Newsletter II

This Week in Colltales 

11/16/2020 Time to Get Those Keys Back, Colltalers

Elections are designed to settle, a period placed at the end of a cycle, a clean slate for the future. Democratic nations rely on such normality. Defeated leaders are to graciously get out of the way, so a new day may rise. But not the president. To Donald Trump, America simply can’t quit Donald Trump.
As the U.S. faces a potential constitutional breakdown, the world shivers. Foes and allies gingerly prepare for what may come but can’t afford to ignore their own political turmoil. Uncertainty spreads like wildfire but ultimately, it’ll be up to Americans to keep it up or stop this whole insanity. Will we?
For while we correctly fret about the presidency, there’s an upsurge – second wave? third wave? does it matter? – of Covid-19 cases. What the president has affirmed at least 38 times it’d ‘disappear, like a miracle,’ has now killed over 250,000 Americans and more than 1.3 million worldwide. Record-breaking spikes threaten to overwhelm healthcare systems and a vaccine is still a long shot, but Trump’s only concerned about remaining in power.
We’ll go back to these issues in a moment but let’s conference the world first. Starting with Bolivia which finds itself in the solitary position of looking forward towards the future. The last Sunday’s inauguration of the socialist Luis Arce government and the return of its first indigenous president, Evo Morales, ousted about a year ago by a coup, has filled the small Andes country with joy and the hope it’ll build this time the nation its majority wants.
But if in the north people are afraid things may go south, in most of the global south, they’re pretty much there already. In Peru, where President Martin Vizcarra was impeached and his foe and successor, Manuel Merino, has resigned amid violent nationwide protests, no one can tell what’s coming up.
And in Mexico, a journalist and an elected official were killed by hired assassins last week. Israel Vásquez, a news site reporter, was shot at a crime scene he was reporting from, the third in as many weeks according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. And the body of Florisel Ríos, Mayor of Jamapa, was found riddled with bullets, in another bloody battle of the war between local drug lords, corrupt politicians, and the police. No suspects.
Meanwhile, China has all but wiped out the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong as it’s ‘disqualified‘ four lawmakers of the Legislative Council. The move, which prompted other members to resign in solidarity, exposes the Chinese government’s raw push for total domination over the territory.
For a country that has never had a succession crisis of this magnitude, the number of U.S. votes cast for Democrat Joe Bidden, 77,9 million, the most of any president in history, the 5.3 million difference over Trump’s, and 290 vs 232 electoral delegate votes advantage, with a likely 16 more if Georgia is called for Biden, should be insurmountable reasons not to contest the results. Until the Dec. 14 certification, though, Republicans will try anything.
A GOP win depends, of course, on twisting rules not quite etched in constitutional stone, massive disruption of counting sites, to justify intervention and the directing of electoral votes to the sitting president, hundreds of lawyers arguing the case to submission, and of course, the illegal partiality of the Supreme Court. All these scenarios are unlike and have been resoundingly rebuked by the courts. But the fear is, what if it all falls into place?
More than that, what counteroffensive has the Democratic Party to offer to prevent this from becoming Florida 2000? The answers one gets are truly frightening because they’re mostly toothless. The party that’s now accusing progressive members of having caused the loss of House seats, has made no public statements about what it’ll do in case Trump is reelected on a legal technicality, despite the voters’ will registered in history’s biggest turnout.
With the latest staged row against those who demand immediate action about the climate, healthcare, labor and immigration laws, and brutal income disparities, the party has been mostly missing from the frontlines. While the established media repeats false claims and lies echoed from the far-right, white supremacist rallies held in DC Saturday, with civil rights groups fighting back, Democrats are mostly relying on lawyers to make their cases.
The American democracy is in mortal danger and we can only count on ourselves and on some of those we’ve elected to stand up for our rights and speak truth to power. Out of the general feeling of relief of having officially fired Trump from the White House, there’s also a dangerous complacency, underestimating the survival instinct of those who lost. They’re clinging to their perches and it’s hard to see them being dislodged without mass rallies.
We may begin by stopping thinking that sanity or legality or even almost three centuries of constitutionality will prevail and wake up to the reality that this is indeed happening and won’t go away, ‘like a miracle.’ What’s at the stake is not the next four years but how we may become China or Russia.
No offense to these great countries but the truculence of their regimes was once thought impossible to exist in America, land of the free, etc. We now see the fragility of our government’s ‘to the people, with the people, and for the people‘ mandate, though. A slight shift and we may wake up in a nightmare billions are already living in. Trump’s nightmare is to hand back the White House keys on Friday, Nov. 20, which is Biden’s 78th birthday.
‘The Problem We All Live With‘ is Norman Rockwell’s 1964 painting of Ruby Bridges being escorted to by federal marshals in New Orleans on the first day of school desegregation in America. It showed the level of engagement of the great American painter. Now, in a fitting homage, fellow artist Bria Goeller revisits the image, this time adding Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris, the first Black and Asian woman to ever occupy high-office.
For it’s not all doom and gloom: SpaceX’s ‘Resilience‘ capsule has been launched with four Crew Dragon astronauts heading to the International Space Station, just in time to celebrate its own 20-year anniversary with Expedition 64. Many people associate our quest for interstellar travel with the best qualities of the human spirit as the Space Station’s message of human cooperation is never out of date. Thus, God Speed to the folks up there. Cheers

