Curtain Raiser

Banning Speech Empowers Hate, Colltalers

Terrorism, which in America is led now by a re-enabled white supremacy movement, seems to propose a challenge to the constitutional idea of free speech. But despite its complexities, it shouldn’t. The distinction between crime and freedom of expression is already in our DNA.
It’s actually been all by settled even before the Constitution, in what’s known as the Boston Massacre trials, by no other but a founding father, John Adams. Just as he defended in court a group British soldiers, the ACLU is fulfilling its role, by defending everyone’s right to congregate.
The issue has become a contentious one again, since the treasured, and nearly centenarian, civil liberties institution represented the organizer of the Nazi rally in Charlotesville. The violent gathering caused widespread injuries, and the death by car of rights activist Heather Heyer.
The ACLU, however, is not above criticism. It’s announced changes in the way it chooses to defend people and causes. But the obvious overriding issue is not which groups should be allowed to expose their vitriol. It’s whether they plan to break the law, which those ralliers did. Worst yet is that the police did nothing to prevent the violence. And that bringing loaded guns to a public gathering is not considered a crime.
There shouldn’t be much doubt about the distinction, then. Freedom of expression is a constitutional issue, not an ideological one, whereas crime is a crime, obviously, as law enforcement is accountable for omission. But the open and carry law, well, that’s just a horrendous law.
Guns, of course, were not central to what happened in Virginia – and in Barcelona, for that matter -, even as it seems an issue insulated from any challenges as the president himself. The right of anyone to express their opinion against the status quo is, and it should be, defended.
Six years before the Declaration of Independence, it was probably very easy to lose sight of what Americans want for a nation, and many had actually taken up arms to create one of their own. That ideal could, in theory, justify any act of injustice, committed in its name, right?
Not to John Adams, though, arguably the most important member of that extraordinary generation of leaders. For unlike most, he didn’t die a wealthy man, paid all his debts, did not owe slaves, and despite following a religion, was adamantly in favor of its separation from state.
In March 5, 1770, a British Captain, six of his soldiers, and four civilians, fired from Boston’s Custom House, into a crowd of some 400 protesters, killing six residents. They were to be trialled, and many expected, hanged, for the act. But Adams Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Mourning & Fear in America, Colltalers

Unrealistic optimists and believers on a universal ‘fair and balanced’ order have been seriously challenged this past week. For how to respond to the president’s North Korean-style bombastic rhetoric towards North Korea, and to the deadly white supremacist Charlottesville rally?
Will we see the feared Atomic Clock needle move closer to midnight, as Kim Jong un has already answered in kind, threatening over 150 thousand Guamanians? Will the already critical U.S. racial relations take yet another turn to the worst? Should we all give it up already?
The short answer is obviously no, even without asking that receding group, bless their soul. At the same time, Americans are evidently doing a poor job showing the world that we’ve got it together. And that is as much a global threat as the escalation of the two egomaniacs’ diatribes.
One thing we all share with the Pollyanna subscribers, though: we’re afraid, very afraid indeed. Even those keeping their minds above the water – our salute to thee -, know that when their fears begin to coincide with those of doom proselytizers, something may really hit the fan.
It’s not that anything is possible, only that there are way too many realistic possibilities that things may go south, and we’re resisting having to list them here. Plus all the implicit unpredictability, since this is a battle of (evil?) wills between two powerful but deeply unsound leaders.
The president may not see this, but the Pentagon is in state of alert. If something happens, even and specially an ill-advised exchange between the two, we may all be dragged to the inevitable. Worse, some are already counting (hoping?) on that scenario, and preparing accordingly.
If we were to ask world citizens whether they trust either Trump or Kim Jong un to be aware of the implications of a first nuclear strike, the answer would probably be too distraught to be guessed. Let’s just say that it’d likely not to be one to be cheered upon, and leave it at that.
Domestically, many Americans are wondering if we’re following to the letter a recipe to disaster and what the hell can be done to derail it.
For the White House’s first six months have been an uncanny confirmation of every prediction – yes, offered by so-called pessimists – made even before the Oath of Office. With no governing accomplishment but a constant turmoil of inconsistencies, a brewing collusion and treason scandal, and approval ratings down the toilet, the administration, they said, would be likely to invoke a war of distraction just about now.
The Korean peninsula may be teeming with warships and fear, but it’s Guam, where the U.S. has military bases, that was mentioned by name by Kim, to be the first in the crosshairs of its ballistic nukes. The island at the centre of hate is supposed to be busy preparing for an attack.
But then again, how one ‘prepares’ for a nuclear explosion, other than fleeing to the other end of the world? If that’s even an option, that is. Besides, before even hitting Guam’s territorial waters, the retaliation will surely be already annihilating the vessel from which the rocket departed from. That means, war will have its first Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

