brazil.
Called by Kayapó Chief Raoni Metuktire, it was an act of defiance to far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who on Friday appointed his vice Hamilton Mourão, a retired general who favors mining the Amazon, to increase ‘security’ the region. The administration seems concerned about safety only for loggers, miners, and landowners.
As the manifesto indicates, this is a struggle to ‘all humanity because it is a struggle for the protection of the planet.’  Recent news about the possible opening of Alaska’s 16.7 million-acre Tongass National Forest to logging and other large-scale predatory projects fit in this toxic picture. Timing for these and other scary plans to extract yet more fossils from the ground show that all that’s happening is not of their concern.
Sad news from Mexico with the murders of Isabel Cabanillas, a Juaréz feminist artist, and Homero Gómez González, a Monarch butterfly protector, in Ocampo. They join a heartbreaking list of gender, environmental, and indigenous activists killed for crossing paths with enforcer of the drug and arms trades or other Latin American economic interests. 28 activists were killed in the region in 2019, according to Cultural Survival, a human rights group.
Time is likely to show that the U.K.’s departure of the E.U., after forty-seven years of intense but relatively drama-free relations, was one of great humiliation and bewilderment. For let’s face it, its entry into such a flawed but forward-looking project helped ease the Commonwealth into its new, diminished role. With the British Empire long-defunct and former colonies gaining independence, the European option seemed like a swell one.
And swell it was but not to last. Virtually overnight, the shine of being the U.S.’s ‘special friend,’ which for years had covered up shortcomings of the U.K.’s industrial and military complex, vanished amid false assertions of being exploited by the union, and immoral promises of a return to greatness.
Every elected politician on both sides of the pond who has endorsed the garish spectacle of democratic principles being crushed in the past four years now belongs to a hall of shame of political corruption. We’ll pay for a long time for the costs of their betrayal. But if Brits are out of luck, Americans still have options before conceding. One is to flood Congress before Trump’s official ‘acquittal,’ on Wednesday. The other one is to vote in November.
Speaking of which, two Democratic factions will start today in Iowa the battle for the heart of America: the big donor side, seeking a moderate to get Republicans to respect the Constitution, and the one backed by contemporary electors which won’t settle for ‘gradual’ anything. Keep that in mind.
A last word about the impeachment: it proved that the president withheld military aid to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on his political opponent Joe Biden’s, accusing him of letting his son profit from their position. But that’s exactly what the Trumps have been doing. Look no further than Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner who came up with a biased, laughable even Middle East peace plan – and who knows how many personal business openings.
Knowing that makes it impossible to watch tomorrow’s S.O.T.U. speech without screaming at the streaming. But hey, Groundhog Day was Sunday and Punxsutawney Phil has predicted an early Spring, so maybe we’re due to a Great American Spring for Revolution. The prospect of playing a part in a global reversal towards human rights and the planet powers my heart. Congratulations to the Kansas City Chiefs for their Superbowl win. Cheers

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1/27/2020 100 Seconds to Midnight, Colltalers

Back-to-back coverage of a contagious disease, say, the coronavirus, is good to raise awareness about preventive measures and not much else. But it’s terrible for other reasons: unjustified panic, baseless prejudice, racial and cultural biases. Oh, and for kicking other relevant news out of the headlines.
Which, as we know, are not without fault. Take the impeachment of the U.S. President for instance. At its 11th hour, the media has done a poor job separating provable fact, backed up by witnesses, tapes, and testimonies, and what it’s basically denial. We know where this is all going. Or do we?
But that’s for later. Today’s most transcendent news is actually a celebration of history and its gift to teach humanity not to repeat it: the Red Army’s liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp 75 years ago. It’s one of those anniversaries that never lost its urgency, a perennial warning to the living from those who didn’t survive the despicable horrors of white supremacism being run as a government policy. It killed over six million Jews.
It’s heartbreaking to realize that we’re again risking to repeat history, for Jews seem to always be the first to be slaughtered, and with them or right after, minorities and political foes. Some would argue that the killing of a few is different from a mass killing, but they need to shut up right now: no matter how many, they got murdered only when citizens focused on stupid things like that, and did nothing, believing they couldn’t possibly be next.
What’s tragic about the America of the 21st century to begin resembling the 1940s Germany is how vulnerable our democratic institutions are at this moment to prevent it. And how come there’s little rage about it. When the president claims to be above the law, dismisses constitutional checks and balances mechanisms, and openly demoralizes Congress (i.e., the people), we are in effect in a no man’s land. Let us know when they come for you.
Speaking of other horrible things, equally preventable, Saturday marked the year anniversary of Brazil’s Brumadinho dam collapse, which launched a tidal wave of 9.7 million cubic meters of mining sludge that razed a town and buried over 270 people. Iron ore producer Vale, which owns the dam and mining operations that caused the tragedy, was also behind the catastrophic collapse of the Mariana Dam not too far from there, just four years before.
Both disasters contaminated nearby waterways and soil, ruining the land and compromising the water quality of Belo Horizonte, a major metropolis. And yet, no restitution or allocations have been set up by Vale. Given President Bolsonaro’s support to mining, it’s unlikely that any is forthcoming.The Army-expelled far-right captain shares yet another trait with other despots, apart from cruelty and incompetence: he doesn’t care. Sounds familiar?
Consider Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist who made public devastating evidence of wrongdoing by the National Security Agency, provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. He’s now on Bolsonaro’s crosshairs for publishing secret recordings that debunked infamous Car Wash operation, which through deception and fear, prevented ex-president, and 2018 election front runner, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from running then or ever again.
The tapes leaked to Greenwald by a hackers group proved an extensive manipulation of facts by Sérgio Moro, a judge in charge of the probe and now Minister of Justice. After going for the hackers, now they’re ‘investigating’ Greenwald, who’s married and has kids with a Brazilian politician. It’s an outrage and an attack on the press the likes of, well, those we’ve been seeing from Trump. It’s unlikely it’ll grow legs, but it’s nefarious to democracy.
The outbreak of the coronavirus is soon exposing yet another side of the authoritarian Chinese regime: even as the virus has killed over 50 people and is spreading across borders, nothing justifies to quarantine millions of people in the name of safety. Viruses have existed since the dawn of times and many couldn’t be cured in time before they vanished on their own. To use an outbreak to corral and catalog citizens is inefficient and morally wrong.
The Holocaust can and has been repeated before, but we don’t have to take it this time. The already too many recent massacres of Jews should’ve given us pause about this administration, for what it didn’t do to avert them, what it did to actually boost them, and for inspiring and praising the murderers.
But Trump’s lying – how come his lies are not front-page news and how come they’re given equal footing as facts and witness testimonies? – his rapist mentality, his disastrous foreign policy that brought us closer to WWIII, his mendacity, and utter indifference to suffering and injustice, his use of the White House as a business counter, are, sadly, not on trial at his impeachment. ‘Only’ his breaking of the law. Why is that even up for argument?
Above all, it’ll be part of history the cowardice and utter contempt of a certain class of politicians, now closing ranks with a corrupt leader. It’ll be written, unfortunately, with the blood of innocents who sacrificed their careers to inform Americans, but nevertheless, it will be remembered. Just like the shameful Marshall Philippe Petáin and his collaborationist Vichy France, or the Catholic Church’s omission about the murderous Nazi regime.
Doomsday Clock, the conceptual device that tracks risks for a nuclear, potentially final worldwide conflict, has just been reset. It’s now 100 minutes to midnight, its closest proximity since its creation in 1947. Nukes proliferation, climate change, and cyber-based misinformation were cited as reasons to make the alert be expressed in seconds, not minutes like before. But the world’s most powerful power, and its deranged leader, have a lot to do with it.
R.I.P. Kobe Bryant, the late basketball great whose tributes are deservedly filling airwaves. For comfort, listen to the mournful Clarinet Quintet K581 in A Major by W.A. Mozart who’d be 264 tomorrow. As a 20-year-old, he was surely acquainted with the American Revolution, and it’s a pity he can’t testify on the Constitution his contemporaries have drawn. These two improved the world, which would look good on anyone’s eulogy. Chin up, folks.

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1/20/2020 The Two-Minute Warning, Colltalers

‘Surprise: 10 Biggest Oil and Gas Multinationals Switch to Wind and Solar Energy.’ ‘President Trump Is Removed From Office.’ ‘Public Schools Adopt Green New Deal.’ ‘Three Ex-Presidential Candidates to Head Newly-Created Race, Immigration and Labor Reform Bureaus.’ ‘Supreme Court Upholds Removal; Criminal Case to Follow it.’ ‘Pot Is Now Legal.’ ‘Troops Finally Arrive Home From the Middle East.’ ‘Democrats Retake White House.’
We’re not too far from these headlines. Right on cue, millions of women have marched again Saturday in Washington, D.C. and 200 cities around the world. Their lead sets the standards for this crucial election year. Given the right pressure, the impeachment against the U.S. president has the potential of disarticulating his political base, leaving him with his 30 million supporters and not much else. And then there’ll be us, pushing it all over the hump.
We’ll be back to that in a minute, but first Australia, which in past weeks has offered a horrifying glimpse of things to come very fast to everybody else. The dystopian pictures of a continental-size inferno clearly showed that there are not two sides to the climate emergency crisis: there’s one, which is based on facts and is proven by a tragic reality. And then there are corporate interests willing to choke anyone to death to hide their true motivation.
We mourn the dead, including the (correctly) estimated billion animals who may have perished in the fires. We also grieve over what may get even worse if it’s up to the current Australian administration, and the country’s most notorious citizen, Rupert Murdoch, still at his evil self. (And rather pointlessly wonder why Mick Jagger’s former wife Jerry Hall would swear love, seek shelter, and bring her own kids to the household of such an ogre).
Neither Australia’s woes, not Murdoch are ‘local’ phenomena; what’s happening to the world’s 13th-largest economy, and the role the creator of the nefarious Fox News and Sky News networks has been playing for decades, are happening with increased frequency all over. Interesting how strange bedfellows, climate change denial and corrupt journalism, can seamlessly breed such a perfect storm on a global scale: pollution and misinformation.
They’re now fully engaged in preventing the natural conclusion most people are getting at: polluters should foot the bill for the damage caused by their enterprises. Just like plastic producers should be liable for the trash they create, we want the same inflexibility they all subscribe to when it comes to sending to jail the poor for being poor. For half a century, big oil and gas knew they were wrecking the planet. And yet, most don’t even pay their taxes.
At the dawn of 2020 we can still say that there’s time. Maybe our falling national levels of science proficiency have something to do with it, but a U.N. Center for Biological Diversity report says that saving life on this planet would cost a meager $100 billion, a fraction of the U.S. military budget to kill people it doesn’t like. The roadmap addresses the ‘insect apocalypse’ and decline of vital ecosystems, but the usual suspects will say it’s ‘fake news.’
Never mind the Sex Pistols; scientific research and the global mobilization of the young prove that it is possible to stop this train wreck by removing some of its key parts. The U.K. is mostly lost? Eastern Europe won’t quit coal? Infamous ‘mini-trumps’ are jockeying to reach power? Trump minions won’t look at the evidence? Never mind the bollocks; there are more of us than they, and if all women and all just-18 and over decide to vote, we win.
‘What are humans made of.’ ‘What should I do with my life.’ ‘How not to get away with murder.’ ‘How will the earth end.’ ‘How to be more beautiful.’Never mind Google Searches either; these discouraging entries are as deceiving as our social networks’ profiles: a fiction even its authors believe in.
Instead, don’t give up on fact-based reality, and yes, some newspapers and a few viewer-sponsored sites do report verifiable news without commercial breaks. Search for that, instead – and join efforts to pressure Google, Apple, Amazon, and all other gargantuan corporations to pay their due taxes.
“Be sure that we will keep the pressure alive. We’ve never made any gain in civil rights without constant, persistent, legal and non-violent pressure.” That was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s on his ‘Three Evils’ speech – racism, poverty, and war – in Atlanta, May 1967. His message across time is one of resilience and conviction on the fairness of our purpose. Perfect to defeat the horrors sown by pro-gun, white supremacists rallying in Richmond, V.A.
What those wishful headlines are useful for is to focus on what’s at stake. We may not see them in our lifetimes, because bigger changes are needed first. But that doesn’t mean what they announce won’t happen; no matter what, the corporate media will take their sponsors’ side. But we don’t have to. There is no longer time for hope but for engagement, dedication, resistance. Women are showing the way, and we won’t take any more talk on whether one can be the next U.S. president either. Kids are sacrificing their own education to educate us to be adults. Let’s not waste time trying to convince anyone; the human brain is a marvel as long as it’s active; not everyone uses it. We’ve got a mission should we accept it: keep fossils on the ground.
This must be the year of accountability: fossil fuel businesses must divest or get out of business; war profiteers must be banned from the White House; the Supreme Court can’t be coerced by the executive branch, or become race, class, or pro-business-biased; candidates can’t be funded by big money. Media airwaves belong to the people and should serve them, not advertisers. We must have the clarity to understand that there’s no future with rampant social inequality; at one point, the wealthy always choose themselves over everyone else. But the Earth is ours to save it, should we choose to do it.
In Zaire, Norman Mailer saw a moment of fear in Muhammad Ali’s eyes at the beginning of his 1974 fight with George Foreman. But he overcame it and knocked down the giant in the eight-round. It’s not always good to be back, and we’re well acquainted with that fear that Ali must have felt. But like him, we’ve got no choice either; we’re trapped on this ring, with no place to run but to fight (and rope-a-dope whenever needed). So, let’s dance.

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12/23/2019 Time For Survivors Recharge, Colltalers

A handful of issues rose to the top of humanity’s woes at this wrapup of the year and decade. Climate crisis, income inequality, gender, race, and faith persecution, and a few others have all but prevented billions from living free, dignified, and peaceful lives, and life on this earth from having a future.
Still, we greet the new year with some hope and a few wishes, with heavy hearts but much resolve to turn the civilization around. That’s what’s at stake here. A lot to do on our own while street rallies continue until morale improves. But first, let’s vote out all the leaders who stand on our way forward.
Starting by the top: we must do what the Impeachment won’t and choose a new U.S. President in November. It’s clear that for as long as Donald Trump and his enabling sycophants remain in the White House, every one of those issues of concern has the potential of becoming unmanageable nightmares.
In three years, the president and his family grew richer as did the powerful who benefitted from his trillion-dollar tax break, while national poverty levels spiked. Immigrants and sexual and racial minorities were brutalized while white supremacists felt empowered. Environmental protection rules were dismantled as fossil fuel industries rejoiced. Women’s reproductive rights faced a threat and so did the Constitution and entire judicial system.
As a nation, we’re weakened and embarrassed by our overweight, unhinged, diatribe-prone ‘leader’ becoming a giant fatberg clogging global airwaves with the grease of his amorality. Save for misconception or lack of judgment, no decent American believes anything that he says unless their earnings depend on them endorsing the ogre with the nuclear codes. But we’re all accountable to those we love; when the time comes, what will we tell them?
Americans must show Brazilians, Chileans, and Bolivians; Philippinos, Hondurans, and Guatemalans; Ukrainians, Indians, Pakistanis, and Yemenis; Iraqis, Iranians, and North Koreans; Hong Kong students and Pacific Islanders; the Polish, Hungarians, yes, the British, and every world’s indigenous nation, that we’ll lead the way. That we, as the richest and most powerful nation, will rise up and stand with them all by canceling one-term Trump.
But our commitment to change can’t obscure or let our purpose to be tainted by corrupt leaders. One of the great signs that things may actually evolve and we’ll survive this, is the increased global popular revolt. Someday we may catch ourselves in a better future, looking back at how we overcam
e incredible odds and rescued the planet and most species from the brink. People marched for existential causes, through the year and all over the world.From the U.S. to Europe, from Latin America to the Middle East, with few focuses elsewhere, protests against lack of action on climate change, for gun control, women’s and gender rights, democracy, and freedom of choice, for indigenous people and the poor, have often seized global headlines.
Such mass reaction against oppression fills with joy the hearts of freedom fighters and democracy defenders. Yes, we’ve lost too many warriors and green activists, journalists, and justice advocates. And sadly, whistleblowers extraordinaire Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange remain in prison, exiled or facing mortality. Plus almost all wars and conflicts head to a state of permanence. No, not the world we’d choose to live in.
But by the same spirit behind Hannukkah, which started last night, Christmas, on Wednesday, and Kwanzaa the following day, it is a moment to count blessings and make our peace with what we could not save. Time to collect our thoughts, to dispassionately look back at the things we’re so passionate about and to comfort ourselves and those around us. Let’s prepare, gather strength and keep it all together. See you in your dreams. Happy New Year.

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12/16/2019 We Need a Better Year, Colltalers

‘Marshall Islands’ contribution to climate change is only 0.00001% of the world’s emissions,’ says youth activist Carlon Zackhras. Yet it may become the first nation to evacuate its homeland due to it. It’ll get worse as the U.N. conference’s failed to broker a global agreement on carbon emissions.
Two articles of impeachment of the U.S. President will go to a full vote in the House, and then to die an undignified death at the Senate. Even to many under-rock inhabitants, the testimonies did prove Trump’s guilt. But that apparently means nothing, according to GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell.
But let’s start off with the world’s two most populous countries, China and India, home of almost 40% of mankind. One is known for dominating world trade and soon for overtaking the U.S. as its largest economy. And the other, for being the biggest nominal democracy, but with emphasis on nominal. They share another scary fact though, besides their colossal stats: they’re ruled by authoritarian leaders who’ve had their unchallenged ways for years.
They’re also twins on their hatred of Muslins. Under P.M. Narendra Modi’s direct sway, India’s just passed a law that all but cancels citizenship to 200 million of them, in a betrayal of so many of its own citizens, and a rebuff to next-door nemesis Pakistan. The law throws the region into turmoil and brings up India’s post-war years when Pakistan was founded as home to Islam followers, in 1947, and 1948, when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.
Modern China, of ‘Paramount’ leader Xi Junping, was founded a year later, but Islam has been a factor in Chinese society for at least 1,400 years. That hasn’t helped ethnic Turkic minority Uyghurs: reports about detention camps, persecution, and death have only confirmed the regime’s authoritarian bent. But with China more engaged than ever in world trade, the U.S. and most nations have shamefully ignored the many claims of rights abuse.
Arsenal’s Turkish-German soccer star Mesut Özil, who follows Islam and Tweeted about it, – ‘Despite all this, Muslims stay quiet?’ – faced criticism even by his own club: when it comes to China, it seems, business opportunities fare better than human rights. It’s an unwritten rule that Hong Kong protesters have learned the hard way. Granted, Turkey’s Recep Erdogan was a guest of honor at Özil’s wedding, but still: his comments were spot on.
Speaking of staying quiet, nothing has done more to bury any prospect for hope we had to heal the U.K.’s self-inflicted wound than Boris Johnson’s landslide win. For the second time, but with much fewer excuses, Brits chose to believe in the unbelievable: that Brexit is their best bet to the future. Thus amid the grief of such a recurrent error, it’ll take time for some to begin seeing what’s already clear to most of the world: this will not work.
As Scotland has announced that it’ll vote to split up from the U.K., Northern Ireland will likely follow suit, possibly to finally rejoin Ireland. That could turn into a perilous journey that may sink the Good Friday agreements, and awaken, knock on wood, the Troubles. And Wales? it’s fine, thanks.
But the news bombshell of the week happened last Monday when the Washington Post began publishing excerpts of a 2,000-page trove of secret government documents on the Afghanistan War. And as most reports not compiled for the public at large, it doesn’t look good. It actually confirms what many already suspected, that we dove into our longest war – 18 years and counting – without preparation, purpose, or a long-term exit strategy.
After 2,400 U.S. troops and over 30,000 civilians dead, we’re stuck in a barren land, wasting taxpayers’ money into an unwinnable conflict. No change is expected, not at least till a new president moves into the White House. Some are reminded of Daniel Ellsberg and his Pentagon Papers which were crucial to end the Vietnam War. But others are concerned about Americans’ lack of outrage about their government spending trillions in endless wars.
The U.N.’s efforts to orchestrate global action against climate change is doomed if it can’t achieve what it was created for in the first place: to offer the table for nations to agree on solutions for issues affecting everybody. But for as long as pollutant corporations, oil, gas, and coal industries have a seat on that table, they won’t allow any progress to be made. Almost surely, Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ Greta Thunberg won’t be there next time around.
The three cages stand apart from each other; inside, Joseph and Mary try to look after an also caged Baby Jesus. The display by Claremont’s United Methodist Church has raised hell from those to whom Jesus was a blue-eyed blond promoting luxury real estate at the ‘Kingdom Not of This World.
There are plenty of Christians ashamed by the Trump administration’s criminalizing of its immigration policy, though. To them, the scene memorializes nameless families, victims of the border crackdown, who will spend the holidays either detained or worse, missing their children. Merry merry? Not.
Trump’s war on immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, along with his dismounting of environmental protection laws are two relevant issues not to be on the impeachment articles. That makes the whole process, albeit necessary and inexorable, also ineffective and apart from reality. Let’s hope that Congress wraps it up, book the results, and gear towards what’s important: pass the Green New Deal, fight the climate, and save the planet. Adiós.

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12/9/2019 Protect Mothers & the Climate, Colltales

So this is it. The U.N. Climate Change Conference is not yet done in Madrid but it’s clear that no breakthrough is about to be announced. We’re on our own, and as Greta Thunberg put it, ‘we have achieved nothing.’ Not to give anything up just yet, there’s the alternative Cumbre Social por el Clima.
Tyrants share a common trait of hating women. But only Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro was caught on camera telling a congresswoman that she was ‘too ugly to be raped.’ Since he’s president, rape and femicide rates have spiked: four girls are raped every hour and over 1,200 have been killed this year so far.
We’ll touch these headlines later but first, let’s start at a Texas Border Patrol facility’s unsanitary cell where a sick Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez spent his last minutes on this earth. A ProPublica report includes a harrowing 5/19/19 video of the 16-year-old Guatemalan asylum-seeker agonizing and dying as his also sick cellmate slept. He found Carlos’ body in the morning. The footage debunks the agency’s claims that his death was inevitable.
It also, once again, exposes the Trump administration’s sheer cruelty and staggering lack of empathy by which it’s been rewriting immigration laws and universal human rights. It’s another image in a gallery of horrors that top each other every few months: the grotesque separation of families, many to remain as such for an unpredictable time; kids in cages; toddlers testifying in court; and the brutal, and often secret, deaths of children in custody.
But the issue is unlikely to be on the articles of impeachment against the U.S. president the House of Representatives will compile this week. If laws were based on morality, he would’ve been already removed from office; as it is, a technicality could do it. Either way, it needs to be done but it won’t.
‘Trump has the real potential to become ever more dangerous, a threat to the safety of our nation.’ The warning comes from a group of 350 mental health professionals, in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee. They fear a high-stakes event such as the impeachment could trigger an emotional response from the president which itself ‘could lead to catastrophic outcomes.’ It’s not every day that mental illness is so evident.
It comes after yet another erratic performance of his at the world stage, this time the NATO conference in London, which he abruptly left, not before publicly calling Canada’s PM, Justin Trudeau, a ‘two-faced.’ Timing of his unexpected departure seems in sync with the release of a now-viral video, showing world leaders led by Trudeau openly laughing at him. Remember when he used to say that was happening (it was not) to President Obama?
Two more worth noting. Questions are being raised about the Organization of American States’ role in the coup that deposed Bolivia’s democratically elected President Evo Morales. After analyzing the results, which the OAS declared ‘hard to explain’ on Oct. 21, the day after his reelection, a group of intellectuals, political scientists, and economists are calling for a congressional inquiry on the agency whose incorrect statements supported the coup.
And Thursday, the U.K. may have – possibly, likely, almost surely – the last word on whether to support Brexit, while one of its architects, P.M. Boris Johnson plans his next move. By now, with all due respect, the Brits must decide this issue for good as the world is too busy to keep up with its tosses and turns. Even those who see Brexit approval as a disastrous step for the Commonwealth are now too fatigued to care and want it settled already.
No one can say it’s the United Nations’ fault, or that this sort of summit is, by definition, destined to fail. But the stakes were never so high, so blame will be uselessly assigned either way. The climate conference will last till Friday, but way more relevant has been what’s happening outside its walls, in the streets of Madrid and world cities. Resistance to the U.N.’s likely canned solutions mounts and independent groups are seizing the moment.
A feeling of great disappointment and even disgust has been taking hold, especially by the way corporations have been allowed to infiltrate the climate emergency narrative without spending a cent on solutions. Advertisement budgets, however, are always hefty and usually drown legitimate proposals.
The parallel Cumbre gathers social justice and environmental groups protesting corporate influence, political repression in Chile, and Spain’s own failure to address the crisis. Saturday half a million people heard Thunberg and other global youth leaders from Fridays For the Future, Pacific Warriors, and many others, call for action, not words, to radically reduce carbon emissions, but hope may be waning that we’ll get it together in time.
A World Meteorological Organization study found that this has been the hottest decade on record. To keep priorities straight, the week brought us also the Right Livelihood Award to be graced to Thunberg; Sahrawi human rights activist Aminatou Haidar; Chinese women’s rights lawyer Guo Jianmei; and Indigenous leader Davi Kopenawa and the Yanomami Hutukara Association. The 40-year-old award has been called the Alternative Nobel Prize.
Lastly, it’s also fitting that Chaules Volban Pozzebon, considered the Amazon’s biggest deforester, was finally arrested for being part of a criminal organization. Locals have long suffered in the hands of this ruthless logging owner, capable of anything to keep his 120 logging projects in the area.
Nov. 25 marked the International Day For the Elimination of Violence Against Women and thousands marched around the world. What’s happening in Brazil is far from being the exception and besides notorious offenders such as India, Saudi Arabia, and most of the middle eastern world, violent crimes against women, and repression of their reproductive rights, is a constant even in rich societies. In many ways, we’re already backpedaling on it.
Over 17 percent of women around the world have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or ex-partner, and of the 87,000 murdered in 2017, half were killed by them or a family member, according to the U.N. And the World Bank estimates that more than a billion women lack legal protection from domestic violence. This picture is reinforced by a disturbing increase in gender violence and discrimination against sexual minorities.
Electing the first woman and mother to the U.S. Presidency may be a way to start addressing those vicious trends. But most importantly is to denounce and expose not just the perpetrators but the system that allows them to fester. If all women would vote out of the office certified sexual abusers, we’ll surely be halfway there. But we need more. It takes lots of courage, so offer them support and watch them and the kids show how it’s done. Cheers