***

11/9/2020 A Battle Won, More to Come, Colltalers

It’s been a big ‘Aaaahhhhhh,’ an extended, cathartic, long-overdue sigh of relief. Joe Biden has thoroughly beaten Donald Trump, celebrations erupted across timezones, and America has finally caught its breath. Even the world’s sleeping better too. A swell party but this nightmare is not quite over yet.
For Covid-19 is on the offensive again and several countries are now back into lockdown. 10.2 million Americans got the virus, and worldwide over 1.2 million have already missed the new day. The election is done but the presidency ends only on Jan. 20, so a lot may happen between now and then.
Expect a backlash from the president, and Republicans still pretending to like him. Calls for recounting, lawsuits, desperate appeals to put out the fire. But unlike what many feared, there’s really no close-enough race to justify a recounting and no serious questioning of the system’s integrity. Not that this will keep them from trying. In the end, it’ll be the American people who will guarantee the legality of the process. And they have already decided.
Except for Trump of course. The president who has already turned the U.S. into a Banana Republic now threatens to muck up what makes America functional: the peaceful transition of power. It’s been abundantly clear that he’s not equipped to understand what’s just happened so few have seen him. Or his execrable family. Or VP Mike Pence. Or the network of peddlers and sycophants who used him to advance their careers. There’s no one there.
Some say that he’s lost because he failed to rouse his crowds up a notch one last time. But how can you say that of someone who’s just got 70 million votes? No, it’s just another lame-duck president learning the hard way why adulation never lasts. The White House is now the loneliest place on earth.
Again, they’re down but not quite out yet. The next 73 days will be critical. If shunned by the same courts the GOP worked so hard to rig so to serve him in this time of need, Trump may start executive-ordering pardons to himself, family, and friends, and wrecking havoc on extremist legislation, be it against the environment, civil rights, or foreign policy. It’d be just like a surly teenager breaking stuff up out of spite just for being grounded for good.
It’ll also take weeks to become clear what has changed in America with the election, what new laws were approved, and who are the new faces brought to DC by the sheer power of representation. If black women carried the victory to Biden and Kamala Harris, the first female, Black, and Asian taking the Oath of Office, then Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s former minority leader, deserves all accolades for her ground grassroots work turning the state blue.
We’ll learn the names of all others who, like her, spent years organizing, creating strategies of resistance, and getting ready to assure that every vote would count, unlike what happened to herself. The Democratic Party was in fact a relatively minor, people-less factor to contribute to its own victory.
We know that six native Americans got elected to Congress Tuesday, now also enhanced with its first two openly gay Black New Yorkers. It’s legal now to smoke marijuana in New Jersey and legally purchase any drug in Oregon, both measures to potentially free thousands of inmates nationwide.
Illinois couldn’t pass legislation to better tax high incomers and California, despite its perceived liberal bias, won’t let recreational pot to become legal. Worse: car-service giants Uber and Lyft successfully kept their free ride through labor rights, by classifying employees as ‘independent contractors,’ a euphemism that spares them from paying benefits and job guarantees to their drivers. Florida did it better by increasing to $15 its minimum wage.
One would be tempted to say that this election did affect everyone on the planet, mostly for the better. But not to weapon manufacturers and defense contractors, according to nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Its latest report shows that both candidates received money from the industry.
Still, the president-elect has correctly picked the most urgent issue to be tackled down: the coronavirus. It’ll be important too to create new institutions to deal with issues of race, labor legislation, climate change, and immigration, besides other timely needs such as rebuilding infrastructure and taking steps to transition the U.S. into a green economy. Biden will need to be pushed to act upon these issues, so Americans have their work cut out for them.
For that to work, however, he also needs a vital piece of the puzzle to swing in the right direction: the Senate majority. The decisive votes will come from two Georgia runoff races on Jan. 5: respectively, the GOP’s David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler versus Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
There were fireworks in London and church bells in Paris, street parties in Berlin and well wishes from Amsterdam. But there’s been utter silence in Moscow and no congratulations from Ankara. The world remains divided and Americans have just got a shot at rewinding to a less terrible time but still one no one should be longing to go back to. The U.S. got a humbling lesson on how easy it is to kill democracy and fall into an authoritarian regime.
To even those who didn’t need any proof, the elections exposed the reality of a growing white supremacist movement, of law enforcement institutions tainted by an unjust system, and too many millions facing hunger and inhumane living conditions. An America where people get elected by swearing by the Qanon conspiracy canon cannot be the America we need to rebuild anew. Besides, Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham still got reelected.
It’ll take more than what we’ve done so far and let’s not talk about turnout. Historic, yes and yet, still below half of the U.S. population. Once sworn in, the president won’t be the most direct route to change; the people will. If we get satisfied now, thinking that this was some kind of championship win, our team is already losing the next battle. The world thanks to the brave Americans who still dream of an alternative. From now on, we’re it. Well done.

