Curtain Raisers

A Second Set of Books, Colltalers

With all the fanfare and gravitas of a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new bridge, an almost as rare an event, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has finally brought to trial a relatively minor figure of the great Wall Street swindle of the world’s financial institutions of 2008.
As Fabrice Tourre, an ex Goldman Sachs bond trader, stands accused alone of misleading investors in a mortgage investment scheme, one can’t help but thinking that he’s just a convenient scapegoat, or rather a lamb offered to be slaughtered so to keep crowds artificially fed, and the status quo untouched.
It’s all about drops in a golden-plated bucket. Tourre’s former employer, which paid the SEC a $550 million fine for the shady deal right after dumping his sorry behind, has just reported that it made seven times as much revenue in the second-quarter as in the same period last year, with a $1.86 billion net income.
While Goldman along with most U.S. and European banks that caused the subprime mortgage crisis have since more than recovered, investors are still to recoup, if ever, some $1 billion they’ve lost in the adventure. Worse: the great majority of working classes around the world are not even within this picture.
For now, though, this pro-forma show will have to do it, even though it is but a parcel of the disaster that ruined the global economy but that, at least for the sake of the perpetrators, was promptly averted by a rescue package put together by G-8 governments – and obviously unwittingly funded by taxpayers.
Before we come to an all but sure conclusion that the SEC will administer a vehement pat on the wrist of Tourre, at least for getting caught when so many got away, his trial remains relevant for being a shamefully rare effort to punish those whose malfeasance rigged the system and have profited from it all.
His expected mild admonition will be at par with the Department of Justice’s $200,000 fine imposed on Halliburton, for destroying incriminating evidence of its role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which cost tens of billions to clean up; an amount that it takes 23 seconds to make.
And yet, Halliburton’s admission of guilty of such a grave crime, and the ridiculousness of its fine, are not even the worst news coming from that tragedy: behind the scenes, its twin villain, oil giant BP, has been frantically maneuvering to deny compensation of claims from victims of the catastrophe.
That includes families of those who lost their lives in the explosion, entire communities whose economies were devastated by the spill, and environmental organizations still knee-deep in their efforts to usher the recover of a large swath of wild marine life, as terminally depleted as it stands today, three years later.
BP went as far as to ask a federal judge to shut down the $20 billion-plus settlement program it was forced to put in place, to compensate for its misdeed, alleging that some of the claims were fraught with fraud. Thankfully, it’s been losing that front as its request has been denied, at least for now.
Then again, despite these slight contretemps, Europe’s second-biggest oil company, along with Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell, have all been consistently beating profit estimates, so it’s not that paying what they rightfully owe has been more than, well, a drop in the bucket.
In the end, the corrupt trader, the guilty-as-charged Halliburton, and the slippery BP, share more than the week’s headlines, hurriedly rushed to the papers’ back pages. While on the surface they come from relatively different areas of the economy, they live and breathe the same toxic atmosphere of impunity.
Their blatant amorality and accountability-proof way of doing business, and the absurdly innocuous punishment prescribed by the various government agencies in charge of protecting us against them, would be no match to the rigor and thoroughness applied to, guess who? whistle-blowers, for instance.
(We concede: our attempt to avoid the subject has just suffered a major blow). Because it’s not lost to anyone standing by some decrepit bridge to nowhere, that while punishing white collar criminal behavior hasn’t had much track with the government, judgement administered to dissenters has been swift and brute.
Pvt. Bradley Manning was found guilty by a military trial of a corollary of crimes, none yet proven to have caused personal harm to anyone, unlike the Wall Street crisis, and CIA contractor Edward Snowden, even though granted a temporary asylum by Russia, has in fact become grounded for life in that country.
By the way, that’s something that would be inconceivable to any multinational corporation such as Halliburton or BP, for that matter. Haven’t somebody said that corporations are people too, my friend? Theirs, not ours, of course.
As for Manning and Snowden, theirs are the saddest possible epilogue for two of the greatest examples in recent memory of individuals making choices out of morality and principle, and to the beat of great personal loss. After been eviscerated as traitors by the multimillion media concerns funded, not coincidentally, by some of their accusers, they’re now most likely headed to limbo, pariahs of their own land of birth, a fate no human being should have to endure.
It’s almost as if they’ve been judged by a completely different set of books, one that prioritizes the state’s self preservation, over the right of its own citizens to disagree, and that’s willing to bend the rules and carve a whole new jurisprudence, if it sees fit to assure its supremacy over the individual.
In the meantime, there’s a new vague threat for us to fill our hearts and minds with fear, we’re told: that in the near future, we won’t be able to find undergarments to wear. That’s right, today is Underwear Day, so be sure to wear a clean one. As for Colltales readers who’ve inquired: what embassy closings? We have no idea; lately, we’re trying not to follow what they call ‘the news.’ Have a great one.

Tips Are Not Optional, Colltalers

Hidden within the debate over the minimum wage in the U.S., which studies show, has lost so much of its value as to be unfavorably compared to the Great Depression, is the large segment of workers who earn even less than the current $7.25 per hour. Your waiter will be right with you.
Without getting into the merit that, at such rate, a full time worker makes an average $15,000 a year, which is clearly poverty line-territory, what is often overlooked is the fact that the salary of most restaurant workers is made up of only a percentage of that minimum. The rest is compounded by their ability to earn tips, i.e., the kindness of strangers.
We could get here into a full nuanced analysis of how this works in America, and pretty much nowhere else, where workers are paid not by their employer, but by the employer’s customers. But as the overall debate is dominated by broad, and often inaccurate, strokes, much of such argument would be wasted.
For when a billionaire such as Charles Koch gets wide media exposure for disingenuously saying that even the existence of a minimum wage ‘hurts’ workers, and the Internet is abuzz with ‘independent’ voices arguing against tipping servers, we can see that nuance and accuracy are the first ones to go in this debate.
Before we get to why paying, er, tipping your waiter is not optional, and that if one really wants to discuss the fairness of the system, stopping adding gratuities to your restaurant bill is most definitely not the way to start it, let’s quickly go back to the incredibly shrinking wages in the age of the billionaire CEO.
A recent Forbes study found that some chief executives make over a thousand times their employees’ typical pay, in some cases, regardless if their company is making a killing in profits, or it’s actually tanking. When it comes to compensation package at the top, it seems, company performance is often not relevant.
The greatest example, of course, was the financial crisis of 2007, which brought the world to its knees almost exclusively because a few dozen Wall Street banks and financial concerns rigged the system so much that, as W.B.Yeats would put it, the center could no longer hold.
Everybody knows what came out of it: millions lost their savings, global unemployment spiked, economies of entire countries got ruined, and governments scrambled to print money and keep the system afloat. But no culprits were sent to jail, and in fact, most of them are now wealthier than ever.
We didn’t want to get into any parable of malfeasance here, but as we see that most of those same financial institutions have recovered so well, with no little help from tax payers’ money, while millions remain either unemployed or paid less than they need to survive, if ever, we simply couldn’t help it.
Recent studies, including one by the Department of Commerce, have shown that private-sector wage increases in the new century have been less than in any 10-year period since the WWII. As this has been a time for slashed government budgets, you know why workers couldn’t disagree more with Koch and his friends.
Then, there’s an often invoked saying, attributed to Karl Marx but probably completely apocryphal, proposing that capitalism aims at rewarding labor with gratuities in lieu of decent salaries. Since tipping is part of the American culture, many feel that whoever came up with the thought had definitely a point.
After all, how come the hospitality business is allowed to pay its workforce less than what the government mandate states, in itself a pittance as it is? At what point did the system break down so a whole category of professionals have been left out of even its flawed labor regulations?
Again, any thorough explanation of the issue would immediately lose readers, even if it’d mention Herman Cain, the colorful one-time CEO of the other NRA, and his efforts to shield the restaurant business from the rules affecting every other U.S. employer. Suffice to say that they’re only part of the problem.
Perhaps more disappointing are the other cogs of this big, unjust chain of lobby-driven regulations that ultimately force an entire class of professionals to literally hustle to compound wages through the whims of the tipping system. As such, most of those Internet voices cited above are wrong.
Along with a few high-end restaurants, that now decided that tipping is wrong but still won’t increase staff salaries, many have expressed misguided opinions on the matter, considering that they should not be under obligation to tip waiters, which may be correct, because the service is bad, which is utterly wrong.
What some choose to ignore is that, regardless of the service, which let’s face it, in reputable eateries all over big American cities, is mostly highly professional, these estimated three million workers have no idea how much, and if it’d even be enough, they will make at the end of the month.
To say that those who seem all too eager to stop tipping may have only a vague, uneducated guess about who Marx was would be almost as unfair as complaining about a meal to the person who delivered it to your table, and not to those whose business is to make and sell them to you.
We’re definitely for increasing the minimum wage in the U.S., which according to many economists, including Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, represents ‘good policy,’ and for ending the brutally unfair system of paying workers with tips.
But while the first is facing fierce opposition from most likely some of the same CEOs who broke the banks in 2008 and still profited from the crisis, the second may be even harder to come to fruition since it’s been successfully ‘boxed’ inside the overall issue. In other words, we’re not about to stop tipping, if we can help it.
And guess what? an informal and unscientific pool we’ve discretely conducted the other week, hinted that some of the best tippers are those who, themselves, don’t know how much money they’re going to earn, if any, at the end of the month. There’s probably a moral in all of that but we’ll abstain from spelling it out.
But who knows, maybe things are really heading in the right direction. Even fast-food restaurant workers, which for the most part, can’t even count on tips to make up their meager earnings, have been organizing and finding ways of achieving a bigger piece of the profit pie enjoyed by their rich employers.
So, perhaps the issue of tipping, and why it’s so absent-mindedly tossed as a synonymous for gratuity, is finally seeing the light of the day. Or heading to an incoming freighter, we’re not sure. If you do want to be certain, we only ask that you inform yourself before expressing an opinion. And for that, we thank you.
By the way, to say thank you and be polite is nice and dandy, but is no substitute for your gratuity, and a 20% of the total will be greatly appreciated. Even though that’ll never be required from anyone spending time at Colltales, it’s all but mandatory for those who dine out or order in. Be nice, tip your server.


Rough Season for the Unlucky Few, Colltalers

It’s been a scorching summer in the Northern Hemisphere, in what may be a sight of increasing climate changes to come. Of course, many Americans are complaining about. Hardly they know, however, albeit they should, that the going has been many times tougher to at least five groups of people.
For it’s been terrible, possibly even the worst of times, if you happen to be a whistleblower, or an investigative journalist, a young black male, a child, or a member of the troops in Afghanistan. We’ll leave the thousands of villagers caught in the crossfire of drones and Al Qaeda operatives off this list for now.
As the hardly followed (if you, like most Americans, get your news only from TV) trial of Pvt. Bradley Manning draws to a conclusion, a sinking feeling that he’ll lose, and so everyone who thought that being in the know and government transparency are unalienable rights, is turning into pure dread.
Even if they haven’t broken this young military man, and we do hope he’ll have at least one fair chance to speak to the American people, his life is all but over, destroyed not because he stole, murdered, denigrated or dishonored country and society, but because he tried to reveal truths about the government.
Equally sad is the Edward Snowden’s case. Even those who may question, in whatever grounds, his revelations about the massive and secret U.S.-sanctioned surveillance system, have acknowledged his courage and willingness to lose so much to tell his story. But no one expects him to win this tug of war.
For the man stranded in a Russian airport, unable to accept the invitation of nations willing to grant him residence, his lifetime sentencing is already on. Along with Manning, the only Americans they managed to hurt were themselves, and despite unmasking an ugly facet of the Obama administration, chances are they won’t be able to get their prescient warning about what the U.S. is fast becoming to their fellow citizens; not if the media can help it, anyway.
That hasn’t prevented the majority of Americans from considering them both whistleblowers, not traitors as the DoJ and the Army would prefer. As such, they join a few contemporary citizens being charged with leaking sensitive information, a group bigger than those targeted by all previous administrations combined.
Almost by extension, it’s also been a dangerous time for reporters covering stories deemed inconvenient to the powers that be, and the case of NY Times Jim Risen is a template for such state of affairs: he’s been forced to testify in the criminal trial of a former CIA official who leaked classified information to him.
Again, that such information, as it happened with Snowden’s, is common currency to anyone who’s an Internet connection is, apparently, beside the point. The Obama administration is bent on making him an example that a journalist has no right to keep secret sources, even in the name of informing the public.
Since that’s one of the tenets of the profession, and freedom of the press to inform the public is a pillar of any democracy, this trial, and Risen being dragged to it, bodes poorly to the U.S. Any smell of retaliation, for Risen’s previously reported extensively on the NSA, is unlikely to be coincidental.
Another group that seems to be having yet another tragic summer is, of course, that of young black males. Unfortunately for him and his family, the template of the year seems to be Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager shot in Florida by a vigilante, who’s just beat a pro-forma trial and now walks free among us.
For the record, though, blacks have been having bad summers, let’s face it, for 400 years already. Dropping the hyperbole, however, urban African Americans do constitute both the majority of the incarcerated U.S. population and most murder victims, according to a recent Columbia University study.
Martin’s case, and its spectacularly myopic trial resolution, is but the rule that confirms the cliche: race plays the biggest role as cause for violent confrontations in the streets of America, with class inequality coming in at close second. Few were as cruel as the one Martin faced, but that’s another story.
If you were a child under 10, part of this sad demographics axis of racial ‘minority’ and underprivileged class, though, things would get even bleaker: apart from the risk of being shot (did we mentioned that most murders are caused by guns? another story, we know), you could also starve to death.
While a 2010 Children’s Defense Fund study found that over 15 thousand kids had been hurt by guns – which was then three times the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan – the World Hunger organization is not happy to add that 13 million American children are at risk of having nothing to eat today.
They’re part of the almost 40 million citizens of the world’s richest nation who may not have had a decent meal in many days, and have no idea when or what they’ll eat next. It’d be a macabre but important exercise to calculate who among these 13 million will survive to become a productive member of society.
Finally, since we mentioned Afghanistan, last month, while unfortunately almost no one was looking, was the deadliest month for international troops since September, as at least 27 died. No word yet on the number of civilian casualties, but we can safely assume that it’s some multiple of that number.
Considering that it corresponds to just a month, in a long, decade-long senseless war; that these were, Americans or not, parents, sons and daughters of families that won’t possibly ever recover from their losses; and above all, as we said, hardly anyone was paying attention, this is indeed a grim piece of statistics.
Grim and sad and hot and humid as this summer has been, even for those of us who simply love the heat and everything that comes with it. Our pain and discomfort are truly jokes, though, compared to the immense desolation that these five groups of people have been facing lately.
As many of them won’t be around, or free, or in a position to continue their work and lives the next time the thermometer hits 100, the least that the lucky rest of us can do is to honor and support their existence, even if in the smallest possible way. That’s the only way many of us can do anything, anyway.
One may do something just by learning the facts, cross-checking the stories, finding out more about ethics in the workplace, and labor rights, and race relations in America, and programs to eradicate hunger, and ways to bring our troops home and help them recover from that nightmare.
Perhaps President Obama himself made us a bit more mistrustful of big gestures and grand statements. His administration is being sadly marked by his undoubtedly rousing rhetoric, as his speech on the Martin case last week confirmed again, and some truly scary and arguable actions behind the curtains.
Thus we may be on our own to bringing the right perspective to these extraordinary times, when we’re forced to question whether our safety and supremacy as a superpower is really worth giving up even basic rights to dissent and demand social justice.
For our now light readers, the open invitation to stop by at Colltales won’t be rescinded. Ever. For those who haven’t had the chance yet, such invitation is now officially extended, no RSVP necessary. But for everybody else, though, please stop complaining about the weather already. Have a great one.


What Your Last Message Could Be About, Colltalers

As you probably know, the world’s last telegram was sent yesterday from India, ending over 150 years of communications by telegraph. Apart from the sign-of-the-times, long-live-Instant-Messaging and all that, the fact got us imagining the content of at least one of those sent in the 11th hour of the system.
Dear American friend, would go the sender, who’d proceed to ask questions about the U.S. and the world, ca. 2013. Being that a pretentious fool’s errand as it may, and before you wish us well, let’s just line up what would be some of the things we’d be commenting about at this particular juncture.
He’d start it off broadly, inquiring about Ramadan, and why some hunger-striking prisoners of Guantanamo Bay are being force-fed as we speak. Wasn’t President Obama the one who’d promised to close down that shameful facility, and finally give some of its inmates their first day in court?
Oh, by the way, he’d continue, what’s with the hunger strike by prisoners going on, even of the non-political kind? Is that true that in California 30,000 began refusing to eat a few weeks ago, and over 10 thousand are still at it, in protest against widespread solitary confinement and jail overcrowding?
‘Tell me my friend, why Americans are so vocal against the inhumane conditions that garment industry workers endure here in Asia, when the Immigration Bill currently being discussed in Congress would actually make way more difficult to underpaid immigrants to ever achieve full citizenship in the U.S.?’
Is that because the still high number of unemployed Americans are now moving to farms and to the back kitchen of restaurants across the U.S., to take over jobs traditionally done by immigrants, or is it because all of a sudden, your fellow citizens are no longer interested in eating your vegetables and fruits?
Naively, the sender would wonder whether the estimated $39 billion cost of increased border security would perhaps be better spent in job programs and education, including illegal immigrants already working in the country, rather than feed the U.S.’s shadowy defense contractor industry.
As he’s writing this, a news flash comes across the screens at the agency, about the Not Guilty verdict of ‘that son of immigrants,’ with a story of violence and dreams of becoming a law enforcer, who shot an unarmed black teenager he’d followed, despite being told not to by the police.
The sender mentions how the president once said so eloquently that the victim looked just like a son of his would, if he’d one. The fact that the sender can’t grasp the division of power prescribed by the U.S. Constitution is understandable. Even the executive branch has problems getting it too, apparently.
But wait, he muses out loud: wasn’t a black woman in Florida just sent to 20 years in jail for firing a warning shot against the man who was physically abusing her, and hadn’t she also invoked the twisted self-defense argument in the state’s law? He obviously can’t understand our country.
Then again, he’s just as lost as the president himself, when it comes to comprehend the vast complexities of what’s going on in Egypt and Syria, in Turkey and Brazil. And then comes a low blow, when he brings up the multi-billion surveillance system recently uncovered by whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
As it turns out, the sender did some studying on U.S. history, and can’t seem to fathom that only 40 years ago, similar revelations about the Vietnam war and a president’s lies, brought down the government, while Snowden is being hunted as a criminal for exposing an official illegal surveillance network.
His segue is, naturally, Pvt. Bradley Manning, whose ultra-redacted trial is about to wrap up and, just as it happened with the hundreds of thousands of American troops overseas, has been reduced to the inner pages of American newspapers, and almost no word at all on the airwaves.
At this point, the sender can be forgiven for not mentioning the strictest abortion law just approved by Texas, which will likely force countless American women, who’re not in condition to become mothers at this time, to cross the Mexican border. Or go back to back alleys, like in most of Asia itself.
Or how the U.S. global leadership role in the fight against climate change and search and development of alternative sources of energy is being prop up by the same highly-subsidized coal, oil, and gas companies that are fully engaged in environmentally disastrous fracking and mountaintop removal mining.
We should also thank our lucky starts that we haven’t heard much lately about the Palestinians and the Gaza strip, even though we know that their condition hasn’t improved a bit, or may in the near future. And that Nelson Mandela’s still with us. Boy, aren’t you glad this is the very last telegram?
Following the secret intel agencies’ strategy of shifting focus away from the message and onto the messenger, to receive such a telegram would make us so depressed as to wish that Samuel Morse had never invented the whole thing or even sent the first one, all the way back in the 19th century.
Which is silly, of course. The more we shove dirt under the carpet, the more it threatens to slide under us or turn into a monster sandstorm to choke us. So, with all respect to mailers who rushed to send out their precious regards, it’s doubtful that anyone has included this laundry list of discontent with them.
Most likely, besides personal messages of care to loved ones, India’s residents chose to invoke some light entertainment fare, or the latest about cricket. We, for ones, would conclude it with an invitation to stop by at Colltales, and to never fully trust that we know much about this crazy world. Have a fine one.


Trying the Messengers, Colltalers

It’s almost ironic that in an era of so many apparent choices to communicate and express ourselves, much of what we may tell each other may not just be sold and traded without us knowing it, but also incriminate us and throw us under the heavy wheels of draconian rules.
Consider the court martial of First Class Pvt Bradley Manning, for instance, which starts today, just over three years since he was arrested in Iraq, on May 2010, for passing classified material to whistleblower-extraordinaire site WikiLeaks.
Since then, both Manning and the site have been the target of a massive effort to characterize the release of over 250 thousand cables, exchanged between the U.S. State Dept. and diplomatic missions around the world, as an act of high treason, liable to prison term.
Both have, in fact, began to serve time even before their cases have been tried, Manning by spending three years incommunicado and with no chances of making his case in the court of public opinion, as his accusers have, and the site by being all but shut down.
Meanwhile, claims of possible abuses by the U.S. military, and nonchalance displayed by some diplomatic corps about their hosts, exposed by the cables, have remained largely downplayed in the media, despite being a huge source of hostility against the U.S. around the world.
That the media had been utterly irrelevant to pursue such claims then, when some of those revelations helped fuel the Arab Spring, and now, when another wave of protests threatens to stir the regional pot again, this time in Turkey, should be no surprise.
From the start, the case of United States v Pvt Manning has been largely played out below the fold of major publications, including the New York Times and U.K.’s The Guardian which stamped the cables on their front cover, often following the entertainment news of the day.
Also, completely alienated from the main core of the arguments to be considered by the court martial are his personal motivations, which as far as we know, come from the highest moral aspirations: to produce a needed, non-violent change, by an act of transparent courage.
Such act, if the law indeed proves that he was the source of the leaking, has been all but vilified by his military accusers, following a curious detour from its main merit: prosecutors have indicated that they’ll mainly focus on Pvt Manning’s breaking the Army’s rules.
Thus, while his case seems to encapsulate a number of transfixing issues of our time, most of them have all but shoved aside. We may have a problem when citizens choose to exchange their right to speaking truth to power for a false sense of security.
In fact, we can hardly say at this point that we’re safer now than we’ve been before, or that we simply don’t understand why the U.S. remains curiously vulnerable to bombings, poison letters, and hatred, despite spending more than any other nation in defense.
Despite the attempt at turning Pvt Manning’s trial into a ultra-secret but ultimately bureaucratic legal ‘correction,’ what’s at stake here is the ability of people to act upon their conscience, and not just because they’ve signed a paper saying that they wouldn’t.
While no one knows whether he’ll be found guilty in any of the 22 offenses he’s been accused of, many scholars and human rights experts are concerned about the possible characterization of his leaking relatively innocuous data as ‘aiding the enemy.’
More of these so-called enemies have been killed either by troops or drones since 2010 than ever, often along with their families and tribal communities. And for all we know, no U.S. personnel on the field or undercover has been hurt by Pvt Manning’s actions.
Or so we’re led to believe, for otherwise, that’s what one would expect to be the tenor of this military trial, right? Instead, there’s a huge chance this trial’s proceeding will reach the public just like those heavily redacted documents, if it’s up to the prosecution.
But only if to pay our respects to this 25-year old soldier, with a previous spotless record of service to this country, let’s hope justice will prevail, and that we get a glimpse of what means to go after the messenger while trying to redact the message.
And just so we won’t skip a beat, the Obama administration is again playing second-fiddle to overzealous hawks, who always find public interest on their actions annoying. Once again, our constitutional president will miss a golden opportunity to match action to words.
While they try to put the genie back into the bottle, at taxpayers’ expense, we sure hope the trial of Pvt Manning become a watershed moment for the confluence where fighting the good war doesn’t mean to abstain from pursuing truth and accountability.
This week, good luck out there in that job hunt, everybody. WC



Of Arthur, Kenneth & Carmen, Colltalers

Proponents of austerity measures, the Draconian slashing of government spending and social programs as the only, unarguable, solution to all problems affecting the global economy, have suffered many setbacks lately, including from one of the bastions of global capitalism, the International Monetary Fund.
But beyond any heartwarming socialist speech about the fallacy and inherent cruelty of capitalism, there’s at least one study in contrasts that illustrate with great clarity the bizarro world behind our current woes: the case of the fraudster that was honestly right, and the cheating elite economists who got it all wrong.
More on that in a moment, but let’s drive the first point until the nail crushes the vampire’s heart. Or the zombie’s brain, for those who belieber it. Regardless.
One may be able, albeit ill-advised, to dismiss the hundreds of thousands of people, who on Labor Day this past week, took the streets around the world to protest austerity policies their governments have been shoving down their throats, with no visible benefits, but mounting nefarious consequences.
But even those controlling the strings can’t ignore that there’s no longer a consensus, if there was ever one, about the efficacy of spending an obscene amount of capital, political and otherwise, on a proposition that alienates the majority of the world population, whose sweat and labor supports the very wealth at the top.
Neither the Reagan-era ‘greed is good’ bumper-sticker capitalism of the 1980s, and its phony tales of Cadillac-driving welfare queens, could’ve envisioned economic growth led by a skyrocketing stock market, huge CEO compensations, and a global network of tax havens for billionaires, standing on the backs of starving laborers and millions of unemployed roaming the streets.
And yes, it has happened before, but there’s no need to go there. After all, despite all historic examples and the books to prove it, many in charge of making economic policy decisions show a disturbing obliviousness about the lessons they were supposed to have mastered with the expensive degrees they’ve earned.
Or as we see it, one must be at least suspicious about being among the few still paying attention to evidence and ‘reality-based’ cause-effect (even for using quotation marks, which would be absurd if we were in fact living in a rational world), while those holding the cards seem to overlook it all so easily.
That’s what made us think about Arthur Batista da Silva, who got it right about what was happening to Portugal, even though he was not who his countrymen thought he was, and Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, the Harvard economists who everyone thought should know better, but as it turned out, did not.
Last year, when Portugal was negotiating a $100 billion bailout with European banks, in exchange for cutting government spending, i.e., welfare programs to near zero, Silva became a fixture of Portuguese talk shows, exactly for going against the grain and issuing dire warnings against the whole package.
Billed as a ‘U.N. economist,’ he displayed a rare sense of prescience and forwardness as almost the sole voice among experts to advice his country to ‘renegotiate its bailout package or risk social problems spinning out of control,’ as reported by Reuters in December.
Less than six months later, his words have a ring of truth no other European forecaster can claim, as leaked EU-IMF documents attest now that Portugal may need yet another injection of fresh money just to keep afloat keep afloat amid the stiff interest payments of the first loan.
Not mentioned with enough emphasis, of course, or rather, still with no paternity claims on sight, are the social costs, widespread recession, and unemployment that have only got worse with the austerity measures imposed in exchange for the initial cash.
It’s too bad that Silva won’t be claiming his correct foresight any time soon, so busy he’s been with threats of persecution and lawsuits for having ‘deceived’ everyone about his real ex-con identity. In other words, they’re throwing the book at him, but leaving off the hook all who profit from the country’s bankruptcy.
As for the distinguished Harvard economists, they’ve authored ‘Growth in a Time of Debt,’ a paper celebrated by conservative governments and pundits around the world. Roughly summarizing it, it all but blamed government debt on diminishing rates of economic growth. Well done, they were almost universally cherished.
According to seemingly complicated graphs, the paper’s most excerpted snippet was deemed an instant classic: it supposedly proved that whenever a country would reach a debt exceeding 90 percent of its annual GDP, it would necessarily experience slower growth than its more social stringent peers.
Proponents of austerity as a way to purge the sins of government spending (mostly on poor people) were exultant. Except that it was all a fraud, even if apparently unintentional. Not that huge amounts of reality-based evidence would be enough to the undoing of such a baseless theory.
No, what did it in was simple math. All it took was a Thomas Herdon, an economics graduate at Amherst College in MA, to crunch the numbers, and bingo, they wouldn’t add up. Again, not that the discovery of such an astronomical flaw derailed any austerity policy already in place.
Neither Rogoff nor Reinhart have apologized for anything yet. On the contrary, they not just have since taken to Op-Ed pages of major newspapers (you know who you are) to somehow justify their blunder, but they’re also taking the world famous ‘janitorial defense,’ or in their particular case, the ‘Excel excuse.’
You’re probably familiar with some version of it: blame the fire that razed a whole city block on the janitor. Or the nuclear facility malfunction on a intruding rat, as they did (twice) in Japan. Such save face works wonders for the perpetrators, and changes nothing to those they’ve hurt with their mistake.
While the two cases exposed both the fallibility of pundits and experts in accessing a multifaceted economic crisis, and our own gullibility in accepting their analysis at face value, the connotations go beyond that.
For hidden behind the paper’s wrong numbers and biased calculations, are livelihoods lost and the despair of an entire generation. At the same time, what the deception helped bury in Portugal was the courage of the fraudster, as the media called him. He was right, though, and the media, wrong again.
Perhaps it’d be preaching to say that as the talking heads exhaust airtime, literally sucking the oxygen out of our ability of thinking for ourselves, the fate of professions and occupations may be decided by an ill-conceived algorithm, or a complete fabrication.
The value of such currency, though, is tender only by taking it straight to the bank, instead of refusing to trade in dignity in order to get it. Or something like that, you know, preaching. Which, by the way, is something Colltales won’t endorse. Have a your (good) way in May. WC



A Hard Rain’s Already Falling, Colltalers

The revolting parade of self-righteous politicians doing the talk show rounds, and calling for the death penalty against the stupidly misguided 19-year Boston bomber, has got our stomach rejecting any attempts at self-sustenance this Sunday.
That’s because they were mostly the same ones who, while the nation agonized in the aftermath of the attack, managed to shoot down a diluted but 86%-publicly approved gun control bill, even as it won the majority of votes.
And then again, many of the same cast of Capitol Hill dwellers took a decisive step to kill any hope for individual rights to privacy on the Internet, under the explicit ‘guidance’ of their corporate sponsors just a day after.
With elected politicians like these, who needs the American democracy? Seriously, there’s something very wrong about the fact that those who we’ve voted to represent us would go so far against our will, and are still capable of appearing on TV, as if nothing happened.
Thus, while we try to comprehend the magnitude of last week’s events, and what they may mean to us as citizens and as a society, we also have to find ways to understand when our institutions got so out of hand, that’s now virtually impossible to have them serve us, and not them serving us notice.
Watching these pants-on-fire advocate for the right of whatever, and how ‘the American people’ this and that, makes us wonder whether we were really awoken when things got so bad like that. Or rather, when did we all stop caring just long enough for them to take over as they did?
Nevertheless, out of the carnage and the anxiety-driven manhunt, fusillade, and capture that followed it, there were displays of truly remarkable citizenry, as if to say that we no longer will be cowed into a corner, no matter how loud the explosion, and we’ll still run towards the fire to rescue our brothers and sisters.
That was nice and moving. Now, can we apply the same resourcefulness and willingness to break through water and fire when it comes to our ailing system? Or rather, how do we expect to see a new day rising when we can’t stay awake through the darkest of the night?
We’ve been living such an absurd and altered reality that even a satirical paper, such as The Onion, at times, manages to be more to the point than our 24-news coverage. When they ‘report’ that next week’s school shooting children thanked the Senate, they’re being way more eloquent than anything that CNN’s round-the-clock speculation, and (obvious) Fox News’ criminally insane rumor mill put out this week.
Which is deeply sad, of course, and as devastating to our democracy, as the possibility that big corporations will be protected from liability for making a profit out of our privacy, just like Monsanto is, from damages its Gen-Mod food may cause to our health.
One by one, they’re getting those dollars spent on our pseudo-representatives put to their direct protection against us. How come there’s no ‘patriot’ grinding teeth over that? Well, perhaps we’d better not count on those guys anyway.
At least, amid the confusion and imminent threat, not of another attack, but that some more civil liberties may be curtailed under the excuse of national security, one certainty has emerged, unlikely to be highlighted by any headlines you’ll read about this coming week:
Despite the fact that the U.S. military budget surpasses the combined budget of 13 other industrialized nations in the world, over inflating and outspending every other U.S. federal expenses, we still felt last week as if anyone can take a shot at us and hurt us.
Now, despite such a libel against the failures of our political system, and the downright disrespect our current political classes have about our needs and their role towards us, that’s the system currently in place and you know what? it’s underutilized.
If a percentage of those who vote for American Idol, or spend their hard-earned dollars on Murdoch’s rags, for instance, were to vote on the last (or next) elections, or donate to political grassroots movements, we simply wouldn’t have them doing as they please once elected, and we complaining about it, on over-the-top and under-the-reading radar blogs such as this one.
Which also means, never doubt the power of words, specially when put on writing as the Internet made so much easier to do these days, in order to promote change. Not all politics is dirty, not all politicians are out to get your vote.
We did have a horrible week in America, but most of us survived it, and have another story to tell. We had a particularly shameful patch as a nation out of synch with its own ideals, and as a society, stunned by random acts of cruelty and violence. That doesn’t mean, though, that it’ll be the same next week.
Finally, the bad news had to hit us on Earth Day weekend, as BP’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico did three years ago, and as some marked the anniversary of so many mass-killing incidents we don’t care to name here. So be it.
This planet is still alive, and so are we, knock on wood. We came a long way and we’re not going to give it all up. Have a safe one. WC



Laughs Are in Short Supply, Colltalers

Romans may have got it right, after all. No society can subsist only on bread, and they had a way of keeping entertainment at arms’ length. It was a way of ruling not unlike that of populist regimes, to be sure, but still quite effective.
For societies that abhor comedy tend to be of the authoritarian kind, whose leaders enjoy a particularly cruel form of justice: to persecute those who dare to turn their divine edits into jokes.
Problem is, whenever we get too enraptured with the circus, we may not notice how stalled is the bread we’ve been served. Too often, what’s considered ‘funny’ is just a way to veer your attention toward shopping and away from what ails your life.
It’s fair to celebrate jesters, as they provide crucial relief from too many a bleak moment crammed into every single day. But there must be a healthy measure of engagement in the issues concerning our times, even if it’s hard to come up with a good bit about them.
We thought about that when it was revealed last week, by no small measure of news coverage, that the Tonight show may undergo yet another of its periodic changes at the helm. From one jokester Jay to another Jimmy, we’re told.
Immediately we got blanketed by a massive media coverage, which seems to appeal to way more than the average talk show audiences. Or so it appears, even though we still consider a miracle that so many stay up so late and still manage to keep their jobs in the morning.
Meanwhile, gun legislation may be all but dead in congress, questions about the U.S.’s drone use, both abroad as a deadly rainmaker, and domestically as a privacy-buster, are waning, and immigration reform has stalled yet again.
In other words, the gun, military, and private prison industry lobbies continue to influence and dictate policy in this country, through their loyal army of elected politicians, who once have sworn by their constituencies’ interests.
Thus when something so irredeemably serious as the citizen’s right to influence policy is so blatantly mocked by the system, what’s left to laugh about? Plenty, as it turns out, even though much of it may and should be loaded with caustic contempt and criticism.
Still we’re not completely sold to the idea that a television program is necessarily news, and should be treated with the same rigor and analysis and stats and graphs, as what’s making 40 million of Americans to go to bed hungry every night, for instance.
All proportions kept, it’s this insidious attempt at turning everything by its entertainment value, that keeps daily coverage of the war in Afghanistan, for example, locked in the inside pages of newspapers, and a thirty-second sound bite on the evening news.
Forcing a flawed metaphor, perhaps that’s what is not funny. That we act and carry on with our daily routine as if the income gap was not of our concern, or that the party in Wall Street, fueled by cheap labor and astronomical stock market gains, was finally over.
We’re not suggesting a conspiracy here, designed to keep the news that affect our survival below the fold, and the ‘human stories’ of spectacular luck and boundless success (for someone else) high up as headlines.
But we do fear the worst. Although not completely spontaneous, the combo of quick-relief stories plus the betrayal of those we’ve elected to prioritize our needs may be simply too appealing to news editors, and very convenient indeed for those who profit from it.
Off the assignment goals of traditional media companies are issues that may affect large segments of the population with the wrong kind of spending power. After all, they’re privately-owned commercial enterprises. Fortunately, there’s still the Internet.
That’s one of the reasons the fight over the proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is so relevant. Disguised as a regulatory act, in reality is a way to crush dissent, and curb individual expression and political activism online.
For most of the 20th century, the media and the tabloids acted in synch with the great mass movements of the time, from labor rallies, to peace movements, civil rights, and political freedom. That’s no longer a certainty these days.
Thus their willingness to feed us an endless stream of entertainment trivia, and so little about what’s considered a turnoff: our own depressing reality. Perhaps it’s time for citizens to regain at least some control about what they think is funny. Have a great one. WC



Forgetting All About the Elephants, Colltalers

We interrupt our regular weekly homily, er, ranting about the things that make us slightly insane, to add yet another one: there’s a systematic massacre of elephants going on around the world, right now.
It’s so serious that it threatens to drive the species to extinction much before anyone would’ve predicted just a few decades ago.
What’s tragic and ironic is that such a potentially incalculable loss may happen just as we’re becoming more cognizant to how intelligent these creatures really are. Remember, not too long ago, when their numbers were in the millions, we still thought they were mute and relatively unscathed by widespread poaching.
It’s believed that there are now some 600,000 elephants in Africa, plus less than 50,000 in Asia, but these figures are far from precise. The dramatic slaughtering caused by a recent resurgence of poaching for their tusks, as widely reported that it’s been, is yet to make it to any official statistics.
With prices for ivory reaching staggering levels, more elephants were killed in the past five years than in the whole previous decade, according to wildlife organizations. Only in Tanzania, over 10,000 have been killed in average since 2008, with Kenya and other African nations following closely.
At this rate, they could disappear from the continent as soon as 2020, with the same happening in Asia just a few years later, an alarm that conservationists and organizations dedicated to wildlife have been sounding for a while now. Unfortunately, few have been heeding to it.
(Before we proceed, unlike our regular posts on Colltales, we’re not providing links to those organizations on this article. But rest assure that we’re culling the data from a host of most reputable sites, such as Nature Conservancy, WWF, International Fund for Animal Wellfare and many others.)
To be fair, there have been many progresses in our relationship with elephants during the same time. The most important zoos worldwide, for example, no longer have exhibits dedicated to them, since it became evident that, despite a hundred years of attempts, elephants proved particularly unsuitable for captivity.
Also, research into their low-frequency, acoustically intricate language has made great strides toward understanding its role as a glue for social ties, and ability to keep in touch and communicate with their kin though long distances.
So have studies into their matriarchy system, crucial to understanding the erratic behavior of young bulls during the bleak 1990s. Just like teenagers without parent oversight, gangs would roam the expansions of Africa literally looking for trouble, and engaging in destructive behavior, by stabbing to death rhinos, for instance. As it turned out, those were bulls whose mothers had been slaughtered, so they were left to fend for themselves.
So just as we begin to turn the corner on the old cliches about elephants, and finding out how they mourn and grieve over their dead, how their extended families remain close throughout their lives, and other sophisticated clues of social organization previously thought to be exclusive to great primates, we may be forced to wave them goodbye.
Which is indescribably sad. Just like with whales and dolphins, with great apes and tigers, and so many other ‘great and small’ creatures, we may be doing almost nothing to prevent them from leaving this Earth in the worst possibly way: by our own hand.
Imagine if it comes a time when we’re able to establish an effective way of actually speaking with animals, but there’s no one to speak with.
And we say to be capable of communicating with them not in a anthropocentric way, or expecting them to become one more propped up interlocutor to our endless chatter, just like robots and synthetic speech, but on their own radically different point of view. What then?
As a coda, it’s a fair criticism often aired that those who include animals in their diets, should not speak with any moral detachment about their fate. We simply don’t agree with that, not just because it’s an ultimately reactionary and intolerant argument, but because we need every single person to stop the slaughter first.
Whether this will lead to more enlightened ways for the privileged few to stop eating meat, or sustainable ways for the world hungry to live off a healthy, substantial vegetarian diet, it’s a cultural quagmire of which the outlook is muddled with politically-correct hypocrisy and infused with money and economics.
Either the massacre of elephants stops within the next few years, or we’ll be just adding another self inflicted wound to our long rosary of shallow priorities and downright stupid choices, which place a premium on a silly tchotchke made of ivory, over the majestic creatures who evolution bestowed its creation.
It’s been a different kind of week, but your invitation to stop by at Colltales remains wide open. Have a great week and see you soon. WC


(*) Exceptionally, we reproduce here the content of Colltales’ exclusive weekly Newsletter.