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12/2/2019 Close to the Edge, Colltalers

Almost all reasons triggering the climate emergency are man-made. But here’s one not usually mentioned with say, fossil-fuels reliance and greed: out short-span attention. It’ll be tested again at Madrid’s U.N. Climate Change Conference. Don’t fall asleep.
Americans proud of their democracy don’t seem to notice the president’s been undermining it. By reversing the demotion of war criminal Navy Seal Edward Gallagher, Trump showed confidence that neither Congress nor the Supreme will challenge him.
Sticking to domestic affairs, a week of heavy-hitting revelations about truly impeachable offenses have done little to his polls. It’s evident he sought the help of a foreign power to probe a political enemy, but supporters continue to cheer him up and the GOP is fine about it. Democrats may have looked on track to win in November, but once billionaires felt ‘hurt,’ all bets are off.
See, the mega-wealthy is very sensitive. It was enough for frontrunner Elizabeth Warren to come up with a clever plan to get them to pay back a share of their stratospheric income for their well-heeled troops to rally and fight back. Besides pathetic and utterly absurd claims that the 0.01% would suffer having to pay up, one was actually caught weeping on national television.
After a far-right push to crush civil and labor rights around the world with coordinated anti-democratic attacks, citizens pushed back and unrest has erupted in several countries of Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Apparently, that has scared powers that be.
So here comes the billionaires, those who have basically nothing to lose – some actually can’t spend or waste their money even if they wanted to – believing their riches are entirely the result of hard work, and not luck to be born on the profitable side of the tracks. They step in as if people should thank them because you know, if they can run a corporation, a nation should be easy.
That’s an incredibly myopic view of how society really works, and ultimately, how human beings will never react like numbers on a balance sheet. It may not sound obvious but it’s hard to understate the average mediocrity of the ownership class. Dig a little deeper, and it’s a wonder how some even manage to remain rich. Not for their ‘powers of deduction,’ for sure. Ah yes, lobbying.
The most obnoxious, tragic, and unredeemable assumption most of that elite base their existence upon is, of course, the climate crisis. For how can they believe their wealth will save them when all else around them is drowning or burning to a crisp? Can’t they see what we see, that rising sea levels will disrupt food supplies and force billions of desperados to try anything to survive?
In fact, history and popular culture are suffused with an excess of dystopic visions of what’s coming, while there’s a deficit of views of a future when everybody lives and thrives, and climate change is just the biggest hurdle humanity has ever overtaken.
Moving on, and speaking of social turmoil, with Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation, Iraq dives into yet another circle of hell. And things may get worse even as they’ve already started at a pretty low point. Since the U.S. invasion of the once-proud nation, a string of corrupt and incompetent leaders have led it into the ground. Now people want something else, though.
Not another puppet government, neither the tug of war between Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, their friends, and relatives. And not another sign that the future has nothing good in store for them, either. Since they’re on their own, they’re hitting the streets and ducking bullets to demand justice. Yes, the death toll and the all too familiar violence are mounting. But silence is unacceptable.
Just like the latest explanation offered by Brazil’s President Bolsonaro for the fires currently erasing the Amazon: the culprit is… Leonardo di Caprio. Rather than digressing about such a ridiculous claim, let’s once more drive home the point: the world’s biggest rainforest, home of indigenous populations, uncontacted tribes, and an unknown number of species, is still burning.
A U.N.-issued report on climate change, released in anticipation of the conference that starts tomorrow, has shocked but not surprised many with its almost pessimistic overall tone. Things don’t work by themselves, and there’s a solar-powered yacht to anyone who can prove that governments committed to the 2015 Paris Conference’s goals have done anything about it lately.
The report calls for the 20 richest countries, responsible for over three-fourths of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, to do more and move away faster from fossil fuels. But since Trump’s pulled the U.S. from that agreement, even as it remains the world’s biggest polluter, and China’s efforts are dwarfed by their economic reliance on oil and gas, the outlook is indeed bleak.
That’s why the single-mindedness and clarity of voices such as Greta Thunberg and others are so relevant now. What the report does not spells out is what the young and the wise have been saying for a while already: ‘hey, this is going to kill us all. Soon.’
Compared to the magnitude of what a climate catastrophe represents, to speak of an insignificant man doing all he can to destroy one of the most beautiful, humanitarian systems in history may sound shallow. Except that the U.S. president is, for all effects, the president of the world; at least no one has as many guns as he commands. And he’s a chance to stay in power beyond 2020.
That’s something that can’t be taken lightly. For his decisions may speed up even the darkest of the dark prospects a changing climate suggests it’ll become reality for the next decades. And he’s proven that, 1., he doesn’t care about what’s happening with the world; and 2., for such a person, the ultimate goal is to retain unlimited power, and remain in office for as long as he’d like to.
Renouncing an agreement signed by 195 nations of the world, to fight a potential civilization-ending cataclysm; disavowing rules protecting the environment; quitting peace accords with nuclear nations; breaking bread with homicidal dictators; denying rights to women, racial and sexual minorities, immigrants, asylum seekers; and now vouching for war criminals. That’s Trump.
He’s not well and neither are we, but at least for 10 days, leaders will be grilled on their commitment to saving the planet, and people will be asking what’s their excuse – if the media reports it, that is. Not the best we all could do but something. As we were reminded yesterday with the World Aids Day, we’ve got to prevail, ‘community by community.’ And we will. Cheers

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11/25/2019 No Thanks to Tyranny, Colltalers

Remember in 2016 when powers that be and the media went giddy with a global so-called ‘wave’ of tyrannic, right-wing leaders being voted to high office? Well, it doesn’t look too good now. Something got in their way to total domination: people’s outrage.
Democracy, or the struggle to nurture it and defend it, is still under attack. Thousands of Latin Americans are out on the streets, trying to defend it, and so are citizens in Asia and the Middle East, while some in Eastern Europe wish they could do the same.
Hold that thought as we review key events of the week. To get it out of the way, the impeachment of the U.S. president folded its hearing phase with astonishing testimonies about Trump and its cabinet of infamy by those who had to deal with it. Pardon the name-calling but to separate the revelations from their deleterious impact on the rule of law, one’s better off tuning in to CNN.
Partly because of that right-wing ‘contagion,’ attacks on journalists and activists have increased. Countries such as Egypt, Turkey, China, and Saudi Arabia, for instance, are notorious for their efforts to control information and for going after those who share it.
On that note, Sweden dropping its rape allegations against WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange restores his stature as a persecuted news publisher, not a rapist on the run. Whether the case was built on flimsy evidence, it served the purpose of vilifying him, and divert attention from the 2007 footage of a U.S. aircraft killing Iraqi civilians which WikiLeaks published three years later.
Two journalists were also killed that day. Army Intel Officer Chelsea Manning was court-martialed and sent to prison for leaking the images to WikiLeaks. Pardoned by President Obama, she’s since sent back to jail twice and remains detained, while Assange is not doing too well either despite his lucky break: a U.N. rapporteur has said that jail time has taken a toll on his mental health.
Morality is not a choice, and where many choose to ignore or pretend that what’s happening is normal, whistleblowers are often the only way most of us learn the unvarnished truth; about the government, corporations, the powerful or anyone who pays to cover up their crimes. Once that choice is made, however, be prepared for death threats, either on your character or on own life.
The latest results of Hong Kong’s local elections revealed that a high voter turnout has elected pro-democracy candidates, in a show of force to Beijing. For months, China has used every tool in its authoritarian box to crush dissent in H.K., short of what it did 30 years ago in Tiananmen Square. And that’s what the world fears since if it does happen, Trump will likely stand idly by.
It’s clear that the opportunistic right-wing and Evangelical coalition that ousted Bolivia’s President Evo Morales is incapable of pacifying the country. On the contrary, daily clashes between armed forces and the indigenous majority have killed hundreds and driven Bolivia away from the path of stability and socialism it had followed over a decade. Morales, though, remains defiant.
Next door Colombia is the latest nation with massive public unrest going on, just as in Chile and far-away Iran. Although to just keep track and report on these rallies won’t add much to their resolution, to ignore them is a bigger, much more tragic mistake.
‘We have a president who doesn’t govern, who sits discussing fake news 24 hours a day,’ said former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva about Jair Bolsonaro. Fresh out of jail, Lula was referring to the latest scandal linking one of Bolsonaro’s sons to the murder of Rio councilwoman Marielle Franco a year ago. And the fact that Brazil has all but stagnated economically.
Oddly, there were no rallies for the biggest news this side of the political world: Israel’s long-term Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment on bribery, fraud, and breach of trust charges. Having failed to form a government, he may be thrown in jail, and his country, into turmoil. But no matter what, Israelis don’t seem interested in candidates without far-right credentials.
Which is unwise. Netanyahu, Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Xi, Erdogan, Rouhani, Orbán, Márquez, Piñera and so many others are in it not to promote the well being of the common folk, but to advance their own agendas. That has been exhaustively proven. The Judiciary may indict them, congress may subpoena them, but ultimately, it’s the voter that will save or throw them all out.
Consider that they all are also climate deniers and won’t do a thing to save the planet, supporting them at this crucial time is like naming foxes to guard the henhouse; it’s an endorsement to their diet. After all, why vote for those who won’t hesitate to curb and manipulate the electorate? Protesters already know: keep them on and we may not get another chance to get rid of them.
Speaking of doing something, Tuesday’s the beginning of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Madrid. Kicked out of Chile by Piñera, who was probably afraid it’d empower people to demand his resignation, it’s yet another shot for us to find practical, enforceable, radical solutions for the already-in-progress catastrophe. And get going already. It’s either that or we’re doomed.
That lands us on the strange combo that closes this week in the U.S. On Thursday, Thanksgiving, a holiday that despite its false myths and vicious family brawls associated with it, it’s also about what families can teach society: the spirit of solidarity and love. And then there’s Black Friday, when all hell breaks loose and even seemingly nice people become beasts for shopping.
Still, everyone has something to be thankful for, and it’s nice when we buy something we want or will give away as a gift. But if Thursday is already blocked to be the day to be good, and therefore be it, it doesn’t need to be followed by a materialistic frenzy. Just in: U.S. Justice Ruth Ginsburg is now home, recovering from a health scare. Stay with us, Your Honor, we need you. Peace.

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11/18/19 The World’s Street Fights, Colltalers

Here’s something few of us ever think about if not directly affected by it: in 2019 alone, there are near 70,000 migrant children detained in U.S. facilities. Locked up with strangers, many may never see their parents again.
Other kids of all ages around the world, facing a future of climate catastrophe and social inequality, are fighting back. Anti-government rallies are still going strong in Bolivia, Chile, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Iraq, and now Iran.
An update on those is on its way, but first, let us focus on the week’s climate crisis picture: a flooded Venice, treasury of humanity and likely already doomed even before we started burning fossil fuel for energy. Still, the second-highest tide of its history matches, at least visually, what most of us already fear about what lies ahead.
And yet, what the submerged Piazza di San Marco may not show, besides that’s sinking faster than ever before, is that new global, man-made conditions may also drown other world cities, even if few are as pretty as Venice.
But for all the talk about radical revolution as the only way to reverse disaster and teen heroes at the vanguard of the charge, absolutely nothing has been done by those who count the most: government and big corporations.
We’re not near the pace of change required for anything meaningful, and really big, to be done about the tragedy. Next month’s U.N. Climate Change conference in Madrid – which yes, will feature Greta Thunberg, fresh of yet another hike on an environmentally-sound cross-ocean boat – may be one of our last chances to set an urgent agenda of action to be undertaken in the next 180 days or so. Why three months? One’s got to start it somewhere.
Consider the Marshall Islands. During the 1940s and 1950s, the U.S. detonated dozens of nuclear devices there, before burying 3.1 million cubic feet of the resulting radioactive waste in what’s called the Runit Dome, a giant container locals call The Tomb. Guess what? Rising waters threaten to seep beneath it or worst, to crack it open.
Unlike its reinforced cement top, the bottom is vulnerable to water infiltration and spillage. If no action is taken by the Trump administration, and most likely, it won’t, radioactive leaks could render what used to be a paradise in the Pacific unfit for humans, punishing even further the already declining standards of living of the islanders.
That brings to mind Emmanuel Essien, a Ghanaian fishing observer who’s missing since last July. He was one of  Ghana’s network of protectors of the fishing population, each placed on the many foreign trawlers that crowd and have depleted of marine life the country’s territorial waters. Still, the depletion now verges on total collapse.
An illegal overfishing crisis threatens Ghana’s supplies and these guardians face overwhelming odds to succeed, or simply live, despite official support. If he’s gone as feared, he’d be the 18th observer to disappear since 2017.
In these three tumultuous years, the U.S. government has been accused of terrible atrocities against immigrants. Following brutally draconian policies, it has put children in cages, unsanitary camps, or inadequate facilities, and their serious neglect has caused a record number of kids to die under their ‘care.’
But the most horrid directive it has followed, a source of shock and disgust throughout the world, is their separation of families at the border. With the arrogance and lack of compassion typical of authoritarian regimes, the U.S. under Trump has broken and betrayed every humanitarian convention regulating the treatment of immigrants and refugees. Especially when it splits up infants and toddlers from their parents, with no reliable system to reunite them afterward.
The result is a growing population of traumatized children, a social time bomb bound to explode in our faces soon enough, no matter how the administration spins it. Whether detained or let out to fend on their own, these youngsters will join other impoverished Americans, struggling to escape extreme poverty. Where’s the outrage?
But as those fighting the establishment and its police forces on the streets of major world cities, there are ways to resist and defend everyone’s democratic right to a decent and just life. Even if by doing so, they’re exposed to the wrath of the state. It takes common citizens to rise and fight injustice, risking arm and leg. And yet, they do.
In H.K., the army stormed a college campus to arrest students barricaded inside and was received with Molotov cocktails. In Chile, as President Jose Piñera’s proposed reforms, a new constitution, and call to probe abuses by the military during the violent repression on ralliers he ordered, convinced absolutely no one, so fight is still on.
While Evo Morales, Bolivia’s indigenous president ousted by a coup last week found exile in Mexico, a fanatical evangelical, Jeanine Anez, used a bible to claim the government to herself. Naturally, the majority of Bolivians who are native will keep putting their lives at stake to oppose her and restore the nation’s embattled democracy.
Along with the continuous turmoil in the streets of Lebanon and Iraq, there’s now a not surprising new addition to what could be called a chaotic global resistance against tyranny: Iran. Tickled by higher fuel prices, working families – who Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called ‘thugs’ – have started a rare, 100-city wave of national protests.
That, and the recent 30-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, make the Vision for Democracy recently endorsed by 150 civil rights groups so timely. Under the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights, it mainly proposes strategies for guaranteeing the right to vote by traditionally disenfranchised segments of society.
The difference from other alike initiatives is that they offer a road map for crowds already on the streets, rallying for their dwindling rights. And that’s where they must remain till those demands are met. May we count on you?
In the U.S., where the president pardons war criminals decried even by their former commanders, and tweets to intimidate a witness while she’s testifying at his own impeachment, there’s no choice. Democracy is in peril and Americans must set the example and fight to prevent it from extinction. Or we’ll be the ones to be erased. Cheers

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11/11/2019 The Whirlpool Speeds Up, Colltalers

Brazil’s former President Lula is out of jail, and Bolivia’s President Evo Morales was forced to resign. Americans outraged by Trump’s dangerous follies must admit: no one gets more rattled by politics than Latin Americans. And things change faster too. Meanwhile, the U.S. is officially out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. So if there’s something urgent to be said about deadly wildfires and ravaging floods, here and abroad, the time to take it to the streets is now. Don’t wait for next November.Elsewhere, none of the ongoing popular uprisings around the world seems likely to abide by curfews, government concessions, or even force. To those who don’t see updates about them on the mainstream media, let’s be clear: they’re still at it. All of them. Citizens of Chile, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, Iraq, and Lebanon may lack coverage but not courage, and that’s the kind of news that matters to people: that there are others like them, billions in fact, who can’t help it but demand justice. And leaders engaged in the existential threat to the planet, represented by the climate catastrophe, and to the majority, by income inequality. Australian may see mass evacuations in New South Wales and Queensland today as expected heat and strong winds may fuel ‘the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen,’ as fire chiefs see it. Other parts of the country will be also affected. But to the brilliant, most excellent deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, the out-of-control fires have nothing to do with climate change, which to his abundant wisdom, is nothing but ‘ravings of … inner-city lunatics.’ The Aussies need a new deputy.Not to dismiss Australia’s woes, its hundreds of fires are still far from the over 6,000 currently burning in California. But as they become a threat to some movie studios, expect some serious cash being poured to put them out. A depressing side of this reality is seeing unpaid inmates risking their lives to save common land, while private brigades focus only on mansions of the wealthy.As it goes, central to the U.S. presidential campaign – oh, yeah, it’s at full speed already – isn’t even the likely impeachment of the president. Public hearings about it, televised ‘Watergate-style,’ begin Wednesday, and whether witnesses’ testimonies will inflame people like in the 1970s, or just bore everyone to oblivion, remains to be seen. But they’d better wrap it all up before Christmas.No, the issue that is weakening the only shot Democrats have at defeating Trump is, in fact, the climate crisis but not for the reasons one would think, though. It was enough front-runners Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to insist on bringing the issue to the forefront of their platforms, along with healthcare for all, for Wall Street to run seeking cover among its billionaires. Suddenly, there’s another one, Michael Bloomberg, ready to take the helm of the interests of a class so badly represented. Not. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked at Bloomberg News). For the record, my former boss is a decent and even-handed man, a truly self-made one, who had at least one, out of three, very positive term as Mayor of New York City. That being said: Mike, don’t run.He’d be the fulfillment of the desires of a very restricted group of people, who’s not satisfied in owning a baffling disproportional share of the world’s wealth and resources, and now wants also to govern the rest of us. Not that they don’t do just that already.  And then, there are the ‘moderates,’ whose ‘proper,’ ‘gradual’ approach to climate are so revealing. It indicates that either they don’t get it, their lot in life requires they don’t see it, or they just don’t believe it will affect their own families and constituency. And as this is an opinion column, here it goes: the Democratic Party is wrong, and a moderate’s bound to be triturated by Trump.But it’s the twin blockbuster news that will move markets and hearts and minds this week, to way more than half a billion South Americans. While Lula is out of prison by a twisty loop of Brazil’s legislation, ironically created as a maneuver to keep out of jail political allies, there’s already a forming consensus in the region that the Morales administration was taken down by a coup.Respected political dissident Noam Chomsky and historian Vijay Prashad said in a statement that ‘for over a decade, the U.S. embassy’s Center do Operations in La Paz has articulated (…) two plans – Plan A, the coup; Plan B, the assassination of Morales.’ Leaders around the world deplored the end of 13 years of democracy, led by the only Indigenous American president.  Lula’s freedom, on the other hand, represented a big splash into the fetid, staled-water of Brazilian politics of lately. And his supporters are jubilant and a bit too optimist that he’s the answer to reset Brazil‘s path to the one it was a mere five years ago. They immediately took to the streets, and so did the rabid anti-Lula crowds, hurriedly assembled by some, but not all, media and right-wing think tanks who provided conditions for the 2016 coup that ousted democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff.In other news, Spanish acting P.M. Pedro Sánchez won the most votes but not enough to grant majority to Socialists. Of course, there and here, the focus of coverage is on a supposed ‘surge’ of right-wing votes, which proves that money in politics is not an exclusive ‘American thing’ any longer. For otherwise, how to explain them voting against the future, their own children, et al?It’s Veterans’ Day on the U.S., so here comes that ‘Thank you for your service,’ a sentence so thin of meaning to be on a verge of insulting, This time though there’s a question that should’ve been a major headline over the weekend and of course it was not. Do they know that Trump admitted that a fund-raiser for veterans he ran in Iowa was, in fact, a campaign event, and proceedings went to his re-election? A judge fined him $2 million for that. Come on, media, it’s your job to inform them. On the headlines. Finally, there’s a rare cosmic event going on today: Mercury’s 5-hour transit in front of the sun. It’s visible to the naked eye but don’t dare stare at the sun without protection. A good conversation break, between news about the climate-driven fires, and what to expect from the impeachment trials. And please, today and ever, do think about the future of our kids. Cheers

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11/4/2019 Warriors & Deniers, Colltalers

Guajajara tribe warrior Paulo ‘Lobo’ Paulino, a Forest Guardian, was shot to death last week. It was as coward an act as the 2018 assassination of black, LGBTQ Rio Councilwoman Marielle Franco. But hers may lead to President Bolsonaro’s impeachment. Billionaire President Sebastián Piñera continues to try crushing Chile’s revolt against his neoliberal policies. After troops killed 20 protesters and injured over 1,000, he’s now retaliated further by giving up on hosting next month’s U.N. climate conference.In the U.S., California’s devastating fires have multiple fronts and hundreds of evacuees. But their cause, man-made climate change, has been absent from most news coverage. It’s as if suddenly, nature got out of whack, and not because we’ve raped it. The climate has been also hardly mentioned in the coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline, which just had a 383,000 gallons leak. It was a new spill on a history of hundreds of them which makes this just another day in North Dakota. Guess who else is left out of the coverage: the Lakota people, courageous nature defenders whose efforts to shut it down have come at a stiff cost. The Trump administration and the fossil-fuels industry have worked hard to get it off the ground, despite public outrage and its poorly run operation. But as the 350.org founder Bill McKibben tweeted. ‘It happens over and over and over and over and over.’ It’s been a few weeks of popular unrest all over the world. Although local and specific circumstances have triggered rallies in Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Haiti, Lebanon, and Iraq, among others, they endure on common issues affecting the planet: income inequality, the climate, and endless wars. The world’s 0.01 percent superrich, however, doesn’t seem to care about it.They should. According to the science group Climate Central, more cities will be underwater by 2050 than previously thought, and 150 million may flee their homes (and likely seek shelter in rich countries, major fossil-fuel producers and polluters). Just picture Mar-a-Lago, which is not cited in the research, being taken over by hungry homeless refugees. They certainly should. Jair Bolsonaro’s been tracking, so far in a smaller scale, the Orange man at the White House, including incriminating himself, blaming the press, and believing against all evidence, that what he’s done is not illegal, immoral, impeachable, or at least, stupid.In testimony last week, the doorman of the president’s private condominium in Rio told the police that he had spoken with ‘seu Jair’ right after Élcio Queiroz, one of the suspects of murdering Marielle in 3/14/18, gained access to the condo that very same day. As the president and sons deny being in the city then, Brazilians ask, who buzzed Queiroz in only hours before the crime?Marielle had risen from a life of poverty in one of the city’s shantytowns to become a political advocate for the lower classes. Her eloquence irritated militias that patrol the favelas and are often involved in horrific acts against the poor. Queiroz, who appears in pictures with the Bolsonaro family, belongs to one, as does the other accused, Ronnie Lessa, who also lives nearby. What, the president posed for pictures with known criminals? You bet, but that was not the news. What changed is his possible direct link with her murder. As it turned out, the intercom connects to a cellphone, so technically, he could’ve opened the door.But Saturday, Bolsonaro delivered a bombshell, by admitting he’d taken that day’s intercom recordings, allegedly to prevent fraud, in a flagrant obstruction of justice. He raged against former supporter and now foe TV Globo, but a probe is all but sure. Paulo Paulino Guajajara was shot dead by illegal loggers in the outskirts of the Amazon Rainforest, on which he grew up and had sworn to defend. He was a member of a group of indigenous forest guards who face daily battles with contract killers, hired by big landowners in the region. He left an infant child and a legacy of resistance by his people, not to be forgotten. R.I.P., Lobo.As for Chile, new protests over the weekend turned into violent confrontations with the army and law enforcement. Piñera seems determined to win by force and intimidation, a fool’s errand as Chileans continue pressing for their demands to be met. And now for him to step down. It wouldn’t solve the crisis but it’ll surely be a victory to the over 14% who live under extreme poverty.Spain, which holds presidential elections next Sunday, will now host the climate conference in a month. That posed a problem for climate activist Greta Thunberg, who’s currently in the U.S. and had planned to travel by land to the conference in South America. Now, she has a special request for climate crisis-aware captains: ‘can I catch a ride with you to Madrid? Let me know.’Two final notes to lighten up this post: the last McDonald’s burger produced in Iceland is completing a decade and there’s a live WebCamp to watch it age. And, amid the fiery SoCA wildfires, there was a moment that the Ronald Reagan Library was about to be consumed by flames. But it didn’t happen; a herd of goats saved it. Would you call that bad or good luck? Let them know.They run fast and win often. Sunday it was again Kenya’s celebration at the NYC Marathon; Joyciline Jepkosgei and Geoffrey Kamworor kept the tradition alive. A beautiful win to divert from gender and corporate sponsorship issues plaguing the sport. If they can, so can anybody. We’re still losing but the world is coming together as it does in times of crisis. Be part of it. Cheers

