Curtain Raiser

Foxes Protect Their Earth, Colltalers

A tax reform to better the welfare of those who pass it. Sponsoring a nominee who’ll heed to his supporters’ demands. The redesigning of vote districts to increase odds of electing agreeable candidates. That is, the old fashioned feathering of one’s own nest taken to a novel level.
While people are entitled to defend their own interests, living in a democratic society implies that common causes often take precedence over individual needs. And ideally, we elect governments so to arbitrate and find balance over conflicting extremes. Except when they don’t.
The staggering number of special-interest decisions the U.S. president has taken reveals a disturbing reality: as more Americans get caught in the fallout of the administration’s unfair policies, many are realizing that our current head of state has in fact little regard to the state he heads.
Two months from his first year in office and the U.S. finds itself in an unprecedented position in the world: a gigantic, dangerous pariah, at odds with most civilized nations, allies or not, and pretty much every treat, agreement, and global convention that kept the state of the planet relatively predictable. Even as that was never an ideal condition to be, at least, a commonly accepted reality goes a long way toward stability.
From the get-go, Trump’s inflammatory stance about, well, everything but white supremacists and Russian affairs, has placed the U.S. in the crosshairs of North Korea, and the Muslim world, while antagonizing women, Latinos, the scientific and gay communities, should we go on?
His latest disastrous foray into foreign policy practically lit up a new set of explosive kegs in the Middle East, when supporting the claims of Israel’s ultra-right to rule Jerusalem as its own. Like other decisions of his, this one also shows an absolute lack of reflection and due debate.
Granted, the approval of a massive set of tax cuts to corporations and the very wealthy preceded him, as it’s been an old Republican Party aspiration, and just spelling this out in words is, Continue reading

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Curtain Raiser

Our World Is for Sale, Colltalers

The recent push by the world’s richest 1% to consolidate its power, despite already owning half of all global resources, is not only scary and morally despicable. It also poises a serious challenge to the rest of us: have we got what it takes to push it back or it’s really game over for us?
For it’s a global game, alright. It’s not just the U.S. Republicans’ recent tax overhaul, one of the greatest transfers of wealth in modern times, but it’s also elites in Brazil, Honduras, France, Germany, and elsewhere, that are saying, hey, we’re entitled to more and we’re taking it.
That the mega rich could count on congressional enablers to do their bidding has been always a given. But it’s puzzling that they’ve chosen the cover of the night, like robbers, to pass a measure which is certain to enrich not just them, but an administration already fully engaged in helping its own cause. The bewilderment is, of course, rhetorical; the end result is that those at the top believe they won’t be challenged.
Are they right? Is the American people sufficiently aware of what just happened on Capitol Hill, and prepared to put up a fight against it? The plan seems tilted toward corporations and the wealthy, according to estimates by Congress’ own bipartisan Join Committee on Taxation, with token concessions to middle and low income, already set to expire in a few years? So, neither get too discouraged nor hold your breath.
A note on the few assumptions implied above: most of the text of the bill was kept under wraps, and undemocratically prevented from being discussed publicly. But a few points did get scrutinize by reputed economists, such as Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, scholar institutions, and others. And three of them do prove the overall assumptions: the plan favors top earners, guts Medicare, and explodes the federal budget.
It’ll raise taxes in families earning $10,000 to $75,000 over a decade, according to the JCT. It’ll cut $25 billion from Medicare in fiscal 2018, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. And it adds $1 trillion to the budget over a decade, NYTimes economists found.
But as mentioned, it’s a global drive by the super rich, and it’s been enforced across the board, and borders, by governments and enablers. Take Brazil, for instance, where unelected, and unpopular leader, Michel Temer is pushing for an outrageous social security and labor laws reform, with little opposition, while ducking a number of attempts to hold him accountable for embezzlement and abuse of power.
The reform, with its radical reduction of benefits Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Spinning Words Hurt First, Colltalers