Climate Change Is Packing Heat, Colltalers

Let’s leave the matter of whether we’ve been changing as a society for those who enjoy discussing that sort of thing.
There’s something in it, though, that may warrant a thought or two: how to report the news in an age when increasingly what’s considered news often isn’t.
Take the use of boldface names as an anchor to grab readers by their throat, for instance. It’s what most print manual style books prescribe as a fast, most effective way to deliver the news: get its agents to show it, rather than attempting to describe, or ‘telling’ what’s happening.
But what if a particular set of news, as serious and powerful and far reaching as they come, lacks that individual personality to gather and attract the short-span attention of the masses? Will it still be reported?
But first, fine, fair enough: the past week was dominated by a few boldface names, whose role as newsmakers brought up some crucial issues concerning our life and times.
Will the appointment of John Brennan for the CIA usher a new era of increased government’s secret assassinations, since he’s the well known architect of the U.S.’s repulsive drone policy and alleged ‘killing lists’?
Does Hugo Chavez’s death mark the end of a particular brand of populism in Latin America, socialist rhetoric et al, even if lacking much substance, or is his legacy destined to be countered by the new conservative political wave already taking hold on the continent?
Finally, will the process to replace the troubled leader of a billion Catholics only help to further erode the church’s credibility, as a growing rosary of sex and financial scandals continues to be shoved aside, along with Joseph Ratzinger, from its visible agenda?
What all these three news have in common is the fact that each has a center of gravity in the figure, or absence, of a polarizing name. As such, to mention these names is to instantly invoke a cluster of issues attached to each of them.
But what about climate change, how can news about such an overreaching and potentially civilization ending phenomenon have any enduring power as a headline generator without a person, flesh and blood, brain and consequence, attached to it?
That’s one of those cases that no style manual will help many a dedicated and experienced editor. And the result, at least in part, is the absolute oblivion about global warming-related news from the part of the general public.
Take the latest report on the subject, for example, a study conducted by Oregon State University Shaun Marcott and published on the Science journal. According to it, we’re now living through the Earth’s hottest climate period since at least 4,000 years ago.
With all due respect to Dr. Marcott, he’s far from a household name, so the headlines have been focused on the hard, cold fact that man-made pollution is causing an even faster and way more serious damage to our ecosystem than previously thought.
And you know what happens: no one seems too impressed. Of course, that can be also credited to our celebrity-obsessed culture, and our pathological need to only pay attention to something if it has an added, showbiz, glamorous even, factor linked to it.
It’s our loss, naturally, and says something not very flattering about our society. Then again, it’s something that’s been said so many times that, in all likelihood, it’s no longer news. At the very least, it can’t compete with the latest rumors about Rihanna.
The end result is that headlines centered in hard statistics, however shocking or how directly they affect us all, hardly ever can be sustained, in the world of 24h news cycle. And that’s not necessarily the media’s fault, per se.
You see, and risking getting in too deep a discussion about what tickles people’s communication bones here, even the tabloid media follows a set of quite strict rules, which explains how pervasive they are, despite their shallowness.
The tragedy of that is that we lack the proper paradigm to convey the gravity of something so relevant to our survival on this planet such as climate change. In the meantime, its march seems unstoppable, as the latest study shows.
Thus we either come up with a way to frame the urgency of the many implications that climate change will have on our lives now, now, now, or we risk under reporting the most important news of our time: ‘the Earth is catching fire.’
This is obviously not an either or situation. Even if it wasn’t enough to derail Brennan’s new job, the discussion over drone killings may have turned its first corner and be on the verge of reaching the same level of importance in the U.S. as it already has abroad.
Latin America’s growth and potential to play an even bigger role in global geopolitics is still a developing story, with not yet completely understood implications to the world economy. And the pope, well, we don’t really care much about that one.
The rise in ocean levels, though, an immediate consequence of rising global temperatures, can affect right away millions of people, including in New York City, as a relatively mild hurricane such as Sandy just showed us all.
We may need to come up with sharp and acute ways of describing in capital letters how the climate patterns are changing, and why that’s important, without having to resort to the tiresome trick of using a movie star or even the occasional well-meaning politician.
For if we’ve already managed, in just a couple of centuries, to warm up the world more than in the previous 40, just imagine what we’re capable of doing, in the most nefarious possible ways, in the next hundred years or so. Be smart and stay well. WC



The Fallible & the Accused, Colltalers

The past week offered contrasting views of two public figures, one by choice, the other by fate, that if anything sucked us into a swirl. Outrage, disgust, sadness, or fear, were all rolled up into one big whirlpool of questioning and disconnect with the world we live in.
The farewell rites of the prelate former known as Pope Benedict XVI, with its elaborate stage play of ostentation and deception, was the media’s favorite, of course. But it was at the trial of Pvt. Bradley Manning that the only edifying lessons available were to be found.
While it’s much clearer now that Joseph Ratzinger’s resignation, far from sudden, had been concocted far in advance, with a carefully crafted game plan designed to distract and confuse, much less visible is the real intentions behind the pompous act.
For all the circumstance and luxurious efforts to put up an extended show of voting, Vatican-style, and eventual coronation of the new leader of a billion-plus Catholics, there are at least two shameful issues no amount of riches will be able to cover up.
One, is the calamitous scandal of child abuse at the hands of priests, and the unknown number of victims who have consistently been denied even a feeble acknowledgement from the part of the church. The other, is the possible widespread corruption inside the powerful Vatican bank.
Both issues were closely watched over, albeit behind the scenes, by Ratzinger, who failed in all accounts.
The man, who for years knew of the abuse and sought the strict enforcement of reassignment and denial policies that the church’s adopted to protect the accused, did nothing to protect the victims of this horrible and ultimately ingrained by-product of religious doctrine.
Also, as the long-time head of the Holy Se, the centuries-old successor of the Middle Ages’ scourge, the Inquisition, it’s simply not credible to assume he wasn’t aware of rampant malversation and money laundering activities inside the Vatican’s financial arm.
Despite all that, one of the arguably most uncharismatic leader to have presided over Michaelangelo’s masterpieces, did not hesitate in lashing out at society, often using his bully pulpit to chastise gays, women, and even non-submissive Catholics.
So, of course, he’s a media darling, even if he’ll no longer wear his favorite red shoes. Cosy arrangements of his retirement include not just the life of luxury he’s so happy to indulge, unlike the majority of his flock, but also protection from persecution.
Bradley Manning, on the other hand, will see no lack of persecution, of the military kind, no less, since admitting having leaked classified information from his employers, and that’s the part that the swirl of mixed emotions mentioned on the first graph refers to.
The young soldier who found himself at a moral quagmire as he was honorably serving his country, has offered the world the exact kind of moral rectitude and personal responsibility that Ratzinger’s being celebrated for avoiding.
In a prepared statement, Manning explained the reasons for his actions, why he thought the American public had a right to know what was going on behind closed doors in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and how he could never live with himself if he had chosen to keep quiet.
Which was, probably in not so many words, the feedback he received when he brought his questioning to his superiors. Even the fake priest, planted by the military, to extract a confession of his evil intent, could not get one, despite all attempts at entrapment.
That included the veiled suggestion of the potential financial windfall Bradley would have, if he wanted to sell the data, something Manning was adamantly against. And unlike many a criminal hack, who does it out of spite, material gain, or personal vendetta, he took steps to be sure no American, uniformed or otherwise, would be harmed by his actions.
Of course, the media is already calling him a traitor, and bullhorning the military line about his character flaws. Just like with most whistleblowers, everyone of his close circle is being made to pay a heavy price. And his statement is likely to be the last we will be hearing of him in his own words too.
Character assassination in progress or not, the fact is that Manning’s statement shows a reasonable cause for calling into question the activities he was witnessing, and his even mindedness when approaching complex subjects such as the right of the public to know against the need for the state to do its job and protect the country. Specially in the age of multifaceted terrorism.
But unlike the financial chiefs of Wall Street who, after bringing the U.S. and the global economy to the brink by their reckless behavior, are now wealthier than ever, Manning will certainly receive the full blast of consequences reserved to dissent in contemporary America.
Even those unsure about the wisdom of his actions, though, have to consider the fact that Manning, as part of tiny but overtapped segment of the U.S. population, routinely asked to fight and die for this country, while the rest of us frolic on YouTube videos, has shown an immense courage.
The trove of documents he made available, via Wikileaks, to pretty much every American who can read, immediately cost him over 1,000 days in jail, even before he was formally accused of anything. But we’re still to see what he was aiming at in the first place.
A national, ample debate over the U.S.’s military priorities in a changing world, in the light of the carnage and completely lack of goals achieved with those two bloody, and still baseless, conflicts, remains an aspiration, at the most.
The only thing these wars that cost thousands of lives, and effectively bankrupted the U.S., both financially, and morally before the world, have demonstrated is that, despite all official withdrawal rhetoric, they won’t end after the last troops pack their weapons.
The outrage, disgust, sadness and fear also refer to what’s painfully evident: Americans seem not to care much about any of that, not even the nuts who flood the mail boxes of everyone with diatribes about personal freedom, as long as you hold your automatic rifle.
We’d hate to break the news to Manning, for he may be sentenced, his life and reputation ruined just like Alfred Dreyfus was over a century ago, while most people will be enthralled with some reality show. Or the coronation of the next pope.
Speaking of Dreyfus, a last finger pointing at the Obama administration, so lax in pursuing financial crimes, and so eager to give free reign to the military to set foreign policy priorities, and to crush dissent from the outside of our judicial system.
Not that Manning, or countless female soldiers brutalized by a widespread culture of rape, or gays, or pretty much every other conscientious objector would find shelter with the Supreme Court, which is currently busy trying to reverse civil rights movement rulings.
But the president, unlike any other, campaigned and campaigned again on democratic ideals that seem to have been trampled and are missing from the court proceedings against Pvt. Manning.
Here’s a constitutional issue he won’t need the GOP approval to put on the table. We wish he wouldn’t miss the opportunity. Have a great one. WC




The Debt We Should Be Discussing, Colltalers

With all the diatribe about big government and its seemingly detachment from the needs and aspirations of the common man, there are moments when the hyperbole does visit reality, and such disconnect becomes all but painfully apparent.
Take Washington’s current favorite topic, for instance. It’s all about the need to reign on the deficit, which, some say, will cause a disastrous downfall of U.S. bonds’ credibility before foreign investors, bringing down, once and for all, the American economy.
In the meantime, millions of families are facing the prospect of having to sleep tonight in some insanitary and unsafe shelter, if they can find room; people who have lost their jobs are beginning to lose faith of ever finding another one; and the majority has no idea what sequestration even means.
However, as brutal as such a prospect may be to those who may have never visited the nation’s capital, there’s an even more pernicious trend plaguing President Obama’s second term in office: his own disconnect with that hope he led us to expect he was representing.
Never mind the U.S.’s ability of paying its bills, and stopping being the magnet from international capital anytime soon. What may undermine us is our own turning back on principles of individual freedom and right to dissent, tenets of this nation’s Constitution.
And the president, well, he’s been all but absent in this fight. Case in point: the issue of drone strikes and accountability for their tragic and disastrous mistakes, which have been already one too many for anyone to stand behind him on it, let alone the populist label of ‘common man.’
The same regular citizen who’s now having his or her innermost personal affairs monitored by shadowy government agencies, with apparent free reign over who to spy upon and, grasp, to send a killer flying machine after.
It may sound awfully close to any nutty conspiracy theory, teeming in the Internet at any given moment. Except that in this case, there’s no secret that the U.S. is, in fact, building in the deserts of Utah, the biggest spy center any nation has ever built.
It’s no secret that the person the president would like to see leading the C.I.A. is considered the architect of the drone strike policy, and has steadfastly defend the U.S.’s right to strike whoever it wants, without asking neither anyone, nor us, the people.
And its no secret that these factors, along with an equivalent threat from other nations to match our dubious ‘exceptionalism’ with their own assembly line of murderous unmanned robots, may determine an infinitely scarier new arms race than during the Cold War.
Going back to the president, who we’ve reelected based on his undeniably superior intellect, when compared to the field of candidates, and for an almost fading hope he could match some of his rousing rhetoric with actions, there are, however, some hard truths to be spelled out.
It pains us to invoke President Obama’s transformation from an articulated dreamer as candidate to a timid, pragmatic keeper of the shop. And it disturbs us a great deal his lack of eloquence when it comes to military defense goals, and the U.S.’s outlook in the world.
We may get to a point when his absence of the field of such crucial battles will indict his administration and bring to question his own commitment to lead this nation towards a more transparent future, not less.
Someone will have to raise the flag over the morality of allowing the state to act, unchallenged by law or constitution, as it sees fit, either by stepping in its citizens’ personal lives, or by sending out remote control machines, armed with bombs and killing lists.
Finally, it may be up to those who voted for him to call it as they see it: an administration whose widening gap between its priorities and those of the majority is reflected in the president’s own disparate between his words and actions.
That’s the kind of debt we should be discussing right now: the widening of unfulfilled expectations compared to dire social prospects faced by millions of Americans, and the discrepancy between President Obama’s words and actions.
The bitter cold days of February are finally coming to an end in the North Hemisphere. Let’s hope that, along with the temperature rising, comes also the thawing of our monolithic, reactionary foreign policy. Otherwise, regardless of the weather, we may need to brace for another political Ice Age. Be well and have a great one. WC



A Warning Shot From Above, Colltalers

The world was stunned last week by the kind of rare global event capable of bringing its frenzy and carnage to an eerie and sobering halt. We’re talking, of course, about the realization that Michael Jordan is, sad reminder of our own finality, 50 years of age.
In fact, the pictures that flooded every news coverage of his stunning leaps and dunks and magical performances, when he seemed to stand still on the air, are truly capable to fool anyone into thinking they’re watching a CGI-enhanced Hollywood production. Amazing.
But enough of that. By now, you’ve probably realized that we’ve used a gimmick only to draw you in, so together we can take a look at the truly shock of the past week: the meteor explosion above the skies of Russia.
That it caught us all by surprise, distracted by another planetary event that, let’s face it, was lacking the two most thrilling elements that made the event in Chelyabinsk so frightening: the surprise factor and its destructive power, it’s only part of the deal.
For it was also a picture-perfect reminder of what may have happened 65 million years ago, or even much more recently and not too far from there: the likely meteor explosion in 1908, over the margins of the Tunguska river, which flatten several hundred miles of forest.
It surely served as a warning of how ill prepared we are for such a possibility, even though the angle of the object’s entry into our atmosphere would have to be much sharper for it to cause the kind of destruction sci-fi literature has been envisioning for years.
Despite a few very smart people, and the network of volunteers associated with the budget-challenged NASA, tracking and studying ways of diverting deadly fireballs from causing much more damage than last Friday, including ending our civilization, has been consigned to the back burner of our priorities.
Whether this literally out-of-the-blue blast will be able to change all that is the kind of similar guess that many a Pompeii citizen may have wondered during his or her time, about the Vesuvius. Then, as now, there were no lacking of warning shots.
That catastrophe in the first century of common era, which caught people left and right, mid-sentence and gesture, also shares a vague reference with the meteor crash that’s believed to have caused the end of the dinosaur rule on Earth.
That’s because a competing, or concurring theory, depending on who you ask, about that long ago catastrophe also indicates that volcanoes had a role in the whole collapse of an estimated hundreds of thousands of species.
The silver lining then was that the demise of the big birds, so to speak, opened the doors to a species radically different and considerably more fragile than them: mammalians, like us. In other words, a much smaller event would do us all in, nicely.
So one would think that such a possibility would be enough to ‘stop the world’ on its tracks, and get all nations to finally work together towards a common goal, something we have so far failed to do in every aspect, including in the present climate change.
One would be a complete fool also to expect that the drones of war, to stay with the theme of bad things raining over us from above, would take a break and stop exacting their malevolent, and relentless, sorties over innocents all over the world.
That just shows how screwed up our priorities are in our self-appointed role of managers of the planet: neither we’re investing time and resources in ways to protect it, nor we’re stopping from coming up with our own ways to contribute to its demise.
So, fireballs be damned, we’re likely to continue doing what we do best: which is pretty much anything, if it involves killing each other to survive, but close to nothing, if it means that we have to pool efforts and work together.
It’s may sound like a whiny complaint, in the face of an event with the potential to actually shake us out of complacency, and move us towards a new era of global harmony, and cooperation, and all that.
Which is a shame, really. Even when we try to feign optimism about the redemptive qualities of a frightening worldwide event, we fall into the same cynical trap, practically in the next sentence. We just have a hard time believing, that’s all.
But you shouldn’t. And neither should we and everyone else, old enough to remember what happened to Jupiter, in 1994. A comet broke up and crashed on the gas giant, and through successive impacts lasting a whole week, created a dark spot over 12,000 km across.
The impact released an estimated 6,000,000 megatons of TNT of energy, or 600 times the world’s nuclear arsenal, in itself another sobering element, man-made for sure, capable of ending abruptly our time on this planet.
If we neglect to heed this powerful reminder, that Earth’s is constantly going through a bombardment of thousands of objects capable of doing us harm, then what hope do we have to expect any action to prevent the equally catastrophic effects of climate change?
Fortunately, we have a full week, and most of us, the rest of our lives, to figure out a way, as we did once nature had wiped out the main challenger to our hegemony on this planet, 65 million years ago. Is nature already preparing to boost another species to replace our poor management skills? Let hope we don’t have to find that out. Have a safe week. WC



We Should Care Like They Do, Colltalers

The age-old argument about what’s more important to drive political change, whether a gifted, revolutionary leader, or a willing, relentless crowd seeking change, rages on now as it’s been for centuries.
It also remains utterly meaningless, when unrest does lead to change, and long standing authoritarian regimes fall, regardless of how many may attempt to stake a claim on the ownership of events.
Faceless crowds, by the way, however dangerous and unpredictable they may be, are usually more generous when it comes to claim credit, and tend to recede to the background, once those willing to lead the new status quo prove themselves up to the task.
That’s not quite yet the case with the remnants of the Arab Spring, or the North of Africa turmoil, to be sure. Still, whether the political process does move forward at its usual alternate quicksand-slash-glacial way, there something these movements all share: the lack of recognizable leaders.
It’s been almost two years now when that particular halting cycle of protest, and blood, and small change, and big ideals, and failed aspirations, and all that we’ve been witnessing, has started and no single personality has dominated the charge.
Something similar had happened to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which despite its powerful message and, at times, valiant single-stand on seeking justice and punishment for Wall Street’s corrupted chiefs, got surprisingly undermined up to a certain extent, for not producing a story of an avenging hero inflaming the masses.
We’re not completely above such populist view of the role and need for a leader, by the way. It’s suffice to invoke two disgraceful political assassinations, that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and of Yitzhak Rabin, to name but two, to give substance to that.
Dr. King’s murder did in fact curtail the civil rights movement, despite all achievements that followed it, when it’s clear that the racial issue still remains raw and unresolved in this country.
And when Rabin, a war general who’d a change of heart and began supporting the Palestinian’s cause for land and statehood, fell to a Zionist fanatic’s bullet, a whole generation did get robbed of its best chance to see permanent peace for them and Israelis.
Nevertheless, it was a shopkeeper whose actions prompted the events in Tunisia, that set the Arab Spring in motion. It was anonymous crowds who deposed Libya’s Qaddafi and Egypt’s Mubarak, not a political leader. And it was a teenager who’s credited with having started the challenge to Syria’s al-Assad regime, with a simple graffiti.
Even America’s Founding Fathers, as visionary leaders as they were, wouldn’t have been able to bring about the Independence Movement, if there wasn’t a large demographics, of very much underprivileged classes, supporting the revolution.
Perhaps what they had at heart, as one can still see alive throughout the Arab world, is the passion, the fire in the belly for justice and change and the desire of owning their destine. Exactly what we desperately need in the good old U.S. of A.
Not that we don’t also need a new generation of leaders in Washington, with a new commitment to represent those who vote for them, and show spine against those who can afford buying them.
But we also need a new American, a new brand of citizenry to whom equality, and respect to minorities, and the right of self expression, and dissent, are more important than whether Jay-Zee will buy Beyoncé another diamond ring.
There’s a great deal of frustration and disappointment that so much of our public debate is dominated by an individual sense of entitlement, of what can be rigged in favor of a shameful minority of ultra-wealthy, who’s de-facto ruling our society.
There’s no way around it; there needs to be a new social contract in America that restores the idea that, yes, you can be whoever you want to, for as long as you’re not hurting your fellow comrade, but only after there’s a equal playing field for everybody.
At this point, for as much as it’d be great if a new class of politicians would rise up, with fierce idealism and unshakable moral compasses, we’re more likely to stake our aspirations on an mass movement without particular marketable names to usher this nation to its better future.
For as much as the romantic ideal of the selfless hero still dominates our imagery for a revolutionary movement, we may need to take another page from our history, in order to shake us all from this widespread political funk, this generalized apathy.
We need to stop being consumers and start becoming promoters of a new day in America. We must stop measure our freedom by the amount of guns we’re allow to carry, and begin having a full grasp of what civil rights are being undermined by our omission.
Words, words, words, we know. But we’re not about to stop hearing them, whether inspired or devoid of any meaning, anyway. So we might as well demand them to tell our story for a change, of a country who finally stood for the need to care about all its citizens.
Throughout this land, there are millions who lack that voice, who’ve all but being forgotten in the roaring of the latest award show. We need to be an all inclusive nation, once again. Have a great one. WC



Turn the Corner on Immigration, Colltalers

Once again, Washington is abuzz over a new set of proposals to overhaul immigration legislation, a long due task that’s been successively tackled, twisted, mangled, and ultimately, left to die out many times in the past.
Perhaps the Obama administration, despite its lackluster Latin American foreign policy, may be the one to finally treat the millions of mostly Hispanic undocumented workers in this country with the dignity and sense of fairness they’ve earned and deserve.
As it stands now, though, the president’s proposed bill is far from being one that the huge contingent of Americans with families abroad would be writing them about. And, going against the grain here, the problem may not even be in the details.
The fact is that this newest attempt, as many in the past, is mainly based on the misguided idea that reform the draconian federal and state-level immigration laws currently in place is a legal imperative, not a common sense one.
So, despite immigration being not just a defining cornerstone of U.S. history, but also an issue affecting our own definition of family and community, much more ink is being wasted in making sure that any changes will be loaded with border security concerns.
Which, let’s face it, at this point in history, is ridiculous. For unlike 20 or 30 years ago, those who’re still trying to become an integral part of the U.S. citizenry are coming to a considerably depleted and much less attractive labor market than it used to be.
In fact, something must be said about this huge contingent that seems to have an even higher faith in the ability of the U.S. economy to recover than even those who’re born here. And who’re willing to work and labor for less than the minimum wage.
Something else has radically changed since the demoralized legislation approved by the Reagan administration, in 1986: a much larger percentage of Americans are now living barely above the poverty line and, in many ways, this leveling by the bottom has become the norm, not the exception.
This new reality of the U.S. labor market, where unskilled workers are no longer coming primarily from South of the border, but are also made up of dispossessed and near destitute, illiterate Americans, is way more of a deterrent to illegal immigration than any self-appointed vigilante group, armed to the teeth and full of dangerous racist and xenophobic assumptions could possibly be.
And yet, people are still trying to tell us that they believe in what once was called the American Dream, even though a similarly named legislation, the Dream Act, crashed and burned recently before it could bring them any benefits.
But as Congress seems to be poised to break its own record of inaction, hopes are once again high that this time justice will prevail and a clear, and timely, path to citizenship can be bestowed to those who’ve already put on the work towards it.
The president has certainly some currency to spend in order to help move the issue through the usual obstacles, and sign a new, and fairer, legislation by the end of the first year of his final term. It’d be something he could deservedly be proud about.
It could also be, in some ways, a reconciliation of America with its past and ideals of equality that infuse the U.S. Constitution. After all, immigrants born here or abroad are still the core of our armed forces, our service and hospitality industries, and our farm and agricultural wealth. There would be no favors to grant those who spilled blood, sweat and tears for this country the right to be counted and have a legal claim on its future.
Be good and have a great week. WC



The President Must Heed His Own Words, Colltalers

At the halfway point of his presidency, President Obama’s naturally concerned about a number of issues that will mark his legacy. As a clearly student of U.S. history, many of his decisions have in fact been taken with an eye in the future.
Unfortunately, not the ones concerning the acts of individuals who, despite great personal risk, took the step of denouncing wrong doing, often at the core of the institutions they care the most about.
Whistleblowers have had a particular miserable time at the hands of the administration, a fact that radically contradicts what one would expect from a former professor of law and who, as a presidential candidate, praised their courage.
But even as his rousing second inauguration speech was full of inspiring mentions to once taboo themes, such as ‘our gay brothers and sisters,’ it also omitted this particular issue.
On the contrary, during the first four years of his administration, the Dept. of Justice has sought the indictment and conviction of six Americans, who acted on their own ethical standards, despite risking losing everything.
As if on cue, this past week one of them, former CIA agent John Kiriakou, was sent to prison, accused of revealing the name of an active agent. For those who have been following his case, however, what was not mentioned may have had more relevance to his conviction than his eventual indiscretion.
Kiriakou, who has had a distinguished career with the agency, personally credited for the capture of an Al-Qaeda’s key operative, got into a collision course with his bosses when he expressed his opinion against torture and renditions, two of the most common tactics used by the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’ gimmick.
He’s not just spoken about the issue but openly discussed it on his book, The Reluctant Spy, which unlike many others authored by members of the intel community, is not about bragging over achievements, but his disgust towards the career he once chose and loved.
Kiriakou was convicted under the same Espionage Act, designed almost a hundred years ago, that’s also been used to go after Pvt Bradley Manning, who even before being formally accused of passing classified materials to WikiLeaks, was held for over two years without a trial.
That lack of respect for the rule of law, the belief shared by society that its truth-seeking institutions work and are exempt to judge who broke the law, and who should be untouched on the account of their innate innocence, is the most disturbing trait of the Obama administration.
And as we supported the president’s reelection as a tribute for his impeccable credentials as a leader, we now must demand that he acts upon the guidance of the very words he once used to wow us as a candidate and never cease to inspire us as the president.
In many ways, the ability of the common citizen to speak truth to power is one of the tenets of the U.S. Constitution, and if we’re trying to shoot the messengers because we dislike their message, we’re skipping a crucial link that will, sooner or later, costs us all our freedom of speech.
It’s ironic that so many in this country are obsessed with the completely unrealistic fear that the government is coming for their guns, while their much more fundamental right to dissent is what may be actually at risk at this juncture.
The Obama administration has used that archaic but apparently still effective act against more Americans than all other presidents combined. And it doesn’t help to know that the last time it’d been invoked was an attempt by the Nixon administration to silence Daniel Ellsberg and prevent the leaking of the famous Pentagon Papers.
We became a better nation with the release of those documents, and in the end, the tide turned against not just Nixon himself, but also against a much more transcendental mistake we committed in the past: the Vietnam War.
Other parallels could be traced between the use of this paranoid piece of vetust legislation of exception, and the war fought under false pretenses in Iraq, since as the Southeast Asia conflict in the 1960s, it cost thousands of American and foreign lives and has had absolutely no redeeming qualities or accomplishments to show.
Curiously, a similar outing of an undercover agent was orchestrated by the Bush administration. As everyone and their personal Deep Throat now know, the leaking of the agent’s name was designed to hurt her husband, who’d dared to challenge the phony ‘evidence’ used to justify the adventure in Iraq.
Unlike now, though, there was almost no DoJ push for harsh penalties for those responsible, with few not quite honored exceptions. On the contrary, many of them are still around and free to profit from their latest schemes.
Lastly, we’re sure President Obama understands that his legacy will lean much more heavily, not on the necessary but ultimately transitory battles he may have to wage against the extreme right, religious zealotry, military hawks, and social inequality apologists, but on his assertion and defense of the rule of the law.
No one was shocked when the previous administration lied to get their way and, in the process, wrecked morally and economically the country. But with President Obama is different, or so it should. Part of his stature as a political leader rests on his personal ethics and moral compass.
We want those qualities to be also what distinguishes his actions, not just his words, as beautiful as they can be. Have a great one. WC



Dream With Eyes Wide Open, Colltalers

President Barack Obama’s second-term inauguration today somehow reloads the hope of a new direction for the U.S., which four years ago many had expected that we’d be far into it, by now. For those who’re not about to give it all up just yet, today’s is in fact a joyous occasion.
Despite the already long list of missing opportunities and downright disappointments cluttering any aspirations for another day in America, there is in fact a realistic chance that the president gets on board, and on the right side, of some pretty hairy but crucial issues.
Instead of getting to that, though, let’s remind everyone of the heartbreak of the two George W. Bush inaugurations. In the first one, worst than seeing victory being snatched away from the candidate with most votes, was what followed it: the dawn of even more despairing years than anyone could’ve anticipated.
And the second, which for peaceful and hard working Americans, was the bitter realization that waking up in the wrong side of power also meant being helpless to change it. It also meant being universally blamed for the catastrophically bad decisions the government was making in their name.
So if the cosmic relief of four years ago, fueled as it were by the pent up desire for radical change, made the majority in this country go back to the business of dreaming a better future, what could’ve happened last November would’ve been enough to disheartened even the most ardent hope advocate.
In other words, cheer up.
The president has shown that he can be moved, or rather, forced into positive action, when enough pressure builds up. The recent example is, obviously, the gun control issue, which wasn’t even in the horizon just a few months ago, despite the current trivialization of mass murders in the streets of America. (*)
There’d be much more to mention or to rant about, but as such, we must leave at that. As we said, many will find reasons to be hopeful and re-energized about the second term. His speech for sure, will be as rousing and passionate as his hand at the helm of nation has been cool and detached.
But hey, count your graces because you’re not watching the coronation of that what’s-his-name guy. So there is indeed hope. One thing was painfully clear in these past four years, though: the better future that this country deserves is not resting on President Barack Obama’s hands. Or any other leader’s, for that matter.
What’s going to make a difference, or rather, who’s about to make a difference for better or for worse is you, dear reader. There’s no other way to put it. If you’re not sitting on your pretty behind, hoping that some guy or god will come and rescue you from everything you have fought against, then you’re in.
More than the first term, this one is going to be your call. Americans must show that they care enough to fight, not for the pathetic right to bear arms, for if you think you need one, perhaps you shouldn’t have one, but for the right to have decent jobs, health costs covered, affordable housing.
The U.S. must again lead the world to reduce its environmental footprint, to turn the corner on climate change, and to eliminate once and for all all carbon-based fuels of its economy. Our kids have the right to have parents, not militia-commanders, conspiracy-nuts, racist-survivalists.
The president deserves the support of Colltales and of all Americans, and after 12 terrible years of war and economic strife, Americans deserve all the peace and prosperity that has been denied to them. We see no other way but to renew our hope in the future and what we can mutually inspire in each other towards it.
Thus, even that we know that many will remain jadedly skeptical, and we need them too, we must all hold steady to that dream that was once so eloquently dreamed and imagined: the dream of living in a world of peace, free at last, with nothing to kill or die for. WC


(*) Unlike previous Curtain Raisers, this one tracks closely this week’s Newsletter.


It’s a Change of Guard in Latin America, Colltalers

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez lies in a bed, too sick to attend his own Thursday inauguration. Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva faces the embarrassing prospect of being linked to a vote-buying scandal that rocked his administration.
Through these two leaders and their tenures, is possible to have a very detailed picture of the Latin America in the past two decades. Political stability, economic growth, some dabbling into world geopolitics by Brazil, some slippery incursions into controversy by Venezuela.
Of the two, Lula had so far gotten the best mileage of power and prestige, as his country experienced an unprecedented period of prosperity, and his legacy as its most important leader seemed to have been all but certified. Except that it wasn’t, and now, it’s possible it never will.
Chavez has been judged way more harshly by both the Venezuelan elites that staged a coup to oust him in 2002, and even early supporters of his populist style. At this point, his dreams of becoming a historical figure of the stature of Simon Bolivar are all but dashed, and mainly out of his own doing.
Lula not just upstaged Chavez, with his new-found pragmatism and overture toward foreign investors, but most of his term avoided to appear too lined up with the always embattled Venezuelan. He didn’t really need it, as unlike his two failed attempts at the presidency, he’d finally found the right groove to lead Brazil.
Regardless of what happens, he’d still win any popularity contest both domestically and globally, a feat that’s been denied to Chavez throughout his presidency. Neither anyone will be able to take away from him the merit of having helped Dilma Rousseff to become the first female leader of Brazil.
But as many close allies and cabinet members have been found guilty of corruption, even though no one believes that they will spend any time in jail, Lula’s once solid position as a statesman, and the moral compass of his Workers’ Party, is no longer assured. It might not take much more than that for his credit, as the architect of Brazil’s rise, to start to unravel.
For Chavez, who at times behaved as the dictator his enemies accused him of being, even though he got democratically elected a record four times, his possible fading out of public life will come in a rather silent note.
Long gone is the thunder of his interminable speeches, his attempts to divert the profit of state-run Pedevesa oil company, to his favorite social programs, and his anti-U.S. rhetoric. It may be the sad but prosaic way of disease what might finally knock him out, not the arguably weakness of his political ideas, or lack of imagination as a leader of an impoverished nation.
Despite a long period of high oil prices, Venezuela’s almost sole commodity failed to leverage the country’s ingrained social woes and income gap, at least the way that Chavez had envisioned. None of his programs achieved the permanence and the effectiveness of Lula’s Bolsa Familia, for instance, which is still going strong and provides food to millions of Brazilian poor.
Despite coming from the same populist and electoral-driven place, what Chavez’s always lacked, and Lula had, was a core of capable allies who could turn into valid policies some of the most mediocre ideas both leaders would come up with.
To be sure, both remain immensely popular, but the elites and the military that may shelter suspicious about them both, have several degrees of separation. In Brazil, Lula does have the support of important, and wealthy, segments: corporate leaders, high-ranked military, and members of the upper classes.
Chavez never had the shrewdness to work the kinks of such a powerful demographics. Even though his policies were far from being socialist, his swagger was typically an irritant to those who fell slighted by his rise to power. While he spent hours weekly on TV, threatening to take away land from the rich, which he never actually did, Lula got himself a VP who was a millionaire and a loyal supporter.
Now, as these two oversized political figures fade away, there’s no one in Latin America even close to step into their shoes. Rousseff may have a hard time getting reelected. Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner’s about to end her last term. Bolivia’s Evo Morales, the only truly indigenous leader of the continent, is also completely averted to the spotlight.
And the same goes to the remarkable Jose Mujica who, as President of Uruguay, has already made headlines for his own, for his poverty-vows, and for inspiring laws that will legalize same-sex marriage and the consumption and sale of marijuana.
Which may be just as well. Even though the rise of both Lula and Chavez made the world pay closer attention to the emerging democracies of Latin America, and themselves have contributed to a more relevant conversation about progress and the future, perhaps the time for flashy leaders is finally up.
For all their charisma and flamboyance, what most nations south of the equator now may need is a kind of leader who’s more adept at managing the immense human and natural resources of the region, and set a more progressive example on their use.
It’d also help if they not become entangle in fruitless ideological arguments, or corruption in power.
There may be a new dawn coming for South America and, albeit it may lack the glare and the combativeness that marked the past two decades, it may also bring the hope that progress and prosperity can be better distributed among all its citizens, in ways that at times seem no longer possible in the north hemisphere. Be good and have a great week. WC



No Fracking Chance, Colltalers

The fight to prevent hydraulic fracturing from being allowed in New York state seems to be getting heated up again, as Gov. Cuomo prepares to issue the guidelines for his energy policy.
Despite his initial opposition, environmentalists, farmers, advocates for clean sources of energy, celebrity sympathizers, and everyone and their (flaming) kitchen sink are starting to have that, well, sinking feeling that he’s caving in to gas producers.
Lobbyists are also having a ball with the release of an Environmental Protection Agency’s progress report, ordered by Congress, about fracking, which seems to favor it.
As a show of the industry’s strength and powerful lobby, the released excerpts of the study never mention a crucial point that gives base to the whole movement against fracking: drinking water contamination.
Ironically, the government agency vilified by the GOP during the presidential campaign, did it a big favor by not addressing the blatant, and most explicit effect of injecting tons of chemicals deep into the ground: it makes the water coming out of facets in thousands of upstate farms flammable.
The process of extraction of natural gas has very little of natural, and we suspect that in keeping calling it this way, the industry hopes that it’ll give a brutal and messy process a patina of ‘green’ source of energy, right along solar and wind power.
Or so they wish. In fact, groundwater contamination is but one of several serious consequences of the process, most of them conveniently overlooked by the EPA report, according to those who read it. Another is the sudden increase in seismic activity in states that traditionally never had an earthquake before. The same states that were first in allowing fracking within their borders.
Since we’ve mentioned other states, it’s always good to remind everyone that, days from President Obama’s second-term inauguration, his energy policies continue to be dictated by the industry lobby.
In fact, the last time he said anything about it, was in support of natural gas and even coal, another source of energy that, in two centuries, has had a devastating impact on the environment and public health. It also goes by its misnomer, by the way: clean coal.
As not even billions of dollars have been enough to convince people all over the world that there’s no such a thing as ‘clean coal,’ one’d expect that it wouldn’t take that long to reach the same conclusion about hydraulic fracturing.
Apparently, the president hasn’t got the memo yet, and we’re growing impatient, not because this is a (poisonous) pie in the sky about to fall over the lives of future generations. There are already many farms all but ruined by this unsafe technique.
Now, whether the governor, or the president for that matter, will both wait until a possible environmental disaster, with unforeseen consequences to public health, happens, before acting, remains a drilling question that both are perfectly capable of answering.
But while the president’s inauguration is still three-weeks away, Gov. Cuomo may have to at least reply to calls demanding more time beyond the Jan. 11th deadline for New Yorkers to comment on the new regulations.
Since no health or environmental impact studies have been completed, such deadline may effectively undermine further research, even if it comes up with proof that the costs of adopting the technique would be astronomical, both financially and in terms of health issues.
Such restricted time for public hearings may, of course, be exactly what the industry wanted all along, in order to go ahead with its drilling plans. After all, there are billions of dollars riding on their drive to gain control of this market.
It’s been disheartening to see both the president’s tone deaf approach to energy policy, and the New York governor’s apparently change of heart about fracking. Not what one would expect from someone belonging to such an illustrious political legacy in this state.
But as we said, we’re not done with this issue yet, and New York has a unique opportunity to set a high standard, by prioritizing the environment and public health, over an industry’s best interests. Go ahead, governor, make us all proud and ban fracking. WC



We Can Still Do Something About it, Colltalers

It may be impossible to anyone outside Newtown to begin to grasp the immensity of what took place there last Friday. Those few moments that the tragedy lasted will be playing in a loop every day for the lifetime of each of those personally touched by it.
To everyone else, the massacre will only add to yet more fear, and feelings of hopelessness and betrayal, as it’s happened many times before. The despair of realizing that no one was listening when we collectively have said enough the last time around.
It’s quite possible that no one will be listening yet again, as we rush through a definitely sobering holiday season, knowing full well that for a new group of over two dozen American families, there won’t be any joy to be had.
Then again, we feel that we must rise again, and say that it’s enough again, and demand change yet again, and lose our voices screaming at those who claim to represent us. There’s got to be something we can do about it.
And, beloved readers, there are. But before we get to that, let’s address first those who’ve been so jaded, so hurt by what it means to be living in this 21st century America, that will settle only for a complete, and profound, change in the way we are as a nation.
For them, the way we go about imposing, with weapons and destruction, our views on the rest of the world is tragically absorbed by the twisted minds of our most disturbed citizens, who then act upon their own madness.
Bless those radicals because they’re right, and their refusal to accept remedial solutions will ultimately lead us to a better day. There’s no question that much of the carnage going on our streets has a lot to do with the mayhem we visit on foreign streets.
But we need to start somewhere and President Obama, however sincerely he’s expressed his feelings about the murders of Sandy Hook, must as well set up an immediate task force, that will address the two main causes of what happened there.
Its mission should be to set the guidelines to instruct new federal legislation for gun control, and to elaborate a nationwide system of free, long-term care for those who need mental health therapy.
Such task force would present its report by the end of January, in time to top the president’s agenda for his last term in office. And if there’s any instance when executive powers should be invoked to approve a measure of public interest, that should be it.
We’re incurring into a self-indulgent exercise here, adding our voices to the pointless noise of hundreds of pundits, self-appointed experts, and politicians.
In fact, all that those families would ever ask right now would be to us all shut up and let them mourn their personal losses in peace.
We must stop interviewing little children, airing ‘portrays’ of the killer, and divining his insane motivations, if only to prevent the hundreds of thousands of mentally unstable youth in this country from believing that people will know about them, no matter how horrible things they may feel compel to accomplish.
But we couldn’t talk about pretty much anything else today. Let’s just hope that this debate, transfixing the nation and parts of the world, over the random mass killings of innocents, will lead us to another conversation about peace and understanding. Take good care and have a safe week. WC



Don’t March to This Beat, Colltalers

While most of us are distracted with the rush of end-of-year holiday cheers, there’s a sinister humming rising in the background. If it sounds more like drumming, it’s because it may as well be.
If it buzzes like white noise, it may also be, since it helps to mask all attempts to divert your attention towards it. And if it reminds you of Internet chatter, you’re right again, for that’s as far as you’ll be informed about its source.
It goes something like this: the U.S. intel community seems to have picked up some increasing rumors of a possible sign that perhaps an organized underground effort in Syria may be under way to deploy possible chemical weapons of mass destruction.
The media, wouldn’t you know it? has been quick to ascertain that such alleged chatter means that we’re facing an imminent attack by the Syrian government towards its opposition, and shouldn’t the U.S. be seriously considering an intervention?
Oh, yes, that’s the point all along of all these prefab fears, credited to anonymous sources connected to national security, and you should be careful what kind of questions you’ll be poising about such elusive origin.
Since investigative journalism has been all but banned from the airwaves and print media, with honorable exceptions, of course, you’re left with the version that seems designed to boost the case for preserving the U.S. defense budget, now under a timid attack.
Oh, yes, again, that’s also the point all along, or at least, the version of it that makes the more sense. For haven’t we heard similar claims some 11 years ago, just before our airplanes departed to Iraq?
It really doesn’t help, though, that there is, indeed, a redoubled effort, by a suddenly revived Middle Eastern movement with an agenda of regional dominance, to hijacked the revolutionary forces and lead the civil war against al-Assad and his family.
Who, by the way, is indeed desperate enough, just like Libya’s Qaddafi was before, to do anything to hold on to their illegitimate power. And that’s betting that, if the U.S. intervenes, Russia and its other allies will come to their rescue.
All the more complicated and nuanced still is the fact that such movement, Hamas, owes in part its revival to the Israeli prime minister’s aggressive confrontation of its main sponsor, Iran.
Now, deep in this quicksand of rumors and political interests to be gained by all involved but Syrians, how can anyone believe that the addition of U.S. warplanes, or yet another chunk of overassigned troops, or even worst, a fleet of target-missing drones, will help in any way such a quagmire?
So it seems clear where these drums of war are coming from, why they’re getting such an amplified response in the media, what goals are supposed to be achieve with yet another intervention in foreign soil, and ultimately, why no one is talking about it in quite such terms.
That’s why we may have to say it again, dear readers: do let your heart march to this beat.
It’ll also help to make sure you keep count of the few who stands to gain from such a tragic adventure, and the many who’re bound to be hurt if it ever happens. Happy Chanukka and have a great week. WC



We’ve Already Lost This Endless War, Colltalers

Our southern neighbor, Mexico, has also had a presidential election, and if there’s one issue common to both countries that’s likely to remain stubbornly the same is the staggeringly expensive, utterly ineffective ‘war on drugs.’
As with the ‘war on terror’ and other even more startling phony and absolutely voided of any substance government rhetoric, this one is raging afoul across the border, mainly fueled by two elements of our entire responsibility.
The billions of dollars in U.S. military aid, which Mexican former leader Felipe Calderón all but squandered in eight years of wasteful increases of firepower, and the voracity of the American consumer.
But while President Obama’s reelection may have unwillingly triggered a yet to be observed chain reaction, with the decriminalization of pot in Colorado and Washington state, Enrique Pena Nieto, Calderón’s successor, is not on the same page.
In fact, his big idea about curbing widespread carnage, mass murders, extortion, kidnapping, and official corruption, elicited by the war between the drug cartels and the inept military, is to add even more of the same, and see what happens.
That he’s part of the return of an old oligarchic party that has ruled Mexico longer than any other, may explain part of both his ascension to power, and his reluctance of bringing up anything of substance to the table.
But that our own president remains oblivious at most at the spectacular failure of the current course of action, and the administration’s apparent levity and shallow approach to the issue, is truly baffling.
For most Americans, the decriminalization of pot is no longer only a cultural matter, albeit one that hinges on questions about individual rights to choose a lifestyle. It goes beyond such simplistic view in many ways.
First, the fact that a growing segment of the incarcerated population thrown in the mostly private-owned, for-profit American jail system, is there for what should be considered a misdemeanor, if any basic rules of jurisprudence had been applied.
Also, for as long as emphasis is disproportionately placed on enforcement, and much less in prevention and treatment, locking first-time offenders with lifelong criminals is a perfect-storm receipt to breed even harder law breakers.
No wonder that heavy elements of racial and social class discrimination are also part of this explosive mix. Which, coming to think of it, may be the devilish purpose of at least part of the drug enforcement establishment, in the first place.
Now, more than ever, may be a great opportunity for both the Obama administration and the new leadership in Mexico to break off with the past and make a decisive move towards the future. In its new term in office, the president could order a halt on all military aid to the south of the border, until new priorities are firmly in place.
That could also give President Pena Nieto the chance to move his country into a new and more productive direction, since it wouldn’t rely so much in weaponry and violence to combat an underground force that seems to feed off those very same elements.
Decriminalization in the two U.S. states, along with the 18 others that already offer medical pot programs, could mark a watershed moment in the fight against organized crime: without their main source of income, cartels would be immediately rendered toothless.
The greatest parallel to such an event would be, of course, the end of Prohibition, which drove practically out of businesses hundreds of thousands of illicit crime enterprises. That some of them found other income streams, equally illegal, is entirely another matter.
Even from a strictly economics point of view, a fresh, serious approach to drug liberalization makes sense. It’s very likely that taxes collected on use and trade of pot, would be enough to bridge at least part of the gap in our huge government deficit.
There’s also a side-effect that a freer debate on our approach to drug use in our society would provide, specially for a certain demographics that’s been ravaged by prohibition: it would make us a more pragmatic and effective society, better able of providing support and integrating all citizens, not just those corporations that undoubtedly profit from it. Have a great one. WC



We Can’t Remote-Control Our Foreign Policy, Colltalers

It’s a little over a month before the start of President Obama’s second term in office, and while Washington is abuzz with the possibility of another gridlock in Congress, over the end of the Bush-era tax cuts, the most substantial issue the new administration will face is over the C.I.A.-managed, president-approved killing drones program.
The issue has finally boiled over, despite efforts by war hawks, defense-contractor lobbyists, and elected officials deeply compromised by the Pentagon doctrine, and it’s no longer possible to trap the genie back into the bottle on this one: there are just too many ‘accidental’ civilian deaths to be accounted for.
What was supposed to be a high-tech alternative to the expensive build up and deployment of thousands of troops, hailed by war apologists as a new era of ‘surgical’ strikes and instant results, has become a large-scale, out-of-control, inefficient way of waging war against alleged U.S. enemies, while avoiding the inconveniences of accountability and the rule of law.
In the meantime, there has been little savings to be spoken of, since the troops continue to be deployed in Afghanistan, even though that conflict is supposed to have a set date to end.
What initially had been perceived as a last-ditch effort to establish a safe zone, even if by diverting a technology that could be put to much better humanitarian use, has quickly degenerated into a game-like redressing of the old shoot first, ask questions later strategy we thought had been put to rest in the conquest of the U.S. west.
Even worse, since U.S. allies got into the action, including those at odds with even the most basic democratic principles, too much of the massive resources allocated to protect Americans aboard has been instead diverted to pursue and eliminate their own enemies, often without any due process.
The Obama administration is said to be focused on developing a ‘play book’ for the use in the remote-control killings program, which put that way, sounds a lot like an oxymoron. But even if it’s driven by good intentions, such efforts are doomed to fail since they completely miss the big picture.
For as long as we waste our time trying to establish rules that would inevitably lead to ‘killing lists’ and other monstrosities, we’re missing the opportunity to reconsider our whole foreign policy, why we should reset it, and why it can never be driven by our fears or led by our generals.
Because that’s what the U.S. has been mainly setting itself up, since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: a reactionary policy of aggressive defense, a fraught-with-fear strategy of striking first, so to prevent us from being attacked again, and a general staggering lack of diplomatic and humanitarian efforts that should be the core of our relationship with the world, not its discredited poor cousin.
The president can not give in to a segment of our defense community, to whom that old, paranoid credo of ‘us against them’ mentality still shapes and compromises the potential contribution they could possibly offer. Otherwise, as it’s been often repeated, the president of hope is looking ever more like his predecessor.
With over 2,500 people killed thousands of miles away by some video-game expert inside a windowless bunker, and many of them being innocent bystanders, civilians, women and children, how can we call the growing industry of killing-drone striking a valid alternative in our defense arsenal?
It’s clear that such a strategy has been sowing only more hatred against the U.S. abroad, and could never be compared with our highly trained, albeit over used, men and women already deployed. And if the drones are no alternative to the troops, how good are they for?
No wonder so many civil rights groups are extremely concerned about the rise in the manufacture of these unmanned killing machines. Given their failure in the theater of war, it’s very likely that they will wind up serving another illegal and growing domestic industry: that of surveillance of U.S. citizens.
We’re all for the technological prowess of our military, even though with a budget that easily dwarfs that of every other country in the world. But let’s not trade our moral compass for the illusion of indestructibility, of a ‘bloodless’ war, of a ‘surgical strike,’ and other fictions of modern war rhetoric.
Americans deserve a country that excels at its humanitarian principles, not only at the power of its weaponry. The world deserves a U.S. that strives to inspire other nations to treat its own citizens with respect, and its enemies with fairness. There’s a level of anonymity implied in the use of drones that runs against one of the tenets of this country: taking responsibility for our actions.
A casual observer would think that the main issue to be tackled by the new administration in the new year will be about economics: to eliminate tax cuts to the wealthy, while preserving them to the middle class and small businesses. We think, instead, that our biggest challenge will be about our moral standards. And it’s about time for the issue of remote-control killings to take center stage.
Have a great one. WC