***

11/2/2020 There’d Be Days Like These, Colltalers

We’re entering an extraordinary week in American history. Books, theories, films, college disciplines, and brand new laws will be written about what’s happening in the U.S. Billions of people, entire regimes, wildlife, and the planet itself will be impacted by it. Will Americans choose wisely or poorly?
The terrifying global spike of Covid-19 – the U.S.’ still on top with over 9.4 million cases – and a just-retooled Supreme Court on track to reelect Trump will certainly headline the period. That and the U.S. officially leaving the Paris Agreement. Oh, did we mention there’s a major election tomorrow?
We start the news roundup with the brutal murder of three in Nice, France, by a young Tunisian, supposedly in the name of Muhammad. It’s the third of such attacks in two months, but there were other near-miss tragedies averted by law enforcement. The attacker survived and will stand trial. All because the satirical Charlie Hebdo paper – itself targeted in 2015 – decided to republish cartoons of the prophet. 2020 can’t stop breaking our hearts.
In Poland, it’s been the second week of protests against the far-right Andrzej Duda administration, which has enforced a draconian abortion ban. It’s all part of an effort to cancel women’s reproductive rights, despite them being the majority of the population, by its mostly Catholic male demographics. But it won’t work for that’s a fight conservatives can’t win, neither in Poland nor anywhere else. When women rise, they usually get what they need.
Before going any further, let’s correctly identify the source linking both events: religious intolerance, the exact reason invoked by the Pilgrims to flee 16th century England and settle on its brand new colony. The difference is the degree of violence employed, which by no means is negligible. Still, it’s important to relate both incidents as pre-planned and executed to the letter by its perpetrators and not forget their common goal: to shut down dissent.
Let’s also mention yet another migrant tragedy at sea: the 140 people who drowned off the coast of West Africa last week. 200 migrants had set sail from Senegal to Spain’s Canary Island, but only 59 were saved. Hundreds of these staggeringly sad calamities happen so often most don’t even get to be reported. The need to flee extreme poverty and death by political strife, to build a better future however will still be there. But will our empathy?
An earthquake in Turkey and Greece, and a tsunami that followed; Typhon-driven floods in Vietnam; wildfires in Colorado and California; and the strengthening of Eta, the season’s record 12th hurricane. There’s some good news from the natural world though: a huge, ‘taller than the Eiffel Tower’ new coral reef was found off Australia, likely part of the Great Coral Reef. Exploding with wildlife, in a week like that, we’ll surely take it with joy.
So it came to this. The enemies of Democracy have carved us a pretty deep hole and we’re supposed to lay down and mostly fail to fight back. They’ve been gerrymandering districts in their favor for years. They’ve undermined the Post Office to near collapse, so as not to deliver mail-in votes. They created confusion and even fake vote collection boxes, besides throwing thousands of people of color off the election records. They’re ready to litigate.