A lie told once remains a lie, but told a thousand times, becomes the truth. The quote, attributed to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, was never uttered in public but became, if not the truth, then the Nazis’ self-evident motto. They all wound up believing in it.
What’s particularly infuriating about the latest offensive by the Trump administration against a variety of hard-won citizen achievements is the hypocritical rhetoric. Affordable healthcare, fair taxes, free Internet access, even the news, have all been rebranded to suit their interests.
The term ‘fake news,’ for one, came up when it became evident that what passed for information in America, circa 2016, could be, and most certainly was, manipulated, either by economics of media coverage, or by hackers. The bottom line was, the news were almost never about informing people, but to mold their opinion. Enter then the architects of the Trump campaign who appropriated the meaning of the term.
From then on, fake news was anything that the president to be, and his inner circle, did not like, and reversing its aim, they effectively turned the genuine denunciation implied by it to annihilate dissent. Suddenly, it was CNN, or the NYTimes, with their platoons of hard-working journalists – and granted, a flawed truth-reporting track – that were fake. Not the custom-made propaganda used by the Trump campaign.
To be sure, Republicans in particular, and politicians in general, have always used spin words and expressions to gloss over parts of bills they want to pass, deemed unpalatable to the public if they were to become aware of them. It becomes more crucial when such bills are frontally against the interests of those who need to support them. Customized propaganda, and spinning content, are thus not what it’s new here.
It’s the cynicism of calling ending the Affordable Care Act, a ‘freedom of choice,’ when it’d take health insurance away from 20 million plus Americans. It’s the unvarnished falsehood of saying that a new tax revamp will ‘support the middle class,’ when it’s actually a blatant wealth transfer, from the poor to the rich. Or it’s calling the plan to end the current open and democratic online access, ‘Restoring Internet Freedom.’
More about that in a minute, but there’s no shortage of examples of words manipulated to create a space of pseudo-normality, through which nightmarish initiatives are put to the test. They usually come out strong and raw on purpose, to provoke a reaction. Later, they are then minimized, with help from an abiding media. Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Twin Stealth Mass Killers, Colltalers

If a Jeopardy contestant would pick Law Enforcement for $100, and get, What kills as many people as car crashes, diabetes and AIDS combined every year?, the answer could be larceny, auto theft, or perhaps, robbery. But few would pick, What’s opioid prescriptions?
Similarly, to ask most people whether they know of any fatalities directly linked to climate change, is likely to draw a blank stare, an upfront denial that any has already occurred, or the admission that, if they did, they’d still be very few. But there’s been 4.6 million deaths each year.
There’s no shame in not knowing this sort of data, whether someone has chosen to follow only what’s covered by their favorite news outlet – even if they’re not on Facebook or a Fox News subscriber – or have decided to skip the (depressing) news altogether. It’s understandable.
Then again, not to sound grim (and depressing), but they may stand for a rude awakening when casualties start to creep up among family and friends. The jury may have gone out for a long time, as to whether is better to know or not, but all bets have been off for some time now. And many have simply lost the luxury of even having a choice. Knowledge may be a better medicine than to be left behind. Who likes surprises?
What triggered the opioid addiction epidemic in the U.S. was a lethal combo: pharma companies pushed painkillers like drug dealers, – you know, the first sample is free, but after that, we take your home in lieu of payment – as a cure-for-all solution, not as a last dangerous resource. And healthcare insurance became an enterprise to mostly enrich shareholders, not exactly to provide coverage at affordable rates.
Former insured but not yet cured, the afflicted with chronic or terminal pain diseases had no choice: hit the streets for alternatives. A black market for prescription pills developed and, when that also failed to meet the demand, a catastrophic revival of the ‘dark horse’ itself: heroine.
As for air pollution, it was one of the first signs that the Industrial Revolution, while radically changing for the best mankind’s quality of life, it also had a sinister side: it could sicken to death the very people to whom it was envisioned to be an agent of progress. Continue reading

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Ban Weapons of Sex Oppression, Colltalers

The explosion of sexual abuse and rape cases against women, perpetrated by Hollywood men, was not Tinseltown’s first consequential global hit in a long time. But the factory of broken dreams did play a role delivering this sick issue its first unambiguous worldwide breakthrough.
Violence and weaponization of sex by men against women has been around since before biblical times. Society’s acknowledgment as the cancer that it is, though, didn’t keep pace with it. Although far from a resolution, this open secret is now finally part of a global conversation.
Whether such discussion must get to the ‘why now’ or ‘who’ll be outed next’ questions, is besides the point. More important is to proceed to a cure, a new bounding social contract not unlike the one that finally outlawed slavery and child labor. And get everyone involved. Rigorous punishment and a healing process must be included into the solution, as safeguards against power and influence, and victims’ protection.
From ‘gazillionaires’ to self-appointed masters of the universe, to morally corrupt priests, unfit educators, and perverted coaches, plus anyone in a position to impose their rot onto those entrusted to them, we must be diligent and thorough, to top the poor job we’ve done for millennia.
Almost all ancient holy books, from any of the known religions, have backed the staggeringly cruel license that prophets and patriarchs took to quench their thirst for power on the backs of women and children. And history’s men’s way to etch and glorify on word their wretched deeds.
After transcending the pampered confines of the famous LA district, charges of sexual assault have now reached all corners of organized society, as it should since it’s so prevalent. Pain and extreme despair such an event may inflict on a person’s life is not just permanent. It too causes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, among other afflictions, just like witnessing death and dismemberment of comrades in battle does.
It’s now repeated almost meaninglessly, that rape is not about sex, but power, which it is, based on what we know about human interrelations. But sex, and women’s unique position as sole guarantors of our species survival, can’t be compartmentalized, for that’s the goal of the rapist: to subjugate, steal and devalue the one unquestionable power females have over them. As is ripping their ability to experience pleasure.
Rape has nothing to do with pleasure, for sure, and when it’s about children, it can also be life-impairing. Some were not Continue reading