Bombs Can’t Settle Conflict, Colltalers

The bombs are falling over Gaza again, and we still refuse to believe that there isn’t a damned thing anyone can do about it. We may as well brace ourselves for all sort of grim scenarios playing on ahead.
Everything but a way to a negotiated solution, which would include equal measures of security for both sides, and a no-nonsense path for that old classic that has never been given the time of the day: a two-state solution.
For no amount of air strikes and carnage will be able to force peace down the throats of both Palestinians and Israelis. And no measure of political obliviousness will exempt the U.S. from responsibility in the conflict.
First, the party line. Israel has the right to exist, defend itself, and do whatever its citizenry decides to support, in order to guarantee its survival. End of the party line.
There’s no possibility of a level plain field, though, when it comes to military aggression. The infinitely superior Israeli Army will always have the upper hand when fighting a rag-tag group of missile operators, no matter how dangerous they may be at times.
But, let’s be frank. There are many reasons to feel utterly sad for the fate of the Palestinian people, not the least of it having to live under the incompetent and irresponsible leadership of either Hamas or the Hezbollah.
These organizations both have proved that they won’t stop at anything to consolidate their political legitimacy, even to the cost of thousands of lives. And neither have effectively advance the cause of those under their charge.
Also, if it’s true that most serious discussions towards a Palestinian state have been greeted by the institutionalized paranoia that has dominated Israeli politics, Hamas has also failed to articulate any credible diplomatic outreach effort to seek new political alliances in the region and beyond.
As it stands, Israelis and Palestinians have a brand new round of sleepless nights and funerals to attend in the weeks ahead, and despite all the spilled blood and despair, their sacrifice is likely to contribute little to a permanent, peaceful solution.
As for Americans, who’re preparing for a short week topped by the busiest shopping day of the year and, oh yes, Thanksgiving too, there’s another war to ignore, waged as if they’re as interested a party as those who’re bound to die in it.
But no matter the obliviousness, both from U.S. citizens who, after all, have their own thousands of relatives to fear for, fighting thousands of miles away from home, and from a bruised but reelected president, it’s virtually impossible to ignore the fact that this war as any is a gain only to itself and to those who profit from it.
For Palestinians and Israelis already grieving and paying with their own lives for everybody else’s failure to avoid another cycle of misery and destruction, our deepest, most heartfelt sorrow.
One may argue that the Israeli electorate has, perhaps, the biggest challenge of their democracy, in the coming Jan. 22 parliamentary elections: that of change the recent history of their country for the better. For those who live in it, and for those who depend on its open borders and economy.
For at the end of the day, the fate of these two nations has been intertwined for the past three thousand-plus years, and nothing indicates that that will change, let alone for the better and even worse, by the force of weapons.
If there’s any hope for such a conflicted region to join the 21st century once and for all, with the promise of a peaceful future, then the first order of the day is to depose those same weapons and break bread with its neighbors.
As for Americans, this week may have a special meaning after all, if among the things we share and thank for with our friends and relatives, there’s also the wish for a quick resolution for yet another flareup of an endless cycle of violence. Be good and take care. WC



They’ve Lost But Won’t Concede it, Colltalers

Not even a week after President Obama’s victory, not in a bombastic but still in a reassuring way, with a few Democrat seats gained for his party in the Senate to boot, and the counter-reaction is already apace.
From sore losers, who’ve spent the past week blaming everyone and their Kenyan grandmothers for the result, to well-meaning souls, who believe that now should come a time for national healing and the meeting of the minds to solve the country’s greatest problems, it seems that Election Day happened years ago.
Both sides seem to operate under the assumption that the over 61 million Americans chose a side and a political direction, and that’s fine, but now it’s time to put aside the ideological divisions and try to work together. After all, we’re all interested in the common good and all that.
Don’t buy it. Behind this patronizing rhetoric of ‘finding the common ground,’ and ‘working through our differences,’ there’s a well-orchestrated intention to undermine what the American people has just made a point into underlining: our vote does count and should always count.
What slightly a third of the U.S. population (it could be more, and one hopes that it will, the next time around) has sought to demonstrate is that the presidency can not be brought, not even for billions of dollars, not yet anyway, even though that we don’t know for how much longer.
And the majority of that third chose President Obama because he’s vowed to prioritize social policies over financial fears, and a fair tax code over privilege acquired during the long economic stability this country’s experienced since WWII, thanks to its working classes and well defined regulations.
You wouldn’t get this idea this past week, though, by watching media pundits and political operatives alike scrambling to justify their profoundly mistaken view of the American citizenry and the wisdom it’s demonstrated at the polling stations.
Still, the president who has shown a gift for rousing rhetoric and uncanny charismatic ability to win over even those in doubt, by just the sheer brilliance of his mind, and impeccable ethical credentials, has a poor record at the negotiating table.
It’ll be up to his supporters to gear his administration up, towards the goals that will benefit the majority of Americans, and in that case, yes, there’s no political division about who stands to benefit from social programs in this country.
For, despite all political gerrymandering, it’s curiously the states where the GOP candidate has won who attract the most federal dollars for social networks, and one wonders whether even more should be allocated too, since those are also the poorest.
And if’s about who’s really a taker, no one else has received more Washington funds, tax breaks, and special subsidies than banks, big agricultural business, organized religion, and the military, all traditionally ideologically alined with right wing conservative causes.
Apart from that, we’re entitled to expect more from the president’s last term. Issues concerning foreign policy and its goals set according to military priorities, which includes the unregulated use of drones, should be now up to discussion.
The same with domestic surveillance and the constitutionality of holding military trials for alleged non-uniformed U.S. enemies, detentions without due legal process, tapping and privacy violations by both government and corporations alike, the list goes on and on.
The perfect timing of nature’s intervention, in the eve of the elections, has brought climate change back again to the front burner, but it’ll be a long struggle to keep it boiling and relevant, and to force the development of new policies to tackle its implications.
By all means, the president must consolidate and implement his signature initiatives in health care, immigration, gender issues and women reproductive rights. But a whole new, previously overlooked, agenda towards moving the U.S. forward also needs to be tended to.
Above all, we do expect the president to be more attentive to the demands of grassroots movements, such as the Occupy Wall Street initiative, and be serious about reform in Wall Street, which after all, has been less than supportive of his reelection anyway.
We don’t advocate a revenge-driven second term, lest that that remains the sole territory of unrepentant losers and the millions of dollars they’ve wasted on his defeat. But we do hope he revisits his 2008 playbook, to effectively quarterback us all for the challenges ahead.
In many corners of this great land, there are those who can’t bring themselves to understand this potentially new era for America. Frankly, if they haven’t understood it this far in the game, they probably never will. So let’s let fringe be fringe.
But if the president wants to inscribe his name among the greats of the past, he needs to realize that the ideological extremism that doomed his opposition will remain just that, extreme, and it’s unlikely that it’ll be willing to meet him halfway to solve our problems.
It’s Veterans’ Day in the U.S. and behind all innocuous homages and political discourses, there’s a genuine desire from most Americans to thank profusely those who served, and are still in harm’s way, hundreds of thousands of miles away from U.S. soil.
We wish to join our voices to them, hoping for their safe return sooner rather than later, and to welcome them with way more than just parades and dates, but with the effective health care they may need, and a role in the American society only them can fulfill. Have a great one. WC



Sandy Had a Silver Lining, Colltalers

Just when you thought there was no end for the misery, destruction, and despair left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy through the eastern seaboard, there’s word that a powerful nor’easter is fast approaching the same region.
But if we can stick our heads above the water for just a moment, there’s something positive, a bright spot if you’d care to name it, about such devastation: we wouldn’t be talking about climate change in the eve of a presidential election otherwise.
Not to make light of such a terrible event, and the damage it caused to thousands of Americans, there’s much less ‘natural disaster’ in it, than man-made madness. And that’s been only compounded by the fact that this presidential campaign had barely touched the issue.
The death and flood that Sandy’s exacted upon a large swath of geography this past week, with all due condolences to those affected, turned out to be almost like an uninvited guest that everyone’s become grateful for having crashed our party.
Thanks to such a violent eruption, the election acquired a relevance that at times was completely absent throughout months of political campaign, when we couldn’t believe that this and other crucial issues were consistently being shoved aside by the candidates.
We can’t imagine any other way that the damage caused by melting glaciers, carbon fuel pollution, and temperature increases and rising levels of oceans could be so eloquently illustrated as the gigantic storm and the destruction it’s visited upon us this time around.
The grim prospect is that this is not an isolated incident. In fact, in only two years, we have already broken more temperatures, receding shorelines, disappearing permafrost and other disturbing records than ever and since records are kept.
That’s why it’s so crucial for all able bodies to vote tomorrow, and make this election, one that would break a different kind of record: that of relevance, which our democracy has been steadily depleted as of lately.
Even if other crucial issues, such as the U.S.’s military defense budget, or the easy availability of guns in the streets of American cities, have been equally ignored during the campaign, climate change has rightly so become the issue of the day.
May it inform your vote tomorrow, and before we all drown under its literal and symbolic weight, may it retain its explosive and galvanizing power. We, and the world, have had but a sample of what it can do to us and how it can bend our society out of shape.
Its implications are as far reaching as global geopolitics, balance of power, distribution of natural resources, and trade stability, all factors powerful enough in themselves to disrupt the world order, if there’s still one, and reverse the clock on humankind.
The issue provoked laughter at the Republican Convention, but President Obama didn’t help much when he took turns with the GOP candidate, defending the coal and natural gas industries, two of the most pollutant and unnecessary sources of energy still active.
The difference, though, is that the president does not consider corporations people, and overall he’s supported initiatives contrary to the interests of the energy industry. Much of the funding bankrolled for his defeat comes from energy concerns.
Even though an event of the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy does not depend on anybody’s political inklings, it’ll be our commitment as a nation and as a civilization to take it as a serious, and likely fatal, consequence of our current lifestyle.
Considering how much is at stake, tomorrow’s election may be one of the last opportunities for Americans to make a statement about our political process, the need for greater social justice, and how important we deem the issue of climate change.
We hope you vote with your heart and with your mind. Have a great one. WC



Time for That Sinking Feeling, Colltalers

As Nov. 6 gets closer, and our second-guessing, self-doubts increase, some of us are already taking steps to protect themselves from the utter heartbreak and disappointment that may follow Election Day.
A number of us go through certain rituals, to preserve their ability to get up the following day, and the following, and the following. Such rites may include even a forced temporary sense of fear from the outcome.
Just like experienced performers, these wise souls trigger an inner mechanism, that allow them to go into panic mode on command, and act as if they’re already facing catastrophe. Such complicated and elaborate exercise is not for the faint of heart, to be sure.
But it’s a well-honed ability to anticipate, under a controlled environment, near the same anxieties and potentially disabling feelings that may greet the big day, with one notable exception: they make it all ‘happen’ way before the actual date.
That way, they feel confident about weathering the storm, coming the deadline, without the risk of shutting down and being unable to function or even react to the possible bad news. Apparently it works for them.
Many a stage professional have vouched to such a clever emotional device, even if they too are aware that it’s all just a simulation, and ultimately can’t come close to the thrill of reality, the shock of something actually happening in the real world, out of our control.
About that world. However you may choose to go about this time, one thing is certain: its impact may go way beyond the two main events of the period, the playful Halloween frights, or even the mega-storm that’s supposed to hit the eastern seaboard between now and then.
We’ve all been here before. What we’ve holding with confidence, suddenly is at risk of completely lose its strength, and we may be left with a cold uneasiness inside, a sentiment of dread and reluctance to face the fact that all may go terribly wrong.
But be it as it may, most of us will have plenty of time to commiserate about our lost opportunity, from the morning after it to at least four years afterwards. So, whether preparing yourself well or not for that moment, there’s very little we can do at this point.
See, for Halloween, you can just go out and get yourself a nice costume. For the storm, if it does indeed hit, you can also get prepared for the best of your ability. It’s for the presidential election that whatever you may have done, will be it for now.
That’s why this week we’re proposing a vigil of sorts, which will serve both to prepare us for the worst, and also to remind us that, at the end of the day, we’re really all that we’ve got. So we may as well count on each other for support, because we’re going to need it.
We wish, of course, that we could be more optimist and, at this point in time, have more confidence that we really did all that we possibly could to make sure those who drove this country to a deep economic ditch, and got away with it, wouldn’t at least return to power.
But alas, many in this country have already forgotten. Some are no longer part of this equation. And others are simply too busy surfing, switching, texting, and playing, to even remember why they should care. It’s up to those of us who’re losing sleep over it.
Despite refusing being Pollyanna about the future, though, we’re not prepared to give it all up just yet. And if they ride back to dominance, it won’t be on our broken backs or through the skin of our teeth, that’s for sure.
There was a time in America that the press was free, and our politicians not so wealthy, and our corporations not too powerful, and a multitude of grassroots movements and so-called minorities owned the streets.
We owe to a coalition of passionate groups of women, blacks, gays, latinos, unions and students many of the things the rest of the world once cherished and admired as typically American: equal opportunity, civil rights, freedom of expression, democracy for all.
If it all seem to have gotten away from us, if we can no longer consider ourselves free, and capable of getting better, and have equal footing in the decisions that affect the nation, if opportunities seem now to be fewer and far in between, at least one of them is fast approaching.
Perhaps a good scare, thinking that things may actually become even worst than they are already, may do us all good this week. We certainly hope that you haven’t lost neither your nerve nor you faith in the future. Have a great one. WC



Women to Make a Difference Again, Colltalers

Much has been lamented about the lack of in-depth discussion and analysis of the issues affecting the U.S. presidential election. And in no other space such issues, whichever they are, have been more neglected than during the televised debates.
As President Obama and his GOP challenger prepare to enter the ring in their third and final clash, many will need extra help controlling their emotions, and resisting the urge to throw something at their HDTV set.
Perhaps it’s almost ironic that during the world’s most expensive electoral campaign, there’s been a relative limited room for discussing the all-encompassing issue of women’s health, their right to choose and full care coverage.
Even with the president’s signature policy being all but assured at least a deep imprint in the cavalcade towards full, universal health care for every American, one of its most meaningful consequences remains under intense attack from the GOP and the religious right that controls great part of it.
For make no mistake: we’re all affected and stand to benefit, or being short changed, by the quality of health coverage women receive or not. A woman with complete medical support, from the best possible therapies to the full spectrum of the right to choose, means a healthier community. Period.
We all should have the right to full health coverage, to be sure. But whereas assuring free Viagra for men, or natal care for infants have their places in the bigger picture, a woman’s nutrition and good health are the basic foundations where to build the care for all other members of her circle.
When a single woman ponders whether to have or not a baby, for reasons concerning only her and possibly her mate, either way, her decision will affect the whole society. One may argue that single parents or same-sex partners may also have a similar impact.
The difference, however, is that women count for an estimated 160 million Americans, more than half the population. So whatever public policy is directed at them, it impacts the majority of U.S. one way or another.
Since the GOP candidate has vowed, with so many words, to curtail their right to make decisions affecting their reproductive system, one could leap to the conclusion that no woman would be caught dead voting for him, his party, or even dreaming of supporting the religious right.
But one would, unfortunately, break a neck only attempting at such jumpy conclusion. For reasons that elude even the most diabolical of the political operatives, down on the ground, or hidden in cushioned cabinets of power, there are women actually working towards reversing Roe vs. Wade. And those operatives are happy to welcoming them to their fray.
These are, however, a minority. The trick for the Democratic Party will be not to win tonight’s debate, even though that would also help it, but to have the greater number of those who support choice to get to the voting booth, coming election day.
The task is harder than it looks, and Republicans are already ahead, having deployed their devilish Trojan-horse strategy: under the guise of fighting voter fraud, they’ve been devising ways to prevent potential Democratic voters from even reaching polling stations.
Even if their attempt at demanding photo ID as a condition to vote, from demographics traditionally associated with the president’s party, have largely failed, the overall effort is still on. We may still hear more about such effort very soon indeed.
In the meantime, though, the Democrats still have the most sensible policies concerning women’s rights, and are natural recipients of their support. To translate this edge in votes, though, will require a nationwide hands-on approach.
The reassuring part here is that historically, whenever women’s issues were hooked to public policy, society has made great strides. The fight to give women rights to vote, for example, ushered a whole new era of labor union engagement in national politics.
In the 1970s, the mass movements that ultimately led the nation to the landmark Supreme Court decision on abortion rights, have also increased public awareness about the need for health-related legislation to support working women.
We may be afraid that the overwhelming sway of money may prevail this time around, and we’ll be standing here, Nov. 7, bitterly regretting the lost opportunity. But we should never doubt the power of popular mobilization whenever women issues are at stake.
So tell your friends and family, your sisters and mothers, that it’s time to rise. Those attempting to turn back the clock on our hard-earned rights to self determination and choice, count on our obliviousness and even skepticism about politics to succeed.
We, the citizens, must not relent. Be good and have a great one. WC



The World’s in the Know, Colltalers

It’s safe to say that in the course of the last decade, and while no one was looking, the rest of the world came to a few realizations about us: one, is that we’re no longer an agent for positive change, and most of the times, few would rather have us around.
Of course, they’ll take our cash, and our endorsements, and it’ll always help everyone to be on our bright side. But advice? not so much. In fact, most nations, or rather, ethnic groups struggling to gain the upper hand within their own societies, have learned to fear our presence, as they fear being ostracized: overnight, they can be easily wiped out, or at least being sought after by our drones.
Other thing that the world has managed to learn about us is that our foreign policy is, for the most part, independent from our government, and our military hawks have a bigger saying about who to fight against, and who to be friends with than even the president.
That’s why, at this point, there’s a certain level of widespread dismay about our style of democracy, since it’s prohibitively expensive to most nations, even many of them combined, and not very effective at promoting stability and security.
Just like our military complex, built up and multiplied every year, to the tune of trillions of dollars, but that it’s failed over and over to protect even government workers in foreign soil, as the tragedy in Libya has demonstrated.
Instead, it appears that the great perceived enemies of the U.S. are its own citizens, at least, if one considers the amount of domestic surveillance that’s been applied to monitor the lives of millions.
There’s another thing the world has learned about us lately: we easily make friends with minority elites, and show enormous reluctance to make a stand, when entire populations are being ethnic cleansed.
The argument that we can’t openly support a policy of interventionist, is not just false, if one studies what we’ve been doing in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin American in the past 50 years. It’s also callous and deeply disturbing.
In the early 1990s, we jumped at the opportunity to kick Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, invoking that undemocratic regime’s violated sovereignty. But at least, it was a coalition of oil-hungry nations committed to oust him from there but not to kill him.
Ten years or so after, we invented the perfect excuse (supported by all proven lies) to do just that. In the process, we also killed millions of Americans and Iraqis, destroy that country and turned it into a fire keg.
This is all ancient history, right? Or is it? In fact, it’s far from it. We seem to be in a similar quagmire in Afghanistan, don’t know what to make of our relationship with Pakistan, have no clue what Bashar Al- Assad will wind up doing in Syria, and pretty much lost all respect in Mexico and the rest of Latin America.
That sadly is what the rest of the world not just knows about us, but it’s starting to hold against us too: they suspect we stopped caring. So it’ll be up to us to make sure this presidential election, and the new political cycle that it may ensues, turns out to be one about regaining our power of compassion and solidarity and self-sacrifice and greatness.
In other words, all the things we like to think we’re all about but apparently are no longer self evident as they should. Yes, we can begin electing people who show such qualities to Americans first.
But we, as the world’s biggest nation of immigrants, will ever depend of its global reach to thrive. Not to the cost of other nations’ struggles, which is always easier and heaven knows we’ve already been doing it.
People who’re fighting against unspeakable social injustices in Greece, Spain, and Portugal, as well as other parts of the world, need to know that we sympathize with their fight. That Americans are hurting too. And that we’re all indeed in this together.
We can’t let this sense of empathy slip away from us, in this multi-billion dollar regime we’ve been confusing with democracy. And a good way to hold on to these values is to be aware of what’s going on across our borders. Have a great one. WC



(Curtain Eraser)

Fear of Falling (Off the Flat Earth), Colltalers

The morning of the departure, half of the supplies for the trip hadn’t arrived yet at the docks. The Captain paced back and forth, checking his phone often, waiting on the confirmation from his First Mate that everything was on its way.
It wasn’t the first time Amazon had delayed shipments, and the last time that happened, he had to cancel an expedition to the Indian continent, a trip whose funding had cost him almost five years of his life to raise.
He looked nervous as the crew and the few ‘observers’ the crown had insisted in accompanying him were already installed on board, sharing fancy Cosmopolitans and streaming their chats with followers via live feed.
At least, the Captain knew that he was guaranteed a few minutes of prime time every week, and that should help sales of his upcoming book, How to Miss the Way to India and Land in an Even Richer Land.
The title, chosen by the publisher, was more than a simple well educated guess as to what he expected to actually happen. At that point, the Marco Polo’s logs were already in their third edition, and were intensely debated whether they were really accurate.
It didn’t matter. After this, the Captain was ready to retire, having sailed halfway across the world, and survived intact the numerous religious wars of his time. The 16th century looked really bright, as far as he was concerned.
The First Mate finally texted him, confirming the arrival of the cargo within the hour, which would leave enough time to move it all to the ship and, all going according to the plan, allow for a smooth sailing by the end of the afternoon.
In those days, the talk of Palos de la Frontera was, of course, climate change. But since the Spanish Crown, this trip’s main sponsor, was doing everything in its power to suppress dissent about such delicate topic, the Captain chose to keep to himself what he thought about the issue.
If he’d play his cards right, within a few years, he’d be comfortably installed with a generous tax-free pension, as a governor of some idyllic island, so he was not about to rock the boat, so to speak, about something he knew was beyond anyone’s control.
There was a light breeze when the packages began to arrive at the waterfront, just as crew from Fox News were setting the lights for an exclusive interview about his plans, and the conditions of his three ships, the Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina.
While being prepared for his on-camera chat, he kept a close eye on the unpacking and transport of the expensive kitchen, where he planned to entertain his guests during the downside of the ocean crossings.
His cabin had also a state of the art home theater, with a High Resolution digital screen, with the ability of screening Hollywood blockbusters at the same time as they were hitting the LA theaters. He heard the latest Tarantino was pure Oscar material too.
That was the general mood on that balmy August afternoon, and the Captain was just about ready to board the ship, address the crew and guests with a few inspirational words, and set the sails high, when it happened.
Out of nowhere, a procession of bishops and priests, Vatican envoys, showed up at the pier and demand to speak with him. As it turned out, the Inquisition assembly had gathered the night before in Rome, and determined that such a trip was sacrilegious and should not be undertaken.
The envoys, escorted by a heavily armed group of soldiers, sporting those feared but awfully fashionable Michaelangelo costumes, demand the Captain to stop all actions, and follow them back to answer questions from the Holy See. There should be no time to waste.
Thus, history got postponed for another five hundred years. Right after that rushed trip to the Vatican, the Captain fell ill and died without ever getting back to his beloved ships. The expensive equipment was auctioned off to the backers of the trip.
In five centuries, rumors that there’s a huge land up north, very likely twice the size of the whole Europe, perhaps even more, were never confirmed. There’s talk, however, of sending an exploratory mission to gather more information, but it still lacks funding.
Besides, the church still opposes any attempt at expanding its empire, if there’s no guarantee of its investments to be returned. The Vatican spokesperson has said often, that we can’t afford losing any more ships to the edge of the planet, just out of a ungodly thirst for knowledge.
That’s why, dear readers, our best hope these days is to end the oppression, fight for justice, and finally elect the first Mormon to the U.S. presidency. Otherwise, how will ever be able to replace the current management of all things spiritual by the Italian god?
It’s time to have a more modern, camera-ready ruler of heavens, so no one will ever need to speak Latin, and we may possibly revive the tongue of our ancestors, the Visigoths. We hear their army uniforms are simply killers.
Have a great one.



We Don’t Care for an October Surprise, Colltalers

The worst possible news about September hit us at its very last days: the 2000th American just got killed in Afghanistan, along with the likely three times as many Afghans. Whereas you know that for sure, it’s not very clear for what.
All that war has accomplished so far, besides the massive loss of life and astronomical cost, is to increase both the hatred towards the U.S. around the world, and the power of this country’s military defense complex.
With already a budget that’s many times that of all Western nations combined, and determined to get even higher, our armed forces are arguably doing more harm to our standard in the world, than good preventing it from retaliate back at us.
In the process, it has also engorged the domestic underground power of shadowy security agencies, now fully engaging, and capable of, monitoring the lives of every citizen within our borders. Its excessive power in doing so remains unchecked.
These twin fists, ready to respond to aggression or dissent in equal measures, so far have failed to defend Americans aboard, or prevent illegal guns to flood our streets. What, one has to wonder, are they actually doing with their time and money?
In the meantime, we enter the final leg of President Obama’s reelection campaign, and neither his speeches, nor the debates he’s about to have with the still powerfully-funded Republican candidate, are likely to touch either of these issues.
Instead of a safer world, what we’ve been getting back from Afghanistan are planes full of body bags and damaged men and women, bound to live the rest of their lives battling inner wars with prescription drugs and isolation. Mostly, the latter, actually.
To his credit, the president who inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, has being mostly undermined by the opposition’s mandate, expressed on day one: to sabotage every one of his initiatives in Congress, and turn him into a one-term president.
The fact that the GOP now finds itself at loss to throw anything else at him, since it has in the past four years, is no small measure of President Obama’s strength of character. In fact, if anything, what he may have going for his reelection may come mostly from his ethics and sense of duty.
At the same time, he’s indeed failed to reign in those who ran the economy to the ground in the first place. To this date, the Wall Street high rollers, who amassed an obscene personal wealth on the back of millions of Americans, remain unaccounted for and not even near to face their day in court, or time in jail.
He hasn’t closed yet the infamous Guantanamo jail, nor has endorsed the rule of law, when it comes to those accused of acts of aggression against this country. And, honestly, made a mess of letting whistleblowers and dissenters be submitted to the same illegal military detention tactics used against certified terrorists.
Nevertheless, he’s still the only rational choice to lead the country at this time. And if grassroots movements such as the Occupy Wall Street, along with immigrant rights organizations, and the still relevant labor unions gather enough popular support as they need, the president’s second term may just be able to accomplish what most people want.
It is true that we’ve grown jaded about this proverbial ‘popular support.’ In the U.S., circa 2012, it’s more likely to get people on the streets fighting for a certain chicken sandwich, or a bigger cup of soda, than to help underpaid teachers and firefighters remain capable of doing their job.
We talked about casualties in the war, but we hardly consider part of this nation’s political equation the role that should be assigned to Veterans, since they’re now so many, and are so impoverished, and have given so much to us.
This highly insulated less than 1% of the general population, has paid a heavy price for their patriotism, but somehow their contribution remains locked within a set of shallow parameters: bravery, discipline, weaponry, line of duty. Never political activism or fight for better health care for the broken and the wounded.
A month from the election, few are expecting an October surprise, of the kind that has hardly happened in a generation. And even fewer would like to see one, that would, most likely, bring up even grimier news.
But it’d be irresponsible for Democrats and the middle class of this country to consider the reelection a given. There’s still an unbelievable high number of fund raisers to be held by both parties, and no one can be sure about what’s being done behind the scenes to prevent large segments of the population from voting for the president.
In this month, fifty years ago, the Beatles released ‘Love me Do,’ a bare-to-the-bones youth plea for unrestricted love, that in its marvel of reductionism and single-mind message, was capable to mark a whole cultural revolution, while the world was still in the throes of the Cold War.
In some ways, it feels as if it all happened much longer ago, for we’re not about to re-enact the 1960’s idealistic claim of love as a social redemptive force anytime soon. We’re way too twisted for that now.
But on the other hand, it also seems like yesterday when we still held our hopes high for what a young president could do for the country, as long as we too were interested in doing for it more than what it possibly could do for us.
Dreams do get assassinated, we know now. But we still don’t seem prepared to commit them to the ground just yet. Something to do with the makeup of this current living crop of humans, perhaps. Whatever it is, it must be part of what made you get up this morning.
If all we need is a new start, then a new month is as good as what we’ll get for now. Picture yourself in a boat on a river, or sober yourself up till it hurts. There must be a way for doing both and remain alive. Carry on to the best of your ability and good luck. WC



Make Sure You Show Up, Colltalers

For all the talk about money being a sign of success, and the power of billionaires taking over our democracy, there’s a single act, at the end of the presidential race, that may prove them all wrong: showing up on Election Day.
Since voting is a voluntary exercise, many of our recent presidents have been elected by a majority but of a diminish percentage of the U.S. population. In other words, since no one’s paid to vote, many are simply not interested. The difference this time around is that there’re some who’re willing to pay many not to vote. Or at least, penalize them if they try to do it.
It’s no small measure of pragmatism and clever calculation that one side of the political spectrum in this country has decided to focus on this often overlooked ‘detail’ of our electoral process: the actual vote.
And it shows their great deal of attention to voting demographics, as a whole array of measures have been deployed to prevent those who’d potentially tilt the balance towards the Democrats from exercising their constitutional right.
What’s startling is that nobody would know it one way or another, by just following both parties’ rhetoric about the election. While the GOP insists it’s all about legality and rights, the Democratic Party is, well, pretty much missing in action.
Instead, it’s the underfunded so-called grassroots movements that are the ones leading the counter attack on voter suppression.
Which brings back us back to our initial premise that more than anytime in history, it has become acceptable for anyone to qualify success strictly as a measure of wealth accumulation, regardless of what kind of social responsibility that implies.
Thus, from a nation that used to perceive itself as caring and empathetic, we’ve becoming a land where you’re only in business if you own one; you’re only heard if you’re either a lobbyist or a fund raiser; and you’re only as clever as the tax-free holdings you control.
As the race is about to hit the homestretch, if you’re jockeying to include in it other issues relevant to the rest of the world, you may be betting on the wrong horses. Even our own troops fighting in Afghanistan have gotten less than a fair shake in this campaign.
There will always be those to whom an election is not won in a single day, single issue, single man (or woman, but that would be pushing at least for now).
They’d be correct, of course, and so would those who see our political system as broken because there are just two parties, and they both share the same pool of wealth and ideas.
Then again, we wonder where everybody was in the intervening years, for it seems that such issues, however important, are only brought up when it’s time to assert the most crucial of all differences: how many will vote on that particular day in November.
As it stands, it’s been a depressing time in America, when many an idealist view of democracy has been slaughtered by a political pragmatism so overriding to make us all wonder whether we even count. Don’t get fooled by the appearances though.
We do count and still can make a difference, or there wouldn’t be a point in even bothering writing this now or ever. Even if money and all other phony and violent religious issues will dominate media coverage between now and then.
It was 150 years today that the Civil War’s Battle of the Antietam took place in Sharpsburg, Maryland, killing or wounding 23,000 Americans, in what is considered ‘the bloodiest single day in American history.’
Perhaps the stakes now are not so explicitly high, but they’re certainly equally crucial to our future. The remnants of our embattled democracy owe a lot to what happened then in the fields of America.
It may be the most appropriate way for us to honor and pay respects to the memory of those sacrificed then to show up to vote and guarantee that at least part of the political process still remains in the hands of ordinary Americans. Have a great one. WC



A New Year to Occupy Minds & Streets, Colltalers

Today marks the first anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the spontaneous, and so far, only street protest to consistently oppose the impunity that some financial institutions still enjoy, after having wrecked the system and the lives of millions five years ago.
A year after, it remains independent, unafilliated with the Democratic Party, practically thrown under the bus by President Obama, mostly ignored by the news media, and still not completely embraced by the traditional progressive forces of society.
And yet, it’s still defiant and still hopeful that it may represent a positive force of change, despite several dormant months, and even if we were not fast approaching the presidential election.
Perhaps its greatest distinction has been its steadfast refusal to assign a leadership face to its proposals. Many see that as the source of its endurance and strength in the long run, but also its present vulnerability.
For even while lending sporadic support, such progressive forces, labor unions, immigration groups, grassroots organizations and the like, have at times grown frustrated for not being able to control the movement towards their own agenda, however important it may be.
It may not have been the most effective, or politically correct, way of promoting change and discussion, but even if for a short while last fall, and the first six months of this year, the OWS did manage to influence our national debate.
There was a moment, hopefully to be enhanced in the months ahead, when even the media establishment had to cede part of its coverage to the street protests, as they spread out to major U.S. cities and, some say, even had a limited impact in the so-called Arab Spring.
That it apparent ran out of fuel and almost self-imploded, weighted on by the contradictions of our political process, a multimillion dollar effort to discredit it, internal disputes, threat of law enforcement prosecution, and so forth, shouldn’t be a surprise.
The mighty Democratic Party, for example, has succumbed to even the lamest tactics of counter-information, and has been effectively co-opted by powerful interests that rendered it impotent in the face of the obscene amounts of money in its political campaigns.
There’s no need here to pile on those other, struggling political forces of society, each with their own shortcomings at touching and mobilizing the American people. It’s really a task not to be envied by anyone living in the U.S., circa 2012.
But it’s definitely worth getting out to try to change it. And no other movement in recent memory has shown more resilience, idealism, and courage, in doing just that, showing up. In many ways, the OWS has taken the lead even without setting itself to do it so.
So there should be no question about the reasons to celebrate this newest addition to the quilt of embattled grassroots movements that have been a fixture of American politics for over a century. Even more so than the other anniversary that September now marks.
So we hope to see you around this week, and the next, and the next, exercising your constitutionally assured right to peacefully express your political views without the threat of being harassed or arrested.
A last note to those who took the streets of the Arab world to share their sorrow and disgust about what happened and in solidarity to those brutally murdered in Benghazi. Their sympathy should never be taken for granted, underestimated or forgotten.
It may help too that today marks the Jewish New Year, with its own promise of hope and faith in a fairer future, in case you find positive encouragement in organized religion. There should be always room for inclusion when we gather together as a nation. WC


The Unpaid Bills of September, Colltalers

It all happened in a sunny Tuesday, 39 years ago tomorrow. Come again? That’s no typo; Sept. 11 has been tragic before, but in Chile, not in the U.S. In 2001, the initial tragic tally was some three thousand lost on that day.
In Chile, the victims of the bloody military coup that befell democratically elected President Salvador Allende and thousands of his allies was smaller but grew exponentially in the months that followed.
The consequences of the Al Qaeda attack, of course, became even bigger, and served as justification to two catastrophic wars, the one in Iraq being far from over, despite that it is, on paper; and the other, in Afghanistan, likely to outlast another political cycle.
Thousands of lives and billions, perhaps trillions of dollars were spent in these two tragic adventures that may’ve cost our moral standard in the world for good. And, arguably, haven’t meant much for the overall purpose of preventing another attack on U.S. soil.
The tyrant that ruled Chile for 17 years, and may have put to the limit the character of its society, died a happy, old and wealthy man, having successfully avoided any persecution, and with no little help from the U.S. and U.K..
The relatives and supporters of the many who were murdered during the terror took the streets of Santiago once more this weekend, to mark the black period, and protest the impunity that followed it. Their courage is admirable but unlikely to change anything.
Thus, we have all these balances left unsettled in the accounts of millions: those who perished on and after Sept. 11, 1973, in Chile, and 2001, in the U.S.; their family and friends; the ones responsible for the twin Tuesdays of infamy; and those who never cease to profit from everybody’s misery.
Whether we choose to embark on the rewinding of those bloody events, with all the cheap shots and phony speeches to boot, or decide to go back under our rock, it’s irrelevant. This week will be loaded in recalculation but quite unlikely to bring us any closer to a final bill.
A book by a former Navy Seals, released to coincide with this year’s anniversary of the 2001 attacks in the U.S., is yet another account to be added to those unpaid bills. Written by someone who was there when Osama bin Laden was killed, the book has a powerful link to the attacks and their aftermath.
Despite that, it’s unlikely it’ll help bridge the many subplots that have neutralized and dissociated that tragedy’s enduring impact on our lives. Some may feign disgust by its supposed revelations, but they’re not about to go all out on the ‘singing’ Seal, nor they should.
Bounced from tomorrow’s inspiring speeches will be the outrageous decisions made in our name, the lack of accountability by those responsible for them; the unconstitutionality of imprisoning enemy combatants without charging them; the illegality of wire tapping; the absurd engorging of our military defense system; and so much that has been forgotten.
Tragedies can both contract our lives, and multiply our doubts. They subtract us from others who we care about; from the faith we need to carry on; and from the forward-thinking steps we’re forced to retreat. And then they force us to add a lot of what we should never be proud of even considering: fear of our neighbors, suspicions about our leaders, and mistrust about our own motivations.
So tomorrow, we may think about the world that was before these two 9/11s, the lives that didn’t make beyond them, and what’s happening to those of us who’re about to place yet another 24 hours between us and them.
One thing is not about to happen by the time the day is done, though: we will not be done with it just yet. We’ll be still paying for these dates, with no sign that our settlement is any closer that it was 11 or 39 years ago tomorrow.
But as we don’t know what it’ll take to put it all behind us, we still won’t forget it. And even if death is no payback, and justice equals to nothing for those who have already been laid to rest, we’re still here. And it may be up to us to make sure that twice is more than enough. And another one, an impossibility. Have a great week. WC


Labor Pains Are Here to Stay, Colltalers

The second of the back-to-back party conventions for the U.S. presidential election, whose cost some estimate at over $8 billion, is about to start this week, and after that, we’ll be on homestretch territory. Again, unless someone else yells at a table, for a change, much of everything will be pretty predictable.
Just like Tampa, last week, Charlotte will be a cadre of powerful gatherings, making final arrangements about which bundle of cash will go to what particular set of policy, all discreetly away from prying eyes. Oh, there’ll also be a string of contrived set pieces and speeches on the big stage, and chances are, we may be even moved by some of them.
Regardless of who you’re hoping will win in November, there’s no better vantage point to observe what our electoral process has become than during this phony ritual of coronation, the party
Which is as scripted and garish a three-ring act, as the behind-the-scenes reality is shady and cash-driven. This year, with the Supreme Court-sanctioned Super PAC rules running amok, it’s quite possible that figure mentioned in the first sentence may be multiplied by itself, before all electoral votes are counted.
If it all sounds so radically oblivious to what’s going on to the millions of unemployed in this country, it’s because it certainly is. And if it looks almost obscene, in the face of the close to 50 million children who’ll go to sleep hungry tonight in this country, oh my, you’d better believe it.
So, please excuse us if we sound too despondent today. After all, it’s Labor Day in the U.S., our most out-of-sync holiday. While it sits four months away from the original First of May, it also brings summer to a close a full two weeks before fall.
Hey, if aging Hollywood stars get to yell at chairs on national TV, and a whole presidential campaign may be won on the sheer assumption that many of us won’t show up to vote when the time comes, we may not be even scratching the thick skin of the monster here.
Forgive us all you mothers out there, though, to whom mentioning labor pains in this post’s headline may sound as another attempt at disfranchising you. On that account alone, we’re keeping this as brief as your trip back to the city is bound not to be.
In any case, as Bruce, the recovering shark, would say, don’t be alarmed. Tomorrow morning we’ll be up on our feet and hoping to change the world once again. And we’ll have the good stories to boot, as always.
However this all turns out, we’re very grateful you found the time to stop by. So have a great one and come back. WC



Let’s Get Back to the Money Trail, Colltalers

Three months from election day, and despite much punditry and finger waving from the top of high horses, we’re far from having a grip on the single, most substantial issue affecting the presidential campaign: the money trail.
We were closer to tackle it two weeks ago, when there was some pressure on the GOP candidate to disclose a decade-worthy of tax returns. Somehow, another important but rather ill-timed issue popped up and got a hold of the public microphone.
Make no mistake, the issue of reproductive rights remains as relevant and worth fighting for now as it was three hundred years ago, during the Enlightenment Age, when many thought it’d be settled very soon.
But the way it derailed the debate over a presidential candidate’s secrecy and sense of entitlement, to the point of defiantly refuse to even discuss his offshore accounts and tax haven islands, can’t be perceived in any way as an accident.
And for what do we have to thank this break for? what have we learned about an ignorant bigot that we didn’t know already? That he’s
a candidate to one of the Senate’s 100 seats? That he’s wealthy and has the support of the candidate to vice president?
What we don’t have any doubts about, but still need some transparent proof that can be published on the cover of every paper in the land, is account numbers, amounts, dates, anything that could be admissible in the court, of the law and the public opinion.
We don’t mean to underestimate the ability of the American people to understand who’s trying to hide and deceive, and what forces are behind this charade, propelling the campaign and dangerously fueling the idea that accountability equals class hatred.
But as it’s often the case, there’s nothing like having the irreversible solidity of a good, old fashioned piece of evidence, to back everything that’s been said, assumed, and believed to be true.
The scandal of our electoral process being hijacked by the power of money, and the immorality of having fortunes being secretly injected in the campaign is, of course, responsibility of both parties, their candidates, and our political elites.
However, it’s disingenuous to claim moral ground for charging one side for actively pursuing funds to be elected, while the other gets a free pass, just by the sheer availability of resources provided by his social stand and a wealthy political front.
It’s unlikely that from now until Nov issues such as Guantanamo, record defense spending, job creation and military spending, even availability of guns in American cities, immigration, and prison overcrowding, will be even touched by the candidates.
But money spent in the campaign trail, almost as the blood of bystanders spilled in the fusillade of American streets, has unfortunately become the driving force shaping our democracy. So if we have to stick to one single issue, that could be it.
We have changed the subject every time there was an attempt to discuss any of the matters listed above, and so many others. At the end of the day, it doesn’t make any difference whether we changed it because of an Akim or a Kardashian.
For the record, there’s urgency in making sure that every woman in this country will have the last word about what happens to her body, period. But if we don’t prioritize our demands, we may not even get into a position to be able to do it so.
As our electoral process became a buyers’ market, we need to concentrate our efforts in reversing it to a right of the people contest, along with getting this obscene ‘citizens united rule’ erased from our playbook.
A final word about the week that went by and took away one of the truly American heroes, Neil Armstrong. We’ve said it before, we’re no friend of the word, which has been tossed ever so casually throughout our daily lives.
But Armstrong did fulfill its classic definition. He personified the stoic, brutally focused, modest, and ultimately, became the epitome of human accomplishment that even before ancient Greece we’ve aimed to achieve and expected from our idols.
There were many of them in our space saga. But with Yuri Gagarin, Vladimir Komarov, and John Glenn, Armstrong composed the very best at the very top of them all, taking our spirit and physical presence the farther than any other.
As citizens of a peaceful world, at least in our own mind, we mourn and celebrate the life of Neil Armstrong, and to the first man on the moon, our heartfelt Thank You. Have a great end of August week. WC




Raising the Whistleblower Issue, Colltalers 

The most important point made yesterday by WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, in his first public appearance since being granted asylum by Ecuador, was his appeal for the release of Pvt. Bradley Manning, imprisoned without formal charge since July 2010.
Assange, who’s accused of having published classified materials on the site, remains confined to the London Ecuadorian embassy. He may be also arguably to blame for Manning’s descent from decorated U.S. Army soldier, to an inmate accused of treason.
But, despite the hardship that Manning’s going through, it may be the U.S. government to ultimately come out of this sad episode with a black eye, for having kept him in jail for so long without a trial.
Assange’s denied both that Manning was the source of the leak, and
that his own conviction in Sweden, in an unrelated rape case, has any merit. The case gave Swedish authorities the right to seek his deportation from the U.K., the base for his asylum bid. Ecuador, despite granting Assange safe-heaven in South America, has been facing huge pressures from the U.K. and Sweden, and it’s his assumption that they’re doing it so by instructions of their most powerful political ally, the U.S. Time will tell. The media-savvy Australian journalist has been riding these treacherous waters full of powerful sharks, with rare aplomb. Cynics say that, regardless of how it’ll all end, he’s already carved a relevant place for his personal brand of libertarian populism.
Cynics may say what they will but WikiLeaks has been nothing but a cautionary tale of the times, one about the fear of disclosure by the mighty, even when the essence of such disclosure has little substance.
The material published by major newspapers of the world, despite offering a privileged view of the inner workings of global diplomacy, have had hardly any impact on the national security of all nations involved, including the U.S.
In fact, going back to a recent past, much more harm was done to U.S.’s interests around the world when figures connected to the Bush administration leaked the name of an active CIA operative, on their way to make the case for the war in Iraq.
Unlike Manning, who seems to have acted on the sole call of his own conscience, the known and unknown parties responsible for that dark episode and damaging leak remain at large and may not ever face a day in jail for their treason.
The case, with all its lack of judicial backbone, has also a chilling effect on the U.S.’s moral standard around the world. In the future, it may as well represent one of the Obama administration’s lowest constitutional moments.
Ironically, President Obama’s bid for reelection may hang very much on his record on crucial issues, such as national security, human rights, the environment, and the economy, even though the latter usually gets most of the headlines.
In no democracy worth its constitution, the role of whistleblowers may be perceived as a national threat. On the contrary, the more liberated an individual feels about pointing what he or she sees as wrongdoings, the more the state can be effectively restrained from trampling the rights of all society.
Assange may be more than a talented opportunist, for his reporter’s knack for seizing the narrative and exposing the inner works of power. And even if he seems more concerned about his own biography and global projection than anything, he can’t be dismissed.
We have heard of practically no one else speaking on behalf of Bradley Manning, and paying a great deal of personal cost for doing so, as Assange’s done. Whether his self-aggrandizing ways will become the story is a theme for another post.
Under a completely different motivation, and from a radically reduced space, we share his appeal, and that of many civil rights organizations: President Obama, make a righteous decision and grant Pvt. Bradley Manning his freedom.
For a young, idealist American, who enlisted and fought in the wars of his time, and took the most basic stand guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, he’s already paid too heavy a price. The fact that the military has been unable to formally charge him with treason speaks volumes about their lack of conviction of his guilt and fear that he’ll emerge a hero for political freedom.
Neither of these are legal reasons enough to keep him a prisoner, destroy his reputation, and compromise his faith on the rule of the law, and on the democracy that this country was founded upon and has sworn to defend.
If you, reader, think you can help on this cause, please do. Have a great one. WC



Here Comes the Wandering Scapegoats, Colltalers

France’s new president, François Hollande, has been doing a lot to convince everyone he’s not just another ‘françois’ to occupy the Palais de l’Elysée. In less than three months, he may have already accomplished that.
He’s ended the use of official vehicles by members of his administration, raised taxes on the very rich, and done away with state officials to church-owned schools and universities.
The area in which he’s most certainly just like any other European leader, though, is where immigration issues, and foreigns working on French soil, is concerned. Such posture was evident last week, when he ordered the eviction and deportation of hundreds of Roma, camped all over the republic.
For this ethnic group, made an eternal pariah in the past two centuries of the continent’s nation and border consolidations, the reality of who’s in power (everyone else) and who’s not (always them), has been unchanged.
But they’re just a metaphorical example of what’s been happening in countries such as Greece, Spain, Germany and others, where there’s been a spike in the number of undocumented immigrants crossing borders in search of shelter and jobs.
So much for the architects of the euro’s lofty ideas of unifying Europe by money and passport, and opening international borders to those
seeking honest ways of raising a family, regardless of their nationality. That, while trying to erase the thousands of years of infighting and wars of conquest.
The contrary has been happening, though. Brutally misguided nationalist hordes have been beating up immigrants all over Europe, under the excuse they’re ‘stealing’ jobs from nationals, and practically turning back the clock on the goodwill disseminated in the past 40 years.
Even non-euro countries such as the U.K. have already expressed their intention to close borders to the expected increase in the numbers of foreigners seeking legal residency in the country.
Even more cruel is that now, when it’s apparent that the euro concept won’t survive based solely on its currency and economic policies mirrored after Germany, all the talk is about saving its financial system and banks, which in many ways, were contributing factors to the current crisis in the first place.
If that all sounds familiar it’s because there’s been a global retrograde push for rejecting the pursuit of mutually-beneficial social and political ideas, and reversing even basic concepts of respect for individual and regional differences.
Even in the world’s biggest immigrant country, the U.S., for all the talk about fulfilling the American Dream and giving opportunities for everyone, the Obama administration’s done very little to tackle the immigration issue.
Yes, it did pass a set of measures that may pave the way for a minority of illegals to pursue a path to citizenship. But coming in the tail end of its first term, characterized by an even stricter policy than Bush’s, such path may be littered with mistrust and the legitimate suspicion that it only came to boost support for the president’s reelection among voting latinos.
That governments of countries such as Israel and Russia aggressively use immigration policies to all but segregate and keep under tight control the activities of foreign workers (even citizens of former Soviet republics) within their borders comes as no surprise.
What’s incredibly disheartening is to see decades of laborious efforts, in Europe, the U.S., even in some Asian countries, to erase a dark past of xenophobia and racially-tinged policies come crushing down, on the outrageous assumption that such outmoded didn’t cause enough harm.
Thus, the struggle for equal rights for all has been diffused and neutralized, as it’s replaced by another important but not as socially relevant issue of our time: religious freedom.
While the former affects all mankind, the individual prerogative of choosing his or her own god should be as private as the choice of a pair of underwear; no need to waste taxpayers’ money to help build places of worship, for example, or support so-called faith-based (read: anti-science) teachings.
As Europe once again invokes another excuse to shut down its borders and close ranks with nationalistic policies, it may be up to the U.S. to set a different example. We know, the outlook for a change has been far from promising.
Despite of that, no other country has come close to prove how a multidiverse and racially mixed work force can contribute to build a great nation and, in the process, create an even richer social and economic reality.
Humbly we wish to think that we too are part of that multitude. And so can anybody else. Have a great week. WC


Can We Talk Guns as Adults, Colltalers?

