Curtain Raiser

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 Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

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 Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

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 Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

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 Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

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 to decide on his extradition 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. Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Genocides We Ignore, Colltalers

An enquiry 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 Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

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 frequency Continue reading