Curtain Raiser

What We Call Ourselves, Colltalers

A nation is not the sum of its citizens but an ideal they choose to live by. The so-called American Dream can’t be bound by the exactitude of facts, or acquiescence of history, for it’s often at odds with them. But as an ideal, it still has the power to convey a reality worth fighting for.
The thought has a renewed relevance today. As civility and personal responsibility values seem to be losing battles in several fronts, there’s a push for a new social contract. And a focal point is a campaign Dr. Martin Luther King Jr set in motion when he was murdered in the 1960s.
The May 14, 1968, Poor People’s march in Washington, jump-started a month-long movement seeking redressing of social inequalities, and became part of the struggle for Civil Rights of the era and beyond. Dr. King’s tragic assassination only added urgency to the movement.
Then as now, choosing the poor as a marker had, if anything, a crucial advantage: to accurately gauge the state of social justice by focusing on those whose very existence depend on it. There were between 40 and 60 million living below poverty line during that decade, when the U.S. population was still 200 million. Now, extreme poverty has actually increased, to 62 million Americans facing such dire predicaments.
Efforts to reset national priorities are the foundation of the current Poor’s Campaign, as led by Pastor William J. Barber and Liz Theoharis, while advocating for living-wage laws, education, end to mass incarceration, single-payer healthcare system, and right to vote guarantees.
What really seeks to inspire, though, is for another take on morality and values of solidarity and equal opportunity for all, badly missing in our national conversation. And by consequence, to re-invite the world to look up to America again as the land where everyone is welcome.
Recent developments have seriously confronted what we actually believe is going on with the world, and what role Continue reading

Advertisements

Curtain Raiser

Forgetting May Tear Us Apart, Colltalers

As the U.S. threatens to invade yet another country, a caravan of migrants lawfully requests entry into America. They haven’t forgotten our history, unlike the president. But while the amnesia is not yet total, we’re still in mortal danger when those at the top have clearly embraced it.
It’s disturbing that we’ve forgotten what lies led us to Iraq in 2003, or what happened in 1953 or 1980 in Iran. It’s alarming that Nazis now parade in Georgia, Germany, and France, or that some beg the military to come back in Brazil. For we lose ourselves when our memory’s lost.
When the White House scraped the nuclear deal that had been keeping Iranian hard-liners under a tight leach, it let lose a new nightmare on a region with no shortage of them: the Middle East. On cue, Iran and Israel engaged in vicious battles, over an already war-ravaged Syria.
Immigrants in the U.S. are now the ones cognizant to its history, not the modern Gestapo-like brutal forces in charge of crushing them. But if we can’t remember, we’re blind to allegations of treason, sex scandals and corruption, and hear only the thunder of official war mongering.
Instead of immigration, the ‘threat to the American way of life by foreign nations’ is what’s likely to be the favorite narrative to members of this under-suspicion administration, and gladly endorsed by what President Eisenhower prophetically called the military-industry complex.
It’s a familiar ‘tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,’ but not without meaning, as Shakespeare would’ve had it. Rather, the scarier part is that the U.S. is once again having us heading back to the brink of a nuclear holocaust, North Korea’s astonishing turnaround notwithstanding.
We all know who the idiot telling the story is, but Trump’s war cabinet is about to be rebuilt with three of the most notorious hawks of recent history, all christened this week by what many considered a war criminal, former Bush’s VP, Dick Cheney: John Bolton, national security advisor, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State to be, and Gina Haskell, who may replace him as head of the CIA. What could possibly go wrong?
There’s a common, truly anti-American thread linking these four unfortunately powerful figures: they’re all openly advocates of torture, and if that is now half-considered acceptable is because they and others have worked tirelessly for the past three decades Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Demand the Impossible (Again), Colltalers