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10/28/2019 A Season For Fire & Turmoil, Colltalers

They are back! Surprising no one with a frontal lobe, wildfires are again ravaging California, in an opening salvo of sorts for bad weather to come. Will current Kincade Fire – yes, they have nicknames now – dwarf last year’s Camp Fire, the deadliest so far?Political stability, a South American old foe, is also rearing its ugly head again. Either new presidents in Argentina and Uruguay, and a reelected Evo Morales in Bolivia last week, ease the continent’s institutional turmoil or they may as well extend it further. Elsewhere, Chilean students and worlds-away Hong Kong democracy fighters are not about to fold their demands and go home quietly. To top it all, a giant oil spill of origin still unknown has coated 2,000 miles of coastal areas of Brazil, in one of its worst environmental disasters. As with the Amazon Rainforest, which is still burning, little is expected from President Bolsonaro. Don’t count Catalans out of contention either. Massive protests over the weekend, demanding freedom for separatist leaders sent to prison with harsh sentences, and for an independent Catalonia state, continue to dominate the national conversation in Spain. This being the ‘season of the dead,’ Thursday’s timing of the exhumation of dictator Francisco Franco’s body from the place it’d rested for 44 years to a family plot, was at least curious. It was also a win for the few survivors of the Generalíssimo’s iron-fisted regime, who have been battling to prove what should be a universal unanimity: despots should never get a public mausoleum. Guess which other nation is fast approaching its own institutional reckoning? the good ole U.S. of A. The impeachment against the president has produced some pretty startling revelations, which nevertheless, have failed to gather steam outside the Capitol Hill walls. Good thing it’s moving fast, but as vital as this process is, it won’t remove Trump from office; voters may, though.A concern running high among Democrats is that we may waste too much time pursuing a pie in the sky, and not enough going about the business of telling every American in clear terms what exactly is being taken away from them, bound to hurt us all. And how important values such as honesty, dignity, and solidarity must define us as a nation, not having an ogre as your leader.As well-heeled lawyers – and back-on again global persona-non-grata Stephen Bannon – feast with the legalities of impeachment, the administration undermines environmental and civil rights legislation, and continues enforcing its cruelty towards refugees.We seem to be losing our sense of outrage. An American Civil Liberties Union study, for instance, has found that over 5,400 immigrant children have been split up from their parents at the border since 2017. Meanwhile, there are now one million fewer kids receiving Medicaid or other government assistance programs. Still, neither of the two bad news made into media headlines. The Kincade Fire, which already forced the evacuation of over 200,000 Californians, and at least one hospital so far, and others that’ll likely follow it, is a direct result of, first, climate change, and secondly, our own neglect to act. Let’s not kid ourselves, nothing has been done since Paradise was lost to flames, a year ago. 85 people died when the entire town was burned to a crisp. But Democrat funders don’t want to support a candidate who’s committed to radical climate emergency action. And suddenly, from a leadership position in the polls, the two top contenders, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, are under ‘friendly’ fire for being ‘too extreme.’ Big-money backers hope someone else (besides the 20+), maybe a billionaire, steps in and takes their input.Suspect any talk about ‘moderation,’ ‘incremental steps,’ or that old favorite, ‘two sides of the aisle,’ being repeated everywhere by a parroting media. Like, ‘the impeachment is a sham,’ or the never-casual use of the word ‘lynching’ by the president, these buzz expressions are crafted by an elite of conspirators who use them to rally bases while hedging their bets in case it all goes South.Yes, it’s time for front runners to come up with a few ‘back of the envelope’ solutions to most urgent issues affecting Americans, and be off to the races. Turn them into a repeatable chorus, as Republicans do with great efficacy, or take the time to emphasize the likely long-term consequences of reelecting a president who broke the bank, er, the budget, and ran away with the cash. Once again, neoliberal wet dreams got badly dashed in Argentina as President Mauricio Macri ends a particularly disastrous one-term administration. But Alberto Fernández, who’s set to replace him and his vice, former President Cristina Kirchner, do not represent too much of a change; they’re both Peronistas, as in dictator Juan Perón, the ideology that ruled Argentina for decades. A different picture is next-door Uruguay, which’s been the continent’s most consistent success story. Daniel Martínez is on track to maintain the unbroken string of leftist presidents, which started in 2005 with the election of ex-political prisoner José Mujica. Running again for the Senate, Mujica remains popular and still enjoys support for his brand of socialism by many Uruguayans.As for the ‘sleeping giant,’ as it’s mentioned on the lyrics of its hymn, Brazil has found a hole enough to sink in, and there seems to be no end to the suffering of its majority poor. A special interests-driven ‘reform’ of social security has increased the retirement age and mandatory contributions of workers while exempting the military, the political class, and hundreds of Bolsonaro lackeys.Halloween is upon us, as well as the aforementioned Dia de Los Muertos which jumped frontiers and now it’s an integral part of the playful holiday worldwide. Ghosts and goblins will show up on Thursday as scheduled. But today’s focus is on a monument that has grown with the country, and proves its relevance by simply standing there: it’s the Statue of Liberty’s 133rd Anniversary.’Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,’ as goes the Emma Lazarus poem dedicated to the statue, reflects the compassionate spirit of Americans. It’s also a timeless message to navigate these dark times. Today is a great time to meditate on the meaning of those words and recommit to those values. Cheers

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10/21/2019 Make or Break Democracy, Colltalers

‘Violent clashes,’ an expression being increasingly applied to describe the unrest in Hong Kong, may now be also used to protests in Catalonia and Chile. Despite their own particulars, what’s driving thousands to the streets is essentially a fight for democracy.
Which is also the motivation behind Saturday’s massive anti-Brexit rally in London. Demanding a new referendum, protesters have disrupted Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s power consolidation, which’s dependent on the U.K. exiting the European Union.
It may sound presumptuous to see the pursuit of true democracy as the ultimate goal for crowds marching for self-determination, from China and Spain, or against high costs of living, in Chile. But just as climate change, income inequality, fair immigration and asylum laws, and women’s and minorities’ rights, only a healthy democratic process assures that the people’s voice is heard.
Let’s break here for other news of the past week, even if not exactly good news for all involved. Syria-based Kurds, for instance, who the U.S. President’s thrown under the mortal artillery of Turkish’s warplanes, in a historic act of betrayal, are now being backed by two leaders notorious for their own betrayals: Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad. Two foxes guarding the henhouse.
In fact, the Kurds must know by now that they continue in peril since this is not the first time that they’ve been betrayed by the U.S. and others, or served as proxies for settling other nations’ scores. In Kurdish, the word ‘luck’ probably has another meaning.
Meanwhile, guess what? the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest is still burning, and summer may spell tragedy by finishing it off. President Bolsonaro is so entangled with petty vendettas against enemies, that he seems to have set himself to achieve only one thing: to make his English language-challenged son into an ambassador to the U.S. Even on that, though, he’s badly failing.
Going back to the headlines, for those wondering about China’s perceived ‘silence,’ or measured approach to HK protests, it may indeed have a sinister reason: facial recognition. As one of the most enthusiastic adopters of AI surveillance, along pretty much the rest of the world, Chinese authorities may be taking their time to identify and go after each of the thousands of protesters.
Just as they defied over the weekend a face mask ban, water cannons, and tear gas thrown by police, armed with Molotov-like bombs, China’s plans to use software and crowd-watching devices, provided in part by Jeff Bezos’ Amazon, to go after activists. President Xi Jinping himself sounded scary by promising ‘crush bones and shatter bodies’ of dissidents, during his visit to Nepal.
Defiance is also the mark of Barcelonians protesting the jail sentences, some over a decade long, issued by Spain to nine leaders of the independence movement that emerged two years ago. The region’s president Quim Torra has called for talks with the Spanish government as the rallies enter their seven consecutive day marked by increased violence, and hundreds of injured.
Spain’s evident mishandling of the separatist movement may be at blame for the protesters’ intolerance. But Catalonia may no longer see the same past support from the world to its aspirations either, mainly because things have changed in these two years.
Perhaps just as dramatically, mankind needs to pull together to face the planetary threat of climate change. Barcelona’s longing for independence runs counter to that global aim, especially because unlike Kurds and Palestinians, it always had its own land.
As for the students rallying against Chile’s recent commuting rates increase, it may signal something else entirely: a resurgence of a protest movement against its conservative society and a nation that works hard to forget its own bloody Sept. 11 (of 1973) and what it really meant to its future. And that, despite two successful presidential terms of ex-political exile Michelle Bachelet.
About the U.K.’s all but sure exit from the E.U., it’s turning out to be a story about false promises, deceiving statements, phony outrage, and a nation on a profound crisis of confidence. In other words, all that Boris Johnson ever dreamed of. Every day has been another chance for him to prove that Trump is no longer the latest to enter the Hall of Shame for despicable human beings.
‘Our children are the living messages we send to a future we will ever see. Will we rob them of their destiny? Will we rob them of their dreams? No, we will not do that.’ Elijah Cummings, a U.S. Representative from Maryland who died last week at 68, was a compassionate giant and civil rights activist, a son of a sharecropper with a distinguished but short-lived career in Congress.
Before passing, he was collecting evidence for the impeachment process against the U.S. president and was viciously insulted by him. But unlike his over-privileged and likely criminal foe, his legacy and moral rectitude were not or will ever be in question.
Congratulations are in order: to astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, who had the first all-women spacewalk in history. And to Australian newspapers, which got to newsstands this morning heavily redacted, in protest of new laws eroding freedom of the press. They and most of this newsletter’s content show that everything one does with purpose is meaningful. Just aim high.

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10/14/2019 Betrayal & the Excuses for War, Colltalers

‘At first, I thought it was thunder, but soon bombs were raining everywhere. We ran while our home and everything we’ve ever owned was being leveled. But I didn’t cry.‘ (N.S., Syrian-born Christian Kurd, and her family, survived Turkey’s aerial strike).
The Trump-sanctioned Turkey attack on Kurds immediately made the world a more dangerous place. And it showed how a self-deluded president who believes that he has ‘great and unmatched wisdom,’ can actually trigger a global, unpredictable conflict.
Let’s that sink in, while catching up with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. The Swedish Academy mentioned his efforts to end a bloody 20-year war and reestablish relations with neighbor Eritrea as the main reason for the award. But Ahmed’s also been praised for freeing political prisoners and promoting women to his cabinet.
It’s as if it just happened but it was 20 years ago this past Saturday when we reached six billion people. 11 years later another billion had been added, plus the 700 million who showed up since. With Earth’s resources dwindling and the climate spiraling out of control, these newcomers are already aware of what we’ve done with the place and are very angry about it, rightfully so.
These man-made challenges require nothing short of a revolution if we’re to have a shot fighting them. But little has been done, and now there’s another war to stop, income inequality to fight, plus faltering democracies to defend. Thus, yes, let the kids lead.
It’ll be blood, sweat, and tears all over again, that’s for sure. Consider the new research by the Climate Accountability Institute, on the 20 biggest fossil fuel – oil, natural gas, and coal – corporations, that combined have issued since the 1960s 480 billion tons of methanes and carbon dioxide into the air, water, and land. And continue expanding, despite the increased climate emergency.
Or notice that three global fund asset managers, BlackRock, State Street, and Vanguard, own a $300 billion fossil-fuel portfolio, built up from private savings, investments, and pensions of millions of mostly unaware contributors, the Guardian has reported.
Together, these corporations and firms have lobbied and used all means necessary to prevent any action against climate change.
And they’ve got the ears of pretty powerful 0.01 percenters and their ‘sponsored’ elected politicians in Washington, including the president himself. We won’t do much progress if they’re allowed to ignore the citizens’ clamor and keep on ducking regulations.
Speaking of him, Trump’s once again proved that he can’t touch anything without making it worse. The lack of reflexion and prudence of his decisions is staggering and does hurt people. Or kill them. As with the Iranian mistake a few weeks ago, he’s tried to walk back, double down, walk back again, facing the uproar against withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria without a plan.
But then and now, it was too late. Iran’s working toward nuclear capacity, and so is Saudi Arabia, and all because Trump’s ripped an accord that was actually working. But to abandon the allies Kurds to fend Turkish armies on their own is particularly cruel.
It was an appalling act of betrayal of a nation without a land of its own, and whose fighters actually defeated Daesh. Just like in 1988, when the U.S. walked and Saddam Hussein wound up gassing thousands of them, at the end of the Iran-Iraq 20-year war.
This time, they’ve run to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, himself not above gassing foes, for help and, surprise, surprise, Vlad Putin. Perhaps such a development, and the flight from prison of 900-plus ISIS combatants, were all expected by the spymaster. Fact is, the deck is stacked against the U.S., and regrettably, the Kurds’ sweet dreams of freedom are for now postponed. Again.
Note to thyself: if Trump does have an agenda, and somehow provoked this to divert attention from his impeachment process, then stock your shelves full for we’re in it for the long run. And next time he speaks of a ‘beautiful’ deal, hold on to your wallet.
The U.S. has no business messing up with the Middle East, but only a much-needed fossil fuel ban will drive the point home. We always cause more damage than what was there priorly, we don’t understand those countries, and we’ve also failed to inspire their Theocratic regimes to democracy. Maybe is just not up to us or meant to be. (For the record, the opening quote is made up).
Narin Sotoudeh is an Iranian human rights lawyer whose sentence of 38 years in jail, plus 148 lashes, has just been confirmed. Her crime was to exercise her profession, and a campaign is apace to set her free. She and six other women, jailed for advocating civil rights in Iran, are now portrayed on a mural created by artist collective Clarion Alley, in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Finally, it’s now 527 years since Christopher Columbus came to a land he had no idea was part of a much bigger continent and reclaimed it to Spain. That wasn’t to last, though, unlike the genocide of natives which followed it. As it became clear that they were already living here for over 10,000 years before him, today is Indigenous People’s Day, and Columbus Day is no longer.
So, let’s celebrate the thousands of tribes who occupied this land without destroying it, polluting it, or bringing it to the verge of annihilation, something we managed to accomplish in just a couple of centuries. But let’s not forget Columbus for he is us. To reverse climate change will require a different mindset, one that we’re still to learn and indigenous people have plenty of. Cheers WC

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10/07/2019 The Rot Leaks From the Top, Colltalers

Even non-conspiracists have noticed that the current global attack on democracy has at least one commonality: the creation of an appearance of chaos. It links institutional crises in the U.S., Europe, South America, and the Middle East, and it’s not random.
It’s central to the U.S. turmoil, promoted by the president and his sycophants, and essential for Brexit opportunists to get what they want. It’s behind the unrest in Brazil, Ecuador, and Iraq, and it’s been crucial to sending the world back to Cold War fears.
But the biggest and most immediate damage such a corroding strategy has been causing is to distract and sabotage efforts to reverse the existential climate emergency upon us. For now, as the Amazon Rainforest burns, this machine keeps soldiering on.
What could be traced back to deranged dreams of power of the likes of Stephen Bannon and others like him, now it’s a self-reliant, well-funded agenda proceeding with its demolition plan. And that includes bringing into positions of global leadership a class of unscrupulous would-be tyrants, walking time-bombs ready to trade their souls for a shot at becoming the main bananas.
For approximately three years now the world has been riding this out-of-control rollercoaster: rigging of the electoral system and prioritizing the wealthy and powerful. Meanwhile, the climate goes berserk on the account of boundless corporation greed. That it makes no sense, since no one may survive when the environment pays them a visit, is apparently not a question they ask ever.
In the U.S., one wonders what would it take to bring down a corrupt president, if Trump beats the rap and sails to reelection. With him, it’ll be more of the unsustainable same: big oil and big pharma writing the regulations, and his family becoming richer.
Even if the U.K. Supreme Court, unlike its American counterpart, still honors its name, Boris Johnson has successfully diverted the attention off the evidently negative prospects of exiting the European Union, to his well-documented petulance. As a skilled politician, odds are that Britons may be ultimately won over, even if just to catch a little break, and let him wreck the place.
The catalyst to Brazil’s quick descent, from the world’s sixth-largest economy of five years ago to the institutional break down of today, is naturally Jair Bolsonaro. The apologist of torturers and civil rights foe, to whom the Amazon is a source of revenue, and his sons, entitled to share his office, has done more damage to Brazil in less than a year than even Trump’s managed in over two.
Most serious, obviously, is the tragedy of killing the planet’s biggest rainforest. Or his assumption, based on years of misguided xenophobia and paranoia, that the world has no saying on what nations do to the environment and their indigenous communities. Granted, Western societies have indeed been founded upon the genocide of their natives, but that doesn’t mean they should have.
Even with limited intellectual skills, though, he knows the importance of sowing chaos to justify a ‘no tolerance’ approach to dissent. Thus his approval indices always spike whenever he blames Brazil’s rising inequality, violent crime, and poverty levels on those most affected by his policies: the poor. It’s also odd his fixation on the U.S. under Trump, who probably ignores him.
Speaking of indigenous peoples, they’re at the front of Ecuador’s gentrification wars, whose clashes with law enforcement over the weekend have brought death and destruction to Quito streets. President Lenin Moreno, who despite his name is a center-right politician aligned with international capital interests, may lose his grip to power and solicit help from the military. Again.
The deadly protests which irrupted in Iraq surprised no one. We may’ve lost track of the U.S. occupation, but it was long enough to breed a fresh generation of angry dissenters, coming to age now. Like the Hong Kong protesters, they have not much of a choice: either die by lack of prospects for a decent life and/or freedom, or die for saying no. Bless them for choosing the latter.
That’s the world we’ve lived in these past few days, without elaborating on the new Atmospheric Science paper warning of the consequences of a war between India and Pakistan. Assuming that it’d quickly escalate to both nations’ use of their combined 500 or so nuclear warheads, it’d likely cause 125 million deaths, global famine, and Ice Age temperatures. Got the jitters yet?
It’s usually the most wonderful time of the year for the Swedish Academy which will hand out its Nobel Literature (2018 and 2019) awards this Thursday. But since its firing of secretary Jean-Claude Arnault, accused of rape, and revamping of its board, which did not give last year’s award, plus decades of controversial choices, things have been rather murky in the kingdom lately.
The good news is that two top runners for the Peace Nobel, to be given Dec. 10, are Greta Thunberg, their own native who’s now loved by millions and hated by some worldwide for the exact right reasons, and the legendary 89-year-old Chief Kayapó Raoni Metuktire, a Native Brazilian leader and environmentalist. They’re symbols for good, and so it’s the Nobel. Lets vote for them.
Our closing today is also about chaos and muddying of waters: impeachment of President Trump, which got off to a promising start, helped by, well, Trump. The variety of factual punches that actually landed on the Teflon-in-Chief has certainly brought a shy, quasi-secret smile to so many frowned faces. And fate’s little touch, having him helping it all, was the cherry atop the cake.
That is, as long as there’s a consensus that it’ll be a long, winding, and possibly dead-ended road. But it’s Ok because it had to be done, and it may bring up more than the dirt the president was bulling countries to dig up on presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son’s dealings in Ukraine. Almost a comic relief that mustn’t get in the way of kicking him out in 2020. Register to vote.

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9/30/2019 No One Said It’d Be Easy, Colltalers

Lies have been the Trump administration’s currency of choice. One of them, from his inauguration, became a signature policy of sorts: (Mexicans) ‘bring crime to this country.’ Everyone knew it was a vicious lie; now there’s research to prove him wrong.
Still, his diatribes and flimflam headlined most weeks since that grey Jan. 20, 2017. Now impeachment is the kerfuffle du jour, unavoidable but disrupting, so get ready for wall-to-wall coverage, and for now, look for climate crisis news below the fold.
But as the 16-year-old giant who’s just left New York, Greta Thunberg, would put it, ‘this is all wrong.’ Progressive Americans count on world support to defeat Trump. They can’t expect it though to follow the intricacies of impeachment, let alone its likely result: a president deemed a criminal but still the president. To the world, the Amazon Rainforest fires are still our top priority.
And warming oceans, whose quickly changing chemistry is depleting seafood supplies, making storms and floods stronger and more frequent, and threatening millions living along coasts, according to a U.N. study. Or air pollution, whose record levels have been shown to impact children’s brains. Or water purity, which has been contaminated by lead in many big cities the world over.
Ironically, those who resisted a probably Pro-forma impeachment process were not invoking climate change against it; they were understandably more concerned about the politics of it, knowing how short the electorate’s attention span really is. Point taken.But theirs is a misguided concern all the same. For Trump may survive endless battles in Congress, but not a country underwater or on fire. We hardly hear a word about floodings in Nebraska, Missouri, South Dakota, Iowa, and Kansas, which has been going on for three months now, due to overflowing of the Missouri River and its affluents. Thankfully, summer spared Americans from the lethal wildfires of the past two years, for if fire and rain would combine, we’d be toast. Note: all five states voted for Trump.
Contrary to what the president has been claiming since day 1, Germany-based Institute for Labor Studies researchers found that ‘increases in deportation rates did not reduce crime rates for violent offenses or property offense.’ Their findings are evident in communities most affected by the draconian laws of immigration and expedited deportation, but not in pro-Trump regions.
That’s because, despite their manifest hate of immigrants, urban and rural areas that elected Trump have experienced more economic hardship than blue districts, but because of the administration’s own policies, not the undocumented. Plus, anti-foreign fervor has led to more resources being diverted to placate unfounded fears of having too many of ‘those people’ in this country.
Now, about the Democrats, if these facts are not enough to enlighten the Denier-in-Chief’s constituency about his corrupt policies, it’s not clear what they believe it to be. The causes for the hard reality of thousands of working families, rather than an unpredictable impeachment, is what actually may wise them up to think twice before reelecting the hack who’s betrayed them.
Speaking of grim realities, tomorrow is China’s National Day, the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic. While Ji Xinping will make sure celebrations will be joyous, yes, but totally under state control, the Hong Kong protesters are threatening to steal his thunder once again. Sadly, few are paying attention to the courageous students still dreaming of bringing change from within.
But many fear that their clashes with the police over the weekend may evolve into something else, and the odds are in favor of a violent retaking of full control of the territory, and prosecution of protesters. Naturally, the Tiananmen Square tragedy, which remains a forbidden word in the mainland, still haunts that generation of fighters, who’ll get no support from the administration. The bottom line is, as the U.S. is led away from democratic values and allies, Xi has carte blanche to do as he sees it fit.
H.K.’s independence hangs on its central position in world finances. But without real power and strong support – none is coming from its former masters either, the U.K., busy with its own calamities – the protesters are picking a possibly unwinnable battle.
Another even grimmer date comes Wednesday: the cold-blooded murder and dismemberment of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi a year ago, allegedly ordered by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The assassination was never officially pinned on the shady prince, though, and it’s unlikely that anyone will pay for it. That is, some world leaders have had harsh words about it but no action. Besides, he has the crown’s support and, of course, Trump’s. In fact, U.S. troops are now at the Saudis’ service.
One last word about billionaires, that is, the ‘good ones.’ You know, those who’re giving back their money, funding good causes, fighting income inequality. Like Bill Gates. His intentions have been impeccable, he’s been tirelessly helping to find solutions to global social problems, hunger, and all that. But then, his foundation gives an award to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The United Nations Climate Action Summit that begins today in New York City has the oversized task of disarming a bomb that, in a sense, has already been detonated. That is, either the world agrees on the right strategy, or we’ll all be caught on its fallout.
The summit brings world leaders to a country that briefly led the climate change fight but has since become a pariah due to its unhinged president. He’ll surely try to hijack public attention and may even stage another one of his crazy stunts. Brace yourself.
Many people, however, are out to challenge this state of affairs. Last Friday and the next, children and adults have been asked to walk out of school and work, to strike for climate action. The first of this two-punch combination brought millions to the streets of major cities around the world, determined to keep the pressure on; we either rally to save civilization or learn how to swim.
The movement has many leaders and organizations, and at least one now globally recognized face: that of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager that skipped school every Friday of 2018 to sit in front of the Parliament and demand climate change action. She’s come to symbolize the depth and single-mindedness that’s required at this juncture: we will need to do more, much more.
But as inspiring as her eloquence and candor can be, Thunberg’s made clear that it’s not her, but science that needs to be heard.  ‘We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. You’ve run out of excuses and we’re running out of time. We’ve come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not.’
She’s as direct and straightforward as some world leaders are corrupt and neglectful. Suddenly, sincerity is a fresh weapon, one more to enroll people in the struggle against this unfolding catastrophe. And even better, among the legions now heeding to her call, and lucky to be living in functioning democracies, there are likely thousands of new voters. That’s the kind of math we like.
As for Trump as a dangerous rogue, there’s no surprise, given the appalling record of broken environmental regulations his administration has promoted. More than just rolling back over 80 rules, some that even had been agreed upon by fossil-fuel industries, what Trump has pursued is a toxic mix of greed and ignorance that’s already threatening to choke us all to death.
From withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, – effective days after the 2020 presidential election -; to freezing fuel-efficiency and antipollution standards for cars; to dismantling the Clean Power Plan; to promoting drilling in pristine public lands and offshore coastal waters; to removing restrictions to methane, which the crisis worsened, the list is long and nauseating.
And that’s just in the realm of sheer misguided policies. No one should forget that this man has his little fingers on the biggest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction ever known to mankind, and the volatile temper of a toddler, as it’s been often said.
After all, only last week we had a big reminder of the potential consequences of the unchallenged power of an unfit president. To the administration, the bombing of a major Saudi Arabia’s refinery complex, claimed by Houthi rebels, was an opportunity to frame an old enemy: Iran. It ignored claims made by the last group resisting the U.S.-supported Saudi campaign to subjugate Yemen, and sided-up with their oppressors: this week, a ‘small’ contingent of American troops is heading to guard the oil fields.
It’s yet another lethal diversion that’ll have to be discussed by summit participants, as if they, and the world, had any time to spare. It’s also a direct result of Trump breaking up from the universally-supported nuclear deal with Iran. And it follows his recurrent, and all but suicidal, foreign policy: to shun traditional allies and embrace dictatorships. To dire results? You betcha.
Compared to what amounts to crimes against humanity, or at least, impeachable offenses to the U.S. Constitution, the new whistleblower allegations, that the U.S. president has asked a foreign power – no, not Russia, Ukraine – to dig dirt into Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, pale in comparison. Sad fact is, neither that nor this will likely lead to any consequence.
So it happens that in these strange times, a man born into privilege, who’s accused of sex crimes by dozen of women, cheated on his wife, associates and employees, paid prostitutes for sex and their silence, and may have hidden billions from the government through the years, gets elected to the world’s most important job. And another, who told us the truth, is considered a criminal.
When Edward Snowden copied and had it published classified documents, showing the National Security Agency spying on citizens all over the world, in flagrant disrespect to individual rights and often not even relevant to well, national security, he acted on a moral impulse. What he found out as a C.I.A. sub-contractor was simply too important not to tell the world about it.
He knew he was probably going to pay for the indiscretion with his freedom and he was willing to pay such a high price. Now, six years of forced exile in Russia later, he asks: will I have a fair trial if I ever return to my country? And the answer is a resounding no, not at this time. And that’s unfortunate considering that his country is the U.S. of A., once a beacon for justice.
We all saw what happened to Army Intelligence Officer Chelsea Manning, to whom not even a presidential pardon spared from serving time; she’s in her third imprisonment term now. So no, Ed, don’t come back just yet if you can help it. Hang in there for now, because justice and individual freedom are already scheduled to return to this country the day after next year’s election.
This week, let’s keep an eye on Hong Kong, which faces the threat of military intervention from China. The city’s Lennon Walls, makeshift banners of dissent inspired by the late Beatle, have been destroyed by Chinese agents, and the likely Ketchup-stained request for U.S. support is gathering dust in Trump’s wastebasket. Is it because, unlike the Saudis, there’s nothing in it for him?And let’s continue to celebrate New York hometown fictional hero, Batman, on his 80th anniversary. Even though we’re now wary of any lone vigilante taking the law on his own hands, the myth of a regular man who dedicates his life to chase bad guys, solely motivated by a personal loss, still resonates with many. Thus his famous Bat Sign, projected onto the night sky, lives on.
Regardless if you are in Brazil, where the Amazon Rainforest is still burning at record rates, or New York, where the U.N. seeks solutions to put out that and other fires, this is the Autumnal Equinox. And the message is, everyone on Earth sees the same sky.
‘It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.’ The John Steinbeck quote is from his last book, The Winter of Our Discontent, a title he lifted from William Shakespeare’s Richard III, and that’s humbly paraphrased on the headline of this post. There’s still time to guarantee a future for all, and this week must prove it. Join in the action call.