Another day, another brutal shooting of a group of Americans. But we’re not planning on piling on this issue, for after what happened in Aurora less than a month ago, we must admit it, we’re spent.
There’s no escaping of what’s behind the mass murdering of religious minority members, though, or of racially-tinged killings, or why children are caught in the crossfire of gun battles. We’ve got to talk about that too soon or tragically, too late.
But in order to do that the right way, we must try first what we have refused to try so far: outlawing assault weapons in the streets of the U.S. And there’s hardly need for new laws; only a federal mandate to enforce the ones already in place.
But if you feel that it’s insensitive for anyone to invoke this debate
right in the middle of the gruesome process by the victims’ relatives of collecting their fallen ones, you’re probably distracted by something else.
For even before the body count had started, the campaign to change the subject was already at pace, and even worse, religious zealots were already adding their inflammatory two-cents of hatred and intolerance to the proceedings.
Still, there’s something else even more disturbing about the regularity that these massacres have been happening: our own growing obliviousness to it, our increasing numbness to the frequency and depth of the carnage.
For it doesn’t seem likely that the thousands who showed up last week, to support a commercial fast food enterprise and its owner’s right to be a bigot, are now about to go back to the streets and tell the world they’re mad and are not going to take it anymore.
It’s a sad day in America when even the cowardly shootings of innocent victims fails to jolt us into action, when an act of bigotry (and the chance of getting some free junk food too, perhaps) easily does it.
And it’s depressing that the gun control issue catches both candidates, in so many ways wide apart from each other, sharing the same leaky boat of omission, denial and empty rhetoric. In fact, automatic weapons regulation is not even part of their agendas.
So, if haters have no problem expressing their intolerance, even in the face of a tragedy that anywhere else would likely galvanize the public debate, then to advocate for a change in our relationship with guns in this country can’t be so out of place.
Perhaps this will be it, the proverbial straw, the dropping of the other shoe, or any other tired analogy you may think of, to force those seeking to transfer their toothbrushes to the White House to come clean about what gives.
For if the future U.S. president gets elected with the (secret) donations of the gun lobby, which has managed to prevent any control measure to be enforced, then chances are we’ll still be talking about the same issue over and over again.
And only the thought of wasting even more the time that could be invested in prevention and long term help to the victims, just makes us feel incredibly sad, and, honestly, really spent.
Stay safe out there and have a great one. WC




Still No Cure for Aids, Colltalers

The event last week that arguably has the power to affect the most people on the planet was not the opening of the Summer Olympics, but the AIDS international conference, held in the U.S. for the first time in over 20 years.
And unlike the beautiful show and fireworks that started off the games, and all the humanity-affirming stories behind the lives of those competing in London, the conference had much less to celebrate.
First the good news. For the first time, the U.S.’s lifted the ban preventing HIV+-carrying people from attending the conference. Also, there was a noticeable shortage of the congratulatory tone that has marked the speeches of many guests in past editions.
Generally, there’s a new commitment of public health officials in this and other countries to treat AIDS along with its currently twin scourge, poverty, in many ways, more a determining factor rather than a mere component of the epidemic.
There was some sparse news in the purely scientific frontier, although no major breakthrough. Participants were happy to learn about the Berlin Patient, Timothy Ray Brown, the first HIV+ person to have been cured. Unfortunately, his case is exceptionally unique and can hardly serve to most of everybody else suffering the disease.
But the really bad news come in two prongs, unfortunately. One, is the already mentioned fact that, in the undeveloped world, no cure will ever be possible without addressing the highly complex social problems plaguing it.
In other words, no treatment will be viable if the victims are under siege, either by extreme poverty and hunger, or by local warlords,
who terrorize and even enslave them at their will. And remain out of reach of the law.
Also, if we have made some progress in prevention and treatment, specially in western societies, prejudice is still a serious obstacle to get anything done. The U.S. itself set a bad example when it prevented sex workers here and around the world to participate in the AIDS conference.
Such spectacular myopia results in the fact that those in the front lines of the fight against transmission of the HIV virus, the ones most vulnerable to its spread and lethal power, can’t even report what they live through daily on the ground.
If the situation improved enormously for the gay community, thanks to the courage of grass roots movements to took upon themselves to expose the for-profit mentality of the health care industry, still in the 1980s, the spread of AIDS to the rest of the world has only brought about more misery and despair.
It’s not that the so-called minorities are out of the woods yet; as far as the virus is concerned, everyone is at risk. But now the majority of victims are mothers and children, which made up for the bulk of the estimated 1.8 million AIDS-related deaths only in 2010.
While cases of HIV infection continue to dwindle in rich societies, they’re still on the rise in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
If our children are to live in an AIDS-free world, the awareness that even now this disease has no cure and its treatment is expensive and not for every single patient needs to remain sharp in everybody’s minds and hearts.
We hate to be the bearers of such terrible news, but with the number of people living under the poverty line in the U.S. steadily increasing, it’s just logical to expect that the number of AIDS fatalities, or at least new cases, will also rise.
Think about that as we enter August this week ahead, and see if there’s something you and everyone can do about it. Be safe and have a good one. WC


We Need to Ask Questions First, Colltalers

Once again, the issue of gun control has irrupted into American homes like a night assault, and the noise generated by the usual efforts to circumscribe it to the ‘loner nut’ theory is not unlike the explosive and disturbingly close sound of gun fire coming from across the street.
So we too are hoping that the national debate that the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, ignited has a more lasting impact than that state’s devastating summer fires, which usually leave little more than ashes in their wake.
But in fact, even before all those who were killed in the carnage had been identified, the gun lobby had already sent its well-trained drones, and their unwitting allies, to veer the case toward 2nd Amendment issues, and away from any legislative actions.
Which are never forthcoming in these cases, anyway, for most of our elected representatives in Congress are heavily sponsored by the NRA. Sadly, President Obama already bought into the fallacy of the ‘this is not the time’ line of argument, which only helps to put out the
fire that could fuel meaningful changes.
The true is, the Constitution provides a context and a set of principles in which to frame the individual’s right to bear arms that could never be applied to a weapon capable of spraying more bullets per minute than the human mind can process decisions.
But we’re sure you’ll hear this and many other variations of the same theme to the point of numbness this week, which may be the point, and soon enough most of everyone who hasn’t been personally affected by such a tragedy will go back to their business of living. And who can blame them, right?
Well, we all can. Because it’s this turn around and go back to whatever you were doing that has been postponing the crucial moment we’ll need to face up to, as a nation, when such an ‘individual right’ will radically conflict with the right of the majority, of living in peace and not being threatened as often by an breakdown of rationally from a person or a group.
That’s why we’re supposed to have laws for. And it’s exactly when airplane crashes happen that we probe the accident, investigate the causes, and improve our chances for that not to repeat. Giving credit to Ralph Nader, no one will ever say that car seat belts didn’t save lives, even though accidents continue to and will always happen.
The reason we’re so pessimist that even this tragedy will make any difference is the fact that we seemed to have lost any ability to have a nuanced debate over anything in this country. It’s either, ‘I’m for it,’ or ‘I’m against it,’ which may be masking a fatal flaw in our way of thinking as a society: ‘no one knows more about this issue than I do, anyway.’
This failure of adding variation to any debate, of enhancing it with a sense of justice, empathy, of enriching it with the testimony of those in the front lines of the issue, has been costing us the ability to act upon pretty much anything.
We complain about congressional inactivity, but we’re quickly becoming a nation of filibusters, who won’t accept the will of the majority, if it threatens to curtail our sense of entitlement, our need to fulfill 99.9% of our personal wishes. Anything less, compels us to gridlock the process and sabotage a resolution.
We still reserve the right of being utterly shocked, though, by what happened in Colorado. As what happened earlier in Florida, and last year in Arizona, and so many more incidents when having an automatic gun did make all the difference, we can’t begin to imagine the ever-present nightmare those affected have been engaged ever since. And will for the rest of their lives.
As only the community around them can offer concrete solace to usher them through this time, any words of ‘sympathy,’ or ‘we stand together,’ and others like it, however sincere and heartfelt they may be, will sound shallow and contrived coming from the nation surrounding them. Specially by elected officials.
As we said, you’ll hear all of that and more over and over again, so we’ll leave it at that. Let’s hope those people find the comfort they need, while the rest of us ask the questions that need to be asked. Start with your own community and stay safe. WC



Don’t Cry for Libor, Colltalers

Oh, the humanity. Just when the financial system thought they were finally out of the picture, and could go back to peddling in secret within the corridors of power, another two pesky ‘little’ scandals hit both sides of the pond.
Not that much will come out of it, we’re jaded to say. We simply won’t fall anymore to this media hyper-ventilating, which in any case is a pro-forma way that covers up their own failure at reporting the facts, in the first place.
Nor will we be sympathetic to all grandstanding about the pseudo-immorality of the scandals, which will go on and on, as you probably have guessed it, for as long as the ‘nail ladies’ don’t understand a
single thing about what’s all about.
So, the estimated $22 billion that will cost the rigging of the U.K.’s Libor rate, and the heading-to-the-same-neighborhood amount in losses by JPMorgan, at last count, moving past the $9 billion mark, shouldn’t be what would drive public outrage.
Yes, taxpayers will probably foot both bills, as it happened in the Great Bailout Ball of 2008, and then reap the increased costs in their daily life. And yes, these are sums big enough to buy a string of sunny countries, if that’s your thing.
But the shameful, embarrassing, staggering reason why we should all be demanding an explanation is the fact that these people did and continue doing as they please, because they can.
Since the near-collapse of the world’s financial system in 2008, caused by, surprise surprise, the same international above-the-law bunch that’s now acting so shocked, no stringent regulations and stiff criminal penalties have been established and enforced by neither the U.S. nor the U.K.
Au contraire, while the global economy suffered its biggest hit since the 1930s, and every industry, country and, above all, worker felt and still feels the pain, banks flourished and posted staggering profits, including record executive compensations. No questions asked.
So don’t expect that, unlike with members of peaceful and politically relevant movements, such as the Occupy Wall Street, you’ll be seeing a Diamond or a Dimon, or any other precious-named CEO, being carried away in cuffs anytime soon.
Make no mistake: the rhetoric about how the Libor-fixing will cost them dearly is already apace, preparing the ground for that moment that always come, when everyone else but high-rolling executives will be asked to chip in, to once more save the system.
But don’t take our word for it. Perhaps the Libor scandal will achieve what the fall of the News of the World did not: to bring accountability to members of the the U.K.s current ruling party, who may have had knowledge all along about what was happening.
Perhaps, but somehow, we doubt it. The same way that JPMorgan’s losses have been attributed to a fluke and not to a corrupted system that privileges the quick over the moral, the commission over the labor, and personal wealth over voting.
We’re not making any dire predictions here. But we seem to be up to our necks with the art of the misinformation and non-sense passing as a balanced side of every argument.
That’s why we’re keeping our expectations in check, even as we watch the foxes passionately defending their right to guard the hens. Since we’re neither, dear reader, we’d rather watch out for those in charge of the whole barnyard. Have a great one. WC




Why We Can’t Dine With the President, Colltalers

A funny thing happened since the Supreme Court’s confirmed the legality of the so-called Obamacare law: our inbox got flooded with requests for donations and invitations to ‘join the president’ for dinner.
We don’t want to be rude. After all, it’s an invitation to meet the man and, you know, being pampered all the way to some fancy party, where we’re bound to meet a celebrity or two, sipping Chianti right next to us.
However, we must decline your so kind invitation, Mr. President, at least for now. You see, we’re fine about you choosing us over so many, to ask to donate $3 to your campaign, and have a chance to meet Michelle.
We don’t even have a problem having to clean up our email services
and, well, forward the hundreds of messages your party’s been sending us lately to the spam box.
It could be the money, yes, for even though it’s ‘just’ $3, it’s a $3 that sometimes we, and millions of people across the country, don’t have to spare.
But it’s neither that nor the fact that small donations these days really mean almost nothing, in the land of Super PACs and super donors.
To begin with, we’d have a big problem with some guests in your list, Mr. President. We can’t believe that you’re still inviting some of the most notorious Wall Street high rollers, who just a few years ago, broke America and the world’s financial system.
The fact they’re still roaming free the corridors of power sickens us a great deal. We simply can’t swallow that none of them have gone to jail or even got poorer yet.
Neither we fathom that you’ve just authorized oil drilling in Alaska, knowing that it’ll only be a matter of time before a disaster, perhaps even worst than the one at the Gulf of Mexico a year ago, will happen.
You’ve also certainly read about the Arctic permafrost, which is already melting and freeing lethal gases trapped for centuries straight to the atmosphere.
So how come you’re playing along with another proposal to transport oil through miles of land, oil that won’t even be used to heat our homes or fuel our ecologically-wrong cars? As someone would say, we thank you kindly, but your policies are anything but.
What about Guantanamo Bay and its prisoners, when are they going to be charged in regular courts? How come you haven’t said a thing about the use of surveillance drones within the U.S.?
By the way, when are all the illegal tapping of U.S. citizens stop, since there can’t be possibly any law supporting the practice? When are you going to at least acknowledge that you promised us a different kind of government?
We’re very sorry, but we just can’t break bread with you and your illustrious friends, Mr. President, and we’re sure there are many of them around, thank goodness. It’s just not for us to enjoy the d’oeuvres if they’re also being served on the back of people whose support you’ve used to get elected and now are almost pariahs in your cabinet.
It’s just a dinner, some may argue, it’s no big, overarching, principled political statement we’re making here, mind you.
But we feel that we haven’t been doing much to express our disgust with some aspects of your administration, fearful our criticism may be cashed in by the candidate of corporate raiders and wealthy managers everywhere.
We haven’t gone to the dark side yet, but that doesn’t mean we have to pretend we don’t see what’s going on this side either. To be honest, we never thought we would be in a position to refuse such a distinguished invitation.
But for now, at least, we thank you very much but we’re turning your mail into spam, along with all those offers of low-rate credit cards, instant cash, and horny housewives living in the neighborhood. Have a great week, everybody.




Soccer May Be Euro’s Little Helper, Colltalers

Billions who follow football around the world watched Spain crushing Italy in the final of the European Cup. For Europeans specially, it was pure relief among a wave of bad economic news that may have started as far as four years ago, with the U.S.-ignited collapse of the world’s financial system.
But, with all the kudos to the Spanish team’s legacy and record dominance of the sport, and their current hold on the ‘jogo bonito’ once thought to be exclusive domain of Brazilians, two other matches earlier in the tournament turned out to be more meaningful, in a bigger scheme of things.
One for what was not, Germany against Greece. The other, when Italy sent the Germans packing this past week. That’s when the intersection
of soccer and politics, familiar to aficionados of the game, came to be displayed yet again.
That’s because the recent growing dominance of Germany over European affairs has a certain creepiness factor about it that many cannot avoid. It’s not just that it’s the continent’s biggest economy, but it’s also its sway over the European Central Bank’s policies.
Before we go any further, though, that’s no put down on Germans, whose society is exemplary in its democratic institutions and, above all, respect to labor laws long ago demurred by other nations, including this one.
It’s only a contradiction of sorts that German politicians would attempt to impose a recipe of austerity and diminished social networks for the working class and the poor of the rest of the continent, while at home enjoying and enforcing much more equanimous welfare and labor laws.
So, when Greece, itself being chastised by a dubious German-influenced ECB prescription of hardship and contention, which has been proven disastrous, had to face the vibrant, guilty-free German team, some were expecting a kind of poetic justice football has shown often.
It wasn’t to be and Germany’s victory only increased a bitter taste to reawaken terrible fears of the cultural and political domination of yesteryear. But then, along came Italy and beat the Germans.
Far from restoring a pseudo-natural order of things, it did however give pause to the not so unstoppable, as it turned out, train leading to Germany’s ultimate goal of winning the cup.
That dream being at least postponed, another interesting effect happened right after, most likely not related to it, but still, a very healthy sight: Germany’s second-guessed itself about the euro and came back to the table of negotiation.
Whether it was out of self-interest or just another shrewd political move from its leaders, it’s totally besides the point: the euro just got a reprieve, and if Greece still wants to leave it, it’ll happen on its own pace, possibly in another election cycle if ever.
So the Eurocopa final will go to history books, Spain may surely attempt to remain atop two years from now in Brazil, but what really brought relief, not only to Spaniards, but to all Europe was a simple realization: Germany is not and cannot be in charge of what happens to its neighbors.
That being said, there’s still a lot of ground to be covered to fulfill that flawed European utopia of the euro. And no one should be surprised if the outcome of the Mexican elections will have a sway on that too.
What, with a radical change in the northernmost Latin American country in the world, even the U.S. election may be covering new ground, along with the beginning of the fight for a single payer health care system in this country, ignited by last week’s Supreme Court decision.
We’re up for another steamer, dear readers. Keep cool and collected, so we’ll all come out whole in the other side of the 4th. Have a great one. WC


They’ve Stopped Making Sense in Rio, Colltalers

The U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development that just concluded in Brazil has taught the world some useful things. Unfortunately, none of which has anything to do with the environment, climate change, water accessibility, natural resources or hunger.
It’s shown, once and for all, the utter failure of this kind of gigantic, brand-sponsored, excellent windows of political opportunity in deliver even the minimal progress its staggering costs would justify spending.
While it lacked even the dubious exposure that the Earth Summit in 1992 at least managed to convey, this year’s edition didn’t even include input of some of the most respected organizations in the field, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, Oxfam, indigenous groups, Amazon activists and countless of others.
Instead, its mostly corporate-sponsored committees and sub-groups were populated with a roster of anonymous but powerful lobbyists, ‘the emissaries of billionaires,’ that dominated the deliberations and practically dictated the terms of the final document.
The close to 100 heads of state that showed up had pretty much the same relative influence, and considerably less communality of goals. But was one notable absence that could not be explained what may have undermined the whole conference.
The former candidate for hope, and now just another embattled president seeking reelection, President Obama chose to go to Mexico to pose for pictures along the Group of 20 finance ministers, and sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Copacabana.
In one swift move, he’s shown how far his priorities shifted from four years ago, when much of his platform was based upon an environmental and peaceful agenda, committed to preventing corporations and defense contractors from swaying government policy.
It was as disappointing as it may have been a black eye for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff too, who’s been put on the defensive about her spotty environmental record. Brazilian activists are still heeling from her apparent lack of leadership on the issue of the country’s new Forest Code.
And more: the failure of the meeting to highlight Brazil’s seriousness about its green policies may also add up to an already growing perception that the country may not be up to the continuous spotlight as a potential world power.
Charges of corruption and an apparent inability to implement infrastructural reforms are already undermining the country’s image as capable of handling the two major global events it will be hosting in the next four years, the World Cup and the Olympic Games.
Fortunately, there are many who think that a radical approach to the serious problems of climate change and income distribution, which seemed to have gotten worse in the past two decades, won’t depend of such mega event as the Rio+20.
In the end, it may be the coordinated efforts of a myriad of organizations, involving all segments of the world’s societies, not just the politicians, well-heeled private initiatives and jet-setters, that may achieve results, one goal at a time.
Or, in the case of Colltales, with one post at a time. This is the 900th piece in slightly over two years of existence. So, if nothing else, the meeting in Rio served some purpose, at least for this site. Have a great week. WC



Elections Help But Don’t Define Democracies, Colltalers

At post time, the outcome of three of the most crucial elections being held around the world this year, seems clear. In Greece, a surging, populist movement of the left did make a statement at the polls, but not much beyond that, as many had hoped. It managed to register, but still fell short of gathering the necessary muscle to divert the country’s current political downward spiral.
In Egypt, the military continues its make-believe game of handcuffing the Islamic Brotherhood, only to see it grow in strength and reach, enough of an excuse for yet more intervention.
Thanks to their 11th-hour attempt to consolidate control, which those who ousted Mubarak had entrusted them with, the Brotherhood, an umbrella for a wild variety of Islamic tinges, including Sharia law advocates, can now bargain from a legal point of view, earned with the ballot victory. Well done, generals.
We give you a moment to feel discouraged about it. Now, we need to tell you that, compared to their predicament, we’re up to our necks. A presence Americans have grown used to see, big money lurking on the outskirts of the political process, soliciting and supporting their usual share of anti-social causes, is now an overweight monster, attempting to dictate our future.
Open exchange of cash is now so blatant, among those jockeying for higher office, that no one even bother pretending that what they are doing is not what looks like: they’re out ostensibly buying and trading politicians, policies and the national debate, as if they were out grocery shopping, and if you can’t afford it, well, fold your cards and find yourself another country.
There was a certain measure of comfort this past week, though, to a segment that had all but being thrown under the deportation buses by the Obama administration. Even though immigrants have been a crucial part of the president’s constituency, only now it occurred to him to shove new legislation benefiting them down the do-nothing Congress’s throat, by the way of an executive order.
It’s hard to comprehend, though, why it took him so long to do it, when public clamor and indiscriminate imprisonment and persecution were afflicting thousands of families across the country, many of which who effectively won’t be able to come back and be reunited, even with this new legislation. It’s also hard to understand why he hasn’t invoked the same powers to break other important gridlocks.
He could’ve exercised such power on the first year of his administration, with the health care reform act and its now discarded public option. He could’ve done the same with the nomination of an absurd number of official positions that remain vacant, due to a minority in Congress that acts as if it’s its majority.
There’s no reason why we still have the travesty of the filibuster maneuver, for example, which is even unconstitutional. And finally, he could have dropped this impossible bi-partisan ideal, the moment that the GOP publicly declared its intention to sabotage and block every single initiative that would help the president’s reelection, even when it could benefit the economy and the country.
President Obama, though, remains the only viable candidate to lead this country, and there should be no question about that even for non-partisans or non-Democrats. Anyone with this country’s best interests at heart, and seriously engaged in the political debate, who thinks that it doesn’t make a difference whether he’s re-elected, given the situation we’re at, has lost any sense of perspective.
The president has been a deeply flawed leader, conservative to a fault, and has shown an alarming inability of being decisive when it comes to champion the basic interests of the great majority of this country. That being said, though, he’s still a highly moral individual, with above-average standards of decency and sense of duty about the oath and vows he took in 2008.
This is not an endorsement, but a fact. Let’s not play with each other here, as Judge Judy would put it, and let’s stop ‘foxing’ our sense of balance. We can’t compare what President Obama represents to what any other candidate in this election cycle represents. He, however, has to be pushed to the limit, and the way of doing that is by creating effective political institutions.
His questionable acquiescing to the military defense complex, his ambivalence about avowed campaign promises he failed to fulfill, his lack of leadership in financial reforms, and continuous support to tax policies more suitable to millionaires, should be the battleground to charge the administration for our vote.
We may, instead, ignore all that, of course, choose to be cynical about the political process, and simply declare that we’ll be selling our support to the highest bidder. It’s still a free country, the last we checked it. But at the end of the day, that would be a betrayal of every single morally truthful value, held by millions across this nation, who otherwise, can’t choose as easily.
We can’t turn our backs to them, even if at times things stink so bad we need a minute to catch our breath. Take your time. It’s not only of big gestures that this country is lacking, although that could help it too. It’s only when we stop thinking with our bodies, though, that we may realize we are this ‘everybody’ that meaningful ideas such as freedom and conscience periodically depend upon.
But carry on, dear readers. Summer will be here this week and you know that life can be easier then, don’t you? Have a great one. WC



It’s All About Form Over Content, Colltalers

We’re living the age of the ‘very best,’ the ‘most talked about,’ and the ‘world’s biggest.’ The fact that such labels sound as hollow as the people who flood public debate with them, is unfortunately beside the point.
That’s why is not about what the leaks are about but who allowed them to happen. Not about the message but the messenger. Not whether it’s true and truly damaging, but who may profit from it.
When the Bush administration was steam-rolling opposition to its Iraq invasion, even a decorated secret service agent was thrown under the bus.
Few questioned whether that was happening because they could found no evidence justifying the war. Or whether such public exposure would cost lives in the field.
But when classified cables were leaked about the current campaign, there was a rush to found their source, regardless if they were about mostly gossip and banter among diplomats.
The core of the Army’s case against Pvt. Bradley Manning is that he may have been the source of the leaks and that may have caused harm to our combat forces.
Which is a claim that was never even questioned by the media, of course, and has been dropped from the news cycle ever since.
It’s a box-office mentality: what counts is not the relevance of a movie, but its potential ticket sales.
It was at full display last week yet again, when the big discussion was about who leaked the news about a infamous ‘kill list,’ planned for perceived enemies of the U.S. and not whether this nation should be in this business of secretly killing people.
It’s the same approach that allows, for example, a presidential candidate to lie through his teeth about his record on live television, without anyone checking that against the public record.
Why bother, when his jawline is so photogenic? Better counter that with another baseless claim, so to have an entertaining hour that would surely make it to the top of the ratings sweep.
It’s truly discouraging to even engage in such fluff that passes for news these days, and it’s no wonder so many of us simply don’t.
But if we’re to make of 2012 the year when substance finally tramples style, at least on the political front, we ought to drop these hyperbolic garbage.
Who cares who’s the ‘very best’ or who’s ‘most likely,’ and what it even means if there’s no attempt to compare that to the public record? Have a great one. WC



We Can’t Endorse This List, Colltalers

Some are calling this moment a consequence of three years of rhetorical gymnastics by President Obama’s supporters to frame his foreign policy within a morally acceptable view.
Others may say that it’s more likely a turning point, a moment when all the pragmatism applied in the past is no longer enough to disguise the staggering evil of such policy.
We’re talking about the debate over the so-called ‘kill list,’ of course, a subject unlikely to appear in the most virulent attacks against the president, to be launched by the Republican Party, and even the extreme fringes that control large parts of it, in the coming months.
When the news broke, last week, that the president has a personal finger on who gets to be chosen to be assassinated by the U.S., wherever they may be, apart from the fact that he seemed to be taking full responsibility for this murderous policy, everything else smelled so bad, that even his most ardent constituents wonder whether we really want go down this road.
Which seems to have already been taken, by the way. But that doesn’t mean that this discussion is rhetoric. When Osama bin Laden was executed last year, some of us had to go to some soul searching to find ways within ourselves to accept it. Because, otherwise, what our principles of justice and the rule of law would be good for?
So it did take a lot of swallowing hard to view it as inevitable, even if thousands still mourning the death of their loved ones on Sept. 11 and thereafter, ordered by the mass-murderer, couldn’t bring themselves to ‘celebrate’ his death. What for? Or rather, what difference it made towards their grief?
But that was then and somehow, part of such acceptance, was the thought, which now has been clearly proven wishful, that it was an one-time deal. Who were we kidding? Still, between the suspicion and the apparent confirmation that came last week, which the president hasn’t denied, there’s a world of disappointment and self-doubt.
Are we really sure that that’s what we want our country to be: a nation of fly-by-night armies of murderous drones, launched toward distant lands, on simple assumptions about enemy combatants?
Is that what we are about, to sow destruction and carnage in miserably poor villages, even if the enemy cowardly hides among women and children?
Mr. President, how can you expect millions of Americans, already struggling to keep a sense of dignity and hope for the future and their children, to endorse a multibillion-dollar strategy that, even if it were open and transparent, which it’s not, would be hard to comprehend?
It’s not hard to see why the extreme right wouldn’t say anything against such armed-to-the-teeth foreign policy. It’s a virtually impossible task to explain how come a former professor of law, who was elected championing the end of the U.S.’s involvement in bloody wars we can’t explain, is now leading the country to an even darker slippery slope of target assassinations.
We can’t endorse this policy, even if the president would engage society to explain it in detail, which the intelligence would never allow him to. We simply can not bring ourselves to jump in joy every time a barren road on the other side of the world is razed by a flying piece of hardware, controlled from some secret bunker, by some video-game-trained soldier.
We may have five months to convey this message to President Obama. Some may say that it’s already too late, but we don’t believe in that. We need to get started, though and leverage our support with some substantial, humanistic, principled demands. Or we may not be able to get up in the morning and tell our children to go out in the world and be good ever again. Have a great one. WC



Treat Your Vets as Your Future, Colltalers

It’s Memorial Day in the U.S., and for the vast majority, a day of burgers and beers, and shopping and fireworks. For a fringe minority, also a day for vitriol about their paranoid idea of patriotism. We’ll let those sleeping dogs lie for now.
Yet, for many, it’s a day mostly to give a thought or two about the nation, which seems to be in a state of permanent war abroad and with itself at home. While thousands died or survived wounded, and are all but ignored by the many who never had a Veteran in the family, at home millions wonder whatever happened to our sense of one country with freedom and justice for all.
There’ll be parades, and flag waving, and inspiring speeches and tearful reminders of those who perished or those who were not so lucky but came back as empty shells.
For many still standing will also be a reminder of how their ideals of serving this nation may have been betrayed, and their willingness to die for the rest of us squandered by the senselessness of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
For those in bad need for healing, they’ve already found out it’s not forthcoming. And even for those who fought in Europe and Korea and came back to built this country, it’ll be a time to reckon how much of all that is still alive.
But there’s one special Vet, however, that may turn out to be a symbol of our current baffling predicament: Pvt. Bradley Manning, who faces life in prison, accused of leaking national security secrets, and has been in isolation for the past two years.
Whether he’ll be convicted at the September trial remains to be seen. However, regardless of his role in the WikiLeaks disclosure of classified materials related to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, he’s already serving a life sentence.
He’s already been sentenced to oblivion in the media, and his name draws a blank from most people. And that kind of assassination is certainly worse than whatever it is in store for him.
What if he acted on principle, is he still to be considered a traitor, given our feeble reasons at this point, to even be at this business of killing people in their own country? Should he still be considered a threat since he chose to leak those documents not to the enemy but to the American people, in widely publicized coverage?
What if he is not the source at all, as WikiLeaks, which is also being criminalized for its business model, has been saying all along?
Memorial Days are not an altogether party affair, even though we’re all entitled to make the most out of our precious time with friends and family. But this particular one has so much about it, that we hope that we’re not forgetting too much of it.
We owe this sobering thoughts about our nation, its future and our own responsibility to this generation of the wounded and of the dead that we’ve sending away to fight wars we don’t quite understand and never even completely supported.
Think about that, be thankful for the sacrifice Vets have done so we’re free to forget them, and have a great week ahead. WC



World Leaders Can’t Lead This World, Colltalers

The busy three-day weekend of intense meetings of the heads of powerful nations in the world, the richest of them under the banner of the G8 group, and NATO, its military arm and its few dozen aggregates, is coming to a close today.
The biggest news: no news to report. Despite the economic, financial and armed turmoil going on from Europe to Asia, from the U.S. to the Middle East, they seem to be at loss for guiding words, even if never for pomp and circumstance.
Saturday, the G8 gathering in Camp David had only more of the same to prescribe for the unprecedented crisis affecting the countries that share the euro: we need to ‘balance’ debt control with proforma measures that would keep Greece from printing its own money, and Spain to head to an even faster economical and social downward spiral.
The final communiqué from NATO is not yet out at this press time, but it’s unlikely that it’ll offer any new and radical solution to the pointless conflict in Afghanistan, and the bleak desolation the U.S. and the bloc as a whole left in Iraq and Libya. Instead, it’s the opposite: more drones, more threats, more defense contractors on the ground, and, unfortunately, more predictable human losses.
It may get worse before it gets any better: the possible use of the same destructive weaponry, such as Predators, and the same undercover tactics, tapping and unwarranted search and arrests, against the courageous Americans who dare to protest the war.
These may include, shamefully, war vets who’re willing to return their hard-won bravery medals in order to be heard; they’re quickly becoming a new formidable ally to all Americans, for whom they were willing to take a bullet, and foe to the same institution they’ve just left, the military.
In the meantime, seeing smiling to the cameras over the weekend, there’s the group of people most out of sync with what’s going on in their own backyard: world leaders. That we have, as world citizens, the spectacularly bad luck of having this clueless bunch during this wretched of a time may be credited to a series of unfortunate events, none of which makes any sense describing here, of course.
For while President Obama put on a ‘very concerned’ face and declares that a ‘consensus’ is just about to be reached about the war in Afghanistan, the euro crisis, the tensions in the Middle East and everything, one can’t help it but wonder why such a toothless word is invoked at this time, when words are already at the end of their own currency, hardly having any impact on this crisis.
Oh, that’s right, that’s the kind of arousing rhetoric, the type of inflammatory burn-like-molten lava statements we were all longing to hear from this high-flying club. Gee, how could we have missed that one? Of course, as we all have suspected, it’s a code to do absolutely nothing and let it all work itself out. After all, it’s almost time for a summer break in the Northern Hemisphere.
In other words, you could probably have a better chance of finding leadership roles in the streets of Chicago, this weekend, or in the backwaters of America, anytime. Because either you take your discontentment out and join your brothers and sisters to demand being heard. Or you’re wondering where your children’s next meal will come, you’re already showing more spine than the G8 and NATO combined.
And so are those who’re not prepared to give up on their dreams of rebuilding the character of this nation, to honor its principles of justice and equality for everybody, of respect to the rule of law, and of separation of state and religion.
Above all the freedom to choose whatever it’s best for you as long as it doesn’t take away the rights of others to do the same, while despising all sense of birthright destiny.
You know now that you know better than those who believe that only another war will stop all wars; that lied has been told way too many times. You know too that no leader can exist on an unchallenged vacuum, and that the government is as good as the people it serves. Only to citizens of goodwill belongs honor, transcendence and peace. Have a great one. WC



The Banks’ Bailout May Be Back, Colltalers

This week may be as good a time as any to endorse the cause of the Occupy Wall Street movement, if you haven’t already done it so, for it’s proved that, for Wall Street, the party never really stopped, even after having broken the system four years ago and driven the economy off the cliff.
JPMorgan’s admitted that it lost a staggering $2 billion over the past six months, trying to ‘protect’ their wealth in outrageous hedging operations. Are you glad they’ve been keeping watch over your own miserable savings too?
The point is, behind all the phony ‘mea-culpa’ and the ousting of high-level executives, we smell a rat. All this talk about the losses not having affected investors like you, sounds a lot like it did. And they may come on knocking again, to ask for another taxpayer handout.
This is the same bank that got six times this amount only four years ago, in the TARP bailout program, and has since increased its market value, and rewarded executives with rivers of cash, on the back of the worst U.S. economic depression since, well, the Great Depression.
Even before that, this is the same bank that should have been broken up along with all the other Wall Street firms that clearly gambled with impunity with an obscene amount of money that did not belong to them, and wound up breaking the whole system.
Most of the same executives, including the now dour-faced CEO Jamie Dimon, remain deeply encrusted in the 0.01% of the nation’s wealthiest individuals, even though no one could point, with a straight face, what on earth do they actually do to make that kind of dough.
Expect constriction and piety in their public statements, while backstage they’ll still continue investing heavily in undermining all financial regulation that would come close to prevent at least part of these losses.
The majority of the American people already know pretty well this bunch and, most likely, won’t get fooled again. Unfortunately, the majority of the American people is currently extremely busy picking up the pieces of an once thriving economy, and may not be paying attention to what comes next.
But the Obama administration has the moral obligation, if not a golden opportunity, to finally crash this party and enforce legislation with teeth, to bring these reckless hacks to justice.
Whether it will do it or not, it’ll very much depend on how society will react to this new shameless chapter. And let’s not allow another round of taxpayer money to be diverted to this industry, unless we all have a certified, bankable share of their profits, once they’re back at their old saddle.
Better yet, let’s break them all up in several smaller companies, under stricter regulation, with government (meaning, the American people) temporary ownership, and an across-the-board dismissal of hordes of top-tier executives, no compensation packages allowed.
Once out of their turf, let’s hand them to the court of law, to establish exactly who knew and did what and when did they do it and to whom. Just like it’d be to any of us, if we happened to be accused of stealing a loaf of bread from the local supermarket.
Have a great one. WC



Single Votes Can Hardly Change History, Colltalers

The election of socialist François Hollande, in France, along with meaningful votes in Greece and Germany, all point to an anti-austerity sentiment throughout Europe. Even if it’s happening through inflamed rhetoric and an unreliable populism, such sentiment may lead to concrete alternatives to restore economic growth while preserving the continent’s enviable social programs.
That being said, and almost to counter the illusion that much has changed overnight, elsewhere in Russia, for example, Vladimir Putin has been crowned top dog for another several years, and the fate of the once-inspiring Arab Spring is now resting in the stalled, and staled, political struggle between a resurgent radical Islam and a politically authoritarian military force in Egypt.
Despite the opposition’s strong showing in Greece, its lack of recognizable, social-oriented political leaders may indicate that the elections won’t prevent further turmoil or alleviate the plight of millions who found only recently that they’ve been evicted from the country’s middle class for good.
The defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy may represent the end of a politically subservient France, which has been all but obedient to the land of European austerity wizards, Germany. But the election has not the same historical relevance given to another François, Mitterand, in 1981, who was also socialist, but whose comparisons with Holland should stop right there.
Still it’s a good day to be cheerful about the future, based solely on what could’ve gone the other way. We’re glad for not having witnessed yet another step towards what the austerity fallacy is trying to cover up: the concerted effort to dismantle Europe’s social networks, while giving free reign to multinational banks and speculators.
The other underlying story behind the weekend’s widespread proof of discontentment by European voters is, of course, the fate of the euro. While it has lived to be traded for at least another day, it’s not clear that after all the draconian and unfair economic policies adopted by the European Central Bank in order to preserve it, will allow it to regain its strength.
As the limitations of a single currency for different countries have hurt their overall economic health, the most serious blow may have been done to the heart of the dream of an unified land of incredible diversity, breeding tolerance and cooperation. That dream is in tatters and it may not survive. Ironically, the euro just may. We’d love it to be the other way around, of course.
However the tide turns, though, we still have a week ahead to carry on to the best of our abilities. Count on us and have a great one. WC



This May Be a New May Day, Colltalers

The Occupy Wall Street movement is not even a year old, and most of us are already indebted to its accomplishments. Which you won’t be reading any list about on your usual 24-hour news cycle, by the way.
No surprise here; the same multibillion media has been a formidable foe to get this movement’s message across, unlike the GOP’s or Justin Bieber’s Tweets.
It doesn’t matter anymore: OWS is now part of the national debate, despite pressure to the contrary from wealthy politicians, elected officials, lobbyists, secret Super PAC investors and the whole lot of hidden powers that fester just out of our view.
They all tried to laughed it off from your kitchen table, but the issue of accountability from the financial industry is still pretty much alive, albeit still far from any consequence.
It may not sound much but we probably wouldn’t even be talking about it here. No problem repeating it, either: it’s a fact that still highly profitable corporations and their former and present chiefs have broken a 70-year-old truce for global financial stability, and are indeed responsible for millions all over the world to be now facing the grim prospect of unrecoverable poverty, in the process.
That they continue to be able to traffic on power and influence with impunity is another reason why the OWS remains relevant too.
You may now add another important achievement that the initially rag-tag assortment of idealists, disenfranchised and politically neophytes has managed to accomplish: the restoring of May Day to its full significance.
This Tuesday, regardless whether the call for a general strike still packs any power in this day and age, more than any other May first in the past several decades, the U.S. comes close to reclaim it as its place of origin. It’s our opportunity to reconnect with the struggle of working classes all over the world, who like us still live by the moral tenet that having a job is a right and a sure path to personal dignity.
More than riots in the streets and clashes against an obviously heavily armed and politically oblivious police force, May Day is about restoring the sovereignty of work as a transformative force for social promotion, as opposed to the power of privilege and personal wealth.
There was no other idea behind the ‘all men are created equal’ principle that founded this country.
So even if a new iconography has to be created to better reflect this new moment (come on, long skirts? hammers? really?), one that may be redefined both in old-fashioned political activism and in the ever-evolving world of online alliances and technology, with its own crucial battles for privacy and free expression, May Day is still a powerful symbol of unity and renewal.
However small and idiosyncratic may be your way of showing support and awareness about the world we’re living in, with its badly need for hope and peace, people like us can still make a difference. We hope you join us in celebrating it, if for nothing else, to honor the memory of Regina Martinez, only the latest young and brave journalist murdered in her home in Veracruz, Mexico. Have a great one. WC



