Curtain Raiser

Help Women Disarm This Bomb, Colltalers

For those who haven’t lost their minds, there’s little doubt that climate change is the more urgent challenge of our age. For it’s aggravating all other global tragedies we’re already facing, apart from adding others, serious enough to compromise our own species’ ability to survive.
Besides wrecking the world economy, rising sea levels and extreme weather help widen the already staggering income divide, drive extreme poverty, hunger, and disease, and fuel wars, and racial and ethnic intolerance. There’s another, half-forgotten bomb about to go off, though.
Coming July 11, we may be reminded that we are now 7,500,000,000 people, a mark we’ve just broken last April. That means that, since the turn of the millennium, an extra billion and a half hungry bodies were born, with two and a half billion more expected to join us by 2060.
Those are truly scary figures, considering how hard it’s become to feed and raise most of those already around. Trapped in a cycle of scarcity of resources, violence, oppression, and political persecution, they’re incapable to fend for themselves even if they’d manage to dodge mortality.
It’s all part of the same picture, of course. Yes, with or without climate change, it’s unacceptable, for instance, that eight people own as much as the 3,6 billion poorest half of that seven billion. Or that there are 65 million people who don’t even have a home or country anymore.
Those we call ‘refugees,’ – with all the detachment, impersonality and indifference implied by the term – were productive members of the global economy just a few years ago. Now, though, they’re no more than charges for the 100 million or so global armed forces personnel.
It’s also easy to get lost in the dizzying array of numbers and stats that, for the most part, pack a numbing effect but reveal little about what it all means. The same way that there’s always Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

AIDS & the Callous Commander, Colltalers

The president ‘does not care.’ That’s the reason given by six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS to resign, last week. The news, buried by the loud Trump sideshow, as it’s been the norm lately, sheds light on two issues: public indifference and, well, Trump.
The Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome had a devastating effect when it broke out in the 1980s. It’s still incurable, despite effective therapies to control it, and remains a stealth leading killer in the U.S. And Trump’s attitude is akin that of the president then, Ronald Reagan.
AIDS joins now the roster of issues that the current administration seems bent on walking back in time. To decades of progress in foreign relations, immigration, human and reproductive rights, the environment, and so many other issues, add yet another scourge bound to metastasize again due to mismanagement and neglect. Not that AIDS needed help growing back in the U.S., where statistics are astonishing.
One in two African-American gay and bisexual men will be infected, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Preventions study. Such high figure would outnumber the whole population of an African country such as Swaziland, as a recent NYTimes story put it. The paper also compared that with the risk for Americans in general, which is one in 99, and for white gay and bisexual men, one in 11.
Of the 36.7 million people living with HIV globally, 1.1 million are Americans. And while rates of infection have been declining overall, with some countries actually radically reducing their numbers, new cases are not declining as fast in the world’s wealthiest nation.
Experts have been struggling to explain this situation, since after its explosion, AIDS had understandably become more prevalent in poor countries, where public health and education are low government priorities. Some believe that people have become overconfident on the treatments, without realizing that, first, they are not a cure, and second, they’re not even an option for a segment of the affected.
That obliviousness, prominent among one the top groups of newly infected – ages 13 to 21 years old – may be a consequence of years of declining budgets for public health policy and lowering education levels in the U.S., which begin to mirror that of some African countries.
One in seven of that over a million Americans doesn’t even know they’re infected, according to the CDC. And those who’re in school are not getting much of an education about AIDS, a direct result of increasing religious influence on public school policies across the nation.
If that side of the equation is tragic, and can be credited for many of the new cases reported, the part about ‘does not care’ is even worse. It’s one thing a president to align the priorities Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Change Is Not On Hold, Colltalers