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9/16/2019 Oil? We’re Talking About Climate, Colltalers

Few expect peace in the Middle East in our lifetime. Saturday’s attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities by Yemen’s Houthi rebels just added ammo to that regrettable realization. It rattled Iran and Israel, but it’s the U.S. that seems eager to jump into the fire. It’d be a tragic mistake and a diversion from a bigger threat to mankind: climate change. The U.N. Climate Action Summit, that starts next week in New York, is another chance to drive this point: if we’re going to war, let it be it against this existential crisis.Here’s hoping this is a summit of disruption, of strikes and mass rallies around the world, of citizens of all ages refusing to accept any excuses not to act. But other issues, whether deserving it or not, may compete for headlines and our short-spam attention too.Tomorrow, Israelis go to the polls for the second time this year, likely to guarantee that P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu will continue dictating the country’s expansionist policies. In exchange, he’s promised to annex more land from occupied territories taken by the 1967 war. That move, still seen as illegal by the international community, may bury for good the so-called two-state solution.Netanyahu is confident that his most important constituent, the U.S. president, won’t falter on his so far unrestricted support, and he may be right. Knowing what Trump does to those he initially praises – or names for White House jobs, based solely on their ability to support him back -, such trust is at least risky. But Netanyahu has no other choice but to grasp for straws otherwise.
In other news, Tunisia’s presidential election appears to head to a second round, as none of 24 contenders won the majority. The low poll turnout may reflect apathy, but Tunisians remain committed to the democracy born out of the 2011 Jasmine Revolution. Much more concerning are the reports that Saudi Arabia has managed to transfer technology to enrich uranium from American companies, without congressional approval. The Saudis used a legal loophole, and support from Sec. of Energy Rick Perry, to import know-how to build its first nuclear reactors, claiming they now need to defend themselves from a possible nuclear Iran.It was an interesting development just a few days from the drone attack, which the crown blames on Iran, even as Houthi leaders took credit for it. Not surprisingly, Sec. of State Mark Pompeo has endorsed the Saudi’s version, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his murderous regime have had a strong and profitable relationship with the man occupying the White House. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has been carpet-bombing Yemen, and since Trump’s been in office, using U.S. weaponry for it. As a result, Yemenis are trapped in the crossfire of a vicious conflict that has all but destroyed the country and starved to death its citizens. There’s an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Yemen, but the crown won’t allow medical help or food to get in. A rampant nuclearization of the region is a direct consequence of Trump’s misguided decision to abandon the Iranian nuclear deal. As Tehran has started seeking ways to produce nukes, and with the disclosed intention by the Saudis to do the same, the world braces for what’s coming next. Ironically, the main cheerleader of an invasion of Iran, John Bolton, was fired by Trump.Thank heavens for small miracles, but the administration still has many warmongers left. By jumping into the fray, Pompeo signals that, first, he’s now the go-to guy, in case Trump wants a war for diversion, and second, he’s happy to repeat his boss’ lies.Not that most people need examples, but a simulation of a nuclear strike with ‘tactical weapons,’ by Researchers at Princeton University’s Science and Global Security lab, shows how 34 million people would instantaneously die if Russia were to launch a warning shot. As a result of a sure U.S. counter punch attack, almost three times as many would also be dead in just a few days. Freakishly enough, one of the possible replacements for Bolton is acting National Security Adviser, Charles Kupperman, who once said that a nuclear war with Russia would be ‘winnable.’ Luckily, maybe, he’s just one among many contenders to the job.Crying-foul calls, – that the attacks may compromise the world’s oil supplies -, can’t be possibly taken seriously, but sadly show where the U.S.’s allegiances lie. While the devastating humanitarian crisis developing in Yemen hasn’t deserved any meaning reaction from the Trump administration, this sort of god-forbid attack on Saudi Arabian oil refineries is a reason to go to war.Hunger, extreme poverty, brutal dictatorship regimes, are issues that have stopped having an impact or forcing a reaction from the U.S. these days. Trump’s reduced our foreign policy into a contest of which despot likes him the most, and where to build a Trump tower or golf course. If that level of immorality fails to move his supporters, it’s their problem. But it won’t fly with us.
In preparation for the U.N. Summit, there will be a worldwide strike for the climate this Friday. Led by a multitude of groups and activists, it’ll be a chance for anyone to do something about the violent change in climate we’ve all been experiencing. Even if a symbolic gesture is all that someone can do it now, do it for the cause and consider yourself enlisted as a fighter for the planet.’Who’s gonna tell you when it’s too late, who’s gonna tell you things aren’t so great. You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong.’ An excerpt from ‘Drive,’ a 1980s hit for the Cars, written by Ric Ocasek who passed away on Sunday at 75. R.I.P., old chap.

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9/9/2019 Ready for the Fourth Quarter, Colltalers 

Millions of Brazilians marked Sept. 7, their Independence Day, dressed up in black. It was an angry political statement by a once proud nation, now wounded and humiliated by worldwide criticism. Why, it’s been asked, is the Amazon being burned to death?
Speaking of fire, India – which along with China may soon be home to half the world population – has reignited a largely ignored border crisis with Pakistan, imposing harsh policies on Kashmir and its majority Muslim residents. Note: both have nukes.
But first a quick review of the week, an unfortunate one for thousands affected by Hurricane Dorian. Floods,  destruction, and a rising death toll were left in its wake, all to be followed by more misery for years to come if Hurricane Maria is any indication. Like then, the White House had no plan in place and will likely apply the ‘Puerto Rico treatment,’ that is, do nothing about it.
It could be worse, due to its size, reach, and slow-moving pace with which it devastated the Bahamas and the Abaco Islands, and flooded North Carolina. But besides Dorian’s surprising north turn having nothing to do with prayers, other storms will come, as warm and rising waters add power and resilience to natural disasters and no one’s tending the store; Trump’s already moved on.Let’s not parrot the new series of blatant lies he used to navigate the crisis, between rounds of golf and belligerent tweets. Suffice to say, he’ll probably be greeted with the same deranged ardor by his followers on his next rally, while we’ll fend for ourselves.
He did cancel a scheduled peace talk with the Taliban, after a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan killed a U.S. service member.
Which is better in a sort of terrible way: 18 years after the 911 attacks, the U.S. is still fighting two deadly but ultimately useless wars in the Middle East that Americans would be glad to end. But having Trump doing the talk has been a thorough calamity and caused all attempts to reach an understanding with other nations to fail miserably. At every turn, he seems to make things worse.
There was very little heroism or honor about Brazil’s independence from Portugal, declared by Regent Prince Don Pedro I 197 years ago. The son of Portuguese King João, it was a matter of convenience: rather than being forced to trade only with Portugal, as it had happened for three centuries, the independence allowed Brazil to increase commerce with the U.K. and other nations.
The mourning attire and somber mood of every Brazilian but those presently in power and their supporters are fitting given the state of the nation: the economy all but in suspended animation; scandals and crisis plaguing the president’s inner circle of allies; and a social security ‘reform’ that benefits few and unjustly overburdens even further the working class. How’s that for measure?
Nothing though has the resonance of losing the ancient rain forest, the largest in the planet, a place where thousands of species, many still unknown, have lived under complex and fragile conditions, to the torches and greed of unscrupulous landowners.
Such soul-crushing experience is somewhat new to Brazilians, universally known for their ‘alto astral,’ an upbeat mood, despite the brutal living conditions of most of them. For years, far-right dog-whistling has claimed powerful but invisible forces were conspiring to take the forest away from Brazil, ignoring that to some extent, that’s already happened, but not the way they see it.
So much for phony patriotism; the tragedy has already befallen countless indigenous communities and wildlife, and it’s unlikely the president will ever be held accountable for his policies, which by now should amount to war-crime status. Sounds familiar?
The silver lining, however, is that pain teaches valuable lessons and the level of popular engagement in the issues crucial for Brazil’s future shows that many won’t take it all down. Rallies and crowds are not always effective but the least anyone can do to show their dissatisfaction with the direction the country is heading. Brazil is indeed a very unhappy country at the moment.
Since becoming Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi has been shaping a new India, one ever more discretionary and socially unfair. There’s been virtually no progress in the staggering social challenges the country faces in the five years he’s in power.
Instead, there’s been a steady right-wing radicalization of country, with a widening of the income distribution gap; a few dozen billionaires control millions of mostly destitute Indians. No democracy can survive in these terms, not even the world’s biggest.
Like China’s Xi Jinping and his iron-fist handling of Hong Kong protesters – who should be wished upon ‘good luck,’ as they seek Washington support -, Modi seems to have decided that peaceful co-existence with Pakistan, religious freedom, and dissent, are at odds with his political ambitions, and must be crushed before anyone say anything. And chances are, no one will.
There are clear signs that he may be ideologically aligned with other proto-fascistic leaders around the world, such as Trump and Bolsonaro. After all, it didn’t look good having his U.S. ambassador, Harsh Vardhan Shringlathe, meet with Steve Bannon, the very architect of the common handbook/agenda adopted by would-be authoritarian regimes. That does sound familiar, doesn’t it?
For almost 20 years now, New Yorkers got used to being a bit shaken around this time of the year and will keep on feeling this way, at least for a while longer. Sept. 11 remains the worst event in the history of this city, and not just for the loss of life, which stills hurts many. But the very sense of this being an open city was forever damaged, and fear has been normalized as necessary.
It was also an opportunity for real estate moguls to reset the place as a playground for billionaires, ridding diverse neighborhoods of what has always animated New York: its street life. Powers that be seized the moment to claim it as a domain of high-end consumption, triggering an explosion of homelessness, even as large swaths of Manhattan are left empty in the dark most days.
The attacks felt like a violent counterpunch against the wrong opponent; it’s been said, of all U.S. cities, New York is still the most welcoming towards everyone and traditionally the least supporter of American foreign policies. And yet… But it did give us all a sense of togetherness, of shared-experience that few other metropolises will ever experience. So yes, we’re mourning too.
But as Vernon Duke, a Russian who made our lives so much better, put it on his bitter-sweet classic, Autumn in New York is ‘often mingled with pain,’ but while ‘dreamers with empty hands may sigh for exotic lands,’ in the end, ‘it’s good to live it again.’
We’ll need all the optimism of American Standards to put up with this one. But by our Lady Pizza, we will. And a belated Happy 78th Birthday to Senator Bernie Sanders. Like wine and Bernie, may we all get better with age and make this one count. Cheers

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9/02/2019 Climate Needs Warriors, Colltalers

When Hitler invaded Poland, 80 years ago Sunday, the world couldn’t possibly take him for the mass-murderer that he became. But his supporters knew. Worst than history repeating itself is to see it’s about to happen again.  Meanwhile, the Amazon continues to burn but the news is already fading. Not that it ever matched the tragedy’s significance to the planet in the first place. But if carbon dioxide is bad, wait for what methane can do to our air.Speaking of tragedy, August has signed off by claiming its 51st mass-shooting, near Odessa, Texas. The state’s second massacre in a month left eight people dead and over 20 injured. While many don’t expect this issue to be resolved before the next one – and there will be a next one –  or ever, Americans must still refuse to normalize it.History is also at play in Hong Kong’s current woes, as in the fight between moving toward a real democracy, or acceding to the authoritarian Beijing rule. It’s not a fight to the faint of heart, as shown over the weekend. In some ways, China’s already gaining the upper hand, as it called out its armed troops and arrested protest leaders.How the world is reacting to the movement for HK independence it’s equally appalling though. So far, no global democratic institution has explicitly lent support to it, and it’s fair to expect that the financial system has also some role undermining the opposition to China’s rule. It all indicates that once again, Xi Jinping will have his way.The trial for the accused September 11 masterminds has just been set for 2021, which gives the measure of the George W. administration’s blunder handling the attacks outside a proper legal framework. Instead, it locked up  ‘suspects’ without a trial, in Guantanamo, failed to capture Osama Bin Laden, and invaded and destroyed Iraq.Its immoral lies to justify the invasion are still the biggest scheme ever to get the U.S. involved in a faraway war. That can change though. But the end result of that Pentagon’s wet dream of a war predictably going awry is the dead of thousands and a scorched land left for what was once a proud nation. And a likely endless ISIS’ revival. Up to not long ago, the ‘virtues’ of the WWII were being chanted and praised: the end of the German Nazi and Italian fascist dictatorships, the prosecution and prompted sentencing of war criminals, and most of all, the classification of hate and racial crimes as universally punishable by law. That new world lasted some 75 years.As it turned out, it wasn’t quite that way, and the fact that we’re still dealing with the same issues of intolerance, authoritarianism, and white supremacy, shows that maybe we’ve been a bit too optimistic about human nature these past seven decades. For the war that revealed the ‘greatest generation’ to the world, also helped ruin it. Then as now, there was a charismatic commander, adored by a horde of obsessed followers, to whom the world regarded warily but spared from close scrutiny. Someone who in the span of just seven years built an army eager to take over the world. And a leader who sheltered and encouraged other despots, as he did with Mussolini. Above all, then as now, the world was slow to wake up to the threat that such leader represented, and not willing to go out of the way to curb his advances. That helped Hitler succeeded, and Poland was just the first step. Now though, if history does repeat itself, we may not be able to beat his heirs or a way to come back from it. There’s never been a U.S. president who has lied so much as Donald Trump, and that’s based on bountiful public evidence. But history may see another character flaw of his as stronger: his cunning ability for self-preservation.
See, the president invoked the threat of Hurricane Dorian making landfall in Florida as an excuse to skip the sober WWII date, held in Poland and with the presence of almost all world leaders involved in the conflict. But then the storm changed its path; Trump, however, still went golfing as he had probably planned to do all along.But in that, he avoided two sticky situations that could potentially mean trouble for him – not that that usually matters: facing world leaders who could question his policies, and having a Katrina to which his administration’s so unprepared. After all, it was just reported that Trump is taking money from FEMA to fund his border wall.This would’ve been worse than Bush praising an ex-rodeo manager, who he’d nominated to lead the agency, for doing a ‘helluva of a job,’ just as one the worst natural disasters on record tragically unfolded. But it wasn’t to be. Those who expected Mar-a-Lago to be underwater by now, or Trump’s popularity to take a hit in a cornerstone electoral state such as Florida, will have to silently swallow their despair once again: he’s all thumbs up on TV.  What did happen though, and it’s equally staggering and possibly irrevocable, is the fact that, in the very same week the world’s biggest rainforest was put on fire, and fires were also raging in Alaska, of all places, the EPA has rolled back some 80 regulations to protect the environment and prepare for the fight against climate change. Considering that just a few years ago, the regulatory framework was already barely enough to curb fracking and other predatory fossil-fuel exploration, this is so utterly perverse that even some oil and gas companies oppose it. Digging in the Arctic, where the melting permafrost is already freeing ancient methane would be devastating. That’s why it’s inconceivable that the Democratic Party is not yet on board with the youth movement leading the charge against climate change. But there’s still time to put your representatives on notice. And that’s also why the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who’s arrived in New York last week, has been so relevant right now.After sailing the high seas aboard a racing boat, she was welcomed by thousands of young fighters, angry that the future is being chipped away by their elders. Thunberg, one of the millions of climate activists but arguably the first to achieve worldwide recognition, will be speaking at the U.N. Climate Action Summit, later on this month.If kids are owning their part in the survival of our civilization, then what’s the excuse for whoever’s been around the block a few times? To some extent, even those no longer in the game for belief or conviction could exercise good parenting and inspire those who came after to have a tomorrow. And we should get started today. Cheers

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8/26/2019 Mourning a Green Colossus, Colltalers

‘The sun shall be turned into darkness…’ As the Amazon burns, perhaps beyond recovery, there’s suddenly the realization that a catastrophic climate collapse – and more biblical quotes – may be all but inevitable. Worst: mankind doesn’t even have a plan yet.
A key to understanding how we got here may be this Women’s Equality Day. It’s the 99th-year from the U.S. Women’s Right to Vote and we’re still far from equality, ruled by a mostly ignorant minority belonging in gender to less than half of the population.
The evidence supporting the realities of these two headlines is overwhelming and frightening. So is the ineffectiveness of the Group of Seven’s annual gatherings. Over the weekend, leaders of Canada, U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Japan, the U.S., and E.U. officials, wined and dined in Biarritz, France, and beyond some vague assertions, offered no practical solutions. As usual.
The 2018 summit at least produced a photo – of said leaders and others, led by Germany’s Angela Merkel, staring at a cross-armed, impervious, Trump – which encapsulated what really went on in closed doors. Still, nothing memorable came out of it.
Trade and Iran, whose Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was a surprise guest, were supposed to be the main agenda, that is, until the climate kicked the conference doors down and threatened, as France’s Emmanuel Macron would put it, ‘to burn down our house.’ The ‘chosen one’ (his quote) however had his own agenda: to readmit ‘terrific person’ Vladimir Putin to the bloc. It won’t happen.
His insistence on praising the Russian president, who was expelled for invading and annexing Crimea, verges on the pathetic. After all, the entire world witnessed him being had, not just by the spymaster, but also North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, and now, China’s Xi Jinping. In France, he first claimed to have ‘second thoughts’ about his ill-advised trade war with China but took it all back afterward. The U.S. economy’s already been harmed, though, and if a recession’s coming, he’s guilty of having triggered it.
Ancient forests burning; wildfires, floods, and ever more powerful hurricanes; the staggering succession of ‘hottest month ever,’ of which July was just the latest. Nothing seems to make climate-change deniers forget their phony, self-serving ardor. Neither the Democratic National Committee, apparently, which has voted down having its presidential candidates debate the climate.
The decision is not just a blow to progressive groups, struggling to come up with a plan, the Green New Deal, perhaps, to reverse climate change, but to the party’s own credibility. Someone needs to remind the DNC that without a planet, there won’t be such thing as ‘victory,’ ‘free healthcare for all,’ or ‘livable wages,’ to fight for. Millions simply won’t show up at the polls at all. Again.
More optimistic is the theme for this years’ Burning Man, the annual fest in the Nevada desert’s temporary Black Rock city: ‘Everything changes, nothing perishes,’ by first-century Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The week-long, 30-year gathering went from hippie happening to a giant outdoor art show, and it’s now, mostly a billionaire’s display of wealth and trophy wives.
Speaking of billionaires, Charlie Koch’s death on Aug. 23 was ironically timed. For along with his brothers, he spent billions and decades undermining democracy and denying climate change, and the nefarious results of his appalling life were never more in evidence than what’s going on in South America right now. ‘Where are you spending your dough now, Mr. Koch?’ Rest in hell.
The malodorous wave of far-right populism, which has spread out for the past two years and is funded by the likes of Koch and others, bears responsibility for our impending doom. It’s what fuels Trump’s anti-democratic, anti-environment policies, clearly endorsed by a U.K.’s blowhard, and a second-tier of inept despots already wreaking havoc in Europe, Asia, and South America.
The miserable difference may be that, while no one knows how many dissidents Rodrigo Duterte has murdered, or how much worst the new Italian cabinet may be to immigrants, what Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro is doing immediately impacts the world; as in, ending of civilization impact. Warnings? Seeing the day turned into night in São Paulo at 3:00 pm is all that should be needed.
But alas it’s not: voting is what brings about change and accountability in society. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution was a crucial tool to support social and progressive causes in the U.S. through the ‘American century.’ Topless parades will celebrate it. Let’s hope that for its 100th year, women not just break poll station records, but also elect the first mother as a U.S. president.
This has been an unusually chockfull-of-quotes letter, here to help follow the week’s narrative. For it’s not only most Brazilians and Americans, but the entire world that’s grieving over the burning of the magnificent Amazon, and not just for the air. We’re mourning also our loss of confidence that humans will do the right thing, that we will do the right thing. So here’s another one.
‘We can’t tear out a single page of our life, but we can throw the whole book in the fire.’ Despite her pen name, George Sand was a woman, writer, and proto-feminist born over 200 years ago. She’s also known for her ascetic relationship with Frédéric Chopin. Unlike her, we can afford neither throwing away the book nor losing the Amazon forest. Time to jump-start the revolt. Cheers

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8/19/2019 This Ship’s About to Sail, Colltalers