It Was Two Years Ago Today, Colltalers

Even if your personal connection with Arizona goes no further than a can of tea you’ve once shared with someone you can no longer remember, there are still reasons you ought to follow the Supreme Court.
Specially this week, when it’ll be weighting on the Obama administration’s challenge to the state’s draconian immigration legislation.
The government has a bone to pick with Arizona, because it argues that policies related to immigration belong to the federal realm, and states have no claim making up laws of their own. Mostly because that can undermine the nation’s cohesion and integrity of principles. The administration, and many legal experts, believe Arizona’s laws on undocumented aliens are unconstitutional.
You may be paying extra attention too to one of the provisions of the law, that requires police to ID anyone they may think is an illegal immigrant, which is, for all purposes, an attempt to institutionalize racial profiling. If Arizona has its way, law enforcement has no need to substantiate its actions with the burden of proof.
If that sounds awfully similar to a recent ruling by the Supreme, allowing cops to strip search and inspect body cavities of anyone they may be taking to jail, on the simple premise that they may represent a danger to other inmates, that’s because it is. That sad ruling also denies common Americans the time-honored basic right of being left alone, under the presumption of innocence.
That being said, you may think that it’s a game already rigged in favor of arbitrary detention and persecution of anyone that ‘looks’ like a criminal, a venal and catastrophic misrepresentation of the exercise of authority, so common in dictatorship regimes. That it’s happening here is indeed alarming and utterly discouraging.
However, the time hasn’t come yet for us to be silent about unfairness and unconstitutionality, which may only sound like something complex that should be left to the powers that be to decide, but that in reality, any American has a full grasp of its meaning: the civil, unalienable right to be left alone to pursue any lawful endeavor one may see fit to tackle.
Going back to U.S. vs. Arizona, this is, after all, a nation of immigrants, and all states benefit from being part of a benevolent and open society, and a powerful and law-abiding country, as we like to see ourselves. Arizona, specially, with its depressed economy, relies heavily on immigrant labor, legal and illegal, and its agriculture wouldn’t survive without such hard-working workforce.
Such a restrictive and discriminatory legislation is out of pace not just with Arizona’s economy, but also with a politically diverse and powerful coalition of huge segments of society, which now includes the federal government too. Such democratic coalition also has the support of legal experts, civil rights activists, unions and grassroots movements fighting fairness and justice for all.
Which brings us back to the Supreme Court and its last oral argument of the term. Let’s hope that, before justices head to their vacations, they won’t allow the rule of law to vacate too. In the process, we also hope they realize that’s this is their moment to redress recent rulings that, if anything, are helping undermine the American people’s confidence on its judgment.
We also would like to thank you reader for two-years of uninterrupted Colltales coverage. The same way that Arizona couldn’t have survived as a state without the help of all citizens of this nation, neither could we have published close to 900 stories if there wasn’t for your continuous and generous support.
Please accept our gratitude and appreciation and feel free to keep coming back to read the latest and to browse our files. From our part, we can hardly remember how was the world before this blog, so much pleasure and feelings of being honored it has given to us in the past 731 days or so. Thank You. WC



Know Who Your Friends Are, Colltalers

The Summit of the Americas, held over the weekend in Colombia, may have had all the makings of a great event: high-wattage guest speakers, high-level talks about world’s geopolitics, a beautiful scenery for all those privileged few to enjoy.
One thing it won’t have though: consensus over four of the major issues affecting all nations that share the same geographic accident, and not much else. To be honest, most nations would like to tell the U.S. what to do with that consensus.
For the U.S. couldn’t be further apart from pretty much everyone else over issues concerning Cuba, Iran, the so-called war on drugs, and immigration. In fact, for all intent and purpose, the U.S.’s position on these issues hasn’t changed since the grim Gipper.
And that may not be pure coincidental; despite what most of us would like to believe, the Obama administration shares much more with the Reagan tenure than it’d be safe to say, ‘pragmatism.’ That really doesn’t bode well for our times, by the way.
Both leaders are charismatic, but whereas Reagan wouldn’t be elected to a merely municipal seat, if it were up to the current, extreme-right GOP leadership, President Obama is far from what his detractors see as socialist inklings.
In any case, most Latin American nations already have a full blossoming trade with Cuba, both commercial and cultural, to even care about what the U.S. thinks about it.
They don’t care either to our cozy relationship with Israel, which to many impairs our ability to remain relevant, not merely a brutal military threat, not just to Iran but to the whole Middle East and North of Africa regions.
The war to ‘eliminate’ drugs from our midst, said to have cost U.S. taxpayers some $40 billion only in 2010, according to some estimates, has only given unlimited power to ruthless cartels in Mexico, Afghanistan and even the Amazon basin.
And the Obama administration has been even more myopic when it comes to its immigration policies than even George W.’s. That, along with the widespread criminality surrounding the world of illegal drugs has been solely responsible for a growing, highly-profitable new industry: that of locking people up, and send some of them to death.
We’re more out of sync than ever with the countries we used to dictate their policies according to our own interests. They grew tired and powerful; we got completely self-obsessed with our own increasingly xenophobic domestic policies.
So, why should they, or anyone for that matter, care about our opinion? Sadly, the only respect we’ve been getting from the world lately is the one out of fear of our all-too dominant military defense complex. No wonder, their multi-trillion budget it all but guaranteed to at least 2040, when hopefully a new generation of American leaders will be in a position to lead.
In the meantime, we’d better treat our friends with the respect they deserve, and make sure we hold ourselves to the high standards we should expect anyone to hold us too. Which means, enough of that mafioso rhetoric: one has the friends one’s earned through acts of compassion and courage, not intimidation and self interest. Respect out of fear is not respect, it’s just fear.
And you know what frightened people are capable of, right? They’ll cowed in horror, they’ll recoil and they’ll scream. Next, they most likely will do something stupid. On the contrary, do something good for your friends this week and have a great one. WC



Your Number May Be Up, Colltalers

For all the media’s oblivion to the most pressing issues affecting the American people at the moment, from accountability for Wall Street to the persistence of race inequality, to the fight over women’s reproductive rights, to cruel, costly and unnecessary wars, to lack of compassion for the poor and the unemployed, there’s one thin, brittle but still silver lining to it all.
Such issues are occupying the national debate, no thanks to the powers that be. And no amount of lobbying and legalese posturing will prevent Americans from having the sinking feeling that the Supreme Court’s hearing on President Obama’s signature health care coverage law last week was just a charade designed at actually dismantling it. But guess what? People are still talking about it.
Which means that there may be finally a growing understanding that these are the issues we ought to talk about, not so much how many home car elevators a certain presidential candidate is trying to hide from the public, or how many golden-plated bathtubes Beyoncée will be using to bathe her baby, or how many mega winners can be found within any given demographics.
Of course, none of these issues has registered among ‘breaking’ stories the 24-cycle news regard as important enough to shove down our throats, washed down with a barrage of ads. But unlike recent years, some of such issues are being intensely followed and passionately discussed in B-B-Qs and birthday parties, watering holes and watercoolers, waiting rooms and sport arenas across America.
So if Chief Justice Roberts’s court does indeed add another incredibly myopic decision to a growing list of reasons why people are beginning to lose faith on the impartiality of the court system in this country, as bad as that can be, many are already talking about restoring the single-payer system debate, or Medicare for all, which was always a better way than the so-called mandate anyway.
For it’s not lost to the majority that these are the same justices who approved the infamous decision equating corporations to people and, in the process, seriously undermining the very core of our democracy. People may not know details but are beginning to notice how much wealthier our current cast of politicians and presidential candidates are, comparing to millions going through extreme hardship.
So, despite all you may have heard to the contrary, your name may be coming up and this time, it won’t be to charge for something you haven’t ordered, or to tell you that you no longer have this or that right. At this point, the fight for any of those issues is the fight to save this country’s democracy, its rule of law and the right for everyone to have a clear shot at living with decency.
We remain full of hope about our future and our historical greatness, and it won’t be a fringe, extremist movement of intolerance and bigotry the one to prevent it from happening. Get your motors running and have a great, albeit bumpy, ride. WC



There’s Always More to the Story, Colltalers

The brutal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida has shed light once again on a number of issues that should have never stopped receiving the coverage they deserve, even if most of it is about injustice and heartbreak.
The reality of racial tensions in neighborhoods across America remains one of the key gauges to measure how far we’ve come, as a nation, at assuring the proverbial justice and freedom for all.
Also, increased access to guns by those who obviously lack even minimal psychological training to carry them, keeps costing thousands of innocent lives, and yet its lobbying in congress and acceptance in wide swaths of society remain unchecked.
We’re, once more, struggling to understand why so much blood of the innocent and the young has to be spilled before we unambiguously make a stand and demand our constitutional right to live free, regardless of the color of our skin.
How come the civil rights achievements of the 1960s, which cost the life of Dr. Martin Luther King and thousands of African-Americans, have to still be brought up, as if they were preserved in amber and under lock and key, and not ever present, presiding over the daily life of all Americans?
This new Martin tragedy also highlights the fact that it’s often the victims, their families and the communities where they live in who are first, and unfairly, punished many times over, way before the justice system steps in to do what’s its duty.
How come such race tensions continue to escalate at a vertiginous pace, while justice itself is no longer defined by its fairness or swiftness, obligatory conditions for it to properly serve the people?
We are going to need to do much better than that. We will need to be much more proactive, and we may have no better chance to demand accountability than in this electoral year. Those who are out spending millions to get our vote should be the first ones to be put on notice.
Otherwise, how can we expect to look each other in the eye and say that we did, and do, all that we can to prevent injustice to be our rule, and oblivion our M.O.?
There are millions of Trayvons across America, folks, and they’re still alive and may still hold the promise of a better future for all of us. We can’t let them be hunted and shot like ravenous dogs and then consider ourselves a civilized society.
For that, you may need to step in too, and be informed and ask more questions. Because you need to have the full story, even if it doesn’t fit on the headline du jour. After the news spotlight is gone, we still have to live with ourselves.
Let’s not allow our young to keep crying for help in vain. Have a great one. WC




Time to Have a Sore Throat, Colltales

As the Supreme Court holds three days of arguments on President Obama’s health care coverage law, this week will be crucial for us to step up our efforts to be heard. Since we lack the millions already spent in lobbying by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Catholic Church and the Tea Party, guess what what’s left for us to use?
You’re right, dear coughing friend: our voices. As we press our noses against the sound-proof, insulated windows of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s inner chambers, we can only hope that some of our chanting supporting the next-best thing to universal health care will get through somehow.
It won’t be easy. The halls of Congress, the media studios, even the inner city’s town halls spaces are all but taken by the corporate-sponsored fabricated arguments against the system of everyone paying for everybody else’s health costs.
That a lot of those who oppose it, being misrepresented and misinformed about the truly nature of the health care coverage and how it saves lives, are among the millions of those who most desperately need it, is one of those travesties that have characterized this debate.
From absurd mentions about Nazi Germany to ‘unacceptable’ government interference in the lives of its citizens, those who nevertheless want to micromanage even the most intimate recesses of the human body and private behavior portray themselves as guardians of ‘freedom’ and whatever empty slogan they’ve chosen to misname.
They can’t fool that many for too much longer and are running out of gas. Case in point: the deranged presidential campaign GOP candidates have been running, that may be already changing pragmatically its tenor to the usual, much less extreme, but equally deceiving rhetoric, as a political expedience to defeat the president.
Unlike these candidates and their full of hot air grandstanding, though, health care coverage is an issue with ever lasting impact on our lives. And even though that was not the best horse for the president to bet at his first hour at the White House, it’s still a horse we can depend on, when our loved ones need medical help to save their lives.
So the week will probably be dominated by pundits talking about the ‘runaway’ costs of Social Security and Medicare (a lie) or the unaffordable price that represents health care insurance for all (a fabricated myth), all dutifully reported 24/7 by the multibillion dollar media. But people will be hopefully galvanized to offer a radically different view of the issue.
And since they’re the ones affected by it, as the One Percenters absolutely don’t need to be concerned about health costs as they actually own entire medical centers to cater to their needs, it’ll be up to the people to voice their support to Obamacare.
That’s why you’ll need lots throat lozenges and fluids and stamina, because that’s pretty much all we can afford at this time, to shout and be heard. Remember, we don’t have their army of lawyers who’re already camping at the privileged quarters of power to better influence the decision.
Oh, and that’s right, just in case, try to stay healthy and hang in there, until all is said and done. Have a great one. WC



Women to Lead Charge Against Poverty, Colltalers

Across the U.S., the alarming rise of poverty is finally meeting its match: American women, from all walks of life, are answering the call for change and demanding a new day for our nation. Instead of merely reacting against the unfair onslaught aiming at undermining their conquests, unleashed by the extreme right and the institutional church, women have decided to take a pro-active role.
That’s one of the conclusions of Make Visible, a panel about women and poverty moderated Sunday at New York University by PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley, and with the participation of a group of eight female leaders, who happen to be among the most distinguished and visible activists in their field, with an invested interest in advancing the cause of all Americans.
Participants included Adelante Movement Founder Nely Galán, Bennett College President Dr. Julianne Malveaux, personal finance expert Suze Orman, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Cecelia Fire Thunder, former president of Planned Parenthood Faye Wattleton, American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten, and Pulitzer Prize-winner author Sheryl WuDunn.
The diverse panel discussed the role of women in society and its potential for healing a nation that has had its share of hardship in the past decade. That includes a major terrorist attack which ignited, in one way or another, two armed conflicts that have cost thousands of American lives, depleted financial resources, and drained our much-debated stand as a force for peace in the world.
As we continue to struggle to emerge from the recession caused by the greatest collapse of our financial system since the 1920s, and are faced with the biggest unemployment since the Great Depression, women are once again leading the way, as they’ve done throughout this nation’s history, finding alternative solutions to move forward in communities as diverse as the panel sought to represent.
For Cecelia Fire Thunder, for instance, the first female president of the Sioux Nation and certainly a rare voice to be heard anywhere, the issue of education is key to understanding our lagging role and the diminished competitiveness of the American labor force. But she also called for an approach that can fit all communities and accommodates the full breath of diversity of the country.
Despite leading a nation within the nation, of which all that most people hear about is rampant alcoholism, depression, unemployment and, oddly, casino fortunes, Ms. Fire Thunder pointed out the fact that native American children do receive a good level of basic education, since that’s a role the government has been enforcing in a positive way.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux brought up the fact that 40% of our active military are African-American women, which more than a statistical figure to enhance some economics rhetoric, means that they’re also compounding both the problem, as gender and race prejudice come into play, and also the solution, as they’re usually the ones holding their families together and in charge of their children’s education.
What happens within the military was also the focus of Faye Wattleton’s interventions, when she mentioned the widespread violence against women as one of the reasons that hold them back. Rape and sexual assault are among the most serious challenges for the military, and usual at the root of lifetime trauma for those who’re victimized.
For Ms. Wattleton, violence against women is usually a marker to health and education issues. But she also believes in their inate ability to be in charge of their own destiny, and that perhaps only them can change the circumstances of their lives. In consequence, women can and do generate a positive impact on the communities they belong to.
Randi Weingarten spoke about the relationship between the undeclared war on the union movement in this country, and the deterioration of wages and salaries across the board. She also called for stronger industrial and educational strategies from the part of the U.S., if it’s to succeed against rampant levels of poverty, and everything that it implies, including criminality and exclusion.
The issue of poverty, of course, came back often. As Dr. Malveaux says, ‘what kind of country creates 40 million poor people?’ The fact is, according to Neli Galán, no one wants to call themselves poor, but most lack the access to the information that may eventually help them out of economic stress. The odds may be stacked against them, though.
For Suze Orman, the poor may represent a boom for businesses too, as poverty can be a valuable commodity to a lot of corporations, that stand to make millions out of an unchanged status quo. She also spoke about how women tend to consider themselves a priority only after those who gravitate around them are well off, and that creates a state of inertia that ultimately undermines their efforts.
Sec. Solis detailed some of the Obama administration’s strategies to create jobs and combat poverty, and author Sheryl WuDunn talked about the need for the U.S. to perhaps look across its borders for creative solutions to prioritize education and help bring change for impoverished communities across the country.
Tavis Smiley’s concluding remarks were about obstacles he faced trying to put this particular panel together, which he attributed to its unglamorous themes and, ultimately, due to the current toxic climate for women in the country. And the fact that the black community may be dismissive of the importance of tackling the issue of rising poverty, based on outdated perceptions of race and class.
The Make Visible panel discussion is available online at and will be broadcast on Tavis Smiley show on PBS. Check your local listings. Colltales was an official guest blogger of this event.



Don’t Forget to Remember, Colltalers

Did you remind yourself to set the clock for Daylight Savings Time? Great. So now you need to do the same about things that may not be so easy to keep in mind, but are way more crucial to your survival than to keep time. Ok, so they’re equally as important.
Take education, for example. People seem to forget that it takes years of continuous investment in good teachers, comprehensive curriculum and, above all, easy access to education for it to bear fruits.
After the WWII, the U.S. as a nation made a commitment to guarantee access to schooling and academic rewards to any American willing to work hard at achieving it and equally committed to give it all back to the country.
Within a generation, the U.S. was at the cutting edge of technological development and science research. Some of the great inventions of the 20th century came to light in its second half and you know that, because you’re probably reading this on your own computer, and it may even fit inside the palm of your hand.
We went to the moon, we developed the digital world and the DNA sequencing, thanks to successive generations of scientists, engineers, architects, humanitarians, visionaires, even artists and so many other professions and skills we came to dominate. And then we forgot it all about it.
From at least the 1980s on, we began to deplete and decouple all that was essential for building a solid foundation of academic research and development, which has literally carried us all to the 21st century. Of course, it all begins with the money.
Funding for basic-grades and public schools began drying up. Then an unjustified battle against teachers unions started, that all but compromised the overall quality and level of commitment of those in charge of the first contact of our kids with the world of learning and scientific method and discipline.
Then colleges and universities, even without giving up their federal-incentive subsidies, decided that they too should be gambling in the stock market and reinvesting money earned in real estate, not in technology on in strictly educational improvements. Once they start making millions outside the classroom, those attending it became second or third priority in their business model.
This timeline is probably as faulty as the teaching of the humanities has become in campuses across the land, specially those supported by taxpayer money given to religious institutions.
That’s what people have been forgetting: without this core of diversified conditions, a combination of government-based set of priorities for growth, of which education can never stop being part of, allied with private investment that’s connected to social purpose, there’s really no way to attract inquiring minds to the gruesome but ultimately rewarding process of learning and achieving higher goals.
Without studying the history of our kind we lose our edge to irrationality, and start act on impulse. We stop being the driver of our destine and become arrested by it. In the process, we lose, as we did, our leadership stand in the world, as the country where the future already resides.
Without memory, the new generations are easy prey to extremism, to being co-opted to fight and die in wars they don’t understand. Once lower expectations sink in, our children no longer strive to become the best and the brightest; lacking a critical way of thinking, they become content and lose their sense of wonder, of amazement, of doing on your own.
We can’t forget this. So, set your internal clock to remind you every once in a while, and the next time you see a utterly ignorant and full of prejudice person, who nevertheless, thinks he’s fit to the nation’s highest office, say that to learn more is to be a ‘snob,’ you’ll know exactly where he’s coming from.
For people like him, to go to college, to travel, to meet new people, to be compassionate, to experiment and to dare, since this life is it, is not what this country is all about and what made it so great. It’s simply a dangerous way of living, something that doesn’t belong to a 12th century mind such as his. There’s no reasoning with this kind of mindset.
Rep. Barney Frank, who’s sadly retiring from Congress and will be sorely missed, has put it like no other: Arguing with these people is “like arguing with a dinning room table.” Have a great one. WC





Don’t Let Go of the Wheel Yet, Colltalers

The week of not just one but two insane parties are upon us, folks, and if you can hold on to your sanity for just a little longer, well, is not that you’ll be doing either of them any favors.
The Israeli “Bomb Iran’ roadshow hit the east coast running, with its expected caravan of accompanying drums, barks and fireworks, and you’ll need to stay put and remind yourself of what happened 10 years or so ago.
Then, as now, there was ‘unrefutable’ evidence of WMD to make the case for an armed intervention that was supposed to be so powerful, so morally justifiable, so infinitely precise, as to be quick, validating and welcomed by the natives as the dawn of freedom and prosperity for all.
In the end, it was then, as it is now, a mere power grab of shaky elected leaders who feared they would not make through the next political cycle. Whether some crucial conditions have now changed, and the benefit of history will play a deterrent role in preventing yet another bloody and multibillion war adventure in the Middle East, only time will tell.
The other party will take place Tuesday in many cities across the land: the Masquerade Ball of the Deranged Billionaires, where it’s likely that one out of a gang of four (Mitt, Rick, Newt & Ron) will get the right to sign the biggest checks, while the others won’t probably fade to the background, as they should.
But it’s advisable not to dance and laugh as if it were 1999. Then, sad mourners of the seemingly unbeaten candidate Al Gore couldn’t even imagine that a former drunk pretending to be from Texas would run us all over with a few powerful judges in his pocket and an open account to boot.
So it may be a challenge to keep your head above the muddy waters without feeling like, well, howlin’ like a wolf, to keep the metaphors bluesy. We may need, though, if we’re to see President Obama standing firm against the hounds of war and on the side of diplomacy, in what the Middle East is concerned.
It may take an extra amount of temperance and foresight too to see us through the parade of nonsense and far out lies that may increase even more their pitch as the super Tuesday approaches.
It’s still possible, of course, that the raging pitbulls will bite each other to death, and an infected ‘winner’ won’t be strong enough to blur the finish line in November. After all, we’re all entitled to our own pipe dreams.
But let’s take a week at the time, shall we? There’s a lot of water to run under this bridge before everything is said and done. Whether it’ll flood and drown us, or will turn to be just another running stream, we can only speculate. In the meantime, have a great one. WC


Read Our Leaps, Colltalers

There were many like it. 1776 was one. So was the year 2000. There’s one thing about Wednesday, the first Feb. 29 in four years, that marked those and most of the U.S.’s presidential years, but not all. There were Leap Years.
We’ll see whether November will bring a jump forward or step back into an America so ignorant, so religiously fanatical, so politically reactionary that it simply did not exist. Ever.
That we have some seriously wealthy contenders to the presidency fully engaged in convincing us that such a fictitious nation once stood right here, even though there’re no facts supporting their argument, it’s something that should remind us that there still is, indeed, fundamental differences between the two parties aiming for the White House.
Is not that this elaborated charade, this art of deception being exercised by the extreme right to scare Americans to vote them into power, does not belong to even the lowest side of our money-laden politics. It’s the fact that all these theatrics wouldn’t get nominated to the Razzies, so fake and blatantly misguiding it is.
There’s no divine providence either in the fact that Leap Year occasionally intrudes into U.S. politics. But 1776 was a leap that got us all as far as here and we’re still drawing on its courageous lessons to keep going. And 2000 was a jump backwards, after the Supreme Court handed over the presidency to the second-place candidate.
We do have a chance to reopen that door or, at least, to keep it unlocked again coming November. And then, knowing full well when this cycle of slamming the door shut in the face of most Americans really started, we may proceed at reversing some of the worst laws ever implemented concerning campaign finance, right to vote and redistricting.
Yes, the president broke many hearts all across the land, who thought change is about the election of a person. But the president is, and must be, a facilitator, and no one aiming for winning in eight months is better equipped than Barack Obama to do it.
Make no mistake, this election is far from being already decided. For those who rightly so advocate for a third party, but nevertheless failed to make the need an issue in these past four years, this is not the time to bring it up again.
We’re saddened that this campaign may become the most expensive ever, and that money will overtake hundreds of thousands of voters as a factor deciding the election. But we still need to win it.
So coming Wednesday, there may be an omen marking an equal split between what may lead us to tomorrow (today, Stephen Colbert, today) or what may drive us over the cliff and determine even more dark days ahead for the majority. We’ll rise again, there’s no doubt about it.
It’s just that for so many it may simply be impossible to hedge this gamble. Some are already stretched so thin, living from hand-to-mouth for so long, that another step back may simply take away the ground where they stand for good.
Have a great week and we’ll speak on the other side of the March. WC


What do You Wish for America, Colltalers?


As we head to a full-blown flame out of the GOP’s ambitions to the highest office in land, we’re already certain of a few, not very assuring things about the future. One is that President Obama’s reelection campaign has raided Wall Street coffers and came out with a billion dollars worth of compromising cash.
The other is that, despite mistrust, hands down, he remains our only viable bridge to a new day in America. So we’d better make sure he joins us in the barricades and signs up on what we need.
It may be time for everyone to know by heart what really ails the majority of the citizens of this nation. Because it’s been shown once and again that most of those who’ve been buying their way up to the top of the heap have little concern about who they’re stepping on.
Someone may have to make a list, for we detest them. But it should include an emergency plan for helping homeowners, because we don’t need anyone else living on the streets, besides the millions already there.
It should include specific demands for the homeless too, and the hungry, the near starving and the ones who are wondering where their next meal will come from.
There must be a detailed plan for aiding the disabled veteran, the indebted-for-life student, and the innocent prisoner. And a path for citizenship to those hardworking, law-abiding immigrants.
It’s crucial that tax cuts for small business and middle to lower income are preserved. And that teachers and public servants have labor guarantees, and that more will be hired to help handle the fundamental job of providing education and protection to our children and their children.
We’ll refuse any compromised solution that will leave off the hook banks and lenders involved in the financial crisis that almost melt the system, and we demand accountability and criminal charges for those found guilty of filling their pockets with the savings of working Americans.
We must safeguard the right of every one to privacy and freedom of expression, the inherent prerogative of not being forced to worship or show allegiance to any religion, faith or set of beliefs, and to live according to one’s own high moral principles of compassion and humanity.
Mr. President, four years ago an unprecedented coalition of grass roots movements, Internet activists, and labor, race and gender organizations helped you to fulfill your own dream of leading this country. It was a historical moment and we don’t regret a single moment about it.
It’s doubtful that the same conditions will again be conjured to help you earn a second term, though.
That’s why it’s so important that you listen to this people again, even the groups that, for one reason or another, you may have taken for granted or simply walked away from. In fact, chances are, you wouldn’t have needed that billion, if you’d trusted that they’d have supported you, no matter what.
But be it as it may, your funding needs have been guaranteed, and now it’s time you look after the needs of those who may not survive another wave of economic hardship and moral bankruptcy in this country. They’ll either give up or are vulnerable to be enlisted by populist forces of political intolerance.
It’s up to us to know exactly what our priorities are. And it’s up to you endorse them and lead us to see them through.
So let’s use up the coming weeks to get this list on the tip of our tongue and in the hearts and minds of every citizen.
We need to relearn the art of gentle pursuit of our dreams and aspirations, and regain the sense of compassion and grace of our humanity. Have a great one. WC




Good Morning, Colltalers

No news may not be so bad. We know some are already complaining that January is almost over and we haven’t really had any cold or snowstorms to report so far in the Northern Hemisphere. We don’t.
We like our weather mild, you see. It’s true, all this out of season temperatures give one the chills, and thoughts about the end of the world, and climate change is finally here and so on.
Just like right before the tsunami hits, the water recedes and, for a brief and almost always tragic moment, it’s so nice to walk all the way where the big waves should be and have your feet barely wet.
At least, that’s the way we picture it, for no one has ever come back of such a walk before the sea comes back at 500 miles per hour to recover what it is its domain.
Also, we know that some of those hardened by bone-chilled winters past, when your breath would freeze over as it exited your body (or so we’ve been told), miss all the fun and chocolates.
Sorry, not us. At this time of the year, we’re already beaten by so much cold wet and humidity and acidic-salt working its way into our boots, that many would find us begging for an Indian summer anytime of the day.
Since simply taking a plane to the tropics, where oh so many naked bodies toast in the sun, and the nights are balmy and, granted, sweaty too, hasn’t been an option for quite some time, you won’t hear us muttering complaints about the lack of below-freezing temperatures.
Most Americans have bigger fish to fry anyway, or rather, have no fish or hardly anything to make a meal out of it, so we feel frivolous discussing the odd weather.
Hunger, a word that most leaders, and certainly all GOP candidates, have kept their distance these days is creeping through the heart of America, folks, and even talking about fish and chocolate would be enough to drive many over the edge.
Some 41 million kids will go to bed hungry tonight, according to trusted estimates. But you won’t hear a damned thing about their plight on the 24-hour news cycle.
What, with so many movie award shows going on, and the very sad, sad split of Heidi and Seal, who can even think about such matters?
In other words, we watch the ‘news,’ so we don’t need to learn about it. The same way that we talk about the balmy weather, so we don’t have to mention climate change.
Still, we don’t want to guilt-trip you so early in the week, and today, for a tiny minority at least, it’s Meatless Monday anyway. But it’s our responsibility to bring the issue of hunger to the forefront of the national debate.
Because it’s clear that very few of those jockeying to purchase the office of the presidency don’t seem to mind skipping the subject all together. Have a great one. WC




Welcome the New Dragons, Colltalers

The Chinese Year is upon us and, boy, can we all use their optimism. In Asian countries, and the streets of Chinatown, today is the culmination of a buildup that’s been going on for months.
It’s time to usher in the new generation of Dragons, that rare breed of entrepreneurial babies that fill Eastern cultures of hope in the future every 11 years.
It certainly beats the other kind of optimism that was on display in Wall Street last week. Apparently, the bonanza of bonuses high enough to foot the budget of many a small town across America, and the second anniversary of the Citizens United rule were not going to do it.
So there was the Kappa Beta Phi fraternity’s annual bacchanal, and if you hadn’t heard about it, well, you probably will never make it to the guest list either. That’s but one of the events where corporate chiefs party as if it’s still 1999.
They sang songs of praise to Goldman Sachs, mock the Occupy movement in sophomoric skits, and generally had the grandest of times just being what you’re definitely not: one of the One Percenters.
For you’d be surprised, if you were not already depressed, of how great a stretch has been for them all, exemplified in the fact that one of them is still a contender for the GOP’s nomination to presidential candidate.
The challenger to this arguably richest man ever to seek such nomination: his party’s most notorious lobbyist. So it’s all in family, really.
Whoever wins, we lose, of course. But we’d have much more to gain if a certain very gifted man in Washington would decide to take a historical stand and simply refuse to accept their cash for his reelection campaign.
But even with all good vibes represented by the New Year, we’re not really stacking our chips on such a high bet. We’re not even the gambling kind, to be sure.
The hazing and celebration of banks and financial institutions not withstanding, though, we’re not about to give up kicking and screaming either.
So, even if ever so briefly, let us catch a little ride with the new Dragons and give cheer to the future, for it’s ever, and always for the best, completely unrelated to our meek expectations either way.
Have you too a happy and safe new one, and we’ll be gathering here again next time, to plan what to do next. WC




Can We Remake America, Colltalers?

It sounds far out pretentious, we know. But we didn’t think that reform, or redo, or retool were as catchy.
In any case, it’s not about being cute, but it’s actually a modest way of greeting the new year, other than making lists of resolutions we’re far from fulfilling or promises we have no intention to keep.
In fact, if you look all around you, this nation is teeming with change, with the prospect of great things or the fear of a complete disaster looming way too close to ignore.
All across the land, record numbers of Americans are heading straight to the poverty line and under, with their many kids and none of the glowing hope that made this nation achieve so much.
We read about the incredible wealth and unbound power that the very rich has achieved in the past 40 years, but see no signs any of that has trickled down to most of everyone.
We hear that corporations are sitting on unheard of amounts of cash but see no spending in new jobs, new factories, new incentives to grow.
We see politicians and chiefs of companies talking about the need to cut down on public expenditures but they travel on private jets, profit from exclusive investment opportunities, and never seem to be in financial distress.
We’re welcoming thousands of war vets, many of them physically and psychologically wounded, and can’t imagine how an already depleted labor market will absorb their expertise.
So, is there any other way to do it better than remaking this country? We may not know how we are supposed to go about that, only that it has to be peacefully. But we shouldn’t be afraid that not many will join us at first.
It’s something that definitely needs to be done, though. For the memory of our founding fathers, who dreamed about a free nation where anyone would have the right to achieve greatness.
We owe it to our children, who don’t deserve to grow up in the America that has refused to change. We’ll most definitely be forever in debt with ourselves for not having tried it.
Once again, we do hope you join us to demand a new chapter of resilience and courage. It’s time to reform, to redo, to retool our lives in order to build a better future.
For too long we hoped the leaders we elected would do it for us. Now it’s the moment when they need us to show them the way to lead. Have a great week. WC



War Is Over if You Want it, Colltalers

The past week marked the official withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, despite some thousands of Americans still being left behind in an assortment of godforsaken duties, most of them with no equivalent expiration date.
Besides those, the U.S. also leaves behind estimated hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead or wounded, their grieving families, and a country all but destroyed to pieces.
Still, it’s great news for over a million of now veterans, who should be more than welcomed home, as they return physically and emotionally scared for life.
We’ll be forever indebted to their lifetime sacrifice, ten years of horror
and devastation of which no known member of the one percent wealthiest of this country has ever shared with their own blood or of their children.
This millions who will return to so many broken homes and bankrupted families are said to be already part of the 30% unemployment among veterans, which is even worse than the staggering figure of 9% for the general population.
But there’s an underlying truth about their return that we should all be celebrating too: no matter how badly hurt they may be, they have the moral authority and the credibility of having gone to hell and back, which may make them the most respected contingency in the trenches for social justice and accountability from our political elites.
We should be counting on them to join an already strong and ever revitalized movement such as the Occupy Wall Street, fighting in the streets for the right of the majority of Americans to be heard and counted, not dismissed and repressed.
Once this valuable constituency takes its seat in the homefront of the battle to build a better and more democratic society in America, we ask, what police force will dare to shoot them into silence?
We ask, what authority will have a saying over their honorable badge of having fought to death for this country? What wealthy politician will have the moral to order them to clear the streets and shut up, even when many of these real life heroes won’t even have a home to seek shelter for?
So, they may think that our resolve will weaken and our support will diminish and our cause will lose its momentum as much as they’d like to. Nothing of sorts is about to happen.
We bid these veterans our most heartfelt and grateful welcome, and hope they now enlist in the battle for the future of this nation and of our children.
Because if there’s something worth dreaming about is the day peace will come to America because Americans really want it.
It’s the only way of preventing usurpers from hijacking the democratic and secular values this nation was founded upon as they’ve been doing with impunity for way too long. Have a great one. WC


Welcome to the World of Fake News, Colltalers

Here comes that time of the year again. And, ready to steal the thunder of the high-heeled and well-oiled GOP contenders, there’s a new(t) Gringich. Aren’t you glad it’s the 1990s all over again?
Look what they’ve just found out? a much stronger consensus is needed, among all nations of the world, to start a concerted effort against climate change. In the meantime, let’s not do much about it.
And look who’s back? Manuel Noriega returns to Panama, and something tells us, this is not the homecoming the former CIA informer was hoping for, after all these years in a French prison.
Want style points? What about some from that that very stylish, iron-assed, er, iron-fisted of an iced lady, M.Thatcher? Being dead is, indeed, irrelevant.
Oh, wouldn’t you say it? all of a sudden, hooliganism is back in fashion, as are all the immigrant-hatred feeling, let the poor rot in the streets spirit, and death to all doctors doctrine that the Killing Fields helped singed in our sore memories.
If history only repeats itself as a farce, we see no one laughing. In this game of mirrors and thorns, the economy is said to be recovering, but there are even more homeless and unemployed raiding garbage bins in our cities.
Retail is beating records, but people go in and out of stores with empty bags; stocks are topping new highs, but who can tell where this money is coming from and, above all, where it’s going to?
Finally, President Obama seems to have found his old stride, and the rhetoric of his latest speeches is as eloquent and righteous as it once was, in those long ago ides of 2008.
Indeed, it’d be reason for reassurance, had we not seen an even more eloquent and way more righteous movement, not words, take shape in the streets, from the ground up: the Occupy Wall Street protests.
That movement, that has claimed Russia as its latest foothold, may have had its impromptu HQs pulled by the police from under its feet, but has shown that raids, and pepper-spraying, and media derision of its purpose, won’t easily topple it.
In fact, as its name is a metaphor for the lack of accountability and blatant immoral enriching that goes way beyond Wall Street, so it’ll its physical presence: if no longer centralized in the town’s main square, it has, effectively, claimed a stake inside people’s consciousness and hearts.
Trying to dislodge such awareness from someone’s mind is like to foolishly instruct a jury to strike from theirs the gory pictures of a murder scene they’ve just shown by a trick of the persecution: once you see it, there’s no way back.
All that Russians, Egyptians, the Yemenite, Palestinians, the Congolese, Italians and whatever new addition to the movement of the world’s 99 Percenters will show up this week and the next need to see is that Americans are still at it.
And they will. As the presidential election gets under way, and the depressing spectacle of obscene amounts of money will be traded back and forth to back the maintenance of the status quo, so will the resolve of a six-month young protest and its thousand-fold legitimate claim for social justice.
Don’t be discouraged, then. We’ve seen many fakeries get ‘newtered’ before and will see some more in our lifetimes.
Way before that, we should have learn a thing or two about our own determination and desire to see the peaceful change to take hold and help rewrite the future that our people deserve.
We should be hopeful for 2012 and beyond, then. We hope you join us in building what our children need us to be strong to build. In the meantime, good luck and have a great one. WC



Good Morning, Colltalers

It’s beginning to look a lot like it always does: a popular uprising that managed what no one expected, deposing a decades-long dictatorship, now threatens to choke at the gates of the new era.
The old powers, cleverly dormant, were just waiting in the wings to take over, once the heavy lifting was done, and their political project held enough smoke and mirrors to appeal to the masses.
What’s happening in Egypt may as well be the sad mold from which future popular demands may be compromised and neutralized: let them kill themselves in the streets of Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, and once they’re ready to trust that change is within reach, slap them all with old fashioned pragmatism.
As in, let’s choose the lesser of all evils. Sounds familiar? Still think that this is not exactly what can be attempted to co-op the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S.?
Well, let’s hope not, of course, but it’s always good to exercise caution when the political theater is at its most exacerbated: we all get distracted with the pantomime, while behind the scenes, they’re taking steps to outlaw our scorn.
All of a sudden, headlines are about shopping, even when unemployment remains rampant. Financial firms are again posting record profits for the year, even as a few million demanding changes are being branded insensitive to national interests of harmony among classes.
And yet again, another future war is introducing its usual advocates, busy asserting in the talk show circuit why the defense budget must remain untouched, while variations of the same formula of cutting social programs percolate on political burners.
In the Middle East, it may take women to step forward and retake the revolutionary process, since the same old cast of old bearded men seems poised to hold on to power at any cost.
Here, it may be more complicated than that. It may still be about women, but not the ones who’re all too happy to step over each other to get the discounted household good.
If 2011 started only in the summer, when people took to streets to protest for social inequality and accountability of our financial institutions, 2012 has the makings of a year that will hit the ground running.
It’ll be bracketed by troops arriving back from Iraq in the coming weeks, and from Afghanistan, in its waning. In the middle, a presidential campaign that may expose once and for all the fragility of a political system so dependent on unbound spending.
Or the renewal of our principles, of what makes us a democracy to the core in the first place. We hope we will all be very much involved in the crucially necessary change ahead.
Long journeys start by one single step, though. We hope yours is in the right direction. Have a great one. WC



What’s in Your List, Colltalers?