Has former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony triggered a Nixon outcome for Trump? Will the president lie again, this time under oath, and commit perjury, costing him his office? Can impeachment be the next work order for America? Still hard to tell but we’re not waiting.
In fact, we can’t afford placing bets on this series finale, when odds dictated by climate change are staked so high against us. And increasing pressure in the U.S. and abroad show that most people are choosing a more direct, global action rather than such spectator’s game of chance.
Not that we’ll relinquish our careful White House and Congress watch – too afraid of what those in charge are capable of doing, when no one is looking. Or cease cheering up every step towards returning dignity to the presidency. After all, every little win will help us along the way.
But recent developments, first in reaction to and then, as a positive strategy to protect our battered civil rights and democracy notions, have been truly encouraging. Within measure, we’re witnessing a not-too coordinated and yet effective movement that’s already showing results.
It helps having a central point of focus, which is the disturbing rise of fascism in the world. At a time when the prospect of a catastrophic global warming threats, if it’s not already affecting, practically all realms of human activity in the planet, there must be immediate action to protect, you guessed it, the poor, the landless, the destitute, the working class, or as they’re popularly known, the majority of Earth’s citizens.
For a moment, prospects were indeed dire. Suddenly, the worst kind of populism – the type that falsely promises redemption while sowing hate among masses – has experienced a revival, fueled by income inequality and aggravated by long-term human predatory use of natural resources. Such explosive combination produced its own uncontrollable avalanche, and time to prevent it has unfortunately already passed.
Authoritarian leaders, compromised by corporate interests and moved by personal greed, are the least that we all need. But just as they rose, alternatives to the destructive capitalistic model of ‘progress’ started to get surprising traction globally at local and country political levels. That despite an once reliable electoral process being overcome, here and abroad, by the power of capital and Wall Street’s ‘growth ideology.’
Pause here, before going further into cliches thought to be long buried at the turn of the millennium. The use of such code words is intentional to show that, despite undeniable advances in life expectancy, social promotion opportunities, as well as improvement to everyone’s well being, such benefits are now being as denied to the majority as they were during Hitler and Mussolini times, perhaps even more so.
Also, for those keeping score, if at the middle of the 20th century, war seemed to be the ‘natural’ solution, now it’s another thing we must keep as out of the equation as possible. In other words, the rise of phony populism is a disgusting deja vu. But the solutions now are much fresher.
In Chicago, for instance, the People’s Summit gathered several progressive groups to discuss ‘Organizing for Education Justice,’ ‘Time for Single-Payer,’ and ‘Empowering Locals,’ among Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

An Unexpected Coalition, Colltalers

Let’s get this out of the way: Trump withdrawing the U.S. from the 195-country Paris Agreement is not just a backward step in the fight to reverse climate change, and another into irrelevance for America, but also the surrender of its coveted position as leader of the free world.
Whether this represents a promotion to Germany, and a gift to China and Russia, is but one of the many fallout issues from this terrible decision. It prompted a surprising development, though: a possible alliance of states and big corporations to continue just such a fight.
No need to overstate the significance of this development, just as not every storm cloud has a silver lining. But when 30 states are joined by industry giants, including Royal Dutch Shell, Morgan Stanley and Apple, to lower greenhouse gas emissions and continue investing in renewable energy, we are indeed entering a new territory. It’s that rare kind of corporate strategy: one that actually benefits people.
Politically, a group of states rebelling against Washington over a certifiably crucial theme of our time, has enormous repercussions. And represents an ironic twist too, since the Republican Party, one of the biggest foes of any climate change action, has used that same prerogative but to sabotage issues of genuine interest to Americans, such as affordable healthcare, voting rights, and others. Payback time, it seems.
Now, we’re not jumping into the Goldman Sachs bandwagon just yet, even as it’s another sign that Wall Street is already pricing climate change, nor we need corporate endorsements to legitimize what’s been common sense to the majority of humankind for some time now.
But since innovation and new technologies needed to reverse the ongoing disaster cost money, and global environmental organizations struggle with chronic underfunding, we may not have any choice in the matter of who or what is committed to what’s more than a cause.
The sad part of Trump’s first foreign trip, though, was neither the pathetic collection of horrifying decisions he took Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

U.S. & Brazil At a Similar Hub, Colltalers

There are many studies pointing to the benefits of being multicultural, that is, a person with more than one country to call their own. But those with that particular point of reference are fully aware of its trappings. One of them is the temptation to engage in generalized comparisons.
So we’re going against the grain here, to find some arguably common denominators between the U.S. and Brazil. For both are indeed facing similar challenges – ignoring for a second their truck full of differences – which may shed some light into the complexities of their politics.
Starting by their presidents, the extreme polarization that brought them both to power, and the coincident timing of their current major crisis. Not many will agree that Donald Trump and Michel Temer are facing the first serious threat to their very position as commanders-in-chief.
But few dispute that they’re fighting for their political future, and that legitimacy, impropriety, and corruption, are issues often strong enough to depose a sitting president. Even those overwhelmingly popular, which they aren’t. They’re both skillful politicians, though, so we’re on.
The catalog of certified lies, incompetent mistakes, intrigue, firings, and increased fear that, if a major global crisis arises, the administration is incapable to protect Americans, which has characterized the Trump presidency in just over four months, has no parallel in U.S. politics.
From nominating a clearly unprepared cabinet, to a number of deeply disturbing executive orders, most of them so far reversed, to failing to unify his Republican Party, which seems poised to back his every diatribe, until his boat is no longer sea-worthy, Trump made a mess of pretty much everything he’s touched (no pun intended). Except for his one sole score: the Neil Gorsuch nomination to the Supreme Court.
But the appointment of former FBI chief Robert Mueller as Special Prosecutor, to investigate his possible ties with Russia, may be the very first warning sign that his support base is treading water. No wonder he’s mad about leaks. To impeachment, though, it’s a long way.
Temer, the vice president who became chief by leading a conspiracy to oust the head of his ticket, Dilma Rousseff, like Trump, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Eyes on the Prize, Colltalers