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Press On for Real Press, Colltalers

In these strange times, even meaningful expressions ring a bit hollow. Like, a free press is essential to democracy. Or a nation is measured by its well informed citizens. Or lies become trusted if repeated often enough. All genuine memes but, now we know, easily manipulated.
On the surface, the U.S., Norway, Italy, and Japan have all dynamic, independent media institutions. And Costa Rica, Jamaica, Estonia, and Russia likely sit on the other end of the spectrum. That’s not quite true, though, according to the annual Press Freedom Index. Surprised yet?
Granted, Norway indeed tops the list, put together by the independent Reporters Without Borders group. And you probably knew at least something about Russia’ fierce control of its media. But the U.S. is stuck at number 43, way below sixth place Costa Rica and Jamaica, 8.
More, some of the most stable regimes in the world, such as Italy (52), Japan (72) and Israel (91), are not even expected to crack the top 50 any time soon. How come? They all have autonomous paper and broadcast companies, often critical of their governments. But even though the index doesn’t track the quality of reporting or human rights violations, none can be considered havens for independent journalism.
Two points could be argued about this sort of index and the overall function of media within any society: the whole of its democratic structure can’t be reduced by whether it is freedom of expression-compliant. And governments can still serve and represent their citizens’ needs and aspirations without being accountable or transparent. After all, many a dictatorship provides bread and circus to most people’s contentment.
So what’s the beef? For starters, what looks like freedom of expression may be just a simulacrum of conditions that mimic such freedom, without really allowing channels for questioning and effectively operating change into any given government. Or rather, people may vote in the ‘lesser of evils’ candidates, while those representing radical opposition are prevented from running by bureaucracy or phony technicalities.
The U.S. is by now a textbook example of what it means for a country to have a powerful Fourth Estate, which nevertheless, fails to account to, prioritize, or provide critical information to the American people. And, by managing a steady, overwhelming stream of inconsequential news, it actually turns people into a commodity that only needs to be fed a certain range of entertainment news in order to maintain patronage.
Although all media organizations manage a concession theoretically granted by taxpayers, they act as de facto owners Continue reading

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Dawn of New Spooks, Colltalers

As far as fear is concerned, fiction is having a hard time topping reality these days. Take Halloween, for instance, a peculiar holiday when fun dresses up as fright, and horror is played up for laughs. But apart kids and the skittish inclined, no one is really scared by its old tricks.
One class of individuals, though, has no apparent reason to fear, other than fear itself, or paranoia, perhaps: billionaires. And not the kind of glorified, albeit, decent ones, those sponsoring charitable causes around the world. The parasitical type, who, well, we’ll get to that shortly.
Otherwise, daily life does seem more interchangeable with tragedy now, and deep terror feels uncomfortably closer. Even those trying a bit too hard to feel good, can flip to dread in a second. Most of the living have lost count of the horsemen of doom assaulting their nightmares.
Among the usual suspects – war, climate change, an unpredictable turn of events that could crush someone out of whack – there’s an entire new set of disturbing realities way more frightening than the unlike dawn of zombies, or a planetary invasion of intergalactic green monsters.
It’s not just minorities that are feeling an impending threat to their existence, coming from other races, faiths, ethnicity, or sexual direction. Groups who traditionally had the first pick at everything – whites, Christians, and others – now fear that years of privilege may be seized from them overnight. And began to act up on these mostly imaginary feelings, increasing even more the real threat to the safety of everyone else.
There are fears, and disasters, that may be unavoidable, though, and those we could indeed do something about to prevent them, even as we hardly do. Yes, dead, and taxes, accidents, and mishaps, can scare but not intimidate reasonable people, as unsettling as they may always be.
But even complex, gargantuan issues, such as climate change and world peace, to start, can and need to be dealt with, specially because they involve the interests of every person on this planet. The fact that they may require everyone to be involved too is just part of the equation.
Some horrors are intrinsic to being alive and actually, necessary for making existence a meaningful adventure. But Continue reading