As that most meaningless of holiday traditions, the obsession with lists, both of wishes and of best of this and best of that, looms ever so close, let’s get something out of the way: we hate them.
And not that anyone has asked us, but if that were the case, the reason would be quite simple: dreams tend to fade and lose their ability of enchant us, once they’re lined up as a laundry list.
Besides, at this day and age, what our children need to memorize is what needs to be done for everybody else, not what they already know: the title of the handful of video games about to be sold just in time for the holiday cheer.
If there are two things that the thousands protesting the lack of accountability in Wall Street have insisted in ignore, is feeling guilty for demanding, and fearing the consequences for doing it so.
In that way, they’re walking like Egyptians, who’re back on the streets where it all started, still determined in not settling for one authoritarian regime replacing another, and still having the kind of dream that drives them to remain steadfast.
Now, granted, the comparison between those two crowds and the deranged shoppers pepper-spraying each other for $2 toasters at Wal-Marts across America is not really flattering.
Then again, let’s leave the preaching to those who wear costumes for a living, as high-horse grandstanding is the easiest way of losing sight of our common humanity.
In a month, the presidential campaign will be officially on, and we won’t be able to afford screening out those who don’t look the part, in our quest for change.
Of course, regardless of the outcome of next November, we already know what’s getting most votes and will still control both sides of the aisles on Capitol Hill: money and lots of it.
That’s why it may be a mistake to reduce to the schematics of a list, the untapped potential that the Occupy Wall Street movement still has to offer for the greater good of this nation.
Even if it’s about to be decamped by the mayors of America; despite the multibillion media’s continuous derision of its purpose.
No matter how much the GOP pretends it doesn’t care about it, and Democrats acting as if they really don’t.
So go ahead, make your lists, if that’s what you want. But leave some room for what really makes your heart beat as a citizen in charge of a whole nation’s shared destiny.
When December hits, thousands of Iraq vets will be coming back home. And they are 99 Percenters. After the holidays, there will still be almost 20 million unemployed. They’re 99 Percenters too.
Once the new bills start to pile up on top of the past-due ones, most will still be in need for hope and for a passage to a better future. And those are definitely 99 Percenters.
Above all, the former constituency of President Obama, who’s most certainly 99 Percenters, will be visiting the voting booths once again and, if only for a brief moment, will have some power to make a statement.
Nothing leads anyone to believe that they’ll confuse an unrealized proposal for change with the Republican callous indifference to the fate of fellow Americans, with some of the other side shamefully serving as accomplices.
The president’d better join us in the barricades too. He needs to have more of the 99 Percenters back on his side. He must bring them to his inner circle of power.
If you think things have subside in the past weeks, you’re using too short a yardstick. Which doesn’t mean that we should ease the pressure just yet.
But we know all too well what our dreams are about, as those Egyptians do too. And for that, neither them nor us will ever need to compile a bucket list in order to remember. Have a great one. WC



Welcome to Thanksweek, Colltalers

While Thanksgiving is only Thursday in the U.S., New York Mayor Bloomberg already delivered a turkey to the Occupy Wall Street protest last Tuesday.
The only thing that the riot-geared NYPD sent by him to clear Zuccotti Park has accomplished was to increase the resolve of those protesting for social justice and accountability from our financial institutions.
In the process, his blunder also managed to enhance OWS support around the nation and the world.
The escalation of this unholy alliance of U.S. mayors determined to do the bidding for powerful interests reached a feverish pitch, with the brutal display of a police officer pepper-spraying a group of seated students holding a peaceful rally in their own campus, at UC Davis.
In fact, for anyone not paying attention to the Fox News-led media coverage, it’s the forces sent to repress the movement that reached an impasse, not the movement itself.
For what else can they do that’s not already being done in Egypt, Syria and even Sudan and Uganda? See what kind of ugly company they put themselves in?
The world is watching, closely. And President Obama’d better be watching it too.
The kind of rushed decisions that have been taken so far have already hurt at least one Iraq veteran, several senior citizens, a dozen retired law enforcement officials, and, what’s more disturbing, a still unknown number of journalists.
A similar roll call could be assembled from any places of conflict in
the world, of course, from Pakistan to China, from Spain to Israel. But in the U.S. it’s been a while and it’d better stop.
What we can’t allow to fall through the cracks, though, is what these mass demonstrations are telling us and, yes, they’re telling us a lot.
So, this week, whether we spend Thanksgiving with our families, or volunteering at soup kitchens, ever so crowded at this time of the year, and specially now as hardly ever before, it’s always good to take a moment to reflect.
The events taking place outside our windows may as well be the best thing going on for those who still dream of a just and fair world for our children. Despite all the disruption, the inconveniences, the sanitation hazards even.
The mayor will continue posing as a charitable leader, and may even be wearing a dirty apron for Thursday’s photo op. But he’ll most certainly fail to mention that those unwashed crowds in Downtown Manhattan are fighting for those he’ll be serving soup too.
In any event, as one of them so eloquently put it, the police, and those who sent it, may have the guns. But we have our words. And our dream. Be good. WC




Enough of the Eleven Plus One Fever, Colltalers

We’ve cleared the last meaningless odd digit combination of the year but up ahead we still have some calendar to cover.
No enhancements, no special dates with destiny or private messages from above, delivered to a precious few, preaching about the apocalypse.
As it turns out, reality remains our most pressing matter, and it may not be solved by prayer, or bargaining with the invisible.
Otherwise, at a certain football university town, those who allowed the systematic and brutal and horrific assault on the defenseless entrusted to them, would be all forgiven, by now.
But they won’t, no matter how many supporters show up at the games, or parishioners take up the streets, or fill the pews or rally for their colors and believe on their leaders’ contrition.
Once again, faith and sports were literally caught in bed with the worst of the human behaviors. While the system took steps to protect itself, everybody else shut the hell off.
But let’s all fall off that horse, for who’s to be sure what we’d have done instead? We go there often and always regret finding ourselves failing at every step of the way.
In the meantime, the euro mutates from a dream of united domination, despite its idealistic tinge, to a nightmare of unresolved xenophobia and hardship for those who carried the piano.
Italy coming back from the world of comedy may be just much of the same of what Germany and France have already been mishandling about this crisis. We fear for the back of millions of workers who may be found the scapegoats of the ECB sins.
We also fear the renewed gung-ho for a military strike against a nuke-capable Iran from the West, when the only ones with a reasonable shot at preventing it, their own neighbors, seem once again ready to step back and let us sink our own youth in that mindless sand.
Mrs. Secretary of State, the U.S.’s highest office will be yours in five years if you disarm the military hawks of Washington, and convince the Arab world to resolve its own problems.
But above all, we wish to mark the second month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street this week. Its growing pains may be distracting but, as they say: stick to the message. The rest will fall into its place. Have a great one. WC


Good Time Without Savings, Colltalers

The extra hour some have wasted social-networking will be asked back six months from now. By then, it’s very likely than more that 650,000 people will have transferred their banking accounts to a credit union.
The thing that not more have already done, and you may include yourself in that, is mostly three factors: you’re unemployed, and your banking account is nearly empty. It’ll be further constricted by the Bo(f)A and its tight rings.
You’re employed (congrats!) and your salary is directly deposited by your employer at the institutions of its choice, one that probably gives it some breaks and tax cuts. Fine, you’re not expecting to lose it all over this.
Third, you’re a member of the 1%, in which case you own the bank and, well you got it. Yes, there are those who don’t agree that such an irrelevant move will make any dent on bank profits, and they’re right.
And yes, you may not agree because, admit it, when was the last time you balance your money accounts, or had a savings, or read the fine print, or even cared about it? It’s OK, this is not witch-hunt.
But even with all these ‘discounts,’ the contingent of people who did take the initiative of supporting small community banks and credit unions, with their lower fees and shared ownership standards, is substantive.
More than the shouts, the increased city mayors’ truculence (you too, Mike), the homeless and the mentally ill crowding the Occupy Wall Street encampments (and why shouldn’t they?), the malevolent pranksters in their midst, something slow by meaningful is apace.
We talk about the large themes of social justice and accountability to high-finance crimes, income distribution and the end of tax breaks for those who can afford them. But no one should forget the crucial, structural, fundamental themes underlying any progressive movement.
And that’s what has been catching the eye of the powerful and the politically connected. They fear the return of thousands of troops to this country and what they may do, once they see there aren’t jobs waiting for them.
They are already hedging their bets against the possibility that an insanely and progressively incoherent GOP field of presidential hopefuls will do more to an Obama reelection than the man himself seems able to accomplish at this point.
Above all, they’re afraid of the roaring masses. Not than anyone has any illusions about how Americans go about seeking change. Unlike what the radical right says, the conspiracy theorists, those who Paul Krugman call ‘very serious people,’ change in this country always comes out of resetting our moral compass.
It was like that with the Woman’s Right to Vote Act, the Civil Rights Movement, the end of the Vietnam War, all suffused with human cruel and unnecessary sacrifices, to be sure and fair, but what all these movements accomplished was about justice and peace, not violence and destruction.
So it may sound naive to invoke the mostly symbolic Bank Transfer Day as a positive sign amid the infinitely more complex issues at stake. But something did make people do something, albeit symbolic, that actually affect their lives, under the banner of the common good and the perception that it’s up to each individual to make a move, a small change at a time.
There should be more ‘small’ steps to take. One thing shouldn’t be expected to come, though, no matter for how long one waits: Batman is not about to become the OWS spokesperson any time soon. And it’ll take much more than what’s already happened to make a dent into the system.
But while professional media pundits do what they do best, acting as mouthpieces of big money and trying to discredit the ragtag bunch that seeks social redressing and has grown globally to the size of a small nation, people didn’t wait to show what side is their bread buttered on. Hint: it’s not being shown on cable news.
Have a great one. WC


Welcome Back to the Land of the Living, Colltalers

Sparing the cliché, we’re not about to run the Halloween metaphor to the ground. Yet, allows us to draw a few (not quite straight) parallels.
It’s been a reawakening of sorts for Americans of any strata, to begin with, but it hasn’t started overnight. If you remember it, this year had no special marks indicating that any change would be apace just a few months into it.
All it took was a few dozen individuals taking to the streets of Manhattan and stating what still is a clear and urgent message: this is not the country our Founding Fathers had in mind and people fought over for two centuries ago.
That message only grew in strength and numbers, and if the weather is now another obstacle, along with police barricades and media oblivion, both paid for by us and those who have a lot to gain from our silence, then be it.
Occupy Wall Street has, in its name, its #1 priority, to fight corporate greed. But it’s also now a misnomer, since it has spread out across the U.S. and the world in ways no one was predicting just a few months ago.
You may call it a movement, a protest, a settling of grievances, whatever. These are just words. But however you slice it, it has already put some ghouls on the run.
Recent pools all indicate that the American people does support OWS as pretty much the only game in town. And many are beginning to be disgusted by this so-called nationwide ‘crackdown.’
Make no mistake, no one will be able to shut down the months of people from all walks of life, who’re peacefully marching for equality.
How dare them shooting an Iraq veteran, who’s a member of an organization fighting for peace now, but who in two separate tour of duties, went to hell to defend this nation?
How can they think that another vet, who also served multiple times, won’t stand up to their guns and shout to the world to hear: “there’s no honor in what you’re doing?”
And the world is indeed watching. People are beginning to restore their faith on the nation founded in the principle of individual freedoms and respect to your right to express yourself.
Around the globe, citizens are showing solidarity to the OWS and its supporters of organized labor, immigrant groups, legal activists and anyone who’s been more than welcome to bring justice to the obscenely rich, of the irresponsible kind.
Even some very wealthy individuals have the humility to say, enough. We’d rather earn our millions the way any decent person would choose to, working for it. Not lobbying behind the scenes, no cheating on retiree funds, no gambling with other people’s money.
This Halloween, more than any other one in recent memory, there’s a clear mission on who we should scare into accountability and fright till they show their cards. And we won’t need masks to have fun and get what we need for it. Have a great and safe one. WC



If He’s In, We Can’t Afford Not to, Colltalers

There were many news over the weekend, of course, mostly of the bad inclining, and since we’re started the sentence with such a bad cliche, let’s go ahead and include another one, but of the golden kind: Pete Seeger.
Whatever the media chooses as the most meaningful event of the past few days it’s their problem and of their billionaire sponsors. We choose the Civil Rights Movement’s songster himself.
Watching all 92 years of him walking, cane in hand, talking and singing, side by side with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, was an electrifying experience of historical proportions.
No disrespect to other civil right participants who’ve been and support OWS. We’re just biased toward musicians. But it’s not that everything should be put to song and dance, mind you.
Still it was touching that Seeger and Arlo Guthrie lent their stride to the most important political movement happening in the U.S. right now, and we say that unafraid of grandstanding it to death.
There’s so much resonance in what Arlo’s dad once sang with what the encampment at Zuccotti Park represents. It’d be insulting to anyone’s intellect to even quote the words that inspired the Dust Bowl crowds to believe there would be a U.S. right after the storm.
And a new country indeed rose from the dust, despite all the abyss-starring, upperclass-warning, violence-threatening, take-the-money-and-run mentality exhibited by Wall Street then as now.
We Shall Overcome is still one of the most enduring and earth-shattering songs to be sung in the face of adversity this country’s has gifted to the world.
A peaceful call to arms, a generous commitment to last, a genuine longing to prevail despite all hardship and heartbreak and soullessness and bleak prospects.
It shall be sung over and over again, as it was Friday night in Manhattan, a cappella as it has always meant to be.
New songs are needed, for sure. Many are already being written as we think about their need. But if there’s an anthem that, when chosen carefully according to the occasion, still has the power to stir and inspire, that should be it.
And Seeger and Guthrie and Lennon and Dylan, who’re both no longer with us, and very likely the songs Spanish Revolutionaries sang when facing Franco’s firing squads, and the African tribal chants trying to ward off the Negro ship traders, are all etched whenever people congregate to seek the peaceful righting of the wrongs.
Fear them only those who got to where they are now by cheating, by scheming, by murdering, by concealing. Fear them, and they should be very afraid, only those who’s grasp on power is bigger than their accountability to those who put them there.
No one put it better than Elizabeth Warren, that nascent light some hope one day will lead this nation out of this and future darkness, if there’s ever a leader of such.
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.” We could go on quoting Dr. King and others, but we’re rather let those who have something to say, to say it.
Beyond words, and music, and marches, there’s still a country in search for the soul it sold in the market and now regrets it. There are still millions of unemployed in search for dignity to lead their families.
There are still those to arrive from Iraq, highly skilled warriors who’ll certainly help us to thwart any attempt to derail us from this path toward a better day for the 99 Percenters.
We’ll be there. You should too. Have a great one. WC



Time to Count Months as Days, Colltalers

For all its accomplishments, Occupy Wall Street has reached what one expects to be the first of many still to come: it has successfully transitioned to a worldwide movement.
We know how those daring enough to enter the first month of protest still undaunted and still determined to carry the day for the rest of us don’t like to even call it a movement.
And how they have so far refused to be pigeonholed into a single set of demands, practical but easily manipulated and vulnerable to fatal compromises.
At least, that’s one of the reasons that make plenty of sense for that to be so, as it’s really not that far into the game, and we all have still a lot of ground to cover.
But one giant leap has been taken over the weekend, when masses demonstrated in most of Europe, South America, Asian cities and even some Middle Eastern nations, although there mortal danger stalk the streets, not the ever brutal but not that murderous U.S. police departments.
Our thoughts with those who once again got hurt and those who perished in the name of their mostly peaceful and ever legitimate aim at being free and have the right to self govern.
And let’s hail the other dozens of U.S. cities, where the rallies are still gathering the steam needed to face the rigors of weather and discredit of the powers that be.
Never mind them, by the way. We’re sure that, deep within their thick walls, they’re beginning to fear that this time people are serious enough to challenge them in what they feel the most: their pockets.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet, and when we use the term ‘we,’ it’s just to show support to what somebody else, way more courageous and willing to self-sacrifice we’ve managed to be, have the legitimacy done.
We are part of the so-called 99 Percenters, though, and we aim at doing our part to the best of our ability. Enough of cheap talk about heroes, unless you’re a vet or a 9/11 rescuer, or a fire fighter or whatever it is you’ve done that really qualifies you as such.
We’re certainly not. And most who really are, won’t call themselves that. We also aim at ending this empty rhetoric that only helped those all too eager to send someone’s else child to war, but did all they could to get away themselves and their loved ones.
A lot has been accomplished and much more needs to happen. But some great things have already happened. We’ll do our part and hope you join us someday. In the meantime, have a great one. WC



Protesters Say “Join Us” to Cops
Arresting Them on Brooklyn Bridge

It’s utterly ironic that, even as some of their own unions join in the Occupy Wall Street movement, uniformed and plain-clothes NYPD officers went ahead and arrested hundreds of peaceful protesters marching on Brooklyn Bridge Saturday in New York.
It may have been a costly and unnecessary operation from a police force already overburden with the responsibility of protecting the city from terrorists and crime.
After all, Occupy Wall Street is just a grass roots movement born out of frustration with the lack of accountability, and callous and insensitive displays of greed from the part of Wall Street financial institutions, largely responsible for the biggest global crisis since the Depression.
Almost four years after their reckless financial gamble almost caused the collapse of the world economy, and in the face of record unemployment and the sober prospects for economic recovery, Wall Street banks have ever since been posting astronomical results quarter after quarter.
Worst, some of its CEOs and top executives have amassed such a disproportionate personal wealth and power that even timid attempts by the U.S. government to raise their taxes, and increase regulation over their practices, have met with an apparent insurmountable wall of resistance.
Occupy Wall Street has been, so far, the first public display of dissatisfaction with the way banks and unregulated financial institutions continue to profit from the worst performance of the U.S. economy, on a continuous basis, since the 1930s.
So the zeal demonstrated by the part of the NYPD at repressing this idealist and still street-based movement, and completely absence of action against the impunity of those who’re directly responsible for costing the country billions of dollars in borderline-criminal behavior, is not just excessive and disproportional.
It reeks of a biased and misguided strategy to push to the edge those who are on the side of social justice and fairness, while leaving off the hook the crooks and unpatriotic hacks, who already have the all power, influence and material possessions to get away with.
One can only hope that, once winter hits, this movement evolves to ever more effective ways of demanding accountability from those who have so far eluded it.
And that the media becomes part of the solution, covering further developments and the discussion of the themes this movement has been asking to be discussed: the issues that will determine the future of this nation as the place where justice and the rule of law is for all, not only for those who can hardly afford it. Have a great one. WC



Welcome to Autumn, Colltalers of the North

September days grow shorter, as the song tells us, and as it rushes to its conclusion this week, one can’t help but feeling that there’s a new wave of change in the air. How strong will it be or whether will even last, we may be all its witness at one time or another. But if you really track this sort of thing, you may take its cues.
It’s not just that the president seems determined to regain the pulse of issues that, lucky us, really make sense to millions of Americans who are now hurting really bad.
Throughout the land, there seems to be a whiff of hope that the customary radicalism and appalling lack of compassion sported so callously by members of our political elite, may have peaked.
After so many displays of startling disregard for the facts or fate of this nation, whole sectors of the extreme
right seem to be, finally, collapsing under the weight of their own intolerance.
And guess what? The youth of this country is waking up. Tired of the lack of perspectives, of opportunities to contribute to this nation’s growth, they decided that they have something to say. And they need to be heard.
After all, as we speak, a few hundred of them are courageously making a stand against the vices of the Wall Street’s culture of getting rich on the back of the poor.
And most of them haven’t even had a mortgage foreclosure to speak of, a long-term job that laid them off, a successful career derailed by a life threatening illness, as hundreds of thousands of their seniors have had.
So they are, altruistically, speaking in the name of those who either can’t raise their voices, or are way too handcuffed by their own responsibilities, having to support a family on a low-wage job, or not even having either.
So we must commend them for having the guts. And praise this kind of genuine patriotism, the right to peacefully take control of our own destiny. Not the other kind, so in vogue these past few years, the one of the weapons and grandstanding.
We can no longer afford the intolerance to speak in our name. We can’t allow banks to dictate how much we should pay them, while they are off the hook to spend our hard-earned money as they please.
After all, when their spending habits almost broke the world’s financial system, we were the ones called to foot their bill. While they got back on their golden saddle, we got thrown into the worst depression since the 30s.
And, again, guess what? It’s not just the young, the unemployed, the veteran who’re starting to wise up to this game. Take the three ladies, the oldest 95-years young, who graced the crowd with a few songs, Sunday afternoon in downtown New York.
“Corporations Rule the World” and “Throwing Away Our Constitution,” along with a song for Troy Davis, were among the choice cuts sang by the Raging Grannies, to great applause (heard around the world, via live stream).
It brought some to tears. And by Rosh HaShahah, which brings a new year at the end of the week, if frail ladies are speaking up their minds, if young people are risking their own personal freedom to join in, what are we if we’re not supporting them? Have a great one. WC



Welcome, United Nation of Colltalers

The most important issue of the week will reside, at least for a couple of days, at the U.N. building, where the Palestinians will push for a vote on their statehood status, against the opposition of the U.S., Israel e few of their allies.
But what about President Obama’s own push of his domestic agenda, dominated by the two crucial issues of unemployment and the tax code overhaul? It most likely will be relegated to the back burner, we’re afraid to say.
That is because the U.S. has a big horse about to be beaten at the U.N., as its moral support of the State of Israel, which is correct, is often turned by the Israeli right-wing-controlled Parliament as support to anything Israel does in relation to the occupied territories.
In essence, the U.S., Israel and the Palestinians aim at and stand for a two-state solution. But in reality and on the ground, no one would be pressed to point who’s in control, who’s being squeezed out of any relevance in the decision making process, and who’s becoming irrelevant itself (us, for short).
Above all, the push for statehood is a desperate measure after years of failed diplomatic efforts among the three countries, and the Arab nations who are as invested in a pacific solution to the conflict as they are into the research for fuel alternatives for petroleum.
In other words, President Obama will be a very solitary man this whole week.
Only Darth Vader himself would be able to salt even more the president’s inner circle by saying that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should be the White House resident, not Obama.
He, whose name shall not be mentioned, knows that Secretary Clinton’s biggest accomplishment so far is being loyal to a fault to the president’s policies. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
That necessarily precludes her from exercising a more independent stance on the Middle East mess, which at the end of the day, will most likely outlast everyone in Washington anyway.
But if the president’s horse won’t make it at the jockeying for influence derby at the U.N. this week, we can hardly afford losing to oblivion the president himself.
His at last heated rhetoric about taxing the ultra wealthy needs to gather momentum, now that’s been endorsed (and nicknamed) by at least one of the very rich, Warren Buffett. He and others have, in a display of understatement, admitted that they do not need so many tax exemptions.
The GOP though, whose leadership already declared Obama’s job plan “dead on the water,” also want to change the tax code, but to raise it to the dwindling middle class.
Still, it’ll be hard to see any progress on the matter in the week ahead.
But what we can and do hope is that the next coming days are a relief for you all, in any way one can possibly imagine. We’re not about to turn this into a prayer, but we want you to know that we take pride in being a part of your time, and for that, all our best wishes are with you. WC




Good Morning, Colltalers

The best way we may be looking at the week ahead may be as if we were awakening from a bad spell and the reassuring sensation that what has just happened wasn’t real.
Not really true, of course. But if it makes sense not to forget what happened 10 years ago, it’s also OK to forget all the phony grief displayed ever since, the too many contrived speeches, but not the shameless hypocrisy of those who could have done something about it but didn’t.
We give you a minute to erase all that from your minds, and restore the unvarnished destruction that has impacted your life. Feel free to keep that to yourself, or to share it with those you trust. No need to tweet about it, though, or place it on your facebook wall, as if it’s some kind of colorful ribbon.
The best way of looking at the week ahead is to act as if it’s the one that you need to make it count. And last. And be as fresh as the first one you ever thought was going to last the remaining of your life.
If it all sounds too obscure and a bit artsy-fartsy, is because today may be one of those rarest of the occasions, one when we choose to comment the obvious, or regurgitate the redundant, and restate the already said.
A good Monday as any to be at loss for words. To talk only about the strictly necessary. To speak just when spoken to. Not like a soldier in the barracks, but like an adept of the ancient art of keeping your mouth shut.
There must be some very edifying old saying about how best to go about a week such as the one staring at you right now. We have no idea which one it is. Be it as it may, the choice is yours. Keep it cool and good luck. WC




Good Week, Colltalers

Another August lived up to its billing and carved its way to the history books. Hopefully, it’s all done with, after visiting New York with twin rare but under-par natural disasters. The good news is that they may have driven an unexpected nail of sense to the water-damaged spending debate.
All of a sudden, we were reminded yet again that some government expenses can literally save lives. Otherwise, who you would be calling for help, when your building were shaking, or flood waters were rising above your knees?
As the apologists for even less spending for public transportation, shelter, fire and security protection were willing to go on record with absolute disdain for the lives saved during the two disasters, we must not let them off the hook.
We need to remind over and over again their callousness in the face of imminent tragedy, and hypocritical stance defending a wealthy minority, who doesn’t depend on public services, against the desperate needs of everyone else, who can’t simply fly away when disaster strikes.
For a change, the corporate media’s usual habit of turning world’s news events into a single, parochial issue, may have been a factor in increasing the safety of the general public, even if their overheated coverage was never in synch with what was actually happening on the ground.
Think about these two facts, while enjoying the last official days of summer, even though you may be hanging on to a possibility of still taking some time off, on or after Labor Day.
We definitely hope you’re able to do it so. But if not, have a great week all the same. WC



Good Morning, Colltalers

Another week, another millionaire Middle East dictator hits the dustbin, even if some of his miserably poor but unwaveringly loyal armies still refuse to believe.
Their lives don’t mean much to Qaddafi, of course. And regardless whether it’s already a done deal, it’s about to happen, or it will, in a week or so, it won’t make much of a difference for the millions who’ll be left orphans of his bloody iron fist either.
What should be Nato’s role now would be to start organizing the huge and crucial humanitarian effort for those unhinged masses, to prevent the volatile mix of faulty political institutions and the over-reliance on state and religious tutelage, from igniting.
Resentment against those who have propped up Qaddafi for all these years is bound to erupt, even before the civilians are disarmed and the body count is settled.
Everybody else around seems very busy with their own woes. Syria, Israel, the Palestinians, Egypt, Turkey, you may check the region’s map and point randomly to any country, and chances are, it’s up to its neck to be of any help to Libyans at this time.
Let’s be clear, this is not our business. Not of our armies, anyway, who deserve to be retrieved for a long, nurturing break at home.
Tragically, what is our business we seem to be losing a grip on, rapidly. For a lot of parts of the land of the wealthiest corporations on earth, it looks a lot like those Middle East and African refugee camps.
What we do have in common with the miseries of war and famine and despair of that particular part of the globe, more than ever, is our humanity.
Across America, millions long for exact the same things: a safe house, a prosperous job, school for the kids, medical care system, a hopeful society for everybody to grow into.
If we can do this for Americans, and we know we must, we can do that for and with everybody else. We should be brothers in love of those despairing masses, not brothers in arms.
We owe this to ourselves, our future as a nation, and to our legacy on this planet.
Qaddafi and Assad and all the others wouldn’t have lasted this long if we hadn’t sided up with them and their wealth, instead of with the people they’ve been oppressing for years.
As the jockeying to speculate who are we going to support next has already started in this country’s secret chambers of power, we should take pause and realize, we’re about to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Some might not see it that way, though. All they can picture it the need for more bombs, more armies, more high-paid and completely amoral mercenaries.
As for the Sisyphean masses, carrying it on from one scorched land to the next, we’re yet to see any plans of action. They stand to be ignored, just like the lower classes living in America.
Is there really what we need for our dream of justice and equality for all? Have a great one. WC



Good Morning of the Week After, Colltalers

We’re slowly coming to, after being shaken down and punched real hard, and thrown around a few times by what used to be two distinct parties in Washington. As it’d happen after a big millionaire party, in which there were casualties and someone needs to settle the final catering bill, our names finally came up.
Yes, we’ve been called to come over, clean it all up, sign some papers, wink-wink, and maybe, with luck, still have a sip of that expensive champagne left over in a cracked flute glass.
The party-goers, of course, have left town and forgot to tell us that, oh yes, someone is coming over to our places later on today to collect a few things for the auction of our belongings, but not to worry; congress has been reduced so to fit all inside a corporate jet, and decisions will be made automatically, without cumbersome voting machines and all that waste of paper involved in political campaigns.
We’re also told that they may still need to deduct those benefits your youngest used with his hospital bills last year, because now with the downgrade of the U.S. bonds, interest rates may need to be raised, and that will impact mortgage rates, and income taxes and benefits, oh, it’s all so complicated, there’s really no need to dwell on what it all means to you, really.
The important thing is, we won. Disaster was averted, congress did work overtime and got a solution that will really solve our financial problems and the threat of insolvency at least all the way until March next year, so again, don’t you worry about a thing.
What? you didn’t know there was a national disaster looming last week? or you knew it but didn’t quite understand what the fuss was all about? It’s quite simple, really. Remind us to explain it all to you, once we’re back from our vacations, oh, gosh, and how we need them, right? Oh, that’s right, you’re not going anywhere, but enjoy the weather all the same.
We do have a good feeling about the second half of this year. You can be sure that the government has finally learned its lesson and won’t talk about raising taxes for those who have been unfairly singled out to pay the price for the mess that the economy has turned in to: the job creators.
We tell you, this is money to take to your bank: corporations are going to get into a hiring spree very very soon. We heard that all the top 500 U.S. companies are lining up big investment projects for the fourth quarter (we’re not sure yet of what year, or where, but we’ll let you know as soon as we learn more about it).
So, our recommendation is really, go shopping. Remember, now more than ever, it’s necessary to show support to our country. They’re already doing their part, sending you all those credit card offers in the mail. In fact, corporations are already investing a lot, mostly in advertising, of course, showing that they’re open for business: yours.
So what are you waiting for? Oh, we almost forgot: yesterday, thousands of people prayed together for god to personally intercede on our country and give us the solutions we need. So the good news is in the mail, as they say.
It may sound insincere then, after all that, but we do hope you have a great week. WC



Welcome to August, Mad Colltalers

Here comes the month that some cultures say belongs to witches and mad dogs. Perhaps the dog days of summer strayed from such ancient beliefs, only to bark at the wrong tree: you won’t see us complaining about the heat, mainly because it’ll be all over not long after the 31st.

Thank goodness madness hasn’t officially started, or we all
could’ve explained better what kind of if has taken Washington hostage in the last few months. We can’t recall the last time so much ambition to dominate the conversation, and such a lack of compassion has been so evident on Capitol Hill.

While the ravenous arguments over tomorrow’s artificial deadline were all too real, and so was the risk to the U.S.’s credibility in the way its debt obligations are concerned and have been handled, there’s been such a lack of awareness to everything else happening in this country to make us all take pause and wonder whether the asylum has been taken over by its inmates.

The callous lack of empathy to the fate of millions of unemployed and the thousands of troops is so startling and disheartening, as it was to have watched these same self-appointed hawks of fiscal probity signing on the multiple increases of the debt ceiling to fund the Bush wars, just a few years ago.

It’s utterly unbelievable to Americans and citizens of the world how most in Washington have managed to direct the narrative towards safeguarding tax cuts to the very wealthy, and at the same time to cover such efforts with a hypocritical veneer of deficit reduction advocacy.

And that now there’s talk of creating a ‘super congress’ that would, in effect, take precedence over the almost-300-year institution that was created exactly to prevent such Frankenstein-like organisms to be created in the first place.

But even if they are mad, no one should be crazy to give up on our ideals of political plurality and freedom. We don’t need new institutions; we need honest people to run those already in place. We hate to lay so much hope in on single man, who’s as flawed as any elected official would be under the circumstances, no matter how well intentioned he was at the beginning.

But we believed, against all recent evidence, that President Obama should’ve been our last ditch effort. The most important birthday person of this month, though, has been a model of disappointment for those who voted and supported his meteoric ascendancy. What just happened, this last sad episode of political capitulation to hijackers of Congress, will take almost all our strength to swallow.

 We’ve already given in way too much of our youth, by pricing them out of university, choking their market place and forcing them to the front of our made-up wars. Now we can’t complete this devil’s work by sacrificing those who’ve already given all their lives to build this country.

We need to remain a decent nation that pays its dues and knows its exemplary role in the world. But we also need to regain our sense of justice towards our fellow Americans. This has been a sad century so far. But it’s not yet lost. It can’t be. It won’t be if it’s up to the American people. And it is. Otherwise, what are we telling our children? Have a great week. WC



Welcome to July’s Last Week, Colltalers

The grandstanding and phony recriminations are about to reach the 11th hour in Washington, but there hasn’t been any change in the agenda to unseat the black president coming Nov. 2012, regardless if brings about the end of middle class, as we know it, and the credibility of the U.S. securities.
The summer of homicidal clowns is still apace, and those throwing matches at the circus do believe, against all reason, that the canvas won’t catch fire before they make their haste retreat.
They’re hoping they’ll live to lay the ashes of the country’s stability at the president’s doorstep, just in time to order a new furniture set for the White House.
But even the now obsolete machiavellis of yore can’t subscribe to such suicidal mission and begin to leave the battleground while the army of fools wrings their hands in anticipation.
Enough of the flowery language. These hacks can’t get away with the murder of an entire working nation, or the collapse of hard-earned world confidence on the U.S.’s financial soundness. Or can they?
Would it be setting oneself for laughter to put the money where history usually steps in? It’s been said many times over, no one can fool everyone all the time. Some even see the same devilish confidence that brought down Nixon happening all over again. We should be so lucky.
Homicidal dolls are indeed stalking our peaceful dreams, as the Norwegian “Ken” just showed. No possible response to his crimes will ever heal the victims’ loved ones, of course, but as a “Christian terrorist,” at least, he forced us all to finally name another well known horror.
Then again, we wouldn’t need to leave the U.S. to recognize a particularly bloody weekend in the U.S., heaven help us all.
Like the characters of Horace McCoy’s 1930s classic novel, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” we’re deeply invested in surviving this marathon. But it’d be illuminating rereading the end of that particularly gruesome tale about desperate people and their instinct to just get by.
When the cop asks why the protagonist killed his partner, he’s not satisfied with the simple, “Because she asked me to,” he gets in return, even though that was indeed the truth.
It’s only when he presses on that the protagonist utters the question that names the book. We’d stretch the analogy, if we may, and imagine how the current political class in Washington would respond to us, when we’d ask them, “but, really, what did you do to prevent this from happen?”
Have a great hot, steamy week of summer and remember, it’s not going to last too far beyond August. WC




Good Week, Colltalers,

President Obama and the two and a half parties are trying to hammer an agreement that would raise the debt ceiling, raise taxes for the over $250 thousand a year income bracket crowd, cut subsidies to oil and gas companies, and implement a job creation plan that would employ about 20 million people in five years.
Who are we kidding? The only issue on the table is the first one and it’s on a verge of costing us even more in social net programs, government jobs and services, and cuts in Medicare and Social Security.
Brace yourselves, folks, but when we hear praise from the GOP to the only person standing on the way of their reversed Robin Hood strategy, we fear for the worse.
Unless, we cut the guy a break again, and trust that he’ll emerge on the other end with something like a compromise that would actually be on our side for a change. But we’re flawed human beings and don’t completely believe in any of that.
The fact that, facing with the worst unemployment figure in several decades, all they talk in Washington is about ways to reduce the federal debt, undermines a lot of what the president promised us, as a candidate, just two years ago.
Weren’t we, the working and middle classes of this country, supposed to come first? Are we going to be at least informed that our social and health benefits are already on the bargain table in the talks with the GOP?
Do they ever ask please?
It really can’t be. We’re not in the business of delusional hope, but we do have an obligation to express our concerns that, being the part that will ultimately foot this bill, we need to be consulted before decisions are made in our name.
So the president will be talking the whole week. We hope he’ll be also listening all along too.
The only bargain that we should agree to compromise upon is that, OK, we don’t hear anything about jobs, we shouldn’t either hear any mention of cutting Medicare and SS at this time.
The president is showing some troubling signs that he’s concerned about losing his job. A word of advice, from the 20 million who have already lost theirs: now is not the time to turn your back on us.
You already know who would never vote for you. They’re not our friends either. But don’t you push us towards their pile, because we know for a fact that this country needs much more those with no offshore accounts, which means us and you, than those who do have them. Have a great week. WC



Good Morning, Colltales

Being a short week and all, we’ll try to make it brief. In the month the U.S. celebrates its independence, there’s more ahead than increased heat, wild fires galore and yet more fireworks to enlighten our collective staycations. Guess what? there’s a relevant constitutional debate to boot, too.

See, just the other week it looked as if the GOP had successfully conditioned the debate of raising the debt ceiling to its agenda. The administration seemed ready to compromise (read, give in to) financial rules, tax for the wealthy and subsides to corporations.

Then someone invoked the 14th Amendment and all hell broke lose. That is because it states that it’s illegal to prevent the government from paying its bills, in not so many words.

Say what? That’s when the political wrangling, er, constitutional debate started. But unlike the separation of church and state, and citizenship rights for babies born in the U.S., we’re not talking about rewriting the Constitution here, so to conform to an extremist minority, either religious or simply opportunistic.

It’s all very apropo for July, of course: it’s a hot issue, there’s a time stamp on it (since Washington is about to be handed over to interns) and we probably won’t go too far discussing it.

One thing is for sure: the idea of using the debt ceiling issue as leverage to paralyze the government and undermine President Obama is all but dead on the water. The GOP will have to come up with something else for that purpose. But we’re sure they will. In the meantime, have a great one. WC




Good Morning, Colltalers

The fight to legalize same-sex marriage is about to reach a turning point this week, thanks to New York. Marriage equality is one vote from being approved by Albany and if that succeeds, New York will regain a well earned leadership position in an important issue of our times.

Millions around the country and the world will be looking at how the state, which so many times has been accused of handcuffing its famous city, will perform at centerstage. Most are hopeful this time it’ll show its real (rainbow) colors and set the issue once and for all.

This is not a merely quality of life theme, the same way that having one’s own sexual identity, specially when it’s not conforming with a religious self-appointed elite, is not a matter of choice. Society always benefits from the courage of its so-called minorities.

Yes, there are the increasingly unjustified wars and its costs in American lives and weight on the nation’s budget. Yes, there’s the rampant unemployment and the hardships it’s imposing on millions of families. There’s housing, immigration rights, education funding.

But as that famous philosopher who lived in a cardboard box around the corner used to say, one can’t wait for the revolution to have an orgasm. Remember, the founding fathers cared so deeply about citizens’ contentment that they named the pursuit of it a constitutional right.

No other nation made its business the freedom of its individuals. And that’s why it hurts so much when some attempt to hijack its principles, but conducting business without the crucial support of the laws of this land. Shame on them.

And shame on fanatical bigots and dishonest zealots, who have made theirs what’s none of their business: to prevent others to peacefully pursue their own happiness, as consenting adults who are looking for the interests of their own families and dear ones.

Let’s hope Albany does the right thing for a change and get this show on the road. Our example is badly needed all across the country and the world. If there’s a time to show how compassionate we are and how dearly we hold our ideals of freedom is now, supporting the right of anyone to be lawfully married.

Why would anyone want it, as they say, is none of anyone’s business. But the right to exercise such a decent and idealistic pursuit must be there for the taking. Who knows? Maybe by supporting gay marriage even jaded married people will find reasons to give their own another shot. Above all, we need to move on and be the great nation we keep saying that we are.

Have a great one. WC




Good Morning, Colltalers

Today is Daniel Ellsberg day, as the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum releases the Pentagon Papers, the stack of documents with revelations that marked the beginning of the end of the corrupt Nixon administration.

The content of the papers would’ve been the equivalent in importance and potential impact of some of the cables WikiLeaks has been leaking for the past year. Then, unlike now, though, such material was properly and thoroughly scrutinized.

And what emerged from them, the extent and efforts the administration took to cover up its own law-breaking activities, was too much for the American people at the time. It ignited a chain-reaction that, ultimately, brought down Nixon and, would you know it? actually produced court cases and actually did send wrong-doers to prison.

As far as we can tell, the media today is bent over (no pun intended) the Alaskan half-governor’s released emails, all 24,000 of them, that documented the inner-workings of her hair-salon government, full of gossip and “betchas” and get that trooper who crossed us now, and almost no substance.

But one never knows. Maybe one of the unpaid interns doing the bend-over scrutiny will find something that we don’t already know about that queen of shallowness and unwavering ambition. Even though, so what?

As far as we can tell, no one is fully invested in studying the WikiLeaks cables and time will tell whether this is an opportunity missed, or just an wrinkle to be straighten-over by the court system.

We won’t allow it to be called irrelevant, though, for as long as a scapegoat rots in jail for crimes he’s not fully found guilty of yet. No one will dare call it a waste of time when thousands of American lives were, indeed, being wasted when this diplomatic clatter was being recorded, and nothing has been changed ever since.

It’s just a freak of the times then, it seems, that Websites of corporate America are being raided by hackers as we speak. We don’t know their faces, so we can’t side up with them, and must be judicious as to what they’re really doing.

We can’t count on a masked avenger do to our bidding, unlike Gotham City citizens. But we’d much rather pay attention to those muted wars of defense contractors being hacked, even if we suspect they’re using our own computers as zombie soldiers, than to Twitter pics being sent between mutually consenting adults.

It’s becoming a hackers and their enemies world, and we’re relegated to just having to change our passwords and credit cards and convincing the credit ratings agencies we are who our moms told us that we were, even though we’re no longer too sure.

So, here’s to Daniel Ellsberg, who may be the first conscientious hacker with a spine, risking everything and bringing down a government, armed with just his courage and the seat of his pants.

Here’s still around, thank goodness. But so is most of the progeny of the man who names that library in the first paragraph. That’s why this is as good a time as any to remind everyone why we should know everything about him and his fight. WC




Good Morning, Colltalers

We may hit the ground running, this week, for now is that dreadful time when our beloved elected officials are starting to plan their vacations, and how trivial issues such as job creation, troop withdraw and Medicare cuts can be pushed to after Labor Day.

Not that anyone in Washington has mentioned the “V” word just yet. We just know the drill. Oh, yes, there’re some reports about an American history scholar, and former half-governor, having a tour with her family somehow in the eastern seaboard.

Apparently, bus stops have often coincided so far with tourist attractions and GOP presidential candidacy launch parties. And you thought that you had to have a job first, or at least go to school like everybody else, to know when it’s time to have some family vacations.

But Congress is in a hurry, so the next few weeks the debate over budget cuts and the increase in the federal debt ceiling will galvanize the discussions, along with how universal health care is actually bad for the country, what makes unemployed people responsible for the labor market collapse, and why oil and food corporations need their hefty government subsidies.

The week also starts with at least one piece of good news in the Middle East, as the Yemeni ruler left the country and the people out in the streets went from risky protest to joyful celebration. Even better for the U.S., all they need now is humanitarian help, not troops.

Hopefully, that piece of news will be just what people from Libya, Syria, and Bahrain needed to usher another wave of change for their nations. Considering what they, and their neighbors including the Palestinians in Gaza, are going through, lack of news is usually a sign of scary news.

Let’s just not get too spooked by signs and mirrors, though. Action when action is required, the U.S. could give the whole region an enormous boost by setting up a clear, very public and utmost necessary deadline for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

It wouldn’t hurt either reducing further our presence in Iraq, in the process.

Getting back to the land of the last shuttle to the space station, though, there must come a time where we’ll be able to tie up all these ends. It usually happens during the election cycle, which it’s been starting each time earlier, almost at the moment votes from the previous one are counted.

So be it; if we’re already racing for the 2012 election, then we’re already behind picking our battles and stating our demands. They may read as any boring laundry list, and we’ll surely hear being repeated to discourage us. But it won’t matter.

Let’s recite them again and again, as a prayer or a mantra: we want jobs; we want shelter; we want schools; we want health care; we want peace; we want a new dream, where we live in the only country in the world where the right to freedom and independence of thought is constitutional. Have a great one. WC




Welcome to What it’s Been Forgotten, Colltalers

It’s great to have a day to think about all the lives lost, so we can have ours preserved. But it’s even greater to realize that, right now, as we speak, there’re so many Americans, in the other side of the world and of this century too, who need to know that we care. Or rather, never mind whether we care; they need to know when they’re coming home.

They have no way of knowing, the can’t even ask that to their superiors. It’s us, as a nation, who need to demand in their name, as they give their own lives in ours, when their sacrifice will be enough. How many more need to be killed, maimed physically or emotionally or both, so we can say, as a nation, that we accomplished something.

By the way, what is it that we are trying to accomplish? Most of the population do forget sometimes about these things, either because their attention is focused on their own survival and of their families, or because they never met anyone who is or has ever been to the military, and who can blame them?

We’re forgetting them not in a hollow, pseudo-patriotic, fist-pumping kind of way. For that it’s meaningless anyway. Our forgetfulness is sadly deeper, these days, Most of us are completely dissociated from that lethal reality in hostile lands to where our country sent so many to never return, and now hardly acts as if it needs to tell us again: what is that we’re trying to accomplish with this carnage?

As every Monday Memorial Day, you’ll hear a lot of times the word “heroes,” and “sacrifice in the line of duty,” and even the old classic “family values” today. Pay no attention to them. You’d do better having a nice time with your dear ones and each of the moments you manage to do just that will have way more meaning than those empty words.

But even if it takes a minute, just consider whether is there something we can all do, so they too can be home for the next Memorial Day and the next, still in one piece if at all possible. They need to be here and we need it too.

We need their hard-earned awareness of what really means to go to war with people we know nothing about.

We need their moral standpoint to support the rebuilding of this nation, as a powerful but benevolent place. We need them to help us regain our stature and way through this century, of which we’ve already wasted 11 years and achieved very little.

Have a great week. WC




Welcome to the Last Days Before Summer, Colltalers

Squeezed between the uneven brackets of an acrimonious meeting of President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and a foot-in-the-mouth comment about Hitler, the week that has been is finally over, and we’re off to the unofficial start of summer marked by Memorial Day. The meeting has flared up again the issue of a Palestinian state, and the flippant quip literally flipped the Cannes Film Festival, so it all comes in good time.

In fact, it all comes not a global-warming fueled day of sun, cold, rain and wind too soon. Summer it may be, though, but it may mean little to over 20 million workers who can’t find any, and their families, who at this point may be turning the tide against them.

Which is a shame, for blame could be squarely put at the foot of the multibillion dollar media corps which draws profits and dividends from the personal life of an action actor turned into a philandering former governor, and yawns from a sensible debate about labor woes.

Who cares, indeed. As the U.K. effectively ends its military presence in Iraq with a grand total dead count of under 200, we’re still left with a national budget-breaking bill to fund that insane effort, and the heart-breaking pain of burying thousand of bodies of young Americans shipped daily from that wrongly-invaded country.

How much longer we’ll be waving goodbye, one by one, to our allies, and committing yet more resources to a war that should’ve ended once Sadam Houssein was dead, is the question that never seems to be asked by morning show anchors. Unlike the identify of the Terminator’s love child.

The same applies to Afghanistan, now that bin Laden is gone. And very likely, the same will be repeated in Libya if we keep acquiescing to the warmongers, no matter how long after Qaddafi may have been gone. And he will, Libyan people willing. Such hawks, currently pumping lobbying efforts to fund clandestine mercenary armies around the world are, as usual, gearing up for a state of permanent combat.

Wars not to be driven by goals, if they have their saying, but by how much potential business they may generate. Troops to be constantly trained, deployed, retrained, deployed again, until their physical and emotional traumas reach their limit, and they can be (unsafely) discarded. Troops as commodities, if they continue having their say, not flesh and blood sons and daughters we trust the state to protect, so they could protect us.

But who’ll protect them? When will we be willing to have them heard, not the powerful war lobby’s? Will they come back home in time and shape to help us change the balance of power in this country? So then perhaps we may have a chance to direct the political debate to what really affect us, not how much money big oil companies will lose, if one of the Arabic dictators is brought down to power.

As we said, it’s the final days before summer, and the meaning of even having a Memorial Day to celebrate, must lay beyond BBQs and cold beer, although we don’t mind having them both too. Instead of speeches about heroes and the time America ruled the world, we need to bring back the depth of what it means to live in peace and prosperity.

Time to skip the rhetoric about “the price of freedom” and start exercising freedom on its own: to raise independent-minded kids, freedom from fear, to build a new world, their own place to carve in society alongside everybody else, regardless of what has mortally divided us. Time to exchange our weapons for tools of mass instruction. Let the guns go silent, so the listening and the questioning and the learning and the growing can begin. Have a great one. WC




Good Morning, Colltalers

By the time you read this, hopefully the Shuttle Endeavour will be on its way to the International Space Station, Congress will be ready to reach an agreement on the raising of the debt ceiling, without having to ask every unemployed person of this country for a contribution to the Wealthiest Americans Vacation Fund, peace would have been declared between Israelis and Palestinians, and the League of Arab Nations would have decided to hold democratic elections in all countries in the region within the next 90 days.

As you can see, we’re way passed the “carried away” warning levels, and are already showing clear signs of derangement. But in a good way. Or rather, who wouldn’t rally for the last wishes of the above paragraph?

Perhaps only some insane people who are considering opening the flood gates and hoping the rains in the South stop and New Orleans doesn’t go under again. Ops, the flood gates have indeed being opened, so don’t mind us, we’re just trying to catch up with the overall insanity.

We’re not being flippant here, believe us. It may be getting worse (global warming, anyone?) but it’s been consistent: year after year, the Mississippi floods, people lose their homes, some even die, and we’re still calling it a natural disaster. Indeed, as far as insurance companies are concerned, it’s always an act of god.

Hopefully, not the same god people pray for the cycle to stop. Perhaps it’s time to direct some of that energy to determine once and for all why that mighty river floods, how come it always hurts the same people, and guess what? no one making more than the now proverbial $250 thousand a year has ever been known to be affected.

In the meantime, you can bet that it’ll be mostly the same people who always show up to help, the ones to once again travel to those areas to lend a hand. You don’t see them, because they always step aside when the cameras start rolling, unlike some elected officials we know.

You don’t know about them until you become one of them. They’d be the first to prevent any “human story” to be told on their behalf. And you know why? Because like you and me, they have more important things to do with their lives than this business of playing a hero on the local news.

Let them cover Charlie and Ashton and Rihanna and the Trash T. Frankly, my dear, they don’t give a damn. Neither should we. Call the Red Cross instead. And enjoy the week ahead. For some of us, our kids are growing full of life and hope. Take a moment to cherish them, say, this Thursday. You’ll be helping us celebrate one of our own. Have a great one. WC




Welcome to the Beginning of the End

of the War in Afghanistan, Colltalers

Or so we wish. But not even the old Soviet Union had a better excuse and you know what happened to them in the end. And what happened to pretty much every great army of the past, when they stepped on that inhospitable land: soon or later, their feet sank and those who didn’t run, were outrun by it. For centuries, no one wins wars in Afghanistan.

Osama bin-Laden was our lame excuse for getting there in the first place, and now that he’s dead, it must be time for us to go. But few would be naive enough to believe that what took us there will be the same of what may take us out of there. The world is a radically different place now, bin-Laden remaining dead forever notwithstanding.

Replacing a flimsy excuse for another won’t free us from that quagmire. But the lives of thousands of Americans must be enough, at least for the moment. Enough of the carnage. Enough of so many dead non-Americans too.

In fact, bin-Laden killing should mark a turning point for the U.S., when it switch back from disseminating death and destruction across the world, to inspire the building of a new future, as it has been the main tenet of this nation.