‘The U.S. President issued a stern warning to China not to use military force to curb protests in Hong Kong. In other news, the president called his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to express worldwide concerns about that country’s nuclear program.’
These headlines, which may have flashed in some alternate universe, are made up, but reports of microplastics raining over the U.S. are scaringly real. What links these issues, however, is authoritarianism as it rises in the U.S. and links us to those regimes.
Holding that thought, let’s scan for other news. Starting by the terrorist attack in Kabul, which killed 63 wedding guests. It’s been claimed by Daesh, a.k.a. Isis, not the Taliban with which the administration expects to draw an Afghanistan withdrawal accord.
The new tragedy poses the disturbing prospect that, after the U.S. supposedly leaves the country, the Taliban will again invite the caliphate to rebuild its pre-2003 ruthless, terrorist-training theocratic regime. This time, with the extra advertising prop of a war-ravaged land. The American legacy won’t be of noble efforts to democratize Afghanistan, just the savagery of a useless conflict.
Also within this cycle, the world saw astonishingly what it’s like for a nation to be ruled by a power-hungry leader, staking his political future in a foreign would-be despot: Israel’s P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu’s abided by the U.S. president’s demand to stop U.S. Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, both Muslims Democrats, from entering the country to visit the Gaza Strip.
Tlaib wanted to see her 90-year-old Palestinian grandmother but obviously also to be there to express critical views of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. In other words, besides having a potentially final reunion with her relative, she and Omar were going there to do their job, which is expected by their constituencies. Ultimately, the ban was lifted but Tlaib gave up on the trip.
There’s no other way to put it, it was Israel’s lamest hour. It may have also deeply embarrassed Israelis who can’t be swayed by Netanyahu’s political expedience and abhor what he’s doing to their country, and to the Palestinians, in order to remain in power.
In the domestic arena, the latest mass shootings in the U.S., once again, haven’t been enough to pass gun control laws. If not now, then it may be never, but no one is giving up this fight. Unfortunately, neither are would-be copycats. Law enforcement agencies have reported a spike of young, white men with mass homicidal plans, so far thankfully cut short by concerned citizens.
That’s far from comforting, as attack weapons remain widely available throughout America and the president is bound to make yet another speech or two, encouraging white-supremacist hate. If Democrats don’t see this is as a worth-addressing issue, just as better training of law enforcement agents, and media ban on mass-murderers’ names, they’ve got another thing coming to them.
Republicans, instead, are always sure about priorities: help the rich, rape the land, take it while you can and walk away. And lie. But one, who’ll remain unnamed – a hint: he’s the Citizenship and Immigration Services head – had an idea about the Statue of Liberty, that’d surely revive Lazarus, so to speak. To justify restricting the poor from immigrating to the U.S., he’d add to Emma Lazarus’ ‘Give me your tired, your poor…’ words, ‘who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.’
To propose such an absurd revision to one of the most famous declarations of empathy, compassion, and humanity, and for good or bad, identified with America for two centuries, could only have come from a truly inept anti-American politician, who’d previously doubted President Obama’s place of birth, and had proposed to make speaking Spanish on the job a fireable offense.
In two years, Trump has signed the U.S. off the Paris Agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. And in every instance, we’ve paid for it. The fight against the climate emergency has lost its most powerful ally, Iran has restarted its nukes program and now represents a real threat to Israel, and now, Russia was caught testing new weapons.
No wonder Hong Kong residents are out protesting for democracy and pushing back China’s tightening grip. They deserve our solidarity, and some would really wish that first sentence was true, as the threat of a new Tiananmen Square massacre looms.
All that Severodvinsk dwellers know is that a nuke-powered rocket engine exploded and killed seven people a mere 20 miles away, on Aug. 8. But however sinister is Putin’s plan, an arms race is already on, and this time, press freedom won’t help us.
That the billions of dollars that such a race will cost would be enough to fund a global strategy to reverse climate change in just a few years, if we were really the smartest species on this planet, is hardly ever mentioned in the U.S. media. Which is, as usual, busy hammering the false claim that social welfare programs and retirement pensions for working-class are simply unaffordable.
But the fact is, plastics are being found everywhere, from the bottom of the seas to the stomachs of marine life to snow rain in high mountains to the deepest corners of our own digestive system. All without affecting an iota of annual plastic production.
The massive amounts of this eternal litter we’re damping on the planet is one of the reasons why any ‘gradual’ plan to combat the climate emergency is nothing short of B.S. An excuse to punt meaningful steps that would eventually criminalize pollution and take its manufacturers to account. Again, if Democrats, etc, etc. Rather, we must do our part, for surely they are not doing theirs.
‘We won’t stop organizing for ourselves, our children, and for the soul of this nation,’ says the only manifesto worth reading these days, that of notable members of the Latinx community. Published in major U.S. newspapers last week, it protests recent white supremacist hate and mass shootings, and Gestapo-like ICE raids, one of which arrested over 700 workers at a Mississippi plant.
Perhaps some will still sail to fabulous vacations without noticing the scourge of climate change wherever they go, and won’t hesitate to ride a gas-guzzling SUV, believing they’re entitled to do so. A word of caution: don’t waste time arguing with them.
The world may be running out of choices, but the privileged few like us do still have options. As Joni Mitchell wrote 50 years ago, on her Woodstock anthem, ‘We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon, and we got to get ourselves back to the garden.’ Not sure about that garden, but to each its own. If not for the children, let’s do it for ourselves. Just climb aboard.

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8/12/2019 Lowering World Expectations, Colltalers

Don’t come to America if you don’t want to get shot. That’s what Amnesty International’s travel advisory means by ‘be extra vigilant’ when traveling to the U.S. Given this country’s 250 mass shootings so far in 2019, the human rights group has a point.
The fair warning came out just as an estimated 400 million people marked the historical significance of Aug. 9. Friday was the World’s Indigenous Peoples Day, and also the five years since an unarmed Michael Brown was killed by a cop in Ferguson, MO.
This August, which got off according to the script of being the month of ‘mad dogs,’ has also another landmark to give it some perspective: the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, a moment in cultural time that has proven surprisingly hard to even celebrate.
For those who lived through it, and actually believed that those ‘three days of love and peace’ were the beginning of something new, there’s now the realization that it exists only as a fantasy, a collective memory barely tettered in reality. On the other hand, it was indeed a moment of transcendence, and because it’s been virtually impossible to reenact, it remains unspoiled and fresh.
Many times people have gathered by the thousands since, under the banner of music, love, and peace, or most commonly these days, to rally for rage, hate, and war. No event has reminded anyone, though, that half-century ago it was possible for thousands of strangers to spent time together in the open, through rain, mud, and no basic sanitation, without a single incident of violence.
It was the 1960s ‘dream’ of living in harmony with nature and each other, now dismissed as a vain utopia. World leaders, and people over 30, were not to be trusted, make love not war and all that, plus the sheer belief that human kindness knows no limits.
Regardless of how or why humanity got so helplessly sidetracked, however, that same dream was as far from reality then as it is today. If anything, we’re now forcibly closer to realize it, because there’s an imperative for survival in pursuing it. At no other time in history, we’ve been offered the chance to join all hands against a global enemy: climate emergency. Making progress yet?
Judging by the U.S.’ longest war – 18 years in Afghanistan and counting, with no sign it’ll end soon -, no assurances should be granted. Over 2,300 American troops and thousands of civilians have been killed, 97 pro-government forces and 35 civilians last week alone, and not a word about it by the media or the president. Plus Iraq and other gunpowder kegs. No, no progress in sight.
Worse. None of this war’s two major goals were achieved: it neither killed Osama bin Laden, caught in next-door Pakistan, nor it defeated the Taliban, still alive and raising hell and, as reported, about to strike a sweet deal with the Trump administration.
But the region’s biggest worry is with the Kashmir territory, whose autonomy was revoked by India. That raised already high tensions, put Pakistan on the defensive, and made the world lose sleep as it does whenever nuke nations get mad at each other.
On that note, mentioning Syria could bring more of the same bad news about war and carnage. But instead, there’s Mohammad Aljaleel, who spends his time among the ruins of Aleppo rescuing dozens of stray cats. Not quite a war hero, but a hero anyway.
The tragedy of Ferguson happened amid a wave of black youth being shot by the police, which has neither dwindled nor gone away. The crucial distinction was the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, which arguably could’ve gotten Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination, or Hillary Clinton the presidency. Instead, Brown, 18 then, remains a symbol of our national pain.
America’s original twin mortal sins, the slaughtered of its indigenous people and slavery, are now fittingly sharing an annual day that may help highlight their similarities. Whereas the genocide of natives was once about conquest, their survival is now linked to reversing climate change. The same way as fighting for racial equality means also to build a more just society for everyone.
Amnesty doesn’t usually issue travel advisories; it’s the State Dept. that does, usually referring to other places, not America. But it did now, along several nations, to call attention to the fact that the U.S. government has seemingly lost the will to protect its citizens and anyone from gun violence. It’s not about undermining the tourism and hospitality industries, but to protect all lives.
The weapons lobby has, once again, successfully suffocated any possibility of having a swift, effective and thorough gun control legislation, even if Mitch McConnell allows it to reach the Senate floor. Survivors and families of those victims of gun violence will, unfortunately, continue to endure constant reminders of this fact for the rest of their lives. So, tourists, please don’t come.
Elephants are thoughtful creatures, organized in matriarchal societies, and historically subjected to staggering cruelty and abuse.
But so far, our new understanding of the species hasn’t been enough to protect them from us. Thus today’s World Elephant Day, and its new pledge, along the usual resolve to protect the species, and end poaching and the ivory trade: Don’t Ride an Elephant.
The goal is to stop using elephants, or any other animal, for our entertainment. Just as circuses are on their way out, it’s time now to treat one the most intelligent and gracious giants to ever walk the planet with all due respect it deserves. Cheers.

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8/05/2019 Make America Grieve No More, Colltalers

It’s mourning in America, yet again: two massacres in California and Ohio added 30 more to the 979 people already killed this year in mass shootings. Thus we ask again: will Congress break its recess and pass urgent gun control legislation? Unlikely.
Meanwhile, the world pays annually $307 billion subsidies to the coal, oil, and gas industries so they can keep on wrecking the planet. Yet only a fraction of that could fund a global transition to renewables, according to a new report. Bothered? Not them.
We’ll get to those issues in a few, but let’s briefly check on Brazil’s political turmoil, ignited in part by President Bolsonaro’s just over seven months of multiple mishaps. For instance, his indication of son Eduardo to be the Brazilian ambassador to the U.S.
The move, which needs Senate approval, was greeted by almost universal incredulity. Not just for the house representative’s lack of diplomatic skills, but also for him to have become the butt of jokes in Brazil after his Fox News interview. It turns out, the candidate to one of the top diplomatic jobs in the world can barely speak English, and clips from his language lapses went viral.
Daddy easily topped that, however, when he bragged last week that he knew what happened to Fernando Santa Cruz, an activist who disappeared during the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985. The cruel remark was directed at his political foe, and Santa Cruz’s son, Felipe, president of Brazil’s Bar Association, who supported Adélio Bispo da Cruz’s acquittal.
Cruz, an acquaintance of the Bolsonaro family, stabbed him during a campaign rally. But his case was riddled with suspicion and as the president insisted on his conviction, Brazilians were reminded that the attack propelled Bolsonaro at the polls, preventing him from potentially damaging debates. As for the Armed Forces, it officially does not know the fate of its political enemies.
But the most deleterious diatribe by far-right Bolsonaro is how he’s fulfilling a sinister campaign promise made to his backers to open up the Amazon Rainforest to the fossil-fuel industry. Despite global protests, mining and logging are already at full clip.
As for the climate emergency and the need for replacing fossil-fuel with renewables sources of energy – there’s already been a dramatic if underreported revolution: solar and wind-related jobs in the U.S. outnumber that of pollutants by a 3-to-1 ratio.
But even with the worldwide boom of solar panels and wind turbines production, we still pay top dollar to prop up Big Oil. In 2015, the International Monetary Fund said that the world spent $4.7 trillion to subsidize it, and it estimated that it’d rise to $5.2 trillion by 2017. Still, many of these companies pay little or zero taxes, while 30 million Americans are behind on their tax bills.
It’s been reported that these taxpayer incentives now top defense spending – as if $700 billion wasn’t more than enough – but a more sobering fact is that they also represent 10 times the education budget. Hence, the 32 million in the U.S. who can’t read.
‘Annual investment in renewables has been greater than that in fossil fuel electricity generation since 2008 and new renewable capacity has exceeded fossil fuel power each year since 2014,’ the Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) report found. Another policy network report, this time from Ren21, has found that 112 nations subsidize their coal, oil, and gas companies.
To stop financing mega-corporations that, despite knowing that their products were harmful, continued to push them, just like the tobacco, pharma, and food industries, is the bare minimum we must do today to get our fight for survival started. The money we’ll save will help us not just switch to renewable energy, but also support every impoverished nation’s efforts to do it so too.
‘Domestic terrorism,’ or white supremacism is a form of terrorism. Barely a week after the FBI finally admitted that the spate of mass shootings in the U.S. is indeed race and class motivated, tragedy struck twice, as we, unfortunately, believe it’s wont to do.
The white, 21-year-old suspect of killing 20 people in El Paso, CA – a figure bound to increase due to the severity of injuries caused by his assault weapon – also published an online racist rant so vile even the site’s founder asked for it to be shut down.
Less than 15 hours later, another massacre in Dayton, OH, took another ten lives, and surely injured many more, to add to this grim but all too familiar habit in America to rate mass murders by their body count, not by how come we allow them to happen.
At this point, the usual ways we relate to mass shootings have become numbing irrelevant, just as the incidents themselves. The difference that may lead us to pass a strong gun control legislation is to law enforcement call them for what they are, domestic terrorism, and for ‘Moskow Mitch’ McConnell, Senate leader for the past four years, to be forced to act or get out of the way.
As the staggering number of casualties and lives damaged forever by these tragedies have regrettably ceased to shock us, we need the kind of leadership that won’t come from Mitch, or from a president who calls white supremacists ‘very fine people.’
To Democrats and Congress, please call the Parkland kids, apologize to them for having ignored their pain and mass rallies, and heed New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern’s ethical and humanitarian response: pass sweeping gun laws until the end of this week!
Two last notes to add hope and levity to this somber day in America. The teeter-totter that Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello have installed through the iron fence separating Sunland Park, New Mexico, and Colonia Anapra, Mexico, an artistic statement no less powerful than a citizen’s rally. It also reminded us that human interaction is a fun and effective way to solve conflicts.
And tomorrow’s birthday of arguably the king of artistic frivolity, Andy Warhol, who’d be 91. It’s a date worth mentioning if for nothing else, then for his flawed but insightful view of human folly: ‘in the future, everybody will be famous for 15 minutes.’ To fight for justice and for the future does give anyone a non-required shot at being famous but for doing the right thing. Together.

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7/29/2019 Tears in the Rainforest, Colltalers

A desperate appeal was issued on behalf of the Waiãpi, an indigenous community of Amapá, Brazil. Miners have invaded their land over the weekend and killed two of its chiefs. Jawaruwa Waiãpi blamed President Bolsonaro and promised to retaliate.
‘We know what’s happening and what needs to be done.’ Excerpt from the scientists-penned Letter to the Future at a memorial to Okjökull, a.k.a. Ok, Iceland’s first glacier lost to climate change. It’s heartbreaking and others may follow it too if we allow it.
Such an eloquent call for urgent action was in sharp contrast to the U.S. president’s viciously racist attack on Elijah Cummings, a black Representative from Maryland. It was vile, just as his previous public insults directed at The Squad. A new low? Hardly.
Fact is, while campaigning for reelection, Trump is casting the darkest, most intolerant and retrograde forces of society, so more is to be expected. At each new slur, slightly more deleterious than the one before, his racism is being normalized. If we allow it.
For too large a swath of Americans haven’t yet realized what’s coming up, with each new frightening rally of his. The roar of hate chanting and idolatry towards him is the glue that sustains his presidency. Sadly, many in his constituency – which is by far the one that depends the most on the welfare system – will soon pay the price for their support. But we won’t say, ‘I told you so.’
As for news from the border trenches, here’s a quick housekeeping tip: there must be constant reminders that the horror show is still on and each new horrifying development is worth noticing. Every American must be fully aware that what’s being done at the border on their behalf is not just illegal, from an international law standpoint, but also qualifies as crimes against humanity.
To flag what’s happening also prevents its banalization; if people pay attention, tragedy doesn’t sink to the bottom of coverage. As Trump hammers falsehoods by the hour, his lies must be exposed by the minute. The media won’t denounce him? We will.
Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez, 16, died in May, alone, at the toilet of an immigration detention cell. He was the fifth child to die after being taken into U.S. custody since December. A similar fate could’ve befallen Francisco Erwin Galicia, 18, who was detained for 23 days, with no family contact, lawyer, toilet, shower or bed available. He’s survived and now is suing the U.S.
The difference between the two is that Carlos Gregorio was an asylum-seeker from Guatemala, a country ravaged by American foreign policy, while Francisco is a U.S. citizen from Texas. Both fell into the same black hole of current immigration rules, with its ‘disgusting rat and rodent-infested’ prison-like facilities, ridden with lawlessness, violence, and disrespect to human dignity.
They will get no help whatsoever from the U.S. Supreme Court: rather than refusing to be part of this infamy, it actually allowed the administration to divert funds, not to save children, prevent deaths, or improve border conditions, but to fund a stupid wall.
Unfortunately, such coordinated brutality also inspires other tyrants around the world. Take Brazil’s junior despot, for instance. Since his campaign, President Bolsonaro has openly favored miners and loggers to break the law and get their business to the Amazon. After all, he despises indigenous communities almost as much as poor people of color, sexual minorities, and so on.
As a result, the forest has been losing an area equivalent to three American football fields per minute. It’s already lost over 1,300 square miles since he took office in January, a 39% increase over the same period last year, according to Brazil’s own agency tracking deforestation. Despite criticism, Bolsonaro’s simply doubled down: ‘the Amazon is not yours,’ he said last week.
Since Brazilian officials have arrived in Amapá, there’s been no reports of violence. But tensions throughout the entire forest are high, there’s no law enforcement, and long fought-for native Brazilian lands will continue to attract the landowners’ greed.
For now, let’s skip commenting on Boris Johnson, the second-half of the Swindler Twins, – guess who’s the other? – newly minted as the U.K. Prime Minister. He, who helped Brexit wreck England for years to come, is now in charge of fixing it, his intent all along. But, like his blond bro from another furrow, he has no clue of course. To our dear Brits, here’s all our solidarity.
Let’s also not waste time with the drop-in-a-bucket penalty the Federal Trade Commission imposed on Facebook. Or the Mueller testimony, a.k.a. Fiasco Vol. 2, which if anything, only confirmed our worst suspicions about well, FB: Russians and anyone can use it at will and in ways that are even more effectively than hacking. Or that hacking is even mentioned in this case. Enough.
Let’s instead celebrate and support battered Puerto Rico. Boricuas have taken a beating but fought bravely back a hurricane of neglect from Washington and ousted their corrupt governor. Now possibilities are wide open even for, who knows? Statehood.
‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.’ Roy Batty’s expiration speech in Blade Runner. But to Rutger Hauer, who I’ve briefly met in 1987, ‘time to die’ came July 19, making us very sad indeed. R.I.P., Vriend.

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7/22/2019 Don’t Get Fooled Again, Colltalers

It’s time for a new, all-encompassing anti-war front. Against any war, but first, the one Washington hawks are salivating to start: a disastrous, if not civilization-ending, conflict with Iran. For it’d easily kill millions, and derail the fight against climate change.
Which it’s what we all should be really up in arms against, be it for the accelerating melting of Greenland’s million-year-old ice sheet, or for the fact that this year, the July 4th was hotter in Anchorage, Alaska, than in New York City, over 440 miles south.
There’s been yet another soul-crushing incident at the border with Mexico. Meet Sofi, a 3-year-old from Honduras, who has been asked by an agent to choose which parent she’d like to stay with since the other was going to be kicked out of the country.
It was but a moment, luckily exposed just in time to prevent further damage to her and her family – they were reunited and sent to Juarez, Mexico. But the point is: what have we become? children dying or missing, in cages, filthy, forced to make decisions they can’t grasp? How can Americans be OK with an administration so brutal to kids, wherever they are, come from or why?
The universal right to seek asylum, either for fear of persecution or grave threat, is a juridical concept recognized by ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Hebrews, adopted by the Christian church and the Western tradition, and still universally accepted as an inherent right. But the president thinks he knows better and wants to change that. And he will if the American people allow him.
The rule may also be illegal, besides being against basic human decency, solidarity, and compassion, the very foundation of living in society. It’s an unfair act inflicted on those who got hurt the most by the U.S.’s Central American policies. Now if only we could find all this historical, unbiased information, so we could actually talk with each other, instead of hurling insults.
Surprise, surprise: if you thought you’ve already heard these words defining the right to asylum mentioned above, you’re right: it’s all lifted from Wikipedia, a source that many could use at least once, before opening their mouth and adding to the madness.
Questions also abound about former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony to House Judiciary and Intelligence committees this Wednesday. He may even shed new lights on the Trump administration’s malfeasances, but it may not be wise to place high expectations on someone who’s already had a chance to enlighten us, but has not, and failed at making himself even understood.
Even if he delivers an unlike bombshell, then what? It may only serve to instruct an impeachment process that’s now all but dead on the water. And it’s more likely to be used as fodder to confirm his previous, foggy, findings: the president sort of did it, but… The second time around there’s little doubt he did it all but would that be enough to derail the Trump 2020 ticket? Hardly.
Speaking of that, it’s doing wonders to normalizing hate. When the president paused to let his angry crowd chant ‘Send Her Back,’ during a rally in North Carolina, he was once again priming his weapon of choice to get reelected: sowing divisionism.
They were referring mainly to Rep. Ilhan Omar, but also to her fellow congresswomen, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, or the Squad, all ‘minority’ women of color. They’ve become a target to his white supremacist base.
To be sure Omar is being villainized also for being the very incarnation of an American dream: born in a refugee camp, she came to the U.S. to work and educate herself, and found her voice by representing others not exactly like her. But not like him. The Squad is now the vanguard of the Democratic Party, and possibly the only one with such a visceral mandate to defeat him.
They’ve cut through grandstanding, so the president and the producers of his White House unreality show, Fox News, are all out to silence them. It may take more than all Rupert Murdoch’s money, though, or what Steve Bannon may be able to squeeze out of coward billionaires. There’s a call to save the earth and they’ve raised their hands, to be counted. Let’s lend them ours too.
The biggest risk of getting into a messy war with Iran, as with any other nation for that matter, is that so many are not paying attention. In typical Trump fashion, there’s a show of mirrors, renewed every week, designed to capture the public eye, and not let it go until it engages. And that’s so easy; by noon whatever tweet or soundbite of his is already being taken as newsworthy.
As the media hammers the same rehashed points with hardly any corroboration, about missing tankers, near misses, and downed drones, for the rest of the afternoon and evening news programs, a few hundred bots spread the new rumor on the Web. All they need is to connect with online hordes of idiots, anxious for attention and voila, that’s your news day. Meanwhile, war closes in.
We won’t repeat the same playbook that led to the death of over 4,000 troops in Iraq, plus hundreds of thousands of civilians. We’ll say no for three reasons: Afghanistan, Iraq, and yes, we won’t let the president play the commander and win reelection.
We won’t send another few thousands of our young into harm’s way – note to oneself, many undocumented soldiers took bullets for this country and still have no Green Cards – or demand those left behind to stand up and sing hail to the great white chief.
Few know by heart what the second man to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, said as he descended the steps of the lunar module. As it turns out, they didn’t have the same rehearsed gravitas of Neil Armstrong’s famous quip. Or made into the day’s headlines.
They did, however, have just the amount of triviality that makes great achievements relatable to anyone, almost like a routine comment. Except that it wasn’t, of course. ‘Wa’al, here I go, down the steps of the lunar lander to join Neil on the surface of the moon – careful not to lock the door behind me.’ Don’t allow anyone to shut the door of the world on our face. Peace, never war.