When Fish Can’t Breathe, Colltalers

An alarming report found that an area in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey is completely devoid of life. In over 8,700 square miles of so-called dead zone, all marine life that could, left, while plankton died due to lack of oxygen, depleted by agricultural nutrients pollution.
The massive ‘desert in the water’ zone, a now annual phenomenon, comes from the reliance on chemical fertilizers by meat producers, such as Tyson Foods. And since Gulf of Mexico will be forever associated with oil spill, yes, that environmental disaster is also linked to the zone.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the largest dead zone ever measured has a huge algal growth, triggered by agricultural nutrients that consume oxygen, causing loss of fish habitat, decreasing their reproductive abilities, and shrinking shrimp size.
NOAA, an agency in the cross-hairs of the Trump Administration for its groundbreaking research on climate change, cites an increase in ‘nutrient discharges’ from the Mississippi River, caused by the agricultural industry as a whole and also the area’s land development projects.
Practically from the moment it exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, the BP-owned Deepwater Horizon drilling rig has created the conditions for dead zones. Spills usually trigger an oxygen loss in water by feeding microbes that consume oxygen and grow on oil.
It’s exactly this ability that is then channeled in the cleanup process that follows an oil spill. It was no different after the largest in history, which dumped some 4.9 million barrels of oil in the gulf waters. Although declared sealed, a 2012 report showed that the seal is still leaking.
It’s now part of standard procedures of ever increasing cleanup efforts to deploy a type of bacteria that ‘chews’ hydrocarbons, delivered in chemical dispersants, designed to break the oil Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Beware the Sneaky Visitors, Colltalers

There was some big news this past week, but most of us were not paying any close attention to it. No, it wasn’t the latest Republicans’ defeat in their 7-year effort to deny affordable healthcare to millions of Americans. Or mad-hatter antics of Trump’s White House and his ‘despicables.’
Neither the scary North Korea’s latest ballistic rocket launch, nor the disturbing body count of murdered environmental activists in Brazil. If you were following these or other important issues to you, you’re exonerated. We should all be excused for ignoring news about asteroids.
This one, though, should’ve been big news: a rock three times the size of the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in Feb 2013, was detected last Sunday moving away from Earth. Which means that it zipped relatively close by us three days before. And nobody knew.
Sure, we have much more to be concerned about it, and can anyone be blamed for not being particularly keen about threats unknown, literally raining from above? Not likely. Besides, the asteroid, poetically known now as 2017 001, passed some safe 76,448 miles away from home.
How safe? About one-third of the Earth-moon distance. And no, it was not big enough to wipe us all out. So, why equating it to way more likely to happen life-altering events, such as a nuclear strike, or people dying from lack of medical care? What’s with the alarmist streak?
There’s a link, that’s why. Just this Thursday, – and like the asteroid itself, reported only after the fact, – a U.S. Senate committee operated nothing short of a small miracle: it actually did something. It reversed a presidential proposal for severe cuts in NASA’s budget. Despite being still lower than the agency would’ve had it, it may receive almost $20 billion funding in 2018, pending Congress and the WH final approval.
Many important programs may be preserved, but a notable will not: the Asteroid Redirect Mission, that would land Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Cons of War & Trade, Colltalers

A debate worth having these days is whether geopolitical hegemony is still determined by a country’s arsenal, or its ability to dominate global trade. As battle lines are no longer defined by traditional 20th century ideologies, a new, more accurate yardstick may be needed.
In this context, the U.S. is becoming ever more identified with the power of its weaponry industry, high firepower and outrageous profits, from a state of permanent worldwide war. And China is retaking a spot that it may have held in antiquity: the world’s de facto largest economy.
Our contemporary history gets a fresh appreciation under this new dichotomy. The threat of conflicts for global dominance may not be triggered by traditional Left-Right ideological sides, but by local, trade and territorial disputes, with equal risk for out-of-control escalation.
The impact of such a tectonic shift in world relations has yet to be determined, of course. But we always seem to be on the verge of a military strike by the U.S., even if solely to prove a political point. And China, when it finally re-calibrates its commercial balance, may realistically bring the world to its knees, just because it may find important to flex its industrial might. Both possibilities, albeit scary, are perfectly plausible.
That old values, dating back from the republican French Revolution, no longer fit the dizzying complexity of geopolitical and economic relations that marks the world today, packs no great surprise. But the consequences of going back to a new Colonialism, where countries are invaded so to grant their invaders’ territorial advantage, or to a widespread Discovery Era-style trade wars, are downright unpredictable.
It’s instructive to take just such possibilities for a quick spin, in the light of some news that may have gotten lost in last week’s shuffle.
First it’s the absolutely sobering news that the Iraqi city of Mosul was retaken from Daesh’s control by Iraqi and U.S. forces, which gave no one reason for jubilation. The human cost, the civilian death toll, cruelty of combatants, and the carnage left behind are beyond staggering.
Similarly to what happened a few months ago in Aleppo, when the guns were finally silenced, everybody and everything was lost, including reason and morals. As it signals the way wars may be fought, what happened in Mosul confirms two major certainties about today’s geopolitics: there will be more just like it; and weaponmaker stocks are bound to break records, making their investors very rich indeed.
These are powerful arguments for defense contractors and warmongers to be bullish about what everybody else with a conscience is sick about it: the business of endless war is now an acceptable national economic model. Thus, there’s no end in sight for the Afghan war.
To contrast all that, China reporting last week that its GDP grew 6.9% in the second quarter of this year, gives many some solace, as it’s certainly better news than anything else coming from Asia these days. No small feat to feed and employ the world’s Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Lula May Fall but Brazil Can’t, Colltalers