If once the dead Saudi murderer hijacked the Muslim world, we’re sick and tired of watching the ever growing needs of the defense elite of this country taking over our ideals. We’re not a nation of policemen. Our leadership role is born out of example. We’ll never be applaud the business of political assassination, Abbotabbad not withstanding.

The blood-thirsty hawks are already concocting a new project. They are shocked, shocked with Pakistan. Don’t be fooled by their phony moral certitude. The corruption of that country’s military and intelligence elite is as much a by-product of the U.S. strategy of delegating war and occupation duties to local thugs and war lords, as once were the Mujahideen’s fight against the USSR.

Give our troops back to their families, their communities. Let them stand up and vote and be counted as citizens, not war loss stats. Help them find the worth fighting for the changes this country desperately need and lack the electoral constituency to accomplish.

Let them exercise the moral authority they gain in the field of battle. The them retake their seat in the public discourse, usurped from them by wealthy politicians who’s only personal experience in combat equates to the war video games their trustfund kids play all day.

Let’s end the Afghanistan war this year, bring the troops home, and have a new generation of battle-singed political leaders who have the moral knowledge and the impeccable record to work towards what’s best for this country. Have a great one. WC




Welcome, Colltales, for the First May

in a Long While Without Osama Bin Laden

It took almost 10 years but the U.S. managed to rid the earth of the most sough-after mass murder since 9/11/2001, Osama bin Laden. There’s no way around it, it’s a better day than most, specially for the relatives of the victims of his thirst for blood, mainly New Yorkers who’ll never be quite the same after that carnage at the Twin Towers, but also all others spread out around the world.

It’s a sobering moment, though, and there’s the natural feelings of relief and fulfillment, that justice somehow was served, even if not in the way we should all be wishing it had been conducted. And then there’s the jumping and the chest bumping where we get off and rather go home and meditate on such strange times when whole countries issue court-averse death warrants on individuals, and people get out to the streets to celebrate someone’s assassination.

There’s something in this toxic mix that we just can’t make ourselves swallow, even though we are and have ever been for getting this coward, calculating murderer. And for all our mighty, we should have a long time ago, way before his creed got any credence among the dispossessed, the zealot, the fanatic, the certified mental case and every other one in between, who actually could see any justification into following bin Laden’s doctrine.

Way before, when the wound was still raw among the victims and the advocates for social justice alike; the selfless rescuers, who volunteered and paid with their own lives their altruistic gesture, the sons and daughters of the killed, thrown into a world where their parents are ghosts owned by the astonishing public grief that followed 9/11; the childless parents, left to wonder what would’ve been of their children’s children, had they lived.

We’re not playing the spoiled brat here, but it would’ve been much more meaningful if this assassination had happened in the months right after the attack, when it’d serve as the other bookend to frame the tragedy within the context of crime and punishment. Now it’s been so long, the two events sound so dissociated from each other, that we can’t help but think whether the same effort, and the additional lives it must’ve cost to accomplish it, wouldn’t have also been enough to serve a nobler purpose. Such as increasing our collective respect to the rule of law, for example, or understanding better why we’re fighting and, above all, when it’ll all be over.

For while this vermin was planning new ways to eliminate his enemies from the depths of Pakistani caves, we managed to send thousands of Americans to be killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lost almost completely our sense of purpose for doing it so. The majority of people living in this country has no idea what the hell we’re still doing there and, unless they’re or know someone with connections with those conflicts, they found themselves in a situation where even talking about it is frankly a big waste of time. Or so it seems.

You no longer hear even politicians talking about what’s going on over there. The news on this First of May have proved, though, that whatever it is happening, it has little or nothing to do with the killing of Osama bin Laden. And we’re not going any further with the ironies implicit with the fact it all happened on a First of May either, what, with about 30 million unemployed in this country and so forth and so on.

So you may say, no wonder they’re taking to streets to celebrate an assassination, no matter how despicable this human being managed to become: they have no jobs, no prospects, no better cause to celebrate. We beg to disagree with such approach to such a horrendous reality, as we’d beg to disagree with the religious and devout people jumping with joy among them, as if all that piousness and rectitude could be hung on the guard of a chair, as a cowboy would with his belt and gun, just so he can enjoy a cheerful moment.

The killing of Osama bin Laden was long overdue but let’s not pat ourselves in back for it. It won’t make any difference for those who he killed. They still have to carry on and find hope to do it so.

It doesn’t give us any extra credits in the context of the nations; we’ll always be way more respected for the things we created, not for the people we killed.

So he is dead, so good. Now, can we bring our troops home and rebuilt this nation on the same foundation it was once built and revered, the innate taste for justice for all, the unwavering pursue of happiness to its citizens, the generous invention of great things to help everyone on earth to live and fulfill their destiny in peace? For that you’ll definitely find us jumping in the streets. Have a great one. WC




Welcome to May, Colltalers

In the U.S., any talk about Labor Day this time of the year is the equivalent of talking crazy: we get the chills, we clench our teeth and our bodies instinctively get ready for another wet Fall, the end of the year and a long, cold, cruel Winter. But fear not, troopers. You may keep you shirts on for now and we promise you won’t wear them much in the months ahead.

We were talking about Labor Day, which came and went yesterday for most of the world, where it’s known by its official name, First of May. It was pleasant here in the Eastern seaboard, but nothing compared to the parades and vigor and parties that always mark the date. This year more than any other time.

As labor and the unions that traditionally stand for it have been under intense attack in this country, it’s no wonder our own time compass got screwed and we find ourselves wishing that we had a public holiday to mark our resistance against the forces that are threatening to undermine workers rights achieved and maintained for almost a century.

It’s above all, ironic that about 30 million people remain unemployed in this country, even though their plight doesn’t seem to hold any weight in the current debate over the illnesses and evils affecting the nation. That and giving tax breaks to the very rich and fat subsidies to wealthy oil corporations seem to be all off the table.

Instead there’s a mix of pseudo-issues covered 24/7 by what passes as media, there’s a “carnival barker,” in the words of President Obama, leading a charge towards the White House, there’s the same president having to produce birth papers that haven’t been asked from an African-American since KKK times.

While unemployment remains rampant, dozens of U.S. troops are killed in far away wars every month, CEOs are being paid record bonuses, Wall Streets banks profit billions and oil companies collect government subsidies, how did we spend the week leading to First of May?

Let’s see, there was the back-to-back coverage of another multimillion pound royal extravagance across the pound, there was that same rich carnie mentioned above speaking against China but not about the Chinese sweatshops that produce his line of clothing, and there were those meaningless presidential election pools giving credence to his supposed lead in a presidential race that, outside Washington, is at least for now, absolutely meaningless.

So now you hopefully see why we need not a Labor Day but a full year of First of Mays and what it still stands for. Perhaps it all will come together in good time. But while it doesn’t, we grab what we can to remain functional. One of those blessings is that, no, we’re not in September, and yes, Summer is fast approaching. May you and everyone you love be on the side of the year where it’s sunny and warm and you can kill some time just enjoying yourself.

Heaven knows that’s all millions of Americans expect to happen to them soon too. Have a great one. WC




Good Morning Colltalers

WikiLeaks are at it again, and that’s all we’ll say about the messenger. What we may have this week is the beginning of a much-delayed but crucial national debate over the efficacy of our current strategy to ward off the threat of terrorism.

The picture a massive dossier the independent Website released about the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, where the U.S. keeps for years over 700 inmates, suspects in varying degrees of links to terrorism, is far from pretty. In fact, it’s ugly.

Not unlike those infamous photos leaked a few years ago, we as a nation come out of the most recent revelations looking dangerously close to the bad guy, as if we’ve lost our moral compass by fighting an enemy who never professed to have one, to begin with.

If some of the serious and almost petty observations made by the U.S.’s own military and intelligence personnel about each of those detained at Gitmo is of any relevance it is for exposing and somewhat explaining the little progress we’ve made so far in this infamous war on terrorism.

On the contrary, due to our heavy-handed, misguided and at times, unlawful approach to even the most flimsy evidence of terrorist activity, we may have turned some of those imprisoned for almost 10 years even more insanely bent in doing us harm.

A little over a year from the next presidential election, the candidate with better chances to win is already at the White House. This explosive and damaging dossier may serve as an awakening for President Obama to fulfill one of his most important campaign promises.

The U.S. needs to shut down Gitmo, because it’s not keeping us safe in any quantifiable way, because it’s brewing even more hatred against this nation, and because it’s unlawful and immoral.

We need to bring those accused of crimes against the U.S. to the U.S. judicial courts and trust that the laws that have sustained and nurtured this country for over 200 years are rigorous enough to punish those who intend to do us harm, and appropriately fair for the innocent bystanders.


In other news, Colltales just completed its first year. Wish us well. WC



Good Earth Day Week, Colltalers

Last week was a remembrance of the 150 years of the Civil War, the 50th year of the first manned space flight, and the 30th anniversary of the now officially closed Shuttle Program.

This is the week when, once again, we’re forcibly reminded of the worst oil spill in history and the almost no lessons learned from the experience. More than that, slightly over a month since the beginning of the radioactive leak from Japan’s damaged nuclear plants, and we seem almost ready to forget all about it.

We must not, never. If all the well-intentioned but ineffective ceremonies marking Earth Day will serve to any purpose will be to shake us to action.

It doesn’t look good, though. It’s not just that some of the companies responsible to that devastating mishap in the Gulf of Mexico are ready to resume oil exploration in the same waters, or that dead sea turtles and dolphins are beginning to wash ashore throughout that coastline.

It’s also because word is out that the funds, allocated to those communities to help in the cleanup efforts, have been routinely misspent elsewhere. And that the promised oversight from environmental agencies never quite materialize to prevent that from happening.

And whatever happened to the public discussion about our own nuclear energy policies, after what’s going on in Japan? Can we really afford to dismiss and shove under the carpet any responsible concerns about a potential catastrophe of that magnitude within our borders?

The speech of President Obama last week about the budget spending priorities of this nation was arresting and showed enormous character. But now he needs to show leadership in those other, equally crucial issues affecting us all.

Perhaps we need to make a list of such issues, from tax cuts to the wealthy, to the preservation of social programs, to the need to bring the troops home from Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Japan, Korea, to what kind of alternative energy programs we’ll rally behind, and everything else, so everyone is in the same page about our future.

We can’t be guided by the crisis of the week. We can’t rely upon the interests of oil multinationals, defense contractors, Washington lobbyists. We can’t blame our working class if they seem way overburden by diminishing wages, fewer social nets, broken educational systems.

We need a new sense of direction and purpose for this nation. We need an to bring everyone on board. We need leadership, Mr. President.

This is a week to be reminded about last year’s Gulf of Mexico disaster, as much as the impunity for the architects of the collapse of our financial system and of what’s in store for us if we fail to heed the warnings coming from Japan. If you think about it, it’s all interconnected.

We must be serious about our environment, as if we depend on it, as we already do. And we must play by fair rules if we’re to prevent the immoral growing gap between the haves and have-nots, which is already out of control.

But this may be also a week to feel proud of what your ancestors fought for, dreamed about and hope you could accomplish. Let their memory guide you into doing the right thing. WC




Good Morning, Colltalers

Please greet the week we celebrate 50 years since the first manned flight to space. So what Yuri Gagarin was a Russian and his feat represented a huge blow to what was to become the U.S. space program?

In the long run, he was but the first of a long line of super human beings that made us all look grand pioneers of a new age. So what that most of the promises that first flight ignited in us remain unfulfilled and in badly need for a reboot?

The alternative would be considerably bleaker, even that hidden within the space program of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union, there was another race going on, the one to win the Cold War.

To this day, the moment that each of the dozens of astronauts reached orbit, they were populating a dream of unity and brotherhood few other scientific experiments will ever be able to usher.

Half a century later, we’re also concluding at least the first stage of that dream, as NASA is set to announce the final resting ports for its retiring Space Shuttle fleet. Perhaps the New York City Intrepid Museum will be one of those chosen to host one of them.

As domestically the battle for the federal budget reached a concluding chapter of sorts too, and the upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East is expected to get ever more complicated, we’ll need to look at what’s ahead with at least some of the courage and sense of purpose of those space pioneers.

But nothing has been more touching and sobering than seeing the Japanese people coming to grips with the immense tragedy that hit their land, and now has to deal with the heart breaking task of recovering the bodies of their dead, and find ways to survive the radiation in the air.

Japan may be humbled to no end by this terrible experience but nothing shows more their resolve to hold on to their humanity and sense of decency than the continuous return of valuable objects and cash from the victims to their families.

It’s a testament to the spirit of such people that no looting or theft will ever be considered acceptable, even in the face of catastrophic devastation and despair. Such is one of the lessons we’re all privileged to learn from Japan.

Regardless of who you are, what nationality, religion, skin color or profession: no one can claim not to know what’s being taught, no one will ever be able to use disaster, on a personal or nationwide scale, as a cover for letting their most despicable inclinations to come out, even if for a moment. WC




Good Morning, Colltalers

Last year, it took a big chunk of April, and just a couple days shy of Earth Day, before the disastrous news from the Gulf of Mexico made us all sick: a big oil tsunami was about to devastate miles of once pristine coastlines.

There was no need to wait that long this year. We’re now officially upgraded (or should it be, downgraded?) from the worst oil spill on record to what may become the worst radiation leak in history.

Frantic efforts to plug the cracks of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plants are eerily similar to last April’s three-ring circus invoked to plug the hole on the gulf’s seafloor. Even the use of sawdust and old newspapers reminds us of suggestions that we donate hair to help BP stop the spill.

The same BP that, having ducked any serious punishment for its mismanagement and irresponsible oil drilling methods then, now stands to regain the right to dig holes and extract astronomical profits from those waters.

Will we see Fukushima’s operator, TEPCO, doing the same a year from now, with its own multi-billion dollar contracts to build “safe” nuclear plants?

So in a few weeks, let’s have another Earth Day to celebrate, with another terrifying ecological disaster as a soundtrack. Let’s mark this as the time when big energy concerns were not the least afraid of penalties; it’ll all be on the account of an “unfortunate mishap’ or an “unusually large” natural disaster.

Regardless on how and when we’ll get through the crisis, there will always be two things remaining: we will get through, most likely, footing the bill with everything we’ve got. And two, such corporations still will stand to make a killing, or rather, billions in profits and tax breaks.

But as Judge Judy would put it, let’s not play with each other. While we wonder how come these people are in charge of what’s obviously out of their grasp, no matter how reassuring about pollution and radiation they sound, we’re being told over and over again that the enemies are teachers, cops and firefighters and their “fat,” “big government” checks.

What we wonder is, how can we let banks and corporations we bailed from the brink sponsor efforts to do away with our basic rights to decent wages and housing and health care and education? How come you see people who’re struggling just like you, giving them credence? It must be something in the water.

So let’s at least keep this in mind when Earth Day, next year, comes around. Let’s hope this time we learn something about these so-called “natural disasters.” Because it’s obvious they’re not completely natural and don’t need to be disastrous.

What we spend to “secure” oil extraction and nuclear power production does not secure anything, but the wealth of corporations. And they’ll do it all over again, given a chance. Let’s not.

BP, or any big oil concern, should never get the keys to the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico ever again. And no current technology is up to prevent the catastrophic power of nuclear energy. Have a great one. WC



Good Morning, Colltalers

Tonight, President Obama takes to the air waves to talk about the air strikes in Libya and some of us should get some answers. For the rest of the still breathing, still thinking crowd, they may be harder to come by, though.

It’ll be an inspiring speech, to be sure. He’s becoming fast known for his superior command of the English vernacular and his ability to convey complex thoughts into simple-constructed sentences.

Good for him and good for us, then. It’s doubtful that a foreign-born citizen, say from Kenya, would be able to come even close to his gifts.

But we digress, making fun of something that, otherwise, doesn’t deserve mention even in this lowly space. Yup, the racist, xenophobic, deranged ultra-right have no place here. May their diminishing spot in the political discourse never approach anywhere near the still healthy shores of the American freedom dream.

The fact is, despite his great stature as a public speaker, we’re beginning to lose some confidence in the content of his message. Let’s hope that tonight is somewhat different. Because one too many times recently the design of his words got dangerously closer in shape and form to what the executors of the middle class profess than to its advocates.

Since it’s likely that, by explaining the U.S.’s position in the North of Africa, he won’t be announcing a complete military withdraw from the Middle East, as so many desperately wished, it’ll be hard not to zoom out on that prime time segment. Most will be settling for a new, hopeful word on the economy, job market, health care costs, if it ever comes up.

It’ll be a waste of everyone’s time if, instead, he decides to focus on the Republican talking point of more spending cuts, or lofty themes such as the need for democracy in the world today. Please, don’t bother trying to explain to us why one dictator is more important to American interests than others. And if there’s any mention of increased defense budget, well, we may have a serious problem about that too.

But do tell us that the civil justice system is enough to judge all crimes, small and big, and there’s no need for Guantanamo. Go ahead and give us your support that our right to organize and fight for better wages won’t be taken away from us. And step right in, if you plan on join us in our fight for dignity only full-benefit, productive, new-technologies driven employment can give us.

There’s nothing wrong in keeping reciting some of the tenets of our aspirations as citizens and civilized beings. There’s hardly any fault if some keep repeating over and over again why we love this nation in the first place. And it will never be a waste of anyone’s time to profess that we seek freedom and rights for all, regardless of color, place of birth or political affiliation.

That religion and decisions that affect individual choices of lifestyle are better taken in the privacy of one’s own convictions, with no need for conversion of anyone else around. We still support you, Mr. President, and we know there’s no one else more qualified to support us. If we fight for the right to choose, we’re leaving behind only those who choose to do so.

Let those in North Africa, Middle East, Japan and Africa know that they can always count on our hearts and our solidarity, but not on our guns. Have a great one. WC




Dear Colltalers, Spring Sends You a Brand

New War. Would You Accept the Charges?

This one really sneaked up behind our backs (no dice, “snuck-ers” of the world). We were all still catching our collective breath from the violent shaking of earth and sea in Japan, when the UN Security Council acquiesced the carnage in Libya and decided to take action against Qaddafi’s murderous forces.

Never mind that this should’ve happened not a week but years ago; oil interests still carry big sticks behind the scenes of global diplomacy. Never mind Qaddafi’s four-decade show of resilience and political skill, outliving almost eight complete American administrations. And finally, never mind that some of the rebels currently being persecuted to death, have entertained their own murderous thoughts against the U.S. and its allies.

It is done. Diplomacy lost another one, as it often does, and so did the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, to be buried even deeper in the headlines; the humanitarian efforts to aid Japan head the same way; as does hope for a reevaluation of our nuclear energy strategy, and for a radical reduction in the U.S.’s already record military defense spending.

Oh, yes, we do have a winner, though: that’s right, the same military defense spending, set to engorge considerably. And here we go, straight down into a potential black hole ready to suck us dry on the other side of the earth. Another inhospitable, blood-stained, barren land where our troops go to be slaughtered. Oh, and don’t even let us start with whatever happened to efforts for negotiated solutions for political conflicts.

So now that we made the Libyan business our business, we’ll see passionate defenses of fairy tales about another non-involving war, quick interventions, and our formidable air superiority. That is, until a jet is shot down, or Qaddafi gets to prove that an innocent community of human shields got blown away. It’s all repeated history, folks.

Time to get off our high horse, though. Even if it pains us to see the U.S. engaging in yet another faraway land war and sending our young to die in the hands of faceless enemies, all the while losing its own battles against unemployment, illiteracy, obscurantism, political grandstanding and expediency, that doesn’t give us any right to be preachy.

But if there’s a lesson you, and you, and us all can learn from the current turmoil in the Mideast and North of Africa is the true value of social networks and alternative channels of communications. While in the U.S. so many seem hell-bent about a deranged multimillionaire actor, or venting, in no soft racist terms, against people talking on the phone in libraries, the youth of Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, Bahrain and the other Internet-accessible nations nearby, are telling the world a different story: they’re talking about revolution.

They’ve not just found ways of ushering fresh information about what’s happening on the ground, as they’ve also have shown that the mainstream media, with their multimillion-dollar satellites and star anchors, is no more than a biased feed, rehashing yesterday news. In the time their announcers change from seemingly heroic field vests to expensive Galliano or Dior suits, the information has already curdled.

No speech about the dangers of corporate monopoly in the media world has been as instructive as a couple of weeks of unrest in Asia and Africa, all respect for those who lost their lives or freedom in the process.

So help us all the Super Moon that’s just ushered another Spring in the north hemisphere, 2011 has already shown us its knives. And we do hope that’ll suffice, knock on wood. For those of us crazy enough not to go too crazy with appearances and omens and signs and threats of eternal damnation, the challenge of living a fruitful life has just gotten a staggering lift.

But as that 101-year old Ecuadorean woman text-messaged, just before lighting up a big cigar, “WTF?” Which means, in a loose translation from the pre-Colombian dialect she still uses, since when we control the earth, the sea, the Super Moon or the vagaries of global diplomacy and the double-speak of military hawks of all stripes? The most that most of us can really do is to manage today, and tomorrow, and possibly Wednesday.

Get back to us about Thursday. And of course find ways to disavow this prescription that makes war a permanent state of modern societies. Because we definitely have much more to gain in preserving life, and that includes helping the relatives of those estimated 18 thousand Japanese victims, and those around us, than to support yet another way to eliminate it altogether from earth. Have a great one. WC



Good Morning and Good Luck, Colltalers

As fears and despair start to get the best out of the Japanese people, it’s not just those nuclear plants that are in need for cooling off and right away. We too need cooler minds at this time of indescribable horror and unbelievable meltdown on our faith in technology and progress.

But although the threat of nukes seem to be back on the table, they actually were never too far deep within us, regardless the spin energy lobbyists may have been putting on their safety all these years. If we go back, just a few years, just for a moment, we’ll revisit the same feelings that followed Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and, you guessed, Hiroshima, Japan.

Each time, we promised there wasn’t going to be a repeat and each time, we went back on the lessons learned. Without turning this into one of those sterile “I told you so” moments, we need to stop meeting our worst nightmares like that, when we’re most confident our needs for affordable power are just around the corner.

When the corner shakes, and whole villages turn into black mud, where are those who said the most destructive power mankind ever came across is finally tamed and can be safely harnessed?

But our fellow humans don’t need any lecturing at this point. And there are plenty of things anyone can do to help them in this darkest of hours. Maybe we did this all before, but we’ll talk about the causes later. Japan, up to very recently, the second largest economy of the world, needs what Haiti, one of the poorest, still badly needs. The need for food, clean water and shelter will always supersede any flight of fancy of the human ingenuity. It’s really up to us, the lucky ones, to lend them both a hand. It may be the best thing you’ll ever do in your entire life. Have a great week. WC



Congratulations Colltalers:

100 Years of Women’s Days

If it may feel like it’s a new beginning and there’s an incredibly lot yet to be done, it’s because it is and there is.

The coordinated attack on women’s reproductive, equal pay and dignity rights is at full force but far from hitting its target. Which doesn’t mean they won’t keep on trying.

To the sorrowful state of health care for U.S. women (that is, for U.S. families) it’s been now added a renewed attack on their reproductive freedom and right to plan their future to their own needs.

They no longer care on calling it “right to life,” for as hypocritical as it always was. They’re explicitly aiming at eradicating abortion altogether, regardless whether the pregnancy was forced, carries mortal danger to the mother or, above all, was simply a planned decision.

Organizations such as Planned Parenthood, by the way, are being vilified by the corporate media, despite providing, in certain parts of the U.S., the only health care support to low or no income families.

The fact that abortion, itself, is but a fraction of its budget is that kind of fact that tends to get in the way of a good, although untruthful, story.

For certain religious leaders, Christian and Islamic, we may as well be living in the beginning of last century, when women were owned by man, had no right to vote, no labor wages, and were sexually available to their masters from the time they hit puberty.

But we believe that trying to hurt women at this point and time has been a tragic miscalculation. A huge mobilization of progressive forces (yes, they’re still active, thanks in great part to women leaderships throughout the country) is under way.

It won’t come in time to prevent many uneducated and insulated parts of society from being further alienated from the benefits of science and social promotion. But it will reach even those areas, given time.

Hopefully, by then, the hypocrites, the religious zealots, the intolerant, the tyrants who make a lifelong mission to stomp gender equality will be unmasked and heading to the oblivion they deserve.

In the meantime, here’s to our mothers, their own mothers, our daughters and their mission to nurture and educate us all: help is on the way. Have a great one. WC




Good Morning, Colltalers

Last night, about one billion people may have tuned to the awards show, and its world of glamour and well dressed stars. For the other six billion, there was something else playing on TV.

We don’t want to sound doomed and gloomy but guess which show will be on the rest of the year? But that’s the one you may as well be the protagonist, because it’s about your job, your family, your right to congregate and organize to demand a fair share of this pie.

It won’t be easy. It won’t be even fair, either. But that’s the award you’ve been nominated for by the academy of survival of decency and dignity.

It all sounds just like the inspirational words our actors and actress enunciate so well, when receiving accolades from their peers.

But to you, they have a deeper meaning. For even if you’ve dreamed of such an award before, when it comes the time for you to play a role in it, you are it. There’s no pre-staged conditions or expectations or words you must mention while receiving.

There’s just you and what your life is all about. If it’s something useful for your fellow beings, then they (and you) will last. Otherwise, you may as well watch the repeat of that other show, the one about someone luckier than yourself.

That one will give fulfillment for a couple of hours. The one about yourself will make your life something more than its parts, including the one who lives it, you. Make that one the award you’d like to dedicate to your dear ones. Even though there’s nothing wrong about watching reruns. Have a great one. WC




Glad You Joined Us, Colltalers

As protesters take over the streets of Libya, Algeria, Morocco, even Bahrain, and bodies start to pile up, the revolutionary youth of Egypt are learning a hard lesson, just a few weeks after the Tunisians did: once their struggle stops generating catchy headlines, the world media attention turns elsewhere and they’re left to fend for themselves.

It’s very easy to print out hyperbolic themes, such as the flame of freedom in the Middle East, or the clamor for human rights across the north of Africa. Much harder is to sustain a meaningful support to the basic needs such mass movements required. Look no further than Afghanistan or even Haiti, to see how are they currently regarded by the media moguls and their machine of printing dollars (but no longer newspapers).

Talking about printing money, look no further than Wall Street and the glaring contrast: a working family misses out two mortgage payments, and their home is repossessed. A Goliath financial concern cheats the systems and almost bankrupt it globally, and their chiefs collected multimillion bonuses. The homeless winds up in jail. The CEOs go to the Bahamas.

But the American people did take a stand in Wisconsin, and exposed the attempt by the GOP to destroy what’s left of organized labor to what it is: a witch hunt to pave their way to next year’s election. Teachers and their students, firefighters, cops and their supporters showed up in big numbers just to say: not too fast.

So, it’s in this combative mood that we start this week. People in the streets is all good, of course, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen such a democratic enthusiasm for something that actually will help everyone, not just those who showed up. But there’s one person missing: President Obama, would you make it good of your campaign pledges about the need for us all to sacrifice, yes, but also to work for a change we can believe in? WC




Good Morning Colltalers,

Egypt is leading the way, yes, and we may be hearing more from north of Africa and even from the Middle East, if that’s at all possible, before this week is over. But, besides our support and sincere regards to the Egyptian people, is time now to leave them alone to decide their own future.

You see, we’re so used to have a seat, officially or not, in the inner circles of governments we consider “friendly,” we forgot to know that any nation worth its flag needs to invite us first. Or our commercial interests all over the world supersede the wish of each nation’s citizenry? (Please, don’t answer).

In any case, while no one was looking, the GOP has mounted a coordinated attack on pretty much everything we hold dear, regardless where we came front. They’re ready to rewrite hard won civil rights battles, women’s rights, immigrants, even the 14th amendment is on their cross hairs.

I don’t know if you still remember, but we’re still have a huge contingent of youth fighting in faraway lands, while at home, millions are out of work, out of homes, out of luck. And there’s no one else left here, but us, to prevent that from happening.

That is, if we still care about what this nation once had plenty to teach the world and now must be humble enough to relearn: that a country is only great as the greatness of its citizens. It sounds contrite but we can’t think of any other fancy way to put it.

Be good, be brave and don’t make those who’re out there think they’re left to fend for themselves. Have a great one. WC




Good Morning, Colltalers

As we start another week, more than ever Egypt remains on everybody’s minds. While calls for moderation and for a peaceful government transition are expressed by the country’s allies, including the U.S., the people in the streets are beginning to fear that their courage and sacrifice may be manipulated once again.

The military, which showed restrain and support to the demonstrators’ cause, is now one of the institutions advising them to go home. And this mostly leaderless momentum may in fact be at risk of being lost or, worse, taken over by the old struggle between Westernized forces and Egypt’s ancient religious past.

That’s the same struggle that’s been blinding and taken priority over the people’s simple and rightful demands for dignity in the form of jobs, housing and affordable food.

The same struggle in the name of which, the authoritarian regime ruled by fear and accepted nothing but silence from its citizens. All the while, making billionaires out of its ruler and his family, while the rest of the population starved and cracked under the weight of extreme poverty.

It may be the week to make it or break it, and the Obama administration, who also has shown restrain, has to use all its muscle to make sure it’s no longer part of the oppressor’s arsenal, even if that may put at risk the so-called stability of the region.

We all hope that Israel has a big, pacifying role to play in this transition and it may be now the right time to show its people that there won’t be peace for as long as it’s associated with regimes that terrorize their citizens. There’s always a moment when the veil comes off and despots are finally revealed for what they really are. Have a great one. WC




Happy New Chinese Year Collrabitallers

People are out in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, demanding the same things that have been denied from them for so long: decent employment, right to housing, affordable food.

As the world looks on, good citizens of the earth recognize theirs as the same cause most of us are already engaged in for so long. Their struggle could have been the same under other cities’ names.

The Obama administration has the moral obligation to offer all the humanitarian support it can muster, along with its allies, and provide all conditions to help the people’s voice to be heard loud and clear.

But the crisis should also offer a sober reminder of what happens when the despots we choose as figureheads no longer have the moral fiber we know this nation is about.

For way too long we’ve chosen to enhance regimes that we hoped would prevent the rise of ideologies we disapprove, and the result has been a growing stench of the anti-American sentiment spreading like a disease.

It exposes with ever more cruelty our attempts to justify sending troops to distant lands, when their own families could as well be out in the U.S. streets demanding jobs, housing and food.

And Egypt’s authoritarian efforts to silence the communication among its citizens is way too close to home, when not long ago we’ve sent the Justice Department to prevent American students’ access to WikiLeaks.

It should give us all pause when the tactics of a repressive regime against its people start to resemble our own. But it’s also an opportunity to make a stand and reaffirm our commitment to individual freedom of expression and free association. Isn’t that the American Way? WC




Good Martin Luther King Week, Colltalers

As America mourns yet another tragedy brought about by way of insanity and guns, we’re also moved by the remembrance of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, so full of hope in the future, so inspiring to so many that since have dedicated, and sometimes lost, their lives in pursuit of a better nation.

Once again, we diligently bury our innocents and promise to do better, once again moved and inspired by the example of good citizens who chose to protect and cherish others despite the risks to their own survival.

Touched by the words of a president who’s not afraid to show his hurt feelings to us all to see and share, we hope the week marks a turning point in our recent history of hating our neighbors as if they were enemies and not brothers and sisters, struggling like us, to make sense of this tragedy.

We’re not ones to wish-wash our deep pain and disappointment that the world is far from the place we wish to send out our children to play. But we’ll never be instruments of the hatred that’s going around, sowing tempest and despair.

We’ll not be used to incite the persecution of those seeking to reveal the truth, who happen to disagree with us. And above all, we’ll never condone and turn our backs to those who are still in far foreign lands, fighting in the name of this nation, so we don’t have to. Every time we turn our guns on each other, we’re diminishing their selfless effort. Have a great one. WC




Good Morning, Colltalers

We’re still mourning the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the people who were killed in Arizona over the weekend. An all too common tale about a disturbed kid and his insane ramblings who thought he knew something we didn’t. Another American nut who should be getting access to mental help instead of access to lethal guns .

In DC, President Obama’s promised to shake things up, as several of his close allies have left the government, but all he’s managed to shake so far is our faith he’ll ever wake up from his deep slumber.

How he’d choose a political operative with all the credentials earned in the fight against this administration’s most precious initiatives, from health care overhaul, to change in Wall Street, to consumer protection legislation, the list is as honorable as it is long, it’s really nothing short of mind shaking.

But to be practical, the president’s far more important decisions to make, about Afghanistan, to which we’re (mind boggling again) sending yet more troops, job recovery efforts instead of recovery of corporation profits, about defending health care legislation that’s already benefiting people, the list is as vexing as it remains the same.

One should hope that more people want to bring the troops home ASAP, address rising poverty levels, prevent xenophobia from dominating immigration reform, than the crowd that’s holding their breath for the new TV season that’s about to start (check the listings). Then again, one is not always enough to have hope for anything, now is it?

Well, here at Colltales, one person is as good as a million. Come back often if you feel you can add to the team that dreams of getting better at this business of living. We can always learn a thing or two. Have a nice one. WC




Good New Year, Colltalers

The week is already in progress but you haven’t missed much. Perhaps the floods in Australia, or an earthquake in Chile. Most of everything else continues more or less the same, and you can add your own personal spin to this sentence right here.

Colltales is keeping it all simple this time around. You just got a brand new package of a year you’re not so sure it was what you’dordered, and can’t seem to find its instructions. We understand.

Handle it with care, of course, but we’d also say that you may be needed pronto to keep the new suits in DC on their toes. And the expensive ones afraid of doing the wrong thing again back in Wall Street.

We may see a swinging president or more of the same, but if he starts talking about jobs, the war, immigration, education and redemption, the only ones who may see any sense in joining him are the likes of us.

And if more secrets come up and show us our own wrong ways, for crying out loud, stopping shooting the mailman and let’s get something done about it.

There are way too many thousands of young Americans who’ll never return home, and almost as many who won’t come back whole. If we let them out there to dry and fade, or get them back to a dark alley to rot alone, our legacy of indifference will be written with their spilled blood.

It’s a new year. We need to bring our boys home for good, or we’ll never find our way back to sanity or fulfill the dream of compassion that built this nation. Have a great one. WC




It’s Almost Time to Sign Off 2010, Colltalers

You still have time to finish off whatever you’re doing, or go and get at least started with that long-delayed project you thought it’d be grand finishing just in time for New Years Eve.

But the bulk of the year, knock on wood, is about to say bye-bye. We got hit by a staggering earthquake in Haiti, a major oil spill in the U.S., an embarrassing leak of vexing documents related to wars overseas and diplomatic blunders all around.

But we saw 33 miners safely rescued from the bowels of Chile against all odds. We’ve seen a woman enduring Iran’s obscurantism, and another beating her Burma-imposed long-term home captivity, so there were major signs of hope.

But that was achingly missing from where we were expecting the most, the White House. We need President Obama to finally make that phone call, to the friends of candidate Obama, asking for help. He certainly won’t get any from the keepers of that town.

Or from the millions of unemployed, feeling left out of his current equation to rescue the economy. Or from the thousands of multimillionaires who’re benefiting from tax cuts and high-paid financial jobs in Wall Street, and simply don’t care.

Or from cash-hoarding businesses, who’d rather use concessions given to boost their investments to the opposite direction, in order to please stockholders.

But it’s the last week of a hard year, so it’s natural to feel a bit bitter about it. It’s bound to pass too as 2010. And 2011 may just bring the right balance of challenge and happenstance that’d shake us all into yet a new direction.

In case you’re already on the verge of a sugar-induced coma, just remember what we all just went through and try to recall only the sweetest moments. Now do you see what do we mean?

Never too late, never too soon to give yourself a break, to set your sights to the moon.

Go get your camera and have a great New Year. WC



Merry Eclipse, Colltalers, and a Happy Solstice!

If nothing else, the lame-duck congressional session accomplished one long-sought thing: it did away with the senseless “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Now gays can go ahead and openly be slaughtered in some faraway war, just like poor blacks and illegal immigrants have been doing for ages.

For the latter, by the way, the dream (act) is over. Immigrants just lost another way to prove once and for all they don’t mind being underpaid and overpersecuted, as long as they can call themselves Americans. We should be so lucky if a few natives currently residing part-time in Washington

had a fraction of this sort of gumption.

The persecution of the messenger of the hour, Julian Assange, proceeds as planned, and his organization is now in the hands of those who believe it’s the right of the people to know what government and corporations are doing in their name and with their tax money. If the man’s flaws can’t be sorted out from WikiLeaks’ merit, we’ll be the ones to lose another path to what once meant to be American: freedom.

But the week belongs to the event that, long ago, stopped meaning peace on earth to everybody’s loss, despite still being used as a launchpad to some goodness and a lot of strife.

Christmas comes this year almost as a cruel act of god, whichever one you’ve decided to follow. But since it’s here, it shouldn’t be another excuse for grinches and scrooges to short-change us again. You may dwell on its meaning or its meaninglessness, but you too were once a kid. So give yourself permission to enjoy it as you once have.

Consider this edition of Colltales a big hug there for any takers. There must be one somewhere here with your name on it. Come and get it and be merry. Certain things they can’t take away from you. Peace, brother. WC


Good Geminids, Colltalers

If by now you haven’t started your own retrospective of the year or best of listings of 2010, don’t bother. They’re overrated, meaningless and you probably wouldn’t notice much of a change on this year’s, even if you hadn’t misplaced the one you did in 2009.

Or would you? Let’s see: Afghanistan? Check. Iraq? Check. Unemployment? Check twice. Republican control of the government? Yeah, that’s in there too as it’s been since you’ve learned how to spell twitter.

But don’t get discouraged. A loose coalition of hacktivists was able to put down a few powerful corporation sites, in response to the (unrelated, they say) persecution of the WikiLeaks’ founder.

A timid agreement was reached at the UN Climate Summit in Cancún, the first all 193 nation-members have agreed in three years.

Oh, and there’s a new cover of Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill,” by an upcoming Russian talent, V.Putin.

So, if you haven’t put anything down on the highlights of 2010, it’s not your fault; there weren’t many. Which means that you still have a couple of weeks to do something nice for those kids of yours. Unlike Putin, they don’t expect you to stand up and clap your hands or else.

We bet they’d rather go for a blueberry pie at anytime. Have a great one. WC



Good Monday, Colltalers

The WikiLeaks fallout enters its second week and it seems that, besides having still plenty to disclose about the discreet charm of our diplomatic corp in all its pettiness and venom, it also has a little nugget to everyone even remotely connected to contemporary geopolitics. From Saudi Arabia to Lebanon, Brazil, Russia, Iran, China, even Google got into the line of fire of WikiLeaks revelations.

Which are definitely not as shocking as they’re being painted by the zealots on duty. It just so happens that we were never forewarned by continuous coverage from the multimillion dollar cable news we subscribe to, so busy with the adventures of Sarah Plain and not so tall, and her dumb progeny.

It’d be enough to make anyone sick but most of us just can’t: our benefits got cut and no extension will be even considered if the wealthiest Americans don’t get their own tax cuts first. If it’s consolation to anyone, there’s a doppelganger of the president doing the advertisement rounds and some think he’d be just what we need for a figurehead at the White House. Or haven’t you heard it? the real one won’t be extended either.

No cuts for banks are expected any time soon, neither here, nor in Europe. In fact, the CEO of JPMorgan wants his to be even bigger than it already is, and sees no problem with that. Not so fast, says former French footballer Eric Cantona, who thinks he can take on with, yup, you guessed, the banking system.

On Tuesday, he’s leading the charge and millions of his countrymen to withdraw their money from their banks. In a by-the-book populist course of action, he vows it’ll be enough to break them all down. It’s not expected to cause any meaningful change, of course, but it’d be curious to see a talented player, who was also known as a bully on the field, to play a quixotic role for a change, against an even bigger bully.

It’s too bad you can’t really withdraw those last $45 you have at your bank, lest not them close your account and charge you interest. Worst, you won’t even have cash enough to open another account, so either way, you’d be screwed.

Or, not. We hear the cabin in the woods of Lincoln, Montana, where the Unabomber once set up store and sent out threatening and increasingly incoherent messages of fear and impending doom, is up for sale. If those global warming talks going on in Cancun right now go nowhere, fancy to isolate yourself in a very, very cold and remote place? We didn’t think so. Have a great one. WC


More Curtain Raisers


Good Lead On to December, Colltalers

That’s right, the last month of 2010 is just around Tuesday and if you don’t see any particular differences blaring out of the news of the world, you’re not alone. Apart from few blessed souls hurrying to get their discount shopping right away, not much has changed in the way things going.

The WeakLeaks bombshells about the U.S.’s mismanagement of its invasion of Iraq and presence in Afghanistan will be scrutinized to painful death this week and the next but we already got the general idea. Deep inside, we knew all along that the multi million dollar 24-hour cycle news industry was failing to report what we needed to know.

Then again, news about the Jersey shore or Lindsay’s prison cell or the prospects for a reality show about a runaway governor seemed way more important at that time. Thank goodness we have another fairy tale royal wedding to divert our attention to, instead of those boring and depressing news flashes about billions of dollars being mismanaged in faraway land wars or another group funeral of somebody else’s children in uniform.

China is halfway out of playing coy in the confrontation in the Korean peninsula, by asking for a round of talks. But you wouldn’t know it while standing in line on Black Friday to get a hold of bargains on products made in… China.

Neither you’d be aware of another bailout and another threat of state bankruptcy in the euro zone, if you’re not Irish, so busy we’re all getting making plans and strategies on how to stretch our resources to meet the wish lists of our own kids. For a lot out there, it’s either that, or paying the two month behind rent or mortgage.

But it’s also a season of cheers and we won’t play the spoiler the whole time. We’d love finding more thinks to sing about or even suggest anyone to get as lit as the Rockefeller Center tree. Or start writing thank you notes. Or something. But we can’t so we won’t. All we can do at this time is to wish you a merry week. No C word here just yet. We’d tell you much more but this keyboard is made in China too and it’s been coy. See you in December. WC



Good Thanksgiving Week, Colltalers

As we prepare for that annual meal of tradition, soup kitchen reunion or simply simmering family tension, and turkeys all over begin their pointless attempt to avoid the butcher’s knife, the world surrounding us is, as customary, particularly belligerent.

North Korea reignited old-fashioned fears by giving a tour of its newly minted nuclear facilities to a U.S. scientist. As customary, science will be replaced by a pistol and a military envoy is stamping his passport to have a closer look.

North Koreans will certainly parade celebrating their supreme

leader and his moon-faced son, on their usual diet of a meal a day and a piece of meat a week. But the show will surely be unforgettably colorful and festive.

The pope decided to give a tour of unfounded optimism to its rare, ever shrinking brand of progressive faithful, by declaring support, sort of, to the use of condoms. Immediate hosannas and hallelujahs followed, only to be dismissed by the Vatican, which hasn’t changed a single letter of its doctrine banning contraceptives, including the one that predates the church, the condom.

Back to homeowners’ most recent struggle against banks that do not own their mortgages and insist in getting court-approved papers to repossess their houses, well, nothing has changed either.

No wonder bankers and shareholders are a big part of that minority of wealthy Americans who deserve tax cuts, according to Congress. And while Democrats are all too willing to grant them an extension of such cuts, they may not be on board to extend unemployment benefits, if the issue is ever brought back to the table before the end of the year.

Like wise turkeys, they’re all skipping town for Thanksgiving and will be back to DC only to an abbreviated, final session before the changeover. Few expect they’ll show spine and propose another vote on the matter. Most likely, we’ll be hearing from them only during the next election cycle, which is already in their minds, anyway.

But it could be worse, believe it or not. You or a loved one could be in Afghanistan or Iraq. Or on a vigil for a relative still buried deep underground in an explosive mine, like those New Zealanders. Wish to them the same luck of the Chileans, if at all possible.

Because the Irish, they seem utterly out of luck. After following to the letter the prescriptions from the EU and the IMF and all European and U.S. deficit hawks, they wound up, guess where, in the same hole Greece found itself, when it did the same a few months ago.

Now that Ireland stands to borrow over $100 billion from the same EU and IMF, all bets that the worst is gone should be off, right? Who are you kidding? Expect unemployment to rise, along with banks’ profits, besides a few political shuffles and a lot of grief of common, working folk. Haven’t you seen this all before?

But as we should’ve said, it’s a short week, sort of, in the U.S., and the end of the month is around the corner. Most of us have great hopes for December, bless our souls. While some ponder on what they’re going to tell their children, when the time comes, others wonder whether we’re really doing everything we can to make it all better. Colltales is a card-carrying member of their team and no, we haven’t seen any turkey lately, Mr. Butcher Man. Have a great one. WC



Good Morning, Colltalers

Encouraging news from Myanmar greets the week: Aung San Suu Kyi is free, after seven years of house arrest. Throughout the country formerly known as Burma and still ruled by a military junta, crowds gathered to celebrate the subdued champion in the fight for democracy and human rights.

In the U.S., it’s the progressive forces’ mood that’s subdued and the coming lame duck Congressional session isn’t helping it either. A multifaceted agenda that included benefits for the unemployed, open gays in the military, and a nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia, will, most likely be, greatly reduced if not scrapped altogether.

Instead, we’ll be hanging for a thread, and dutifully grateful, if at least the elimination of the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy will be implemented. But it doesn’t look good either.