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07/15/2019 Climate & the Stardust Dream, Colltalers

As hurricane Barry was making its way towards Lousiana’s coast last week, New Orleans was reminded of the trauma inflicted by Katrina in 2005. Barry’s still drenching the state, but mercifully, it all but spared the Big Easy.
Even powerful hurricanes eventually go away, though, unlike the climate emergency we’re facing. That’s why thousands of U.S. colleges are pushing for an action plan, and there’s a new fund helping raise awareness of the issue.
But the week had other themes, with higher or smaller degrees of concern and misery, worth going over before those headlines. Some, such as Iran, are bound to simmer for a while, but since it’s about nukes, let’s not be complacent.
The U.K., a nation with seemingly no one properly minding its business these days, has shown poor judgment again by seizing an Iranian tanker. All that it accomplished was to raise already high tensions between Teheran and Washington. Given the Trump administration’s own mess in the region, it won’t be easy to dial it all down.
In Hong Kong, protesters have spent the past month marching against a new extradition law, that even as it’s officially killed, it still haunts the liberal majority living in the China-controlled territory. No surprise here.
The authoritarian Chinese government would want nothing but to legally do what’s already assumed it does undercover: to bring dissidents to the mainland and shut them down. For that, it counts with a huge ally, the world’s indifference about China’s civil rights violations. But for now, HK activists are keeping the momentum from fading away.
Almost every summer, Rome and most big cities around the world come to a point they can’t handle the gargantuan amount of garbage they produce. The public health and stench crisis will only get worse, but so far no amount of stink emanating from the Eternal City has led to solutions, or driven interest to tackle the daunting task ahead.
As societies still apply a ‘one-way’ approach to consumption, and impoverished economies no longer want to be dumpsters to wealthy nations, it’ll take more than anything mankind has ever done about its footprint on the planet, to solve it. At the moment, though, the U.S. won’t lead the search for solutions, despite being its chief culprit.
In a year, Americans produce more garbage per capita (807 kilograms of solid waste) than Europe, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean combined, or almost twice what the rest of the world produces.
Despite the potential for becoming a dominant enterprise in the future, recycling lacks investments and political will to respond to the global crisis. Worse, corporations producing the bulk of garbage are still not required to play a role in recycling their own goods. Only accountability, of businesses and individuals, will turn this rotting tide.
Which brings us to floodings and downpours, loss of lives and material destruction brought about by hurricanes. And how such a drastic condition may become another year-round climate-triggered event.
‘Work together to nurture a habitable planet for future generations.’ Over seven thousand colleges and universities have signed a declaration to address the crisis, outlined on a three-point set of priorities: going carbon neutral by 2030; mobilizing resources for research and training; and reemphasizing education across the board.
Congressional Democrats have also come up with a ‘Climate Emergency Resolution,’ that outlines ways the U.S. has to gather resources against it and to demand immediate action. It’s fittingly light on implementation details, just like the Green New Deal, as policies have to be all-encompassing but flexible to be applied locally.
And a new fund has just been created by a group of philanthropists and investors, to support efforts of groups focused on the crisis. One of them, Extinction Rebellion, has been particularly visible.
Their most distinguished aspect is how they enroll the help of regular people in their interventions. Rather than trained activists, most participants in traffic stoppages, for instance, or pointed protests at government facilities, are those who wouldn’t usually join street protests. We applaud their courage standing up for us all.
All of that is commendable, of course, but we still lack a global strategy to counter the climate’s disruption and its impact on the lives of millions. That’s why the U.S. has to rejoin the Paris Agreement.
Immigration raids are supposed to increase all over the U.S. this week, and so is resistance to this brutal, politically driven, and ultimately, ineffective Trump policy. Again, thousands of hard-working Americans will be chased down by a Fascist arm of the government, that has long ago abandoned any ethical and just principles.
As Megan Rapinoe, the U.S. World Cup Champion soccer team player, said on their victory rally, ‘it’s our responsibility to make this world a better place.’ And she’s delivered at least part of that. It’s our turn now.
Saturday will mark the 50th anniversary of the man on the moon, yet another promise to turn this into something better than what it was when we arrived. Even if the space adventure bellies an arms race and a deranged quest for global domination, it’s also an ideal inherent to being human: we do want to go back to where we once belong.
After all, ‘we’re made of star stuff,’ as Carl Sagan once said, sort of paraphrasing Shakespeare. Despite all disappointments, walking on the moon since was a shining moment for humankind. Our moral task now is to save the planet, but if we manage that, we may be also ready to someday fly among the stars again. Cheers.

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7/08/2019 First They Chase Immigrants, Colltalers

June was history’s hottest month on Earth. But such a global emergency is still to be matched by a blunt, effective response from governments and the ownership classes controlling the world. So kids fighting for their future are suing the whole lot of them.
Meanwhile, whether Steve Bannon had big expectations for Jair Bolsonaro, whom he helped elect as Brazil’s president half a year ago, is arguable. But it’s unlikely he’s pleased by this train wreck of an administration either. Most Brazilians are surely not.
Before those headlines, though, let’s have a bumpy ride through other news. The two-punch earthquake that rocked California, for one, the strongest in 20 years. Fears of the ‘big one,’ supposedly due around now, made a few hearts to skip a beat or two, but with no casualties, Californians went right back at worrying about a new, now more predictable scourge: the season of wildfires.
California also looms large in the opposition to the Trump administration’s brutal immigration policies. The president, who’s threatened state laws protecting a quarter of its population who are immigrants, or related to someone who is, is also still trying to add the so-called citizenship question in the 2020 Census, which would shorten federal funds to be allocated to the state.
That, in addition to government-run concentration-like camps, where asylum-seekers are treated as criminals, and nationwide, Gestapo-like raids, have created conditions for a potentially explosive U.S. summer, with yet more grief and misery to boot.
It’s no wonder the sad reoccurrence of adjectives last used in WWII. There’s an entire argument going on about just that, and both sides may have a point. Unlike the simpler choice Americans must make; for it’s either to learn from well-known and yet still painful history lessons, or pay the price for being with Stupid and helping undermine dignity and democratic principles.
‘First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist,’ goes an often paraphrased and misquoted 1946 quote by Martin Niemöller, which also mentions Jews. ‘Then they came to me – and there was no one left to speak for me.’
Speaking of expected consequences, the alarming result of Trump’s all-thunder-and-no-substance saber-rattling against Iran is what may also happen with North Korea: as the president tries to walk back on his threats, Iranians are doubling-down on their pursuit of nuclear capability. Now if only we were part of a decent, global agreement on Iran nukes. Oh, wait, we tossed that one.
To say that an unthinkable nuclear conflict in the Middle East shouldn’t be our top concern, though, as a nation and a civilization, is a statement few thought could make any sense. But given the gap between what serves tyrants and warmongers’ interests, and the will and aspirations of the majority of humans, the biggest task is to rise against the former, and be judicious about the latter.
What groups of teenagers are doing in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere – some 250 lawsuits demanding immediate climate action – is much more important. Now if only their last-ditch effort to save the planet could get our support, we’d be fine.
They’re far from it, however. In the U.S., especially, ignorance of the causes and ways of reversing the already harsh effects of global warming is rampant, to the satisfaction of a powerful fossil fuel industry that acts as if the president were on its payroll. Kids who already missed support to fight for gun control, are getting a similar cold shoulder about the climate too. And that just as they may become the voter demographics strong enough to swing the election. Powerful Democrats, such as Senator Diane Feinstein shutting down kids who wanted her support to the New Green Deal, are the rule, not the exception. And we all lose.
The first six months of Brazil’s far-right President Bolsonaro have been about suspicious of corruption of family members, and of allies’ involvement in murders; petty internal disputes; and a recent cocaine scandal. The only thing that remains consistent in his increasingly paranoid administration is the still steady support of the so-called bull, bullet, and bible congressional caucus.
But many wonder that even with the millions of big landowners, gun advocates, and above all, Evangelicals, Bolsonaro may not be able to complete his term. Not because he represents a real global risk, which he does, but for his anti-environmental policies.
The visible impact of his ill-conceived actions and even more absurd statements can already be seen on the Amazon Rainforest.
Last month, for instance, deforestation rates rose 88% compared to the same month a year ago, a likely by-product of his plans to open the forest for oil and gas prospection. This just as understanding of the forest’s importance to fresh air and water, ultimately for protecting the planet, is now all but unanimous. And not mentioning the fate of the many communities living off the jungle.
Not even Bolsonaro’s deranged dreams of largesse, though, will assure that his lines of credit with backers will still remain open.
While the coalition to oust Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first woman in the presidency, in 2016, and prevent former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from being elected again, a year ago, was unified then, it’s now all splintered. Bolsonaro remains clueless at the center of a national crisis that may oust him too. Doesn’t ‘a president who doesn’t understand the issues’ sound familiar?
A shout to Megan Rapinoe & her Team U.S.A. for its 4th Women World Cup (and for not even considering going to the ‘f**king’ White House). And a note about the passing of João Gilberto, one of the architects of Bossa Nova. R.I.P., João. Our condolences to Brazilians proud of sharing their nationality with a true genius of music. And to dear singer Bebel Gilberto, it will get better.

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7/01/2019 A Photobook of Tragedies, Colltalers

Heatwaves shouldn’t make summer headlines. Unless they start breaking records at an unusual rate. Recent 114F temperatures that killed dozens, ignited wildfires, and cut power in seven European nations have one unmistakable cause: climate emergency.
19 of the richest nations have tried to show they’re concerned about that, at the just-finished Osaka, Japan, G-20 summit. But their words sounded hollow, and even their final declaration missed the signature of the world’s biggest carbon polluter: the U.S.
But none of the pictures of devastation and misery caused by the continental scorcher had the emotional punch of the one taken at the southern border of the U.S.: a little girl embracing her father, both face down, who drowned crossing the Rio Grande river.
The viral photo of Salvadorean Oscar Alberto Martinez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria Martinez, tops an already staggeringly heartbreaking collection of images that summarize the Trump administration’s awfully cruel immigration policies.
In these dark times, toddlers in cages, mothers and kids running from tear gas, plus reports of record numbers of children dying, or being abused at border patrol facilities, almost fail to catch our attention. At each new image, we’re forcibly becoming a bit more acquainted with the infamy. But the fate of Oscar and Angie should, or rather, must put a stop on this madness. But will it?
One wonders, because just a few days prior, a harrowing account of what’s like being detained in an overcrowded border station in Clint, Texas, had caused shock but not much else; no sustained media coverage, and even less reaction as a result of it.
Would it be that pictures are not enough to move us? Have we turned our heart blind, and no longer can connect the plight of those fleeing persecution, murder, and extreme poverty, to our own humanity and natural desire to seek a better world for our loved ones? Are we sure that that’s what we believe should happen to those desperately knocking on our door?
A group of lawyers reported that hundreds of children, as young as seven, were caring for infants they’d just met, ‘toddlers with no diapers relieved themselves in their pants, and teenage mothers wore clothes stained with breast milk.’ No one had access to showers or toiletries, amid the unbearable stench of human filth. To believers, few descriptions match what hell must be like.
Speaking of faith, irony would be a word to describe it too, if there wasn’t another one more precise: hypocrisy. For in a country where religious fundamentalism, i.e., intolerance and hate, is on the rise, and the zealotry of so-called pro-life activists threatens to criminalize a woman’s right to choose, no one of that front has said anything in protest or showed up to support the children.
While they proselytize a new authoritarian order, where fetuses have more rights than living, flesh and blood people of color, the horror show at the border has become a ‘Wish I Were Never Here’ postcard-like of life in America under Trump, circa 2019.
Another type of show, usually introduced by an expletive, is often provided by the president himself, whenever on a world tour. At every new outing, he manages to top himself, either with another display of ugly-American-ism, or by smilingly posing next to some tyrannic leader. He followed the script again last week, while also adding new touches of unacceptable showmanship.
At the G-20, Trump not only posed with Vladimir Putin, mockingly asking him, by request of the international press, to not meddle on U.S. elections, but also made a sick joke about getting rid of journalists, to a man accused of having murdered them.
Worst: for the summit’s ‘family’ pic, he made a point of shaking hands with Saudi Arabia crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who a United Nations panel accused of ordering the murder and dismemberment of U.S.-based Saudi reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
The warm handshake was witnessed by a roster of cheerful leaders, including Putin, Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, all happy to wave, contrasting with a subdued U.K.’s soon-to-be ex-P.M. Theresa May.
The fact that the G-20, as a bloc, won’t put the maximum priority on the climate crisis, reveals more about how the system is set up than about its nation members, some of which are indeed taking (baby) steps for change. But overall, the picture is not good.
For instance, take the country formerly known as the land of the free, or U.S., for short. In two nights last week, 20 Democratic presidential contenders have debated and seemed all eager to speak on behalf of a renewed party, almost unashamed to reassert its refocused social aim. Climate though was nearly dwarfed by what candidates, but not the public, consider as urgent priorities.
2019 may turn out to be among the hottest in recorded history, as fires will burn towns, downpours will flood streets, and people will die. But so far, a new, comprehensive legislation, such as the Green New Deal, is yet to be voted on, let alone implemented.
All 20 agree that climate is an issue that turns all others irrelevant, but until Trump’s opponent in next year’s election is picked, count only on the young and the willing for something to be done about it, not on the Democratic party’s leadership, or ex-special counsel Robert Mueller, for that matter, even as he’s finally agreed to testify to Congress on July 17. We won’t get fooled again.
The U.S. celebrates its 243rd anniversary this Thursday, and Americans will have B-B-Qs, parades, games, and fireworks to marvel at. There may also be plenty of grandstanding and ‘support the troops’ speeches, but that’s the part to avoid. Take it easy and skip coal, if you can. More importantly, tell yourself, we’re not that kind of nation; we’ll back you up. Happy Fourth of July.

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6/24/2019 Time to Fight & Be Proud, Colltalers

It’s deja vu all over again. The Trump administration’s threatened to bomb another country, but Iran may be tougher a foe than North Korea. Whether the crisis is averted, is not the president’s concern; having a war at the ready to help on his reelection is.
But the world is, indeed, concerned about it. Such a conflict would surely spill over the Middle East and boost the more than 70 million kicked out of their homes by wars, according to a United Nations study released on World Refugee Day. Worried yet?
The climate emergency is very much part of both equations. For instance, a report by NOAA, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric agency, found that global carbon dioxide emissions reached the highest levels in 61 years, last May, 3.5 ppm higher than the 411.2 ppm 2018 peak. In the same period, floods and rainfall drove the U.S. to its second-wettest month in 125 years.
A just-arrived traveler from another era would think that mankind’s sole focus would be on these two scourges, war and climate, the only two capable of co-existing, while endlessly feeding each other. But such wanderer would be terribly wrong about that.
When the Federal Reserve’s released its ‘Distributive Financial Accounts’ data series, many an analyst searched it for evidence that would corroborate whatever assumptions they had about the market, the economy, and everything. Except what it all means.
Matt Bruenig, founder of the People’s Policy Project, found something else entirely: that ‘between 1989 and 2018, the top one percent increased its total net worth by $21 trillion,’ while the bottom 50 percent saw its net worth decreased by $900 billion.
And yet, that misguided traveler would again assume, war and climate catastrophe affect everyone equally, so those clearly with the means to stop them both would be actively pursuing just that, so their own kin would have a future to live on. Right? Nope.
If the staggering inequality the world has been witnessing getting wider, with tragically fewer ways to slow it down, shows anything about our fellow humans is that those who can, won’t do much about, for as long as their own present status quo holds.
And the majority is simply too busy outrunning floods and the rain of bullets. In plain words, the tiny minority at the top wants to profit, while the rest of us swim, run and survive, or sink and drown. As for that tripper, they’d better head back home soon.
Not every wealthy person is oblivious to the urgency of climate change, of course, and not all survivors at the bottom are noble spirits, fighting the good war. But only one side already pays for a rudderless world, split between haves and will-never-haves.
Which brings us to Trump’s game of teasers, designed to regulate at his liking the heat of bad decisions he makes every day. A compliant media is already drumming up ‘reasons’ to press Iran, even when it omits from its coverage the fact that the U.S. has already started the war. It seems that there’s been an intense cyber attack on Iranian defense systems, anticipating any reaction.
Iran has shown that it’s willing to react, heavens help us all, but it’s also wisely taking its time; who needs a conflict that may kill hundreds of thousands, or worse if involves the use of nuclear weapons? Not Iran, not its neighbors, not even archenemy Israel, if its own administration hasn’t lost it all yet. But Trump does, for war is a sure way for a sitting president to win his reelection.
He’s not alone on this stance either. It’s just so that, while we live in the most crucial time ever challenging civilization to act as a whole, we have also a crop of individualistic, war-mongering, manipulative, and anti-democratic leaders to ever being given the fate of billions to manage. They obviously won’t do a thing to risk self-preservation, everything and everybody else be damned.
Risking losing credibility, it may be fair to say that if Iran does become a full-fledged nuclear nation, it’d be all Trump’s fault. The 2015 nuclear agreement was doing its job of containing its capability of developing weapons, and it was supported by the international community. Breaking from it was a mistake, and not just because the administration had no better plan to replace it.
Iran has recently said that it will enrich Uranium. Despite media coverage, though, that was not what started the present crisis.
And for the sake of sanity, let’s not get here into all the lies, the blurry images of the ‘proof’ for an attack in the Gulf of Oman, the preposterous speeches on the ‘threat’ Iran represents, all nauseating reminders of the buildup to the disgraceful 2003 Iraq war.
Trump may have tried to walk back on his words, claiming victory, and, well, lying a bit more about it. Just as he did with the ‘excellent letter’ he claims to have sent Kim Jong-un. But many Iranians are tired of fighting the Ayatollah and Supreme Council, for an opening to the west, only to be disavowed by the most western of them all, the U.S. They may not back down this time.
It was a week when Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini vowed to send a boat full of migrants back to a war zone; that the U.S. was reported to have been waging cyberwar on Russia’s power grid; and when another woman was featured on a national magazine cover, accusing Trump of sexually harassing her. That is, a typical week in the Trump world of misery we all live in.
And yet, however dark are our thoughts about life, the universe, and the future of everything, there are those who need to be empowered to win the fight for their lives: those whose years on Earth amount to less time than it took us to be alarmed by it.
Older generations have ‘failed to respond properly’ to the climate emergency, while the young are ‘stepping up to the challenge,’ said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutierres at last week’s World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth, in Lisbon.
Besides being concerned about the fate of refugees, that also means stripping power away from those who won’t do anything to prevent war or act on climate, and letting the young and progressive forces of society take charge and lead the way. The rich, or technology, could help, but don’t count on it. Our time’s running out. Be happy, be out, and enjoy the Pride/Stonewall 50 March.

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06/17/2019 A Judge Hero No More, Colltalers

Brazil has been rocked by a series of leaked conversations, suggesting a conspiracy of judge Sérgio Moro, law enforcement, and government officials, to prevent front-runner, two-term ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from winning the 2018 election.
A ‘gut punch.’ That’s how civil rights groups called the Trump administration’s plan to put asylum-seeking children in internment camps, used to detain Japanese-Americans during WWII. Brazilians took to the streets; reaction in the U.S. was more subdued.
To be sure, it’s been a time for political turmoil in both countries, at the forefront of a global struggle that pits progressive forces of society against the assault of a far-right neo-populism, managed behind the scenes by the likes of Steve Bannon and others.
Before probing further these two explosive headlines, let’s quickly review some of last week’s other events of note. Starting with Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange, whose U.K. court hearing whether to extradite him to the U.S. has been set for next February.
In a case that undermines one of the main tenets of democracy, that of a free press, Assange has been persecuted for publishing in 2010, classified documents on the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaked by court-marshaled Army Officer Chelsea Manning.
Between diplomatic cables and footage shot by Air Force pilots, the trove of material shows possible war crimes committed by the Americans, with potential to indict the entire U.S. war effort in those two countries, and implications to the whole region.
Instead, the administration wants to use the 1917 Espionage Act to brand Assange an enemy of the state. For that, it counts on a compliant media, oblivious to its responsibility to inform and side up with whistleblowers who risk their lives, to tell the truth.
U.S. conservatives like to boast about patriotism, and how 911 defined a new America. But just as their ‘unwavering’ support to fetuses, and no regard to the living poor and non-white, such rhetoric won’t apply to those who actually sacrificed themselves.
The case of the first respondents, sicken while recovering bodies from New York City Ground Zero, the Pentagon, in D.C., and Shanksville, PA., is heartbreaking. 18 years after the attacks, Congress is still to provide a permanent cash stream for the Victims Compensation Fund, for survivors and families of those who perished from illnesses contracted while working at those sites.
‘You should be ashamed,’ lashed out comedian, and activist, Jon Stewart to a near empty room in Capitol Hill. It was his latest attempt to boost support for a bill with the potential to help more than 95 thousand survivors and responders enrolled in the plan. But it’s very likely that it won’t pass before the death toll from 911-related ailments outnumbers the attacks’ nearly 3,000 deaths.
Race has also brought Brazil and the U.S. somehow together in the past days. Former slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman is poised to replace American slave-owner president Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Not soon, though, if it’s up to Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin. Whether Jackson-admirer Trump has anything to do with that is uncertain, but at least, a bill design is now out.
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, one of Brazil’s most celebrated writers, would be 180 next Friday. But in a country where over 60% of the population is non-white, many ignore that the son of slaves was black, unlike his official portraits. A project by Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares, named after a former slave, is now trying to correct that and catching some flak in the process.
And another parallel in the week news is also worth mentioning: while a hung juror acquitted Scott Warren, for providing water and humanitarian aid to migrants in the American Southwest desert, Pia Klemp, a German boat captain, faces up to 20 years for rescuing an estimated 1,000 refugees. Let’s hope the Italian court system shows Arizona’s equanimity, and also acquit Klemp.
It was the now Justice Minister Moro, and its ‘Car Wash’ investigation, what assured Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil’s new president. He presided over persecution and imprisonment of double-digit polls leader Lula, on what many law experts called trumped-up charges. The Intercept’s disclosures that Moro was actually driving the proceedings all but demoralizes his public stature as fair.
Audios of his exchanges with Deltan Dallagnol, Lava Jato leading prosecutor, and other law enforcement agents, show that he clearly broke the law, and knew it. What will come next, with further revelations and mass rallies of protest, is anyone’s guess.
But slowly, a sharper picture of what happened to Brazil begins to emerge. From a global leadership position, in less than four years, it plummeted to a backwater nation, with a stagnant economy and paralyzed industry, and whose majority of its population is being haunted again by old demons, rampant hunger, and violence, with increasing social inequality, and a brutal lawless state.
The movement to free Lula has now a substantial legal backing. Even though Bolsonaro is likely to throw a still popular Moro under the bus any day now, the president himself may be sailing into troubled waters. As the universally derided coup that ousted president Dilma Rousseff showed in 2016, allegiances quickly change, and his support may be further eroded in the days ahead.
Some 120 thousand Japanese-Americans were held on four dozen facilities during WWII, due to a xenophobic, and ultimately unjustified, fear of U.S. betrayal by its own citizens. In another cruel double-down of its own stance on immigration, the Trump administration plans to send 1,400 asylum-seeking children to Fort Sill, OK, which hosted some 700 detainees during the 1940s.
That Army base choice represents the worst kind of symbolism, reaffirming the government’s views on immigration, refugees, and asylum-seeking, as a criminal, not social, issue. It’s truly sad to say, but concentration camps are indeed back, and here.
Ideologues of the ‘new’ Fascism have priorities well set. On top, are winning elections, which it’s been happening even if not as overwhelming as they claim. Related signposts to keep close watch: a new prime minister in the U.K., and president in the U.S.
But along that, there’s a core of issues that taken together, can redraw the world’s power balance. Women reproductive rights, race, immigration, wages, access to education, are key for would-be tyrants to manipulate and restrain societies under their fists.
Often, though, lack of vision, and/or a powerful theme threatening their own survival, derail them from that upper perch. These days, such an issue is climate emergency. It’s global, it’s existential, and above all, it’s coming at mankind real fast. That’s why the Green New Deal isn’t about planting trees, but changing social conditions, so we all have an equal shot at living and thriving.
It has to be inherent to any proposal to solve the climate challenge that the most powerful have greater responsibility to lead the charge and sponsor all material changes. But all efforts will be doomed if they merely reproduce the current social order. No one comes alive out of this world, but many will help build a better one. Open enrollment is now. Enjoy the midyear Solstice.