Very few people in Brazil could’ve honestly claimed they didn’t see it coming. When the still immensely popular two-term former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was sentenced last week to nearly 10 years of prison, to be appealed in freedom, almost no Brazilian was surprised.
For the opposition, which for 14 years has been consistently crushed by Lula and his Workers’ Party, the PT, in polls, popularity, and global stature, it was the exhilarating culmination of a process that also included the spurious 2016 impeachment of his successor, Dilma Rousseff.
Neither her ouster nor Lula’s condemnation were based on solid proof. But that also doesn’t come as a shock to a weary citizenry still reeling from the young democracy’s painful learning curve it’s been living through since the end of the 21-year military dictatorship, in 1985.
And, in yet another fact that doesn’t disrupt sleep for the 200-million plus population, most of those who orchestrated the thinly-disguised political coup, not just have criminal evidence weighting against them, but also remain in power. Corrupt, unpopular, but still in charge.
Needless to say, the mood of this once briefly proud nation is currently very dark indeed. Given that the coalition of right-wing parties, powerful broadcasters, influential religious and land-owner groups, is running a quasi-tight ship, it’s unlike that mass protests will avert such fast back-to-the-past curse. As the economy returns to appalling 1970s and 80s performance figures, Brazil is bracing for a long penumbra.
As it stands, the political elite in power has effectively achieved what it was long seeking: the neutralizing of Lula’s candidacy for next year’s presidential election – of which he’s dominating the polls as a front runner – and crippling any chances for PT to become a contender again.
Brazil, which has now stepped down from the express train it’d boarded in the early 2000s, which raced past the 6th-largest economy position in the world, can no longer claim the status of interlocutor of Western nations in global affairs or even leadership atop the G20, Brick, and Mercosur groups. Diminishing foreign investments and technology budgets will likely restore Brazil’s role as a merely agricultural producer.
The 2007 discovery of huge offshore oil deposits, which even before being explored, gave Brazil a powerful economical leverage tool, and placed it closer than ever to fully oil independence, Continue reading

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Cheap Gas Isn’t Worth It, Colltalers

While many were transfixed by yet another appalling Trump’s mini world tour, other two, equally relevant, and inevitably related events took place: North Korea’s test-launched an intercontinental missile, capable of hitting the U.S., and the U.N. adopted a nuclear weapons ban treaty.
But as serious to our future as the new nuclear strike toy at Kim Jong-un’s disposal is, there are other issues failing to get due attention. Take hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for instance, and how it’s driving profits, cheap gas, and widespread quakes and groundwater contamination.
Because it lowered natural gas costs – when conveniently ignoring the environmental impact it causes -, fracking has been the last hope for a still rich but increasingly uncompetitive fossil-fuel industry. Specially because its decaying infrastructure, and traditional investor bias, have been easily repurposed for the new approach. But fracking is neither ‘clean energy,’ nor competitive in the long run against renewables.
Behind the propaganda, which is heavy on job creation assumptions, and neglectful about the toll on natural resources the procedure causes, other factors may be critically overlooked about the rosy natural gas picture. An example is the number of wells dug to extract it, which since 2011 has been increasing at a much greater rate than production, according to a recent EcoWatch study based on government research.
That means that, as gas output growth remains steady, more land has been compromised by its extraction than ever, at a rate that surpasses even the oil industry boom of the 1930s. And the well-paid jobs, advertised by the American Petroleum Institute to grow to ‘two million by 2040,’ are heavily dependent on high-level college education or specialized training, two areas chronically afflicted by low investments.
The most visible risk related to widespread fracking is the increased occurrence of earthquakes, a fact that the industry goes to great pains to divert public attention from, without much success. A 5.8 temblor in Montana, last week, was the strongest in the region in over 60 years.
It’s no wonder that Montana, the Rocky Mountains, northern states, and other regions have experienced ‘induced seismicity,’ i.e., man-made quakes. They are all within the expanding ground zero for fracking operations, which the Trump administration’s energy policies favor.
Only the industry’s minions deny that the injection of massive amounts of water and chemicals into the shale, and consequent re-injection of the liquid waste into underground storage pools, Continue reading