All to reelect someone who called immigrants ‘animals,’ mocked disable people, attacked dozens of women and went on record telling us all how to do it, and lied, lied, lied an average of 50 times a day for four years. A self-appointed businessman who burned through millions of his dad’s money, and broke or bankrupted every business he’s ever touched. A tax cheater, who’s proud of paying less than under-the-poverty-line hard-working Americans.
Don’t worry, over 30 million of our fellow citizens believe his con and will show up to reelect him or else. Or rather, yes, worry, a lot. It’s from this springboard of sure votes that he counts to build his victory at the polls, which may be unlikely. But he’s not worried: the Supreme Court he rebuilt is set to serve him, not the nation, just as it’s been doing for the past weeks. The shameful partisan, conservative minority will do his bidding, no sweat.
As far as the president and his despicable band of sycophants and self-motivated acolytes are concerned, the 236,000 Americans who died of neglect and Covid-19 are a non-starter when it comes to his ‘victory’ over the virus if one pays attention to his campaign. They and big pharma have already profited from the ‘vaccine’ even if there isn’t one yet. What? Thousands being killed globally every day from the climate emergency? Not his problem.
Just think if we were heading to the election to decide between two views of a peaceful, generous, wise America. Would the police nationwide now be preparing for battle? Would businesses be boarding up in fear? Would violent, armed gangs planning to ‘show up’ be as unchallenged as they’ve been?
Trump and his party have all but overturned what’s a democratic tenet, that of the right of everyone to safely cast a vote, unharmed and unharassed. They’ve used their financial prowess to garner even more power and sway legislation in their favor. They dumped principles of civility and decency and put themselves above the law. Thus they broke the Constitution and the most basic laws of the land. There must be accountability and reckoning.
But if the president is reelected, there will be neither. He’ll proceed with his agenda, allowing oil digging in pristine national parks, preventing asylum seekers from finding shelter in America, prioritizing the rich and the powerful over the poorest and the dispossessed, as well the authoritarian and the despotic over our global allies, all while openly profiteering from his White House position. He may even shoot that man on Fifth Ave. and go free.
There’s no question about it: Trump has been undoing 200 years of American democracy, which it’s far from ideal or even extendable to so many, but at least is geared towards us, the people who can change it. And he’ll replace it with some sort of Fascist regime not even he’ll be able to control. You may have reservations about Joe Biden, as some did about Hillary Clinton. Neither would be nearly capable of sowing so much chaos and destruction.
Your mission should you accept it is to be an agent of compassion, of solidarity, of peace. Vote if you haven’t yet, but remain vigilant. Not for violence or for ‘breaking stuff up.’ You’re there to speak for those who have no voice, no claim, no political representation. You’re a rep for the planet, defending its interests and helping make people’s lives better. You’re human, you oppose hunger and income inequality. Help usher a new dawn in America. Vote.