It’s May, again, and if it wasn’t for our brain’s obsession with patterns, it’d would be just like the previous 49. But May 1968 was nothing like the ones before it, so it still resonates half a century later. Was it really a revolutionary year, at least for the West, or just our mind tricking us?
‘History repeats itself,’ said Karl Marx, born 200 years ago last Saturday, but the second time around is as a farce. Still, we’re bound to take these odds, regardless any inherent Apophenia, because times may be ripe for the kind of change that that month in the Sixties seemed to promise.
In reality, the causes for the explosive events led by students that took place in France, had little to do with other mass movements elsewhere in Europe, or the U.S. that year, except for a familiar denominator: people taking to the streets and demanding to be heard by powers that be.
The Paris rallies brought together pupils, unions and political parties for education and social reforms, but did not change much the French status quo. The bloody clashes with police did force a government reshuffling: president Charles de Gaulle replaced long time prime minister, George Pompidou. It didn’t last, though, as Pompidou replaced de Gaulle the following year, and remained in office until his death, in 1974.
The former Czechoslovakia was also on fire around that time, with reforms promoted by its leader, Alexander Dubcek in what became known as the Prague Spring. But the experiment and optimism it generated were crushed when Warsaw Pact tanks and troops occupied the country.
Protests against Soviet control were also neutralized in Poland and Yugoslavia, just as resistance against U.S.-backed Latin American military dictatorships, rose in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and many others. But it all contributed to an atmosphere Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Laboring for Peace, Justice & Land, Colltalers

A handshake, and years of work, was what it took for North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in to finally meet and talk about peace. It also capped a week when the first Lynching Memorial was opened, and thousands of Brazilian natives rallied for land rights.
A common thread led it to what’s happening in Gaza and Israel. All four developments share the agony of race relations, circa 2018, and how urgent it is to repurpose them. Above all, it was a week when news about the U.S. president were demoted to the lowly second paragraph.
Trump, of course, ruminated and self-incriminated once again, and this time it may all stick. But the president stood completely pat while historic events mobilized billions. When history comes into such focus, news about the death of truth can sound like being grossly misstated.
A memorial museum to the over 4,000 victims of lynchings in America opened in Montgomery, Alabama, where almost 300 blacks, slaves, and women, were hanged for racists’ public entertainment. More will be added about those 1870-1950 years of the nation’s darkest times.
As weighty as such monument may be, it’s a crucial step to right a tragic wrong. Immorally, lynchings were normalized for two full centuries, ever since the original kill: the theft of entire villages to enslave them, thousands of miles away from home. That’s when all of it started.
For much less time Palestinians have been shouting to the world, and getting always out-shined by Syria, or Iraq or Afghanistan, about their land and misery. But their plight paralyzes and scares Israelis, who seem to have all but forgotten, or lost faith, in the two-state solution.
Or rather, they’ve been manipulated by the right-wing political elite dictating the nation’s current policies, as many have denounced before. Israel seems to be mirroring the U.S.’s toxic civil environment. Since Palestinians began weekly Friday protests, Israeli forces have killed 37 unarmed Palestinians, including two journalists. Just like in this country, victims vary and are many, while perpetrators are always the same.
Over 2,000 of one of the most oppressed Brazilians, indigenous natives, showed up in Brasilia, last Thursday. They are trying to reverse a sad, but well-known trend: the rollback of their land rights, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Disrupting the Dictators’ Ball, Colltalers

Last week was again dominated by acts, whims, and tweets of a selected, if not unbearable, group of strong rulers, so used to suck out the air of the headlines. Life, never bound by their theatrics, has had a hard time earning a moment of our crowded attention spans these days.
Kim Jong-un talked about nukes? Breaking news. Cuba’s Castro dynasty exiting the world stage? Stop the presses. The president’s lawyer is about to spill the beans? Tells us all about it. But not long ago, not all news were driven by megalomaniacs in power. Allow us, if you would.
Yes, the cruel North Korea ruler saying that he’ll halt the country’s nuclear program is important. If the tiny island that challenged the West is changing hands at the helm, there are global repercussions. And the fact that the U.S. president has been caught again lying to the American people, is definitely worth debating. But we should be weary about two things. One is about the absolutely low credibility of these leaders.
For all those not yet buried, if something is on an all-time supply shortage is what elected, and not so much, politicians have been saying and its gargantuan gap from reality. Even for professionals sharper at deception than magicians, a few records must’ve been broken as of lately.
And yet, even as many seem to have somehow stretched their tolerance to falsehood, that isn’t the visual media’s emphasis when it pretends to inform us about the news. Consequences for being untrue are rarely linked to the liars and although that in itself should be news, it often isn’t.
Something else makes every relatively thinking creature to take pause about ‘facts’ being dictated by a group of individuals usually at odds with them: the power of a leader comes from representation; if he or she speaks out of sync with their constituency, either by ignorance, omission, or, oh, yes, because they did not actually elect them, then what’s being said remains in the fouled realm of their self-aggrandizing.
And then we’re back to the beginning. Either self-centered or self-appointed, or both, autocrats favor the version Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Lula’s Hit & the Tip of Faceberg, Colltalers