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06/10/2019 Genocides We Choose to Ignore, Colltalers

An inquiry on multiple deaths and disappearances of Canada’s indigenous women has shed light on a brutally common reality around the world. But violence against women, just as genital mutilation and murder of transgenders, still remains on the rise.
Another week, another terrifying report or two on the climate emergency. Out of 7.7 billion, six billion breathe life-threatening air. Worse: besides carbon dioxide, 84 times more toxic methane now accounts to a quarter of human-caused global warming.
Before elaborating on these headlines, let’s talk about what’s tickled the angry bone of those still in possession of a brain lately. What about the visit of that ugly American, and his hopeless self-driven family, to Queen and country across the pond? Needless to hide: it was, well, ugly. Even before taking off, Trump’s insulted a member of the Royals, and Sadiq Khan, well-liked mayor of London. Once there, he praised Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, the notoriously reviled architects of the Brexit disaster.
All the while, he tweeted nasty things about veteran Robert Muller – on D Day, no less -, and Betty Midler, of all people. And to some, he committed his worst offense so far, donning a grotesquely undersized evening wear he seems to have had since the 90s.
Nothing of it amounts to anything his supporters care about, though, or that too-intimidated-to-act Democrats can throw at him.
For all heartbreak and embarrassment the 45th is causing to Americans, he’s still in control of the media narrative and got quickly back on the saddle. An example of vintage Trump? the so-called deal he claims to have struck with Mexico over tariffs.
For anyone light on critical thinking about what they read around, the president threatened to raise tariffs on Mexican imports, if our neighbor didn’t prevent immigrants to entry… the U.S. Looking closely, however, nothing of sorts ever happened. Mexico’s been already doing its part, agreed upon months ago, by trying to streamline the immigration flow. Problem is, it simply can’t.
With the Trump administration doing all in its power to prevent them from gaining lawful entry into this country, no matter how much people warehousing Mexico may afford to arrange, the flow will only engorge further. Those who jump all hurdles to get here will still have no prayer to see a judge in reasonable time, or even get the protection they are due to from international laws.
‘Genocide.’ That’s how Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called what happened to thousands of impoverished indigenous women killed between 1980 and 2012, at the release of a government report that also concerns American native populations.
Most had left their places of origin in search for a better life, only to be murdered while negotiating the underworld of sex trade and drug addiction. The fate of many remains unknown, but overall, the episode fits a despicable pattern rooted in class and race.
Although sobering, the enquiry was greeted with support by representatives of North American tribes, traditionally at the bottom of Canada and the U.S.’ social priorities. Trudeau’s ‘National Action Plan’ aims at addressing the violence, helped by indigenous leaders. But given his flawed record on the tar sand pipeline issue, for instance, many remain skeptic of any meaningful change.
Meanwhile in the U.S., there has been no government probe on the rise of female genital mutilation, and only 32 states ban the practice. The Center for Diseases Control and Prevention estimates that over 500 thousand American girls risk being mutilated, out of 200 million worldwide. The Trump administration, however, is more interested in fetuses than in living, breathing women.
There’s been no probe on the eight transgender black women murdered in the U.S. this year, only a call to the FBI to finally get involved. It’s not just the particular cruelty of these deaths what should get us up in arms about it; it’s also the tacit attitude of law enforcement towards the murders, and our cultural momentum, where rampant hate is often followed by unpunished crimes.
It’s been said, women and minorities are the canaries of society; when they’re murdered, we all also risk dying of asphyxiation.
That may soon come to the rest of us too, even if by another cause. According to the World Health Organization, seven million people die of air pollution every year. The cause of 10% of all children’s deaths worldwide, toxic air also threatens some 40% of Americans. But even those who don’t die as quickly, suffer of mental impairment, disease and premature deaths. So don’t smoke.
The week of World’s Environment Day, Wednesday, and World’s Oceans Day, on Saturday, also had a day to rejoice. D Day on June 6 marked the moment when a few nations pulled together and warded off a social cancer, even if for ‘only’ 75 years. Despite an incoherent speech by the draft-dodger U.S. president, it was a day to celebrate the courage and sacrifice of those who served.
Few heroes of that bloody day are still with us, but their lives matter more than those who’d never risk their skin for a cause. To picture in uniform any of the Trump-enablers war mongers, so eager to engage us into another war, is an exercise in futility.
That’s why it’s beyond comprehension that the most progressive forces today, that of women movements, climate kids around the world, and some newly elected officials, along civic organizations and advocate groups, are not being supported by the political establishment in the U.S. and elsewhere. As time’s running out, it’s crucial to get the status quo out of the way, and soon. Or else.
‘Any politician who wants to be taken seriously by our generation needs the courage to stand up to fossil fuel billionaires and back a Green New Deal,’ says Sunrise Movement’s Varshini Prakash, who is 25. It’s a shame that we let our children fight in the frontlines of the climate emergency, but stand on their way to exercise citizen rights, and get support from the powers that be.
In case one needs inspiration, try listening to a haunting version of the Beatles’ Blackbird by sixteen-year-old high school student Emma Stevens. On the now viral recording, she sings it in her native Mi’kmaq, to raise awareness about indigenous languages. It’s a fitting end to this sort of disgruntled report, one that could be summarized as solidarity and resistance, but it won’t. Cheers

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6/03/2019 They Were Not Afraid of Tanks, Colltalers

The lives and miserable times of almost a million people living in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee camp, go on ignored by even the most truly compassionate. But now the U.S. offers a sample of just how miserable such lives really are.
On another front, the massacre of an estimated more than a thousand unarmed civilians in China’s Tiananmen Square, 30 years ago tomorrow, also went on largely ignored. Despite wider awareness of both scourges, they’ve become now painful routines.
We’ll get back to these, but let’s update the news first. Consider the Scott Warren trial, for instance, a humanitarian activist facing up to 20 years in prison for aiding migrants crossing the Arizona desert. His case, as ludicrous and draconian as a Kafkian tale, shows how xenophobia and prejudice can turn any society’s institutions into weapons of oppression against its own citizens.
We’re talking about the U.S. government asking the courts to prosecute a volunteer whose crime was to provide people in dire need with food, water, clean clothes, and beds, even rescuing their bodies for identification, instead of leaving them there to rot.
That’s not too far from prosecuting whistleblower Chelsea Manning, for showing the American people what’s been done on their behalf, or for demanding life in jail for Julian Assange, the journalist who created an online media outlet to publish her findings.
Two more Latin America-related news developments this week were, first, the ever too often heartbreaking prison riots in Brazil, which this time left 55 dead. And the metastatic growth of Trump’s ‘war on tariff,’ still staggeringly out of whack with reality.
Prison overcrowding is obviously not a Brazilian monopoly, as only a dozen or so nations around the world have an effective system for crime and rehabilitation. The majority would rather focus on crime and punishment. But Brazil may be stretching it.
Nothing unusual about its average inmate population, either. The overwhelming majority are, well, minorities, even if the term is not accurate. For in a country where over 50% of the people are of mixed-race, it’s almost an oxymoron to say most Brazilian jailbirds are black. Apart from that, the country shares a common denominator with the U.S. and many others: inmates are poor.
There are many likely reasons for the frequencyand particular cruelty of prison riots in Brazil, and following massacres as result of ill-prepared law enforcement. Institutional factors, such as brutal conditions, lack of enough space to accommodate inmates, a flawed parole system, and absence of rehab programs, are some. And so is apathy to prisoners’ fate by Brazilian upper classes.

There were four prisons involved this time, and the spark for the latest tragedy is, like others, attributed to war among criminal factions. But it may be also because the customary laundry list of demands, common to every riot in Brazil, and including some basic, humane needs, are hardly ever considered with the appropriate urgency by prison officials. Hence, the recurrent revolts.
As for tariffs, let’s get out of the way a fact, pointed out by well regarded economists: Trump has no clear idea of how they work. Specially, how they can wind up hitting back, and much harder, the domestic economy, rather than that of the targeted country.
There’s a general consensus that China’s ability to hurt the American consumer may take a while but sooner or later, it’ll impact first those lower on the social ladder. But with the president’s plans to extend this so-called war to Mexico, to punish it for its immigration policies, the impact will be faster, harsher, and long-lasting. It’ll increase prices of goods and services charged to Americans, with again, the poor shouldering the biggest blunt. But that, of course, is the least of this administration’s concerns.
There are nearly 2,000 unaccompanied immigrant children, detained in U.S. border facilities now, hundreds of which illegally held on much longer than they should. Reports of kids dying in patrol custody have been increasing, as have makeshift ‘tent cities’ to accommodate the overflow of immigrants the administration is doing everything it can to prevent from legally requesting a stay.
Dozens are being held in open-air grounds, under bridges, behind fences, in appalling conditions. Worse, there’s been disturbing reports of child sexual abuse in these camps, and as the victims remain in a legal limbo, there’s no hope for justice to them. Like toddlers seen in cages, or testifying as adults in court, these crimes will just add to this White House’s long list of immoral acts.
What’s shocking is that this is not Bangladesh, with its 164 million struggling with social, political, and infrastructural needs, but the twice-as-populous America, which is betraying its own principles of equanimity, freedom of speech, and the rule of law.
Freedom to express one’s own opinion was at the core of what happened on that tragic Sunday in Beijing, three decades ago. As tensions between students demanding reforms, and the Deng Xiaoping government, reached a head with the occupation of the Gate of Heavenly Peace, what followed it was a tragic, one-sided confrontation. Even now, few Chinese know anything about it.
As the world began to understand the enormity of what had happened, despite officials efforts to conceal it, another sobering realization also occurred: China was and still is a brutal dictatorship, that won’t hesitate to exterminate its political enemies.
Many say that much of the Chinese anxiously-hoped for new leadership perished that night, assassinated by troops of their own country. And that despite of all its might, the Red Dragon still has a long way to go before calling itself a modern, open society.
With economic growth, comes greater scrutiny, moral accountability, and the need for respect to civil rights. As China takes its due place among the elite of nations, it won’t be without growing pains, and must certainly can’t be about erasing its own past.
‘Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning god.’ The excerpt is from Leaves of Grass, by the American poet Walt Whitman, born 200 years ago last Friday. Cherish June, LBGTQ Pride month, and its full and healthy legality. See ya.

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5/27/2019 Pardon Whistleblowers, Not War Criminals, Colltalers

Grandstanding about troops and the sacrifices of veterans is a political gimmick, always favored by objectionable officials. But Trump’s Memorial Day plans to pardon soldiers found guilty of war crimes is not just morally outrageous. It’s also dangerous.
And so is the indictment of Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange on Espionage Act charges. What would still be abhorrent in some backwater republic, is gravely scandalous as an assault on the very first constitutional amendment of ‘America the Beautiful.’
More in a second, but first, there’s the U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation, and re-emergency of Boris Johnson set to replace her, which has surprised absolutely no one. As European Parliament elections have just shown, though, support to hacks like him is waning. That is, growth of right-wing, conservative populism continues to be a concern, but it did lose some steam.
Or we’re being over optimistic? After all, perennial far-right ghosts, such as National Rally party’s Marine Le Pen, and Hungary P.M. Viktor Orban, have both increased their profile, and Italy didn’t disappoint Steve Bannon either, by going a bit further right.
Brexit helped bring back Le Pen, a collector of major defeats, rejected many times by the French, to once again appear as if she’s less irrelevant than she’s always been. And regimes such as Hungary and Poland to turn into conservative wells, bubbling up a toxic mix of nationalism, religiosity, sectarianism, and anti-civil rights, while pursuing energy policies lethal to the planet.
As it stands, the bloc won’t be dominated by the far-right. While both Germany and France have some about face to do with their own electorate, even if Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron may somehow leave the picture, the Green Party’s stellar showing in the polls is certainly a better bet in the future than a manipulative revival of the worst of Europe’s tragic past of intolerance.
Navy SEAL’s Edward Gallagher, who shot unarmed civilians and killed a prisoner; Green Beret’s Mathew Golsteyn, found guilty of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010; Matthew Behenna, who murdered a released Iraq detainee; an unnamed ex-Blackwater security contractor who shot dead dozen of Iraqis; and a group of Marines who urinated on the corpses of Taliban fighters.
Such a tarnished list and more, supposedly put together by a Fox News anchor, is on Trump’s desk for pardon. And that has a wide array of military authorities, Pentagon officials, and C.I.A. sources, up in arms against it. Not to mention on this day, one dedicated to the under-served and ever growing contingent of U.S. Vets. That, though, holds no water to this White House.
Memorial Day’s usually prone to the kind of empty ‘Support Our Troops’ speech. It rarely features antiwar rallies, or highlights the contradiction of having the biggest armed forces of the world being run by those who never had to set foot in a battlefield, as the president. Meanwhile, one too many high ranking officers seem only too happy to kill the unarmed or stab the handcuffed.
‘The U.S. needs legislation to protect the public right to free speech and a free press, to protect it from the actions of the executive branch, and to promote the integrity and transparency of the government.’ Chelsea Manning, the Army intelligence officer, who gave Wikileaks a trove of thousands of unclassified documents, published by the site to public outrage in 2010.
The material, which included State Dept. cables, battlefield reports, and profiles of some Guantanamo Bay detainees, cost the then Pvt. Bradley Manning, a court marshal and a lengthy imprisonment, between 2010 and 2017. Her foes didn’t end there, as she was put it jail again for 62 days, and again now, for refusing to testify on the case the government is setting against Assange.
The Wikileaks founder is now the one being charged on the 1917 Espionage Act, and although his personal morals and conduct are under scrutiny, they also have no relevance to this case: he’s charged for being a journalist exposing an opaque government.
The sobering ‘lesson’ from this saga is, if you see something at the trenches, or at home, don’t say anything or tell the American people what you saw. Between the legislative contortionism required to frame them both, and its Orwellian spy-catching rules, this administration’s set to beat President Obama’s sad record: seven out of 11 times that the Espionage Act was ever applied.
There’s something about whistleblowers and leakers though: almost no one would do it for gain; it’s too risky and the financial prospects are dire. That’s why they are so important, and the free press that protects their identity, while relating what they saw to the public. Tyrants hate them, and so would any organized armed forces, concerned about safety of its personnel and operations.
But the choice of whether tell the people what’s being done on their behalf never comes from the top. And rarely from someone with the clout to face an entire defense establishment, whose interests depend on public ignorance about what they’re doing.
People who expose facts, out of conscientiousness or sense of duty; those who’d refuse to shoot unarmed civilians or combatants under their guard; who join to serve, not necessarily to kill, are of no interest to the president, or to Fox News for that matter.
What they care about are those they’ve picked for pardon, never mind they were declared guilty, dangerous, and unfit by their own organizations. They rose above even the utmost horror and savage conditions implicit to any war, and committed crimes.
No wonder, those who actually care for the honor and reputation of the American soldier, are against such travesty of justice. In ideal times, it’d be up to congress to deliver a blow deflating the president’s folly. But it’s more likely that he’ll even receive a handful of undignified expressions of support by every Republican, possibly Democrats, plus a presidential candidate or two.
The good news is, that’s not even close to the priorities shared by American women, in the fight of a lifetime to preserve their reproductive rights from becoming dependent of whims of corrupt old men; and that of kids demanding global climate action.
Thousands of women went out to protest recent draconian anti-abortion laws, passed in several GOP-controlled states; and millions were out all over the world, last Friday, in yet another march led by young students. These two groups, along those protesting misguided presidential pardons, are in fact representing the side of the rule of the law and the power of the people.
The majority of Americans, and the so-called Western societies, are invested into a world where women are in charge of their bodies; those who commit murder, even if wearing a badge, go to prison; and whistleblowers are protected for telling the truth.
‘We were young, we were foolish, we were arrogant, but we were right.’ Daniel Ellsberg, whistleblower extraordinaire, whose 1971 Pentagon Papers leaking helped end the Vietnam War. The episode cost his career as a military analyst, and almost his own freedom, but thousands of Americans lives were saved as tide turned against the war. Let’s be foolish but right too. Cheers.

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5/20/2019 Far From the Season Finale, Colltalers

Nukes are not the only way to blast us back to the past; climate change could do it too. And rich Republican white males, going after a woman’s right to choose. Their hide is doomed, though: half of humankind is coming for them for some serious spanking.
But if in the U.S., all (pothole-filled) roads lead to Nov. 2020, in Brazil the opposition to Jair ‘Model T as in Trump’ Bolsonaro has gained a powerful focus: Brazilians are back in the streets, this time for saving something actually real, access to education.
Back to these in a few, but first two interesting developments last week: Austria’s far-right government resigned over charges of corruption – something to do with the Russians -, and San Francisco’s banned facial recognition technology by law enforcement.
It’s a big win for civil and privacy rights, and California’s capital Oakland, along other American cities may follow the Fog City’s lead. As for so-called rise of rightwing politics, the Austrians just proved that it’s neither doing that well, nor it’s above some old- fashion collusion. Nevertheless, populist demagogues are anxious to score big on this week’s European parliamentary elections.
Thursday and Friday vote may indeed consolidate their momentum, or leverage a curb on their grow. Some expect Brexit to be set by it, and for an increasing majority opposing the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, it’s the moment to seize the narrative.
If they do, it’s likely that British nationalists like Nigel Farange will follow P.M. Teresa May on their own way out, and a new referendum, or general elections, will be set. In many ways, though, the Brexit frenzy has ran its course and fulfilled its goals, seemingly, to demolish Britons’ confidence, and boost the U.K.’s irrelevance in the world. Thanks, Boris Johnson & friends.
No thanks to the Trump administration, though, for promoting the most brutal attack on women’s reproductive rights since a 1973 Supreme Court decision made abortion legal. To reverse Roe v Wade has been a common objective by both the GOP and the religious right for years, and now, state by state, they seem to have it all aligned. But it won’t happen if women can help it.
If there’s a coincidence of interests by all rightwing forces in the world, it’s to oppress women back to a subservient role, with no saying over her own body and life. But that’s a story as old as the world, and in the end, progress and justice chase zealots back to their under-rock dwellings, while women, and us all, reemerge stronger than ever. It’s happened often and it’ll happen again.
In the U.S. specially, as most of its population can now be compared to the world’s poorest, it’s not even about choice, but the lack of it. None of those claiming to ‘value life’ are minimally interested in actually preserving it, nursing it, saving it. Beyond abortion, what they’re trying to deny yet again, is the sense of dignity, independence and agency, to mothers and children alike.
Deaths from childbearing, malnutrition, and lack of healthcare and education, have grown exponentially. But pretenders like them, wealthy enough to get wives, daughters, and lovers the care they need, are simply not in the business of giving a damn.
When Brazilians erupted in widespread, national protests a few weeks ago, many were not impressed. After all, similar numbers and noise were caused by successively waves of conservative-driven crowds, demanding all the wrong things for Brazil: the end of a constitutionally elected government, that of ousted Dilma Rousseff, and calls for military intervention and, yes, Bolsonaro.
Less than six months into his tenure, however, the country is in taters, in an economics nose dive, increased unemployment, and a sense, whether induced or not, that it’s gone beyond governability. No piece of meaningful legislation was passed, apart from that allowing more weapons, and those reversing social programs and security that previous administrations fought to approve.
Meanwhile, a series of scandals, many of which involving his family, and covering murders, militias, corruption, and personal vendettas, have ruined the president’s credibility. That besides the international fiascoes he’s been embarrassed by, including his latest, unannounced visit to former U.S. president George W. Bush, and the many political figures who refused to meet with him.
But this time it’s different. Progressive groups in Brazil have finally congealed into a big front, fighting a single, but crucial and all-encompassing target: to save public education of all levels, keeping it accessible to all, politically aware, and independent.
That’s a fight worth carrying not just on its own merits – Brazil’s literacy levels, about 90% in 2014, has been steadily declining again -, but also because it’s one that can be summarized in a few sentences. Unlike the cruel social security reform, for instance, which may pass on the sheer assumption that it involves too complex a theme to be effectively ‘sold’ to those it’ll affect the most.
As the initially student-led revolt gathers momentum, it’s expected that it’ll attract all segments of the working class, intellectuals, and, yes, left-leaning political parties. The issue has surely the potential to galvanize and restart a nation that, for over three years has been in frank decadence. Once a powerhouse for social reforms promoting the poor, its global profile is now fast receding.
Even ex-president, Michel Temer, instrumental in the coup that felled Rousseff, was sent to prison, a sign that the coalition that seized the country in 2016, is all but pulverized. And the new opportunists jockeying for power don’t have minimal qualifications to engage the country. Brazil faces the threat of authoritarianism, but students and their allies can prevent that from happen.
That’s why they march. And so will we, tomorrow. Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Women’s March and others are organizing nationwide demonstrations, and we should all be part of it.
Not because there’s no more Game of Thrones for us to live vicariously our own thirst for getting back at your enemies. Or for world famous Grumpy Cat having passed away, at the tender age of six, he of the frowned face fame who’s given us so much joy.
Even less for the specific reason that, comes Nov. 2020, another person must occupy the White House; there’ll be time for that. But because a woman’s rights is our right, and if you care about children, help those who bear them decide when they’re ready to have them. You’re welcome too if you won’t stand for another toddler’s death at the hands of immigration. Cheers Lady Liberty.

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5/13/2019 Support Your Local Mona Lisa, Colltalers

It’s scary when war hawks digress on bombing another nation. Even scarier is when their dishonest arguments gain unwarranted currency. The same false pretense that led us to the Iraq invasion is now being used against Iran. What can possibly go wrong?
Also scary is the U.S. spending more in fossil-fuel subsidies than even with its defense budget, according to an I.M.F. report. But the U.K.’s first four days without coal-powered electricity, and the Cloud Peak’s bankruptcy, are both great climate change news.
There’s a constitutional crisis caused by President Trump, who’s all but declared himself and his gang above the law. And there’s a fresh round of saber-rattling and missile-launching by North Korea, aimed at us, but frightening the bejesus out of the world.
Naturally, the Big Tweetor is using his baseless trade war to divert attention from such important issues. And the media is blindly following him accordingly. It also helps that few have a grasp as to what trade war really means. Starting with the man himself.
Just in case, though, Trump spent Saturday tweeting like a deranged toddler, if only toddlers could be so mad. He blasted over 60 attacks on the Russian investigation, Don Jr.’s subpoena, assorted politicians, and Counsel Robert Mueller. Oh, and jobs too.
Trying to manipulate the nation by tweet, however, pales compared to the president’s biggest damage so far inflicted on America: the depletion of our trust on institutions. By counting on the Supreme Court to bail him out – and being probably right about that kind of assumption -, more than the lying, this president is setting the stage for a potential democracy-killing autocratic regime.
As Congress, which has the power to prevent that and has refused to do so, Americans must step up and safeguard the country that the Founding Fathers foresaw. No one else will. Mainly because the world’s indeed fearful and expects nothing less from us.
It’s nearly impossible to see Sec. of State Mike Pompeo accusing Iran of being a ‘major destabilizing influence in the Middle East, and we aim to fix that,’ and not to think about the Iraq invasion, in 2003. Based on the half a million deaths, including of 4,400 Americans, it’s also easy to estimate the number of casualties in Iran in case the U.S. bombs the twice-as-populous nation.
The defense budget may not beat fossil-fuel subsidies but it’s still big enough to fund sending an aircraft carrier, four destroyers, bombers, fighters, a warship, and a surface-to-air missile battery, to the region. If that is not ‘destabilizing,’ then their rhetoric is.
The same blanket of approval by media and congress, and sick anticipation by war profiteers, is being revived again, just as it was when George Bush and his cabinet lied about Saddam Hussein’s supposed secret mass destruction weapon stockpiles. They hung Hussein, destroyed the country, and walked away richer, leaving soldiers and mercenaries to deal with the tragic fallout.
It wasn’t Iran that broke the nuclear accord, nor any other signatory nation; it was the U.S. that unilaterally ‘decided’ Iran had done it, and this time, won’t even present fake evidence supporting their planned adventure. Are we to stand down about that?
Another Middle East intervention will benefit no one but Israel and Saudi Arabia. Why on earth should the U.S. assert even more its reputation as the ‘world’s bully,’ and be the enforcer, not for the ‘tired,’ the poor, and ‘the huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ but to two powerhouse countries with scores to settle with Iran? No, the American people won’t be had again. Or will it?
Of course, funding for yet more firepower always means cutting down social programs, and divert resources for fighting climate change. In fact, coal, oil and gas subsidies are higher than what would be used to burn Iran, according to the I.M.F. report.
Never mind the industry’s indefensible tax exemptions, the spurious nature of both budgets, and a U.N. study about an ongoing, catastrophic man-made extinction of a million biodiverse species. Those against protecting the planet are getting rich out of it.
Thankfully, that chockfull of bad news report is partly offset by two factors: the coal giant Cloud Peak’s bankruptcy, signaling an endgame is close for fossil fuels, despite investments by right-wing billionaires with skin in the game. And that’s a good thing.
And so is the U.K.’s efforts to move its national grid of electricity to renewables. It’s just too bad Americans are not that lucky.
But it wasn’t luck what finally freed Chelsea Manning from jail after over a month; it was her dignified defiance, standing tall against the Trump administration. But she’s still at risk of going back, if Democrats keep failing to challenge the president.
Lastly, a grievous note: the assassination of Mena Mangal, an Afghan journalist and cultural adviser to parliament, gunned down Saturday in Kabul. A former TV presenter, she too was defiant and challenged the status quo by advocating for the rights of young girls to go to school. Although it’s unclear whether she had any children, hers is one of the world’s saddest mother today.
To declare this the age when rationality died may be reasonable, but it doesn’t help much. At the end of the day, we still have to carry on with our lives, and protect our loved ones, and stand for what’s right. Slim pickings rewards notwithstanding, we do it so to leave this world a bit better, even when nothing reassures us what we do can change reality. We do it just because. Period.
‘There are those who see, those who can see if they’re shown, and those who don’t see.’ Five centuries ago this May, Leonardo da Vinci, to whom this quote is attributed, left us an incredibly diverse legacy of art and ingenuity, and at least one masterpiece: Mona Lisa, the portrait of Lisa Gherardini, a mother of five whose enigmatic smile graces the world’s most famous painting.
Now at the Louvre in Paris, the work still speaks to us 500 years later, and after Mother’s Day, it’s also a powerful reminder to American voters: it’s time to elect the first Madam President to live in the White House. It’s overdue, and now, the only choice radical enough to shake American politics at its foundations, and scare the hell out of war hawks. Let the majority rule. Cheers.