***

10/26/2020 A Witching Hour Upon Us, Colltalers

Many Americans haven’t been sleeping well lately. Some worry about Nov. 3; others about how early voting is beating records across the land. Those concerned about that were sure their anti-democratic efforts to prevent people from voting had been successful. They may be up to a rude awakening.
Yet it’s Covid-19’s record of 83,000 cases in a day that the majority is rightfully scared about. Or an FBI report confirming foreign interference in the elections. On the other hand, most people support an antitrust lawsuit against Google. And others are celebrating the United Nations’ 75th anniversary.
Other issues worrying folks everywhere are climate change-driven wildfires, rising sea levels-boosted coastal flooding, and pandemic-aggravated hunger. In this particular, there’s Brazil, ironically one of the world’s four-largest food producers. In fact, with the U.S. and India, it also shares the top spot of coronavirus-infected countries. Combined, these countries have less than two billion people but over half of the 43 million cases worldwide.
What’s behind the stats however is the brutality of income inequality and our insatiable war machines. Although food insecurity and starvation are old foes of poor Indians and Brazilians, there are more Americans in similar dire straits now than the 35 million with nothing to eat for most of last year.
Colombia’s indigenous peoples took the streets of Bogotá to protest the methodic extermination of natives and environmental activists that’s reaching a fever pitch in the country. Four years since an agreement with leftist guerillas, it’s now right-wing paramilitary groups that are crushing their dreams of peace and stability. More than 230 civic leaders have been killed this year, often in mass executions, to little or no action by President Iván Duque.
Still in South America, an E.U.’s trade accord with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, would boost meat and ethanol imports to Europe, and machinery, chemicals, and drugs to the Mercosur countries. But it’d also be bad news for the Amazon forest, which in case you’re wondering, is still burning. It’d open up more land for agriculture, according to the Friends of the Earth group, and with it, more predatory mining and oil exploration.
And finally, – ‘homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family‘ – Pope Francis’ spoke out in support of same-sex unions. While most would greet such news with joy, it comes out as too little, (and a lot) too late. It neither addresses the threats to the LGBTQ community nor the Vatican’s own dogmatic position. It also fails to acknowledge the church’s own closeted members or the vicious and mostly unpunished sexual abuse of children by the clergy.
On Oct. 24, 1945, the world was reeling from the war and faced the daunting task of reconstruction. As the U.S., the Soviet Union, and the U.K. set to determine how they’d manage the new reality, there was the need for a common forum for them but especially for nations now under their control to have a voice and role in global decisions. That was the aim, anyway, of the United Nations charter, and for over 75 years, it more or less did just that.
It became the place where international cooperation and respect for human rights had their best chances to succeed even as the three powers conspired against its independence. Nevertheless, a transcendental document such as the Universal Declaration of Humans Rights would be possible only with the U.N.
As the victors broke their own ban on military force, the nobility of its original purpose lost some substance. Institutions were created or implemented to compensate for it, but to this day, the U.N. is still the best arena to air national grievances and resolve conflicts. The World Health Organization, for instance, has been instrumental in saving lives and coordinating a global response to the Covid-19, regardless of the White House’s nonsense about it.
One would be hard-pressed to find a single Silicon Valley fan. Unlike what its leaders may believe, among the world’s wealthiest people, the sway of hi-tech companies over the most intimate details of our lives, and their potential to control us based on their mega storage-capacity is not just mostly unwelcome but downright frightening. Mainly because they’re deceiving, unaccountable for, and act like a typical cartel. So yeah, sue the bastards.
The House of Representatives had already come up with a 400-page report on Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, and grilled CEOs Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai about how come they became several billion dollars richer while the country and world wilted under the pandemic. There were obvious silence and contempt in their response, though; after all, the House report has no enforceable power.
It may be different now with the Justice Dept.’s lawsuit. But in what could be a good opportunity for the U.N. to enter the fray, even government suits may have no teeth with the current laws. That is, unless the action is globally coordinated, incorporating aspects of a previous one brought up by the E.U. Problem is, these corporations have clenched all levers of power and the muscle to pass favorable legislation. It’ll be a worthy but tough fight.
Another bad legacy to be left by Trump upon leaving is the undermining of our intel community, in particular, the FBI. Without proof, no one should question their loyalty as he did; we own our lives to their service. But they did lose their nerve. That’s clear in its latest report about Russian electoral interference, which most people already knew, and the puzzling addition of Iran as a co-conspirator, which lacks the clarity of a proven fact.
See, anyone can understand that Iran would like to get back at the president for being so wrong and irresponsible with it. But to put it in context, to believe that it’s doing that amid an economic and political down spiral, with heavy sanctions to boot, is a bit of a stretch. It reminded everyone of 2016, when at the last minute the FBI said that there was ‘something’ in Hillary Clinton’s emails with no further details. Then and now, neither passes muster.
With the illegal, amoral, and open criminally-intended measures to prevent, disenfranchise, and make it all but impossible for people of color and minorities to vote, the Republican Party is now the world’s biggest anti-democratic organization. And the Trump administration its sole beneficiary.
So to see so many determined to vote this early must be unsettling for the architects of the death of American Democracy. Yes, they’re counting on the Supreme Court, and years of groundwork gerrymandering to assure victory to the GOP. But at least a few million