‘Lack of authority and indiscipline seeded and fertilized’ all segments of society, without sparing ‘the exemplary stronghold of order’ and perennial guarantor of institutions: ‘the armed forces.’ So read the ominous Good Friday editorial of March 27, 1964, on Jornal do Brasil.
Five days later, the same paper would greet the military coup that installed a 21-year dictatorship in Brazil as the dawn of ‘true legality’ in the country. After a little over a century, Brazil is again having a cruel April, with Saturday’s prison of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
More on that in a moment, but let’s get to the newest save face tactics Mark Zuckerberg’s hopes will delete the onslaught of bad news that engulfed Facebook. For starters, it admitted that data of 50 million users was compromised when it struck a deal with Cambridge Analytica. But only after Christopher Wylie, who worked for the poll firm hired by the Trump administration, and claims to have designed the tools used help him get elected, became a whistleblower. FB then revised up that initial figure to a whopping 87 million personal files actually exposed.
Now, the Zuck himself said that ‘most’ of its more than two billion users should ‘assume’ that information about them is out there, being diced and sliced and sold and resold. And just like that, as it happened in the past, he’s tried quickly move on with the usual excuses. That might be no longer an option, as TechCrunch just found out about a gem of villainy, worthy a cartoonish laughter, enjoyed only by FB executives.
Unlike anyone else, they can retrieve their messages from anybody’s boxes, even years after sending them. We won’t be getting on the implications of that here, but for those willing to do just that, words like Orwellian and privilege may be used by the handful. Moving on.
The preppy CEO, who declined to testify to a U.K. parliamentary committee investigating fake news, and spared everyone there from laying eyes on his chino+T-shirt combo, couldn’t avoid Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

That’s How Democracy Dies, Colltalers

Hyperbole kills the power of a sentence. So used to say an old teacher. But when Noam Chomsky, renowned linguist, scientist, and engaging thinker, said last April that the American Republican Party is ‘the most dangerous organization in human history,’ well, it grants examination.
This is relevant as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross plans to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Decennial Census. In the context of the GOP’s steady stream of antidemocratic policies, last week’s announcement is indeed dangerous to our electoral system of representation.
It’s also sent scores of Americans on a fiery search for ‘WTH is the Census,’ according to Google. Some were not even expecting their lives to be affected by the answer. For the constitutionally-mandated biennial counting of residents has deep implications to how the U.S. is run.
The number of Representative seats in Congress, billions in federal funds allocation to communities nationwide, decisions related to health care, education, employment and many more, are all determined by how many people live here or there. And as services and resources are used by anyone living or even visiting any particular place, planning must include everybody, not just legal citizens. See where we’re going?
If one considers the three arguably most important developments affecting the way people vote in recent years – the Supreme Court’s rulings equating funding with free speech, known as Citizen United ruling, and its hacking of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, letting southern states to again change laws without federal approval; and widespread gerrymandering, they all made it harder for poor voters to exercise their rights.
By allowing unlimited so-called dark money into campaigns, the court unwittingly switched politics’ main priority, from representing people to get to public office by way of fundraising. As a result, the elected literally owes more to sponsors and lobbyists than to his or her voters.
The same way, when in 2013, Chief John Roberts declared, straight-faced, that ‘blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare,’ he was endorsing the return of old racist practices of some states that historically made voting by racial and class minorities more difficult.
And finally, the undignified art of redrawing legislative maps, so to turn traditionally diversified districts into one-party areas, although not necessarily a Republican invention, is one Continue reading