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5/13/2019 Regulations Went Up in Smoke, Colltalers

As the attempt coup in Venezuela has all but fizzled, its main instigator, the U.S., is scaring the world with disturbing threats of military action if things don’t go its way. Ironic how America went so quickly, from ‘world’s police’ to deranged wounded beast.
A couple of troubling decisions by U.S. agencies will also have a global impact: the approval for Bayer-Monsanto’s herb killer Roundup, banned by the European Union, and Phillip Morris’ iQOS dry tobacco vaporizer, both proven carcinogenic products.
A presidential election in Panama, even with the Venezuelan crisis on the background, is unlikely to move the needle either way; climate change and start of Ramadan usher us into the new week. Plus the return of Halley’s Comet, and we’re off to the races.
Which, in the case of Venezuela, most Latinos hope to be aborted. Despite support to the coup against Maduro, from Brazil, Colombia, even Panama itself, and others, – happy to oblige to war delusions of U.S. V.P. Mike Pence, State Sec. Mike Pompeo, Security Adviser John Bolton, and special envoy Elliott Abrahams – Venezuelan democracy will see the light of another day.
As the foursome have all been accused of xenophobia, corruption, torture, solely or combined, and profess the ‘my-way-or-the-highway,-or-at-least-the-Trump’s-way’ brand of diplomacy, they’ll get some of what they want, or may be oust by their sponsor. Either way, Venezuelans, in particular, Latino Americans em general, or world citizens as a whole may brace for a possible hit.
The biggest news, though, is and will remain being, climate change, or lack of action to counter its catastrophic effects there-of.
Mozambique, which haven’t even recovered from Cyclone Idaí, six weeks ago, was battered again, by an even bigger storm, Kenneth, the most powerful to ever hit the country. It exponentially boost Mozambican misery, while showing us why there’s no coming back from such disasters, no matter where you live, and even if world leaders were actually doing anything about it.
Climate change is also related to the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of Roundup’s glyphosate, which is linked to cancer in humans. As the Trump administration filled top positions at the EPA with members of the industry it is supposed to regulate, creating a private ‘beach head’ inside the government, it expected nothing but unwavering toe the line by everyone.
Bayer-Monsanto is currently fighting some 8,000 lawsuits, and not only in Europe. Last month, a court in San Francisco, CA, ordered it to pay $11.4 billion to a Kenyan farmer, who got cancer while using Roundup. Despite of that, the giant concern still denies, to courts, consumers, media, and even to the World Health Organization, that its best-selling weed killer causes cancer.
Its strategy is to appeal and fight charges and fines, while investing heavily in biased studies and favorable press, which all but buries negative coverage. It’s a tactics that always serves well the powerful, and they surely can afford to loose a few instances.
The Trump administration’s M.O., that is, to destroy the credibility and undermine the regulatory powers of watchdog agencies, has been applied to the Food and Drug Administration too. In a stunning decision, the FDA ignored years of scientific research and cleared Phillip Morris’ ‘heat not burn’ iQOS, an addictive tobacco product, that it’s been clearly marketed to adolescents.
By going back on 1990s decisions that helped declare cigarettes harmful, and a direct cause of lung and other cancers, the FDA also single-handedly rescued Phillip Morris from the verge of oblivion, and back to the game of profiting from smokers. Now as once, they’re also free from accountability; if people get sick and die from consuming the product, they’d likely answer: ‘tough’.
The issue won’t be brought up in speeches by the president, presidential candidates, or victims, whose pleas are traditionally ignored anyway. According to the Center for Disease Control, every year, nearly half a million Americans still die of smoking or second-hand smoke, besides those undergoing expensive but often ineffective cancer therapies. Costs to public health? Don’t ask.
Decisions like that have set the tone of the administration, to which, government agencies, created to protect consumers, are now supposed to favor corporate profits over public interests, never mind regulatory successes. Are you sure you’ve got questions?
It’d be better to have plenty of answers, coming Nov. 2020. Given the unconditional support to this president, even if many don’t see the cruel differences between what he says and what he does, to end this era of shame will require a record number of votes.
In the meantime, there’s no relenting on the pressure for climate change action. It may sound delirious, but there’s another reason all citizens need to get this memo: pulling together and working towards a common, worldwide, goal leaves no time, or stomach, to put with the carnage of war, or the assortment of lame excuses we hear for not to act. It’s literally now or never for mankind.
Just as two billion devouts will be fasting and praying during daylight hours, for month-long Ramadan, Israel and Gaza resumed hostilities. Over 20 Palestinians and four Israelis had already been killed Sunday, but the count, unfortunately, is bound to rise.
This year, the start of Ramadan is marked by an astronomical phenomenon: the Eta Aquarids meteor showers, from fragments of the Halley’s Comet (which is also linked to the Orionids, in October). Happy sightings to everyone and Ramadan Kareem. Peace.

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4/30/2019 Turning Back the Right Tide, Colltalers

Unemployment; corruption; politics. These are priorities to most of the estimated 30-million-plus Spaniards who voted yesterday for a new Spanish parliament. But to the media, it’s Catalonia’s aim to split up from Spain, along immigration, what tops that list.
Meanwhile, the brutal assassination of Northern Ireland journalist Lyra McKee, on the 18th, wound up shaking the foundations of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The Brexit fiasco notwithstanding, however, Protestants and Catholics must resume talks.
The rise of Vox, Spain’s far right party, will strengthen forces contrary to social equality and political autonomy in Europe, but that’s not this week’s most despondent endorsement of Steve Bannon’s international playbook. Italy ran away with the prize: on the 74th anniversary of Liberation Day, last Thursday, it was dictator Benito Mussolini’s name what was invoked with… pride!
Bannon, the most visible global reactionary since his woeful tenure delivering Trump to the White House, – or political hacks who eagerly emulate his tactics – keeps pushing all the red buttons of hate and intolerance, either in Europe or South America.
A lot of Americans got transfixed with two issues, this waning end of April: the massive body count of entertainment franchises The Avengers, and Game of Thrones, and Beyoncé’s latest chart-breaking CD-film combo. Others had something else in mind.
Has the Robert Mueller Report’s failure to paint a clear picture of the U.S. president’s malfeasances got him reelected next year?
As Trump openly challenges Congress’ authority to subpoena him, or key figures of his organization, naturally counting on a biased Supreme Court to back him up if needed, many wonder if he’ll now act, rather than just speak, as if he’s above the law.
He sure seems ready to do just as such. In over two years, he’s destroyed U.S.’s credibility in a vast array of issues the world’s entrusted to America, from leadership against climate change, to defense of civil rights, free press, and fair immigration laws. His biggest legislative coup so far was approving a trillion-dollar, budget-busting tax cut to the wealthy and big corporations.
Still, support for him among the poor who voted for him in 2016, remains unchallenged, and as absolutely no one expects the Republican Party to disavow him, now its richest donors, who’d previously snubbed him, can’t wait to sign him fat checks.
Never mind the increased number of right-wing extremists, caught with small arsenals and hit lists of well-known political liberals. And let’s not mention how easy they’re getting breaks from law enforcement, out of sheer racial identification with their white supremacist messages. Trump’s made praising domestic terrorists, and other zealots, a feature of his campaign speeches. Those riled-up, scary rallies, are prone to rise to a frenzy whenever the president calls up for them go after the independent press, or whistleblowers. And most of his constituency seems to be taking literally his clues. It’s clear what that might lead us all to.
Just as it’s been always clear the potential for Brexit to start messing around with hard-earned foundations of the stability of the entire U.K, and in particular, the Good Friday accord. After all, borders have been a sticky, almost sore point in every exit talk.
Suddenly, it dawned on even its staunchest defenders, that any boundary negotiation among the commonwealth’s four countries, and between the U.K. and Europe, could fire up resentments, reopen wounds, and undue almost a century of uneasy partnership.
Again, most could’ve guessed that, but apparently not those in charge of coming up with solutions they hadn’t anticipated before, even though they must definitely should have. Some even dream of a reunited Ireland, a bleak prospect to the U.K.’s own future.
One can only hope that the slaying of McKee, a gifted journalist who was covering unrest in Londonderry, is all that’ll take for a new resolve for preventing the Troubles from ever returning to Northern Ireland again. Sadly, the 29-year-old LBGTQ activist, who dreamt and wrote about that, and coined the term, ‘Ceasefire Babies’ for her generation, no longer will be around to see it.
The Mussolini episode, though, illustrates how actually close we are from repeating tragic mistakes from the past. Once-fringe far right parties in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, and elsewhere, are already jockeying to coalesce into a unified, continental-wide front of ‘pro-wealth populists.’ Even more so if they manage to win seats at the May 23-26 European Parliament elections.
The difference between what Spaniards considered important, alluded to at the opening sentence, and what the media is ‘selling’ as such, is an all too familiar example of manipulation of the people’s will. There, here and everywhere, the establishment is all for advancing its own agenda, turning electoral contests into horse races, for maximum distraction. And it sells, of course.
The Catalan, by the way, beat poll records, but there’s still no sign that their independence wishes got a boost with the elections. More likely the dream lives on for another day. Europeans are doing their part, virtually stopping the rise of the ultra right on the sheer power of voting, as Spain showed. But their margins of victory are getting slimmer, unlike intolerance and prejudice.
Once again, it’ll be up to Americans to stop madness on its tracks – even if it doesn’t look promising at this point. Vigilantes; white supremacists; climate change deniers; authoritarianism and corruption, all festering with the Hater-in-Chief’s blessing, will have to be at least neutralized by the time a needed record poll turnout will elect a new president. Let’s get very busy, shall we?
‘Why do we scream at each other. This is what it sounds like when doves cry.’ It’s been three years and a week yesterday since Prince passed away, along a slew of celebrities who preceded and followed him, on that fateful 2016. When ‘His Purpleness’ left us, we were arguably more hopeful about the future: the U.K. couldn’t possibly split up, and Obama was still the U.S. president.
Of the three, only Prince can’t come back. His music lives on, though, even if hope is at its lowest at the moment. Let’s mourn our losses, but carry on, on the account of the living. May’s knocking on our door; let’s welcome it as a revolution. Cheers.

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4/22/2019 Short-Changing the Earth, Colltalers

Many question having a date to focus on the environment, giving the catastrophic state of the planet, and world leaders’ lack of action on the climate crisis. But a year short of its half-century mark, let’s use the day to demand change, not simply dismiss it.
Specially as we remembered last Saturday, nine years of the worst oil spill in history, the BP-run Gulf of Mexico rig disaster, and the Columbine High School massacre, 20 years before. Sadly, there’s still no real good news about neither of those tragedies.
On that note, Easter started horrifically for Sri Lanka, with multiple terrorist attacks that murdered almost 300 people. Some fear the 3.000-year-old nation, and oldest Asian democracy, may be too vulnerable to politically and religiously-driven bloodshed.
The attacks may be out of some deranged jealousy, others insist, over the global outpouring of support to Catholics, following last Monday’s fire at 800-year-plus Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris. But terrorism doesn’t have religion, so what’s their point?
In other, seemingly lighter, news, Volodymyr Zelensky, who plays the president of Ukraine on a TV sitcom, just won the election to become the real thing. To supporters, he’s a fresh start, even without expressing his take on any of the country’s hairier issues, such as Russia, and civil liberties. But they sure hope that the comedian is aware that being a president is no laughing matter.
Back in the not so old U.S., Trump, the president who plays a con-artist in real life, seems to have beaten yet another attempt to expose his misdeeds. The Mueller Report, for all its scope and solid investigative approach, has so far not fulfilled its purpose. Even as a fact-full road map to restore truth and dignity to the office of the presidency, a thousand redactions notwithstanding, it didn’t pack enough punch to knock common sense into his political basis, or boost hopes for a new president coming 2020.
Around this time for the two decades, we’ve been forced to go back to a terrible Tuesday when two teenagers killed 13 of their mates and school staff, in what was then, history’s worst school mass shooting. Hardly we knew then that Columbine wouldn’t be the worst for long. Not just many more, and deadlier, followed it, but its bottomless grief hasn’t moved congress to pass laws to prevent new ones. Unlike New Zealand and Australia, clear instances when politicians acted as their voters’ true representatives, few Americans in position of power took the issue of gun control at heart, or chose to fight for sensible legislation as we so need.
On the contrary, survivors of the 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting, where 28 little children died in a quick flurry of bullets, and of the 2018 slaughter of 17 students at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, have had no political support even when holding mass rallies. It’s no wonder that there’s been a spat of suicides, likely out of despair, among survivors of those carnages.
Stats are heartbreaking. A 2018 Washington Post report lists an average of 10 school shootings in the U.S., since 1999, killing or injuring some 400 children. Proving that ‘thoughts and prayers’ don’t work, there’s nothing in place to change this grim reality.
When the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, in 2010, it killed 11 people and spilled some five million barrels of crude oil, and 225,000 tons of methane in gulf waters. The impact was immediate and permanent. It killed almost 200 thousand turtles, for instance, wrecked havoc on marine, shoreline and wetlands wild life, and its long-term consequences are still been understood.
Oil giant BP, the rig’s owner, has spent over $60 billion in reparations and rebuilding efforts. But it all may get a bit worse with the Trump administration’s relentless drive to roll back protections, and open nearly all U.S. coastal waters to offshore drilling.
It’s hard to see how little has been done about climate change since the 1970s, when the first calls of ‘Save the Whales,’ and other rallies, called attention to the already developing disaster. Exxon and other oil mammoths already knew the nefarious impact their products could cause to nature. But they kept it a secret, while sowing confusion and unfounded doubts about the issue.
Last October, a United Nations study found that dire consequences of global warming are occurring earlier than predicted, and that we’ve got less than 12 years to radically reduce carbon emissions, so to avoid a calamitous rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Given the gravity of such situation, plastic, for instance, should’ve been banned by every nation by now.
Not even close. More people, however, are joining the trenches of the battle against the, hands down, biggest threat of our age. While some are trying to do it from the inside, by proposing new laws, others are picking novel, shocking even ways to fight.
In the U.S., the most comprehensive, far-reaching, albeit incomplete and flawed as it may be, piece of legislation, the Green New Deal, was proposed by a new crop of progressive women elected to the House of Representatives. Even as it’s struggling to gain traction there, it’s already popular, and has the support of environmentalist groups, from children activists to veteran dissidents.
That’s having a hard time being adopted by the entire Congress, is sad but predictable. It goes against everything that works well for established politicians, who favor negotiation and pace for advancing difficult causes. Problem is, we’re running out of time.
That’s why a group such as the Extinction Rebellion is becoming so successful drawing attention to climate change. Their rallies, performed mostly by common citizens, many of whom had never taken risks while protesting, have disrupted capital cities of the world, with simple but daring tactics: gluing themselves to city hall fences, for instance, or laying in the middle of major arteries.
At this point, we should all be considering strategies to force leaders and people we voted for, to start doing something radical about climate change, because everything else has definitely not worked. Or choose new ones, pronto, if these are not interested.
The week also holds another depressing date to mark: Friday’s 33rd anniversary of Chernobyl, our worst nuclear disaster so far. As it hasn’t happened again, though, to avoid another one, we must renew efforts to skip altogether this lethal source of energy.
Maybe April does have put ‘a spirit of youth in everything,’ to paraphrase William Shakespeare, born and died over 400 years ago this month. His 455th birthday is honored on the same 26th, but with him, there’s plenty to celebrate about the human spirit.
Reasons to rejoice are like shooting stars: far in between but eventually we get them. Today there’s a chance to see a lot of them, though, with the annual Lyrids meteor shower. Unlike the daylight blue meteor that exploded over Russia on the 6th, this show is more subdued, but easier to observe. Since ‘sweet lovers love spring,’ grab a loved one and feel young like the Bard. Cheerio.

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4/15/2019 Tyranny Hates Journalists, Colltalers

The disturbing sight of Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange being dragged out of the Ecuador embassy in London by the British police, last week, sent shock waves through the dwindling democracies around the world. This time, it was him; the next, us?
But democracy isn’t done yet: 800 million Indians vote till May for a new government; 190 million Indonesians choose theirs on Wednesday; and Finland already has a new, leftist, Parliament. Sadly, Democrats in the U.S. Congress haven’t got it together yet.
In 2018, more than 250 journalists were imprisoned, half of them in China, Turkey, and Egypt, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Worse, 53 got murdered, including Saudi Arabia’s Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly killed by his own government.
Like Assange, most of the persecuted is accused of, well, doing their job: uncovering inconvenient facts, cross-referencing them, protecting sources, and reporting about the front lines of the fight between institutional oppression, and those who oppose it.
The arrest, a U.K. gift to the U.S., culminated a truculent campaign to dislodge the Australian activist, and jail him over the 2010 leak of a large but ultimately tame trove of cables exchanged by American officials. Although he may be charged as a hacker, a technicality, the aim is clear: to silence dissent. A shocking difference this time, though, is having the U.S. as leading prosecutor.
To be sure, the British have played a less than dignified role in all this. And so has, arguably, Sweden, set to reopen rape charges against Assange. A shameless, misleading establishment media has also been a factor, as has his own, flawed, moral compass.
Nothing justifies, though, going after a publisher whose revelations showed what a powerful government feels entitled to do, when its people are not looking. The case also produced one conscientious hero, Chelsea Manning, who leaked the cables in the first place, out of justified disgust, and paid dearly with four years of her life in jail. And who’s now jailed again since March.
The ex-Army intelligence officer has refused to be dragged down to a case she’s already paid her dues to, and who Assange all but ignored when she’s was being court-martialed as a traitor. Non-evidence based Americans still go along with that version, but they may be distracted by another major issue the former male Private brought to the fore: her struggle with gender dysphoria.
The borderless persecution of journalists, activists, whistleblowers, accidental reporters, or volunteers for the cause of civil rights through the world, is a solid indication, not that democracy has failed, but that those assigned to protect it are in fact betraying it.
It’s been said so many times to almost turn it into a platitude, but it remains true: no democracy is possible without a free press.
For a while, we were used to reading about the lack of freedom of speech in some totalitarian, faraway country, ruled by tyrants. That is, everything the U.S., at least, had never been. But now, the president himself declared the press an ‘enemy of the people.’
Many Americans too have no sympathy for Assange, as his less than honorable actions against Hillary Clinton may have opened the doors for foreign interference in the 2016 elections. Some now believed, without proof, that he’s been a Putin’s tool all along.
It doesn’t matter: despite the illegality of leaking government secrets, administrations do try to break the law, and it’s usually up to citizens to stop them. That happened in the 1970s, when Daniel Ellsberg published the Pentagon Papers, and exposed the underbelly of the U.S.’s presence in Vietnam. Now another platitude, ‘democracy is not an spectator’s sport,’ proves its purpose.
Democracy is alive, if not too well, in India, even as its six-week-long procedure doesn’t bode well to its credibility. And no one expects a breakthrough in Indonesia either, where its ultra conservative religious council has issued a fatwa against vaccination, and its Sharia Law-abiding Aceh state will likely piously follow. Guess where a new global measles outbreak may strike next.
Just over five million Finnish voters, however, may serve as proxy to Europe’s much needed political change. For so far, Trump-inspired themes of ignorance and obscurantism have gotten the best out of the continent. Electing a progressive cabinet in the northern nation may be just the kind of measured good news we haven’t received about the region’s politics in a very long time.
Which brings us back to a majority of American voters, who may be bracing with dismay to the prospect of another defeat at the polls. So much dog whistling, weaponizing of the us-versus-them rhetoric, and use of code language for racial violence, which mark every president-sponsored rally, along GOP gerrymandering and spineless enabling of his diatribes, have us all worried.
Mostly by the Democrat Party’s apparent inability to capitalize on Nov. midterm elections’ record breaking wins by women and minority candidates, or incorporate their radical mandate for change in the mainstream of the party. It hasn’t encouraged anyone.
It is indeed startling that the party has responded tepidly to vicious, racist attacks leveled at novice House representative Ilhan Omar by the extreme right. Or that it hasn’t fully embraced the Green New Deal, so far the only comprehensive blueprint we’ve got to fight climate change. That only now it’s demanding the president’s tax filings, or may subpoena Robert Mueller to testify.
A lot can be gathered about a nation by the enemies it chooses to chase after. When a country lists as its biggest foes some poor, parentless, immigrant children, and creates the conditions to put them in cages; or when it seeks to intimidate and persecute those whose profession is to ask questions and bring the answers to the public, then it’s clear that this regime’s losing its honorability.
Today, millions of low and medium income Americans are filing their taxes, many set to pay the IRS at least something. But not Amazon and other 59 of the biggest corporations, along a bunch of billionaires, which are due nothing. And, of course, Trump.
Almost as depressing as witnessing power go after whistleblowers, is an apathetic electorate, who believes voting won’t make a difference. It does, though, as long as those who we vote for honor who they represent. Now that we finally saw what a Black Hole looks like, won’t we choose to get out of ours by electing a new leader for the free world? Vote hard and live free. Cheers

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4/08/2019 Israel & the Plastic Quagmire, Colltalers

In the 1960s, it seemed like a good idea: plastic bags to carry stuff. And to pack, ship, roll into a straw, and wrap food and drinks. It was hygienic, versatile, and eternal. A brave new world miracle. Now it’s what it’s stuffing to death the stomachs of whales.
The global right wing wave hijacking democracies, and promoting a populism of oppression, has a major date tomorrow, with the Israeli elections. A win by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu may dash for good the Palestinians’ dream of a homeland.
Reversing the impact of our toxic lifestyle on the environment, and preventing the expansion of authoritarian regimes, are in fact related issues. For it’s unlikely that a government used to annex territories by force, would also protect its people from pollution and climate change. Netanyahu, who’s played masterfully the ‘fear-your-neighbor’ trump card, has no time for such ‘distractions.’
The demise of the long fought-for two-state solution, sabotaged by everyone but the almost two million living in Gaza strip, has opened the doors for an exceptionally bleak time for Israeli-Palestinian relations. If before, peace negotiations stalled on minutia, but were still on, now, bullets aimed at the protesters’ limbs, and the occasional bomb from beyond the walls, are doing the talk.
For a time, a young, urban generation of Israelis, and their stated foes, Iranians, fed up with the fear of terrorism and external aggression, had represented the world’s biggest hope to a less militarized, more commonwealth-like Middle East. That, and the international pressure for peace in the region. After all, citizens of both nations have been equally victimized by the status quo.
Those hopes began to fade by a spectacular string of bad decisions taken in the past 20 years by the U.S. and its allies, starting by the invasion and destruction on false premises of Iraq. Rhetoric by George W. Bush and his war-mongering cabinet have helped usher a new crop of leaders with an authoritarian streak, like Netanyahu, who like others, waited in the wings to seize power.
Not coincidentally, it was around the same time that Turkey’s Recep Erdogan and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad rose to ruling their nations, along the entry into politics of infamous Saudi Arabian crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, just a few years later.
All three represent hurdles to a peaceful solution for the complex socio-political issues in the region. An unlikely defeat by the Likud Party’s chairman could mean a badly needed de-escalation of hostilities, restart of the dialogue between the two sides, and the eventual birth of a new sovereign state. But for now, Israel has the upper hand and is wrong on turning its back to peace.
A word about the recent fake controversy over the Trump administration’s support to Jerusalem, and the misleading charge that those against it are anti-Semites. For it shouldn’t be hard to separate the inalienable right to exist of the Jewish people and State of Israel, from the cruelty of its autocratic regime. To deny it, or pretend it’s beyond reproach, is to back an idea dictators love.
For ‘dear leaders’ everywhere, even those who submit to the electoral game while it favors them, their word is unquestionable. Period. Above all, besides changing hands, Israelis and Palestinians need to recognize their right to mutual, pacific, coexistence.
For some time, we all knew of the dangers of plastic being present in almost everything we touch, use, or dispose of, without a set of regulations to have its producers be part of its recycling. In less than 40 years, plastic reached every corner of the world.
The second dead whale to wash ashore with the stomach stuffed with tons of plastic, though, showed us that the situation is already out of control. Even if the world would stop consuming plastic today, that wouldn’t make any discernible difference to the state of oceans and marine life: after the fish, birds, and entire coral reefs, it’s only natural that whales are now also victims.
Large extensions of the seas have become traps for stray plastics, objects and utensils we’ve tossed with abandon, without much thought about where they’d wind up. At uninhabited islands, faraway shores, and coastlines on both poles, that’s where. And we lack the political will and the technology to effectively remove it from there; even recycling of cities’ garbage is in crisis lately.
The hardest part is that there are no practical alternatives. All too powerful tech goddess still has no mass solution to our crisis. So most likely, we’ll continue tossing single-use plastic forks and knives, bags and cup lids, water bottles, straws and Styrofoam containers, and damned straws, as if there’s no tomorrow, which is probably what will happen if something is not done soon.
It’s a good thing then that it’s National Volunteer Week, your chance to become part of the solution. Social inequality punishes those who least contribute to it, while letting the powerful off the hook. Yes, pollution and climate change affect us all, but those at the bottom get hit the hardest. There must be something we can do against the incoming ‘Plasticalypse.’ Any ideas? Cheers

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4/01/2019 – Climate Is No Fool’s Errand, Colltalers

Floods have taught us yet another practical lesson on climate change: they’ve drowned Mozambicans and Nebraskans this week, with equally destructive, and deadly force. But whereas big offender U.S. denies the evidence, hard hit Africa is busy fighting it.
Speaking of fighting Americans, women have led the charge for change relevant to the poor and our future, even before another rich white male moved in to the White House. But what the Democratic Party wants to find? a new rich white male to beat him.
These two different situations have twin common denominators though: authoritarianism and ignorance, or some combination of the two. And so do three other issues to skim through before we get to them: measles, nukes for Saudis, and Brazil of Bolsonaro.
For several millennia, mankind’s pace was marked by advances, both glacially slow and lightning fast; trouble came mostly from the unknown and unpredictable natural world. Periodically, evolution selected an entire species to be extinct, and haven’t you heard? dinosaurs were thriving 65 million years ago. Now, we find ourselves fighting old and revived, man made, woes. Again.
When conspiracy theorists rage against mass v