Other crucial issues also destined to be swept under the White House rug are Afghanistan and Iraq, both still very much deadly, energy, global warming and food safety legislation and any and all of the bullet points that turned Obama’s election into a foray to a better future.

Yet, it’s still too early to call it a year of misses. Most of the Democrats that did get elected are of the combative kind. Some of the administration’s inner circle of economic advisers are feeling a cold wind blowing on their neck. And the man himself is far from done, although it’d be hard to notice it these days.

If you have to dig deeper in history to find reasons indicating that today, November 15th, has some meaning somewhere to someone, look no further than 1889: that’s when the republic was proclaimed in Brazil. And we all know how that turned out, don’t we? Have a great one. WC



Rise and Shine, Sort of, Colltalers

It’s the morning after in America and it’s true: we’re being called back to the trenches to fight for the same things the Obama administration thought were history: health care, housing, banking regulations, you name it.

In the meantime, rising legions of the unemployed roam the streets like zombies and we wonder when we too will be full time part of that crowd. It’s like the plague and we all know plenty of horror stories about it. Colltales is not in the ‘I told you so’ business, though.

As citizens, we’re only as good as our commitment to social justice, decent wages, housing, to human and animal rights, you know, to what usually sounds alarmingly phony when listed that way.

And yet, we’re down but not out. Across this country, there’re those who’re taking it all as it is: you win some, lose a lot, but giving up is not an option. We came to a fork on the road, that’s all. You may now ask, what would Yogi Berra do?



Happy Halloween Week, Colltalers

The last days of October will be tricky indeed. But count your blessings, you still have a fun party at the end of the week to look forward to and help you get through the week. The Wikileaks were leaked and our faith on the basic dignity of being an American fighting the good war is being once more challenged big time. But the whole shame the revelations are bringing about may be real only for those who’ve been living under a rock these past seven years. For the rest of us, the struggle is to ward off feelings of hopelessness and indifference.

Just as what one finds plenty of in Haiti. For those living amid the ruins, filth, hunger and government corruption, not even the terrifying news that Cholera is at the city’s gates is enough to cause shock. It’s up to those of us who still feel it, though, to provide hope and clean water and warm clothes to our brothers and sisters.

We could use some, ourselves. We mean, brothers and sisters. Across the land, voices are asking for a moment of pause, of reflection, of sanity. Colltales is but one of the millions invoking the power of compassion, temperance and faith to change our perceived doom into the peaceful future we want for our children. A world where human dignity is the currency. And to have a dream is all it takes to get on the bus. Above all, a land where no one ever heard of a certain shade of yellow. It’s hard to describe it but for whatever reason, we just hate that one… WC


Good Morning, Colltalers

The November midterm elections in the U.S. are heading to their last two weeks and as the right Greek media chorus keeps chanting, Washington is up to a lot of apparent changes, so nothing can be effectively changed at all. Republicans can’t believe their luck, oblivious to the lunatic fringe they’re delivering all the way to DC. And Democrats seem heading to such a screw-up, not a single secret donor would’ve believed not long ago they actually could.

A quick run through both the Iraqi and the Afghanistan electoral processes would offer no solace. There, the ballots are already cast but the winners are the same old foes; high corruption and high caliber weaponry still rule those rough lands. Survivors of such flyover from hell may as well be advised to stay clear from the stillborn peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

But, alas, some are not discouraged just yet, bless their souls. As they brace for another tough winter, so should the over 20 million unemployed in the U.S., and those who’re literally fighting off bandits who now are coming for their homes. Whether we’re all in this together and help is just around the corner, is utterly beside the point. We’ll survive, if we’ll survive, like good Americans, flying on the very seat of our own pants.

But for at least one of us, to have a dream was all it took. The tall, dark and handsome – which in his times may’ve meant skinny, black and looking for trouble – Chuck Berry once personified all that was perfect about this country. His birthday today may be all we need to start off this week on a good, rollicking note. Yes, the news can be very bad but we can always make it good, Johnny, B. Goode. WC



Good Columbus Week, Colltalers

A shorter, softer and, hopefully, happier week ahead of us in the U.S. Maybe even as happy as it promises to be for the Chilean miners, trapped for two months under a mountain, and their families. Tomorrow they may be brought up to the surface, which is great, and to the world’s glare, which can be unforgiven. We’re all bracing for the best.

And so are the Hungarian towns, flooded last week by a caustic red deluged leaked from an aluminum plant, who’re expecting, oh no, another wave. The first one would have been enough to change their lives for good, or rather, to the worse, as some won’t have a place to live for a long while.

A growing wave of support for a foreclosure moratorium so far has failed to knock hard enough on the Obama administration’s doors, or rather, revolving doors. No one seems to be at home at this moment.

The same is happening with most businesses who’ve been using government incentives designed for increased hiring to hoard cash instead. Either the White House takes a firmer action or they’ll begin to hire again when global warming is taken seriously by the GOP. Which is, never.

But as we say, it’s a shorter week and for Yankees fans, things seems to be coming together. Now if we could only have that kind of gumption. Have a great one. WC



Oh, Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz?

Good October, Colltalers

A looming terrorist threat in Europe? Check. An attack on NATO forces in Pakistan? Check. The collapse of another round of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians? Check. Some months are definitely very upfront about their checklists from hell.

Domestically, the November midterm elections are getting traction and hopefully issues of rising unemployment, media manipulation, campaign spending and special interests lobbying may finally take center stage.

All and all, not a time for the cardiac-challenged. For it’ll take a great deal of resolve from President Obama to brush off candidate Obama’s playbook. A lot of sangfroid from progressive activists to advocate for those who lack a voice. And a big amount of spine from Democrats in general to do what’s right, not what may safely usher them back to Washington.

It’s also a week bracketed by events inspired by two 1960s superstars but we have no idea what that has to do with anything stated above. Something in the legacy of Janis and John, though, still transcends the confines of the arts and culture realm. And we don’t know about you, but at least part of whatever gets you through the night, it’s alright by us. Have a great one. WC



But the days grow short when you reach September.

Good Morning Colltalers

Can you hear it? If you can’t hear noisy bulldozers, and busy construction managers, and angry protesters, that’s a good thing. That means that the Israeli-Palestinian latest peace talks still have a future. Otherwise, please don’t let us go there just yet.

There may be nothing wrong with your ears but certainly there’s something very lacking with those of our elected officials. Otherwise, why no one seems to be stepping on to the plate to hit those clauses of the new Contract on America right out of the ballpark?

And so should we for tossing a cheap sport metaphor ever so casually, we know, but if so, be it. We talk about angry protesters but the only ones around these days are bashing the media for its treatment of Demi and Ashton and Lindsay and Paris.

While the debate on immigration follows its usual ‘shoot the messenger, so the message remains unread,’ in places such as Mexico, it’s the media who’s asking for editorial advice from those who’ve been shooting them.

A newspaper front page letter to druglords explicitly asked what and how they want to be covered, so their underpaid writers and photographers can stop being targeted. And some ask why newspapers are on their way out. In any case, good luck with that fair trade proposal.

And good luck to you too who can’t be sure whether you’re very lucky to still have a job, or are so afraid of losing it that you’re doing some risky things to your health, just so you can withstand the pressure.

Mind you, we do hope you don’t do anything hasty. If you think about it, it may not be a bad thing that indeed not just the days, but the whole month of September has been awfully short. Have a great one. WC



September Will See You All Out, Dear Colltalers

We doubted it. You doubted it. We all screamingly doubted it’d ever happen. But it did. The malignant oil well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is capped, cemented, clogged for good. But hold on to the thank you notes to BP for a while longer.

If nothing else, because much harder is what comes next, when some $20 billion is supposed to be handed out to those affected by BP’s catastrophic mistakes in the gulf. You may call us then to share a toast.

We hope that happens faster than drying paint but it may take more pressure than what’s surrounding the underwater well to get the job done, before our children’s children get a $50 refund check in the mail.

Talking about overextended expiration dates, we may need to apply similar muscle to shorten those overseas adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan that are costing thousands of U.S. lives, and a whole lot of $20 billion checks.

The race to the bottom is on and its sponsors, a number of wealthy mad hatters drinking tea, are ready to sign a new contract on America. It may take a few alices, er, alliances, or rather, some new allies to disrupt their party. And November may be a good time for that to happen as any.

Unless we’re having too much fun with our viral videos, our incredible luck of having an underpaid job, our thirst for watching Lindsay failing again, to even care. If that’s the case, there’s nothing to complain about it. But we doubt it. We respectfully, hysterically, sincerely doubt it. And, just in case, we’re keeping this week ahead to think about it. WC



Good Morning, Colltalers

As summer winds down in the Northern Hemisphere, some signs that someone at the White House is impersonating candidate Obama. We’ve already got word that the Bush tax cuts for the very rich won’t outlive the past administration for too much longer.

We also heard something about the need to address rampant unemployment, to hold on firm to health care improvements already approved by the majority and that, are you sitting down? appeals to bipartisanship to get things done in Washington have fell through the cracks and won’t be reactivated anytime soon.

In other words, we won’t be fooled again. The will of the underclass, the cry of the working class and the claims of the middle class will be finally be considered first and foremost, we’re moving on with a green legislation for new energy policies, we’ll be reaffirming our basic principles of individual rights and religious freedom, we… Sorry, we got carried away.

From naivete to the world of movies, it’s not a long walk, as we all know. Two seminal figures left the world’s silver screen for good over the weekend: French Nouvelle Vague director Claude Chabrol, at 80, and American actor Kevin McCarthy, 96, of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” fame. For the many differences their careers were built upon, there’s a powerful, undelible common thread leading straight into our collective psyque.

In the 1950s, we gladly took a ride with the New Wave much to run away from Cold War fears of comunism and atomic bombs. After an unbelievable fearful ride in the first decade of this new millenium, already reflected ad nauseum in a million pictures about death and dismemberment, we may be all due for another joyful ride. Or at least, for more and better films. Claude and Kevin, glad you work here is done.

About us all, much’s left to be done. We can only wish you well. Hang in there, we’re going in. WC



Good Day, Week & Will, Colltalers

Labor Day in the grand ol’ U.S. makes this a short working week. Yupee. Millions of unemployed couldn’t care less, though. Money is so tight that even beer is now considered a luxury good. Day off? Smirnoff, they dream.

It also doesn’t make much of a difference for our dutiful congressmen, who’ve already left Washington to work extra hard this week. Needless to say, they won’t be taking your phone calls for a while. But it’s all for a good cause, you see?

Many agonize about reelection, so there’s a lot to be covered. Some took seats on corporate jets so to get started “working their bases” right away.

A few understand the value of a good checkup too, so to be in shape for the demands and gastric risks of many dinners with supporters and lobbyists.

Thank goodness they’re all covered with excellent medical plans. They definitely need all those deductibles and extra care providers, if they’re to remain in charge of coverage cuts for those who can’t afford, crucial to balance the budget in times like these.

In fact, it’s almost certain that some form of tax cuts will be made permanent to help the economy, thanks to such wise leadership we see around. The tax cuts for those who make over $500 thousand a year, whose private economy will be surely soar, are all but guaranteed.

We’ll be standing on the sidelines if nothing else happens. But we hear that there’s a candidate with a different message, an eloquent young man who’s been talking about hope and that we can and all of that. We’ll be looking carefully but that seems to be an ideal candidate for president, right? WC



“Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV

And you think you’re so clever and classless and free.”

Good End of Summer, Colltalers

We hate to remind you, but with Labor Day fast approaching, you have only one week left of the hottest summer on record. You should be so lucky to have a job to come back to, all refreshed and done with the Caribbean thing, all reset and ready to send off you’re well fed children to school.

So happy you’re not, instead, remembering these five years since you’ve lost your home in New Orleans; or that you’re still on duty overseas in one of the wars they just declared it’s over but not for you; or that you’re so hot and sweaty on your way to spend Christmas buried under a mountain in Chile.

So it’s a week ahead when none of the above will affect you, bless your heart, and you’re just wondering how can you lend a hand here and there, or get that backyard garden finally going, or get yourself running around the block, for starters, and losing that nasty tire wrapped around your girth.

Because far from you to give any credence to weekend millionaires who feel proud of getting richer by inflaming desperate crowds. Not your game to start taking sides in the battle for the best god, since you’ve got better things to do with your life.

If some are foolish enough to think the constitution is not enough, it’s their loss. We’re way too busy thinking about the world we must leave to our children. Too preoccupied that they grow to become citizens not soldiers, and that they live to make a difference, not die to prove a point.

Yes, Labor Day is fast approaching. And so should be a break for the working class. While so many are out fighting literally over the sex of angels and the privileges of the very wealthy, the millions who sustain this nation with their sweat and lives are taking the beating of the century.

We hate having to remind you but everyone else seems to have gone mad and forgot how we got here. If we’re to go any further, we’d better not wait for them to come back home. We have a humanity to tend for and no time for their criminal crusades. WC

“A working class hero is something to be.”



“Do you expect me to talk?”

“No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”


Good Morning, Colltalers

While the U.S. stock market may dominate the headlines for the shrinking and increasingly wealthier bunch that still has money to invest in it, for the other America, something else may continue to shrink: their shot at the dignity of another job.

Down the South America way, more and more people are joining in the vigil for the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean tunnel. Rescue may not reach them before their food supplies run out, but we hear they’re not planning on giving up hope anytime soon.

Neither is Iran giving up on his nuclear ambitions, making everyone nervous and unjustly giving credence to the worst zealotry and xenophobia the ultra-right can come up with as a way of solution.

We too, shouldn’t give up on hope either. But ours must be of a completely different nature.

Even though the phony (and dangerous) debate over religious freedom takes over space in the media. Despite the fact that our constitutional rights are under attack to suit a wealthy minority’s interests. Regardless the open war on the middle class of this country, daily bombarded by weapons of indifference and hostility.

If all that Dr. No Goodfinger is expecting is for us to die, then he may have something else coming. And yes, we expect you to talk. You won’t get rid of the bad guys and get the girl in the end, if you don’t even try. Have a great one. WC



“I hope I didn’t bore you too much with my life story.” Elvis Presley

Good Rocking This Week, Colltalers

Pakistan is drowning and the motorcade of cholera and disease is at the country’s gates. Either we offer them a helping hand or you know who’s ready to seize the moment for some good PR.

In the meantime, smoke and smog from insatiable peat fires are enveloping Moscow, and some Russians are stunned that Vladimir Putin hasn’t yet put them all out with his mighty breath.

He, who likes to parade shirtless on his shining horse and wrestle tigers and stare down world leaders usually taller than him, has been, to put it mildly, as helpless as the next local politician, packing to Siberia as we speak.

We’re definitely witnessing something very weird about recent weather patterns but don’t hold your mighty breath for the powers that be to point to global warming as their cause. They wouldn’t even take your call. But some knowledge about what’s happening may help us make sense of what’s happening. So get to the library and do some informed surfing, for a change.

After all, fifty million studies can’t be that wrong. Thank you very much.




The flight from Florida landed at JFK at 2:47 pm, 23 years ago today. It was hot and humid. The old Caprice, wide and fast, got to midtown Manhattan in less than 20 minutes. I got out, looked at the high rise of my first bed in New York and took a deep breath. A lot has happened ever since but nothing will ever smell like that moment of my rebirth.” Mixman Shuffle

Good Monday, Blazing Colltroopers

A week to fend off attempts to rewrite the constitution, so to prevent some U.S. citizens to legally remain in the U.S.

To reaffirm everyone’s freedom to congregate in peace and your right to profess the faith of your ancestors.

And to ward off obscurantism, which spreads fear and heeds only to the rules of intolerance.

There’s still time also to prevent BP from cashing its chips and skip town, what with all the rhetoric about no more oil to clean or claims to reimburse. Boy, if this bunch never drill again on our soil it won’t be too fast (or realistic the least, we all know that too).

As Oscar-winner Patricia Neal, who passed away Sunday at 84, once said, “When you call upon a thoroughbred, he gives you all the speed, strength of heart and sinew in him. When you call on a jackass, he kicks.”

It’s a great quote. But for the week ahead, “Don’t forget to duck!” is even better. WC



“Sometimes we would be staked out in the middle of the river, several barges tied together. So we could party.” Terry Southern

Good August, Mad Dog Colltalers

We heard you. If we all stop hearing about BP, it won’t be too soon. But try to see it this way: when they say they’ll be partly paying for the costs of the ecological catastrophe they caused in the Gulf of Mexico with your taxes, your heart races and your temperature rises. Do you really need another excuse to have a cold one in this record heat?

Or when they say they’ll be, hum, cutting down on the cleanup efforts, since no one seems to be able to say where all that oil went, is there a better reason to cancel their license to drill in American waters for good? It seems reasonable, at least until they do find which marshlands or water stream are hosting all that crude.

So it takes a bit of an acrobatic effort but we always reach the same conclusion: we have no business doing business with this bunch. Let’s all be clear about that and done with it too. Basta, Porra! (don’t ask).

This week, we’ll be hitting the (scalding) ground running like banshees, because soon enough we’ll be saying how much we miss the summer, blobs of tar and all.

A couple of entertaining news from Brazil, the kind that makes you dance and think at the same time, some light fare about Times Square and half-serious goings over in Brooklyn bring New York City to focus this Monday.

And to get on with the spirit of the season, we’ll keep this intro brief and to the point. Get some nice tan going and make that phone call you’ve been postponing for months. Tell them how you love them and thank your lucky stars. Cause tomorrow never knows. WC



“The check’s in the mail

The check is in the mail

And it ought to be there Tuesday without fail…”

Good End of July, Colltalers

Time to say, Good Riddance! to the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill (let’s hope so) and to BP CEO Tony Hayward (what, is he still around?) but knock on wood so not to jinx either way.

The only point of contention, we hear, is how much he wants to donate to the disaster fund relief. Sources say he wants to give away almost all of the reportedly $15 million pension the British media is saying he stands to receive from BP.

The oil giant will have none of it, though, because Tuesday, when it reports its $10 billion first-half profit, rumor has it that it’ll also announce a large, voluntary amount to be given towards the cleanup efforts needed for the disaster they both caused.

Also Tuesday, Batman will finally fulfill his promise to reveal his secret identity to the world, in exchange for global peace. We’re yet to get our credentials to that news conference and to another one in the same day. Christians all over are tight lipped about it but…

Enough of this hogwash, as that begging nun said when she was caught slipping into something more comfortable in a Chinatown street this week. Did we say Good Riddance!?

The heat is on again but while we’re talking about getting out of Afghanistan, some are already priming for Iran. Who are they thinking about sending to die there this time? The unemployed? Inmates? Illegal immigrants? Perhaps it’s time they send their own children. Or no one, no more, because it’s enough is enough, someone ought to stop them and now.

About that mail, 2.5 million plus are eagerly waiting for the staggering, job-searching stopping $300 and change weekly checks they’re entitled to and that the U.S. Congress finally approved.

You don’t say it but it seems the wealthiest Americans were kind enough to agree to put on hold their own benefits extension, the Bush tax cuts, to be rolled out only after the out of work masses get their dues. So then maybe they’ll stop whining. Or whatever.

For those still awake, here’s to another week into a yet to be built better future. There’s still time, as that nun used to say to her regulars. Good Riddance indeed. WC




That’s what France would pay back Haiti, according to the Committee for the Reimbursement of the Indemnity Money Extorted from Haiti (C.R.I.M.E.). The amount, determined by the Haitian government in 2003, was what it had to pay French landowners oust from the Central American colony by its 19th Century independence movement. More on that later.

Good Break of the Oil Spill, Colltalers

We couldn’t help it. It is good news, no matter how you slice it. The oil stopped gushing into the water of the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in three months and, whether this is it or there’s more to come through the cracks of that aging well, the moment is definitely worth a cold one or two.

But if you’re going to do that, do it quickly. Nothing else seems as cheery.

British PM Cameron will be in the U.S. this week and President Obama should ask about that old devil al-Megrahi, who blew a plane full of innocent souls out of the Lockerbie sky and didn’t finish his prison sentence.

Oh, and yeah, did BP have anything to do with that too? Unbelievable.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell is bound to steal the spotlight from another devil, warlord Charles Taylor, when she testifies at his trial at The Hague, and is expected to tell the story of some bloody diamond he gave her.

And in the U.S., Congress may have the votes it needs to approve a new unemployment benefits bill. Heaven knows that close to 20 million people are hoping it does. The week will tell.

Hopefully, some of them already found solace in Apple’s solution for their IPhones’ bad reception problem. With a free, brand new case, they’re ready to field those headhunter calls. Here’s hoping they get many of them but we’ll call you to let you know for sure.

About that CRIME story last week. Although the timing was in perfect synch with Bastille Day and faltering earthquake relief efforts, it was a hoax, perpetrated by a self-identified group of “activists”. The acronym should have given it all away but the French Foreign Ministry didn’t get it and promised to suit. Colltales had a good laugh though and probably so did those hoax masters, the YESMEN. You’re welcome to share in the joke too. WC



– “What we have here is a lack of communication…”

Good Motley Colltalers

A new week starts and a new cap is being placed atop the Gulf of Mexico gusher. That should get you going for a while. But don’t bet your last unemployment check that it will work this time just yet.

We’re all just about here with BP’s lies and they’d better get it right before it gets any worst (if it could even be possible but that’s for another week or so).

About the unemployed, the millions the U.S. congress left down a few times over last week just before heading to their vacation, may catch a break soon. All it takes is an interim senator to hold the late Robert Byrd’s seat and compound the much needed filibuster-proof vote to pass at least some extension of benefits.

It sounds so simple one wonders whether they’ll find a way to screw the whole thing again. Check back by Friday.

The world is holding its collective breath, hoping Iran will do the right thing and let that woman, who was sentenced to death by stoning, walk free, as she deserves. Sometimes it’s not so hard to catch a sanguinary regime in the act, trying to crush an individual’s dignity. We’re looking at you, Iran.

Another flotilla is set to challenge Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza and one has to wonder whether seeking a confrontation is the way to go, after what happened a few weeks ago. Can we discuss this before someone else gets hurt? Whatever happened to the good old power of negotiation? Otherwise, they’re going to need a bigger boat.

So there you go. Another week to make us or break some of us and we won’t even have the soothing relief of a good World Cup game. Haven’t you heard it? It’s all over and there’s a new, deserving champion on the block, Spain. They’re probably still partying over there and that’s so great for everybody.

But we have a lot to do. Some things may look bleak but as we speak, people are volunteering in the cleanup of gulf beaches. Or donating time for Haiti. Or just doing whatever needs to be done, so their neighbor won’t miss his medicines. Don’t complain, chaplain.

Feel free to browse Colltales, read some World Cup posts or know about that tree-dweller tribe they just contacted in Papua. Who knows? This may be your lucky charm week. WC



To July and Beyond, Colltalers

A short week in the U.S., following its 234th birthday on Sunday. Lots of BBQs and fireworks, not much to party or celebrate about.

General Petraeus takes over Afghanistan while the sense in having Americans killed on that soil is more and more being called into question.

While more funding was freshly approved for that quagmire, none was allowed for millions of unemployed whose value to this nation seems to dwindle proportionally to the increased demand for more weapons.

And as the Obama administration wrestles control from BP over the ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, some fear the irresponsible oil giant may just walk away richer as we get stuck with the bill. Some say, we already are.

So it may be as good a time as ever to consider whether we’re asking the right questions or fighting the right wars. In other words, who’s going to fight for this nation’s real treasury, its people and its idealism?

Make no mistake, it won’t be the fringe minority that now says the unemployed should only blame themselves.

Or the wealthy nuts, that now claim to have god’s interest at heart.

And above all, neither will be your friendly talk show, who cynically proclaims to be the voice of those who have none.

It may be as good time as ever to just put an end to this toxic bunch’s free ride and start getting busy rebuilding the just nation our independence’s signers once dream of.

Or just relearn from our own recent history how we go from a tragic depression to the greatest years of our lives.

Make no mistake, our sons and daughters, the ones lucky enough not to be killed in senseless wars abroad, will be still counting on that. WC



Good Week, Colltalers

June is almost gone and we’re stuck (some say, for much, much longer) with the Gulf of Mexico’s tragic oil spill and its aftermath, suffused with corporate irresponsibility, government hopelessness and bad news all around for workers, wild life and the environment.

The threat of hurricanes never loomed so sinister on the deep water horizon of that once pristine landscape of ocean blue and white beaches. Also, someone hasn’t read the memo that said to never send robots to do the work only humans can.

But the administration did take several steps in the right direction. There’s a new czar in charge of the still-in-planning-stages cleanup process and renewed pressure on BP and the government of its home base, England, to share responsibility for a solution.

What’s missing though is the active collaboration with environmental groups, who shouldn’t be perceived as a threat but the trained help they are and that it’s badly needed. Here’s hoping that that changes too.

The World Cup is reaching its feverish point, although now without the valiant efforts of team U.S.A., which showed the steely determination needed for any enterprise to succeed. We can use some of that for the efforts in the Gulf too and here’s hoping those involved in crucial decisions about it were paying attention.

And then there’s the Congress, which it’d better approve a financial reform bill that takes into consideration consumer rights, with the creation of an agency with real teeth. Here’s hoping, etc, etc.

Colltales chose to start the week with a closer look at one of this earth’s most majestic creatures, that’s been hunted to extinction despite efforts and bans and rhetoric to the contrary. As you read that on, scroll down and around and keep your mind busy with some of the stuff that makes this site an interesting voyage towards diversity.

For as many things in life we can’t possibly change, there’s an equal amount we can and should change. Like which side of your brain you’re going to exercise to find helpful solutions to someone else. After all, comparing to our body mass, not even the cetaceous brain has the equivalent size as ours. Let’s put it to good use, shall we? Have a good one. WC



“Summertime, and the living is easy…”

Here Comes the Sun, Colltalers

Yes, we wished. And we still do, that is, as long as BP’s Dudley, the replacement for dopey CEO Tony Hayward at the head of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis, turns out not to be another, well, doobie.

Pardon being so crude, but it’s time to skip the niceties, Mr. President, and start kicking some arse. Oh, you already said that? Never mind.

Is it already too late and too tiresome and too repetitive to ask, no, to demand a solution for the gusher yet again for, say, last week, at 12:30pm?

What about now, is there anybody out there? Are the robots having a coffee break? Are we ready to say that the biggest ecological disaster of our era came and went and all we could do about it was to make speeches from the Oval Office?

Hey there, Congress, any chance for a consolidated finance reform bill till the end of this week? What about the jobless and the faithless and the frankly ignored hordes of former workers who can’t find one even if their own house depends on it? Are you hammering anything right at this moment to help them out?

We could spend the rest of the week asking these kind of questions but we won’t.

Instead, scroll down and around and find plenty of food for thought to feed your hunger and thirst for peace, love and understanding.

Get in gear for the knockout phase of the World Cup and team U.S.A.’s another heroic effort to make it to the next phase, faulty referee calls notwithstanding.

Read a bit about the tournament’s history. And another bit about South America, home of two of its greatest teams. And while you’re at it, take yet another bite of what’s all around you.

Colltales has plenty to keep you going. And hopefully come back for more.

Now that you can have a few cool ones, don’t let that derail you. Have a toast for those willing to turn this day into a brand new hope. We’re playing for this team. Enjoy it. WC



“The thing about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is that it’s bounded to be stopped some day. Someone will come up with a way to choke that leak for good, albeit it’ll be useless for countless dying species. What I’m not too sure is whether we’ll ever stop loving oil. That may take more than I’m willing to accept.” Loc Lleywes

Goodness Monday, Colltalers

The spill may be gushing an obscene volume of crude oil into the Gulf and killing a sinful amount of marine wildlife, but the real shame remains inland.

So if this week is to make any difference it’ll need to switch gears pronto. We can start by stopping going after environmentalists, the responsible media and the willing helping hands.

It’s time for BP to start setting up a fund to pay for reparations; the U.K. to realize this is not a U.S.-only problem; and President Obama to make good of his campaign promises to seriously consider alternative sources of energy.

This spill is but a warning and with the thousands of aging oil drilling structures in the Gulf, it’s only logical to expect another disaster of equal or worse magnitude.

Congress needs to get on the driver’s seat of this issue too. But that’s not an excuse to skip acting on behalf of millions of unemployed and to falter in the completion of the finance reform bill.

And since we’re at it, let’s also have the U.S.A. team advancing to the second round of the World Cup.

This week, Colltales is playing ball too. Check the story about Argentina’s commendable efforts to come to terms with its bloody past.

Or see what a bunch of kids are doing to call attention to urban pollution in South Brazil.

And take a moment of two to reflect what needs to be done in our own backyard. Get informed about rampant suicide among Vets; the unfairness of the current immigration debate; the implications of the loss of privacy in a world controlled by multinational corporations.

Every time you pick up the tab on these and other issues, you’re making a statement, tip included or not. It’ll always be up to you to choose which side you want the butter on.

Have a great one. “We’ll meet again, don’t know when, don’t know where.” WC



Good Morning, Colltalers

The continuous hemorrhage of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, or Israel’s refusal to any questioning of its recent acts may have already woken you up as if there’s a fire to put out in the world and you’re the only firefighter left.

Or maybe it was last week’s arrest at a New York airport of two suspected terrorists what killed your sleep at 5 o’clock this morning.

Whatever it may’ve been, take it easy, will ya?

Yes, the picture of that majestic pelican covered in oil, wings and beak spread out wide as if asking, WTF?, right before it died, may be a legitimate cause for requesting an extra-strong antidepressant prescription (or an early morning drink, if your job was another collateral of the Gulf spill and you have no way to go, for now).

And yes, where are the credible mediators to wrestle away from the Israeli hawks decisions that may affect millions and even damage the country’s stability in such an unstable region?

But through Colltales, you’ll realize that this week can’t possibly be about militaristic madness or rampant self-medication alone. Scroll down and check the brave Sao Paulo protester and his generous act. Think about that astronaut in the 60s, making a joke outside his spacecraft, framed by the exuberance of our blue planet right behind him.

Or be forewarned that by Friday, millions the world over will be taken by another kind of madness, infinitely more benign, that of the World Cup that starts in South Africa.

You’ll get it all right here. The news, the comments, the exquisite factoids and the joy of screaming, at the top of your lungs, GOOOALLLLL!!! We all know how much we need it, so let’s get this ball running. WC



Monday Monday, Colltalers

It’s Memorial Day in the U.S. and the somber occasion marks two equally somber facts:

* The armed conflict in Afghanistan is now the U.S. longest, besides having already killed 1,000 Americans and countless of people caught in the crossfire either by choice or lack thereof.

Since it just got more funding to fuel its rage, it’s time to seriously consider alternatives to this “war on terror” that George W. Bush invented. Maybe when Barack Obama becomes President.

* The oil spill that BP caused in the Gulf of Mexico will remain gushing thousands of crude straight into the water, now that the latest attempt to stop it was officially declared a failure.

The highly profitable concern startlingly still in charge of the operation is apparently not concerned enough about how long it will take to finally fix this disaster.

They say it’ll take a week to have robots working on it, or two months to completely shut the well off, depending on who do you ask. We say the White House should move to the muck-drenched beaches of Louisiana and come back to Washington only after this job is done. Period.

That’s why you’ll find stuff in Colltales that will make you laugh, think, dream, drink, get high or just take a damn good time off.

That is, unless BP executives, the administration and Congress are calling off their own vacations.

We should be so lucky. And so should the at least 12 million unemployed people who can’t even consider the possibility.

To them, to you, to those who care, let’s give it a shot and make this a better one, shall we?

Get your motor running. WC



The experts have spoken.

And they have declared: “It’s complicated.”

Good Monday, Colltalers.

Here’re some things you wouldn’t put your money on this week:

• The exact time BP will finally managed to stop the month-old oil spill it caused in the Gulf of Mexico (a risky bet.)

• The moment public outcry will force a rebuff of the xenophobic Arizona’s immigration law and the biased history revisionism of Texas’s curriculum books (stay clear of these ones.)

• More arrests related to the Times Square’s failed car bombing attack and of the cleric who’s asking for the killing of Americans, after he himself was reportedly included in the CIA assassination list (two bloody guesses).

• The U.S. decision to commit to a green energy policy and the revoking of all current oil exploration licenses, effective immediately (you’re way off, buddy).

In other words, if you don’t have anything new to say, you say it’s complicated. Fortunately, you’ll find here a more positive way to navigate the week.

After checking the oil spill video and going over the Difficult Conversations headlines, dive through the items of a Chinese restaurant menu. Trip on the possibilities of having the Internet flowing in your veins. And partake Ernest Hemingway’s awe for the art of bullfighting. The graphic images won’t last as long as his enduring understanding of this lethal sport.

The mix of the deadly serious with the utterly absurd, the thoroughly mundane and the quixotic uplifting are like knife and fork for colltales. But you’re welcome to dig in with your own spoon.

Some stories are loaded with links. Some stores are quite high and never close. But that old lady visiting Westminster would put it even better. After learning about people buried there, she blurted out and loud:

“Has anybody been saved here lately?” Indeed, woman. They may treasure their dead over there, but Colltales is in this business for the living. And that it’s not that complicated. Have a good one. WC



There’s something happening here

What it is, it ain’t exactly clear…

Don’t tell Buffalo Springfield, but their old song may actually reflect a lot of what will surely be news this week.

* BP said it finally caught a break trying to control the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. But we won’t take that at face value after its unprofessional attempts to plug the well so far and the use of chemicals harmful to the environment. Also, to watch company officials being so flippant about the disaster is no less revolting.

* The debate over Arizona’s draconian immigration laws is about to turn up a notch after the nation’s largest union and one its biggest civil rights organizations combined to denounce federal support to the statein a letter to the Department of Homeland Security.

* And a new audio from the Yemeni Al Qaeda is threatening the U.S. if it carries on with the government-sanctioned decision to assassinatean American-born Islamic cleric linked to the Ft. Hood shooting and attempted Christmas Day airplane terrorism plots.

Aren’t you glad that there’re still things to enjoy and be proud of right here, at colltales?

Read about the brave soldiers in Afghanistan. Have fun with the micro stories sprinkled throughout the site. Find many new and interesting things to play with, listen to and talk about, as you scroll up and down, left and sideways.

Shuttle’s last flight? Check. Internet expansion? Check. Having a free lunch every day of the week? We’re still working on that one.

Colltales is here to counterpunch that heavy weight champ called Age of Uncertainty. With your help, we’ll knock it out, have a sip of coffee and text a friend about that funny thing that just happened, all in a New York minute. So come on in and join together with the band. WC



The Crude, the

Crooked (& the Nominee)

May is not even two weeks old and the cliffhangers keep piling up.

When will BP’s attempts to plug the Gulf of Mexico’s ocean floor finally stop the 

Elena Kagan

gushing oil, still being spewed at stunning amounts?

Has President Obama’s nominee Solicitor General Elena Kagan got what it takes to become the 112th Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court?

Are the UK’s Tories securing a coalition with the Liberal Democrats or Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s resignation improves the Labour Party’s chances to remain governing?

Will more secrets of the Times Square failed

car bombing come up and help us to prevent future (tragic) surprises?

And the scrutiny on stock high-trading at the NYSE that may or may not have caused Thursday 16-minute roller coaster ride?Will regulators get to the bottom of it before the next thriller?

If the European Union’s financial rescue plan for Greece is what’s needed, will markets act their age and behave, before support in Germany wanes and other threats of bond default pop up here and there in the euro zone?

Back in the U.S., uneasy issues on immigration, the financial reform bill, S.E.C.’s probe of Goldman Sachs, the role of rating agencies, and an urgent need for a new energy policy will certainly share the limelight in the days ahead.

To not start the week in such a sour note, though, let’s also expect some good (and unexpected) news in time to counterbalance the doom and glum. In any event, we’ll be here to bring it all for you. WC



We’re Going In


* Who could’ve expected last week that the anxiety level of New Yorkers and tourists visiting the city would be slightly raised this Monday?

Saturday night’s attempt at killing innocent bystanders failed as it should, but it was also a not so gentle reminder that we’re still part of a deranged world, where some believe that inflicting harm to others is the way to right what they think is wrong.

They shall be found and brought to justice. In the meantime, Times Square never looked so solemn. Alas, sobriety is also what everyone expects from those investigating this case.

* But the catastrophic environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico cannot and will not be knocked off the headlines. As the Obama administration pledges an all out effort to lead the cleanup, public advocates and community leaders are calling on BP, the owner of the exploded rig that started the oil spill, Halliburton and other companies that may have played a role in the massive spill, to step up and take full responsibility for their actions.

* In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of immigrant rights advocates are already taking responsibility and over the weekend marched in cities across the country demanding justice. Will we join in and heed the calls of the majority for fair immigration laws, or are we also part of the problem?

While xenophobia and prejudice wreak havoc in Arizona, Latinos, the minority poised to overtake an all-white America for good, are facing the brunt of ignorance and manipulation of unscrupulous leaders, regardless of hundreds of years of contributions to this nation’s culture and wealth.

* But please let’s not let Goldman Sachs and the Wall Street’s culture of privilege off the hook just yet. Let’s hope the S.E.C. will have another go at them and, this time, the criminal angle and the accountability issues will be finally brought to the fore.

* Greece’s economy may be small but to the European Union, it’s too big to fail. The EU broke a huge rescue plan to prevent its collapse, but even with it, unpopular measures may still be in the near horizon.

* Not far from there, the U.K. braces itself for Thursday’s election for Prime Minister. For a while, it looked like an unusual three-way race but as voters start deciding on who to vote for, a feeling of deja-vu starts to set in.

* And these are just the headlines. Hopefully, no one’s coffee got spoiled for lack of good news. Before it does, here’s one: Tim James, a candidate for governor of Alabama, misquote a Bureau of Labor Statistics report on higher in work-related fatalities, attributing it to “increasing numbers of employees and drivers who could not read or understand warnings signs in English.” This statement is FALSE, according to PolitiFact.

* But if you’re like me, you won’t miss what’s aside, above, below and beyond the headlines. This week, there’s plenty available to inquiring minds. Have a good one. WC




Women to Lead Charge Against Poverty, Colltalers

Across the U.S., the alarming rise of poverty is finally meeting its match: American women, from all walks of life, are answering the call for change and demanding a new day for our nation. Instead of merely reacting against the unfair onslaught aiming at undermining their conquests, unleashed by the extreme right and the institutional church, women have decided to take a pro-active role.
That’s one of the conclusions of Make Visible, a panel about women and poverty moderated Sunday at New York University by PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley, and with the participation of a group of eight female leaders, who happen to be among the most distinguished and visible activists in their field, with an invested interest in advancing the cause of all Americans.
Participants included Adelante Movement Founder Nely Galán, Bennett College President Dr. Julianne Malveaux, personal finance expert Suze Orman, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Cecelia Fire Thunder, former president of Planned Parenthood Faye Wattleton, American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten, and Pulitzer Prize-winner author Sheryl WuDunn.
The diverse panel discussed the role of women in society and its potential for healing a nation that has had its share of hardship in the past decade. That includes a major terrorist attack which ignited, in one way or another, two armed conflicts that have cost thousands of American lives, depleted financial resources, and drained our much-debated stand as a force for peace in the world.
As we continue to struggle to emerge from the recession caused by the greatest collapse of our financial system since the 1920s, and are faced with the biggest unemployment since the Great Depression, women are once again leading the way, as they’ve done throughout this nation’s history, finding alternative solutions to move forward in communities as diverse as the panel sought to represent.
For Cecelia Fire Thunder, for instance, the first female president of the Sioux Nation and certainly a rare voice to be heard anywhere, the issue of education is key to understanding our lagging role and the diminished competitiveness of the American labor force. But she also called for an approach that can fit all communities and accommodates the full breath of diversity of the country.
Despite leading a nation within the nation, of which all that most people hear about is rampant alcoholism, depression, unemployment and, oddly, casino fortunes, Ms. Fire Thunder pointed out the fact that native American children do receive a good level of basic education, since that’s a role the government has been enforcing in a positive way.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux brought up the fact that 40% of our active military are African-American women, which more than a statistical figure to enhance some economics rhetoric, means that they’re also compounding both the problem, as gender and race prejudice come into play, and also the solution, as they’re usually the ones holding their families together and in charge of their children’s education.
What happens within the military was also the focus of Faye Wattleton’s interventions, when she mentioned the widespread violence against women as one of the reasons that hold them back. Rape and sexual assault are among the most serious challenges for the military, and usual at the root of lifetime trauma for those who’re victimized.
For Ms. Wattleton, violence against women is usually a marker to health and education issues. But she also believes in their inate ability to be in charge of their own destiny, and that perhaps only them can change the circumstances of their lives. In consequence, women can and do generate a positive impact on the communities they belong to.
Randi Weingarten spoke about the relationship between the undeclared war on the union movement in this country, and the deterioration of wages and salaries across the board. She also called for stronger industrial and educational strategies from the part of the U.S., if it’s to succeed against rampant levels of poverty, and everything that it implies, including criminality and exclusion.
The issue of poverty, of course, came back often. As Dr. Malveaux says, ‘what kind of country creates 40 million poor people?’ The fact is, according to Neli Galán, no one wants to call themselves poor, but most lack the access to the information that may eventually help them out of economic stress. The odds may be stacked against them, though.
For Suze Orman, the poor may represent a boom for businesses too, as poverty can be a valuable commodity to a lot of corporations, that stand to make millions out of an unchanged status quo. She also spoke about how women tend to consider themselves a priority only after those who gravitate around them are well off, and that creates a state of inertia that ultimately undermines their efforts.
Sec. Solis detailed some of the Obama administration’s strategies to create jobs and combat poverty, and author Sheryl WuDunn talked about the need for the U.S. to perhaps look across its borders for creative solutions to prioritize education and help bring change for impoverished communities across the country.
Tavis Smiley’s concluding remarks were about obstacles he faced trying to put this particular panel together, which he attributed to its unglamorous themes and, ultimately, due to the current toxic climate for women in the country. And the fact that the black community may be dismissive of the importance of tackling the issue of rising poverty, based on outdated perceptions of race and class.
The Make Visible panel discussion is available online at and will be broadcast on Tavis Smiley show on PBS. Check your local listings. Colltales was an official guest blogger of this event.



World Leaders Can’t Lead This World, Colltalers

The busy three-day weekend of intense meetings of the heads of powerful nations in the world, the richest of them under the banner of the G8 group, and NATO, its military arm and its few dozen aggregates, is coming to a close today.
The biggest news: no news to report. Despite the economic, financial and armed turmoil going on from Europe to Asia, from the U.S. to the Middle East, they seem to be at loss for guiding words, even if never for pomp and circumstance.
Saturday, the G8 gathering in Camp David had only more of the same to prescribe for the unprecedented crisis affecting the countries that share the euro: we need to ‘balance’ debt control with proforma measures that would keep Greece from printing its own money, and Spain to head to an even faster economical and social downward spiral.
The final communiqué from NATO is not yet out at this press time, but it’s unlikely that it’ll offer any new and radical solution to the pointless conflict in Afghanistan, and the bleak desolation the U.S. and the bloc as a whole left in Iraq and Libya. Instead, it’s the opposite: more drones, more threats, more defense contractors on the ground, and, unfortunately, more predictable human losses.
It may get worse before it gets any better: the possible use of the same destructive weaponry, such as Predators, and the same undercover tactics, tapping and unwarranted search and arrests, against the courageous Americans who dare to protest the war.
These may include, shamefully, war vets who’re willing to return their hard-won bravery medals in order to be heard; they’re quickly becoming a new formidable ally to all Americans, for whom they were willing to take a bullet, and foe to the same institution they’ve just left, the military.
In the meantime, seeing smiling to the cameras over the weekend, there’s the group of people most out of sync with what’s going on in their own backyard: world leaders. That we have, as world citizens, the spectacularly bad luck of having this clueless bunch during this wretched of a time may be credited to a series of unfortunate events, none of which makes any sense describing here, of course.
For while President Obama put on a ‘very concerned’ face and declares that a ‘consensus’ is just about to be reached about the war in Afghanistan, the euro crisis, the tensions in the Middle East and everything, one can’t help it but wonder why such a toothless word is invoked at this time, when words are already at the end of their own currency, hardly having any impact on this crisis.
Oh, that’s right, that’s the kind of arousing rhetoric, the type of inflammatory burn-like-molten lava statements we were all longing to hear from this high-flying club. Gee, how could we have missed that one? Of course, as we all have suspected, it’s a code to do absolutely nothing and let it all work itself out. After all, it’s almost time for a summer break in the Northern Hemisphere.
In other words, you could probably have a better chance of finding leadership roles in the streets of Chicago, this weekend, or in the backwaters of America, anytime. Because either you take your discontentment out and join your brothers and sisters to demand being heard. Or you’re wondering where your children’s next meal will come, you’re already showing more spine than the G8 and NATO combined.
And so are those who’re not prepared to give up on their dreams of rebuilding the character of this nation, to honor its principles of justice and equality for everybody, of respect to the rule of law, and of separation of state and religion.
Above all the freedom to choose whatever it’s best for you as long as it doesn’t take away the rights of others to do the same, while despising all sense of birthright destiny.
You know now that you know better than those who believe that only another war will stop all wars; that lied has been told way too many times. You know too that no leader can exist on an unchallenged vacuum, and that the government is as good as the people it serves. Only to citizens of goodwill belongs honor, transcendence and peace. Have a great one. WC


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