It’s been increasingly challenging to know, among the daily news onslaught, what’s relevant to us and what’s corporate interest. And yet we must. It may be harder now to distinguish the news from fake and biased reporting, and yet it’s our duty to keep our human priorities straight.
For getting blindsided is not an option. Due in part to Trump’s dysfunctional presidency, the U.S. seems to be leading the world into a neck-breaking race back to Cold War paranoia, combined with modern fears of widespread terrorism and xenophobia. But we must know better.
The past week was no different than all weeks since January. The firing of FBI chief James Comey, likely done to derail his probe into a possible collusion of the president with a foreign power, a real, stunning piece of news, got immediately buried by a tsunami of excuses.
That it failed to erase its obvious impact, as Trump wished, is completely beside the point. What the denials were designed to accomplished, they did: to occupy valuable real estate on the headlines and public attention. Space that could obviously be used by other relevant news.
Not that they were in any shortage. During the same news cycle, fewer people than needed became aware that the Pentagon is again pushing to send an additional 5,000 troops to America’s longest war, Afghanistan, to join the 8,000 who see no talk about getting out of there. In what this would contribute to any meaningful solution to that now pointless conflict would certainly deserve to be part of a national conversation.
But it’s not. Just like the unreported oil leak in the Dakota Access Pipeline construction, one of the many in the past year at the project that’s been the focus of protests by native American groups, whose land it’s irreversibly polluting, and a coalition of Veterans and environmental organizations. But neither those following closely the issue, nor the public at large would know it, if they’re to rely on media outlets.
On the international front, a global, coordinated hacking attack affected businesses and healthcare facilities in over 90 countries, and experts are bracing for more of the same this week. The incident, even if it’s somehow contained today, which is unlikely, exposed vulnerabilities of under-funded health institutions and the contemporary nature of modern hacking: dangerously powerful and yet, non-ideological based. While it’s important to keep an eye on the latest diatribe of North Korea, and call for urgent high-level diplomacy, and no Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Bitter-Sweetest of Times, Colltalers

This era mirrors what being an adult is about. Take good news, for instance: receiving it is, well, great, for it means that, for a moment, things did take a turn your way. But, and that’s the thing: there’s always a qualifier ‘but,’ following it, and more than ever, what follows cancels it.
Our sense of fulfillment with reality has to be tempered and weather resistant, so we can survive the far more numerous times when it’s not. Life often happens when we’re making those ‘other plans,’ as someone who was killed doing just that, put it on a song. And we carry on.
Good news is that French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen was defeated yesterday. But the next president, Emmanuel Macron, is no poster boy of France’s humanistic ideals. In fact, he may proceed with dismantling them. Besides, Le Pen is in no way done with it.
Make no mistake: Americans wouldn’t be dealing with the onslaught of bad news unleashed by Trump, if Hillary Clinton were the president, and that’s a fact. So, her election would’ve been good news to most. Then again, by now, she’d be facing impeachment for a fraction of flaws she shares with the current president. And just as her GOP opposition has been shameless while in power, it’d arguably be too, if it were not.
It’s all a matter of perspective, one would say. But that’s the false equivalence that fools those who ‘couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton’ then but now don’t have to deal with losing healthcare either, or having to go out of state to have an abortion, or, out of the country for not having papers. Many also like to say that there’s no difference between the two parties, and if the discussion veers that way, run.
Yes, American politics in general, and the two political parties in particular, are money making machines and neither represents fully the people who vote for them. Yes, millions tossed around, to ‘purchase,’ er, fund candidates could boost the economy of many a small country.
And yes, often the realities of being a political leader, or rather, a condition that some are built for them, can change any idealist, if he or she are not swift on their feet, or adapting to new realities without betraying principles. But, and here’s it again, most of them do not, or won’t.
When Trump had his own infamous Mission Accomplished moment, last week, 14 years almost to the day when George W. played dressed up on an aircraft carrier, many of us had trouble holding our meals. A percentage couldn’t do it any longer, when the media showed their smiling beer-swollen faces celebrating a ‘healthcare’ bill that would give a $765 billion tax cut to the very wealthy, over 10 years.
Now, many are still puzzling that a big percentage of Trump supporters are women and an aging, disenfranchised and uneducated white demographics, that’d be hit by some of his campaign promises, but didn’t seem to realize it. Now that both segments are actually facing that reality, and it’s unmistakable who’s responsible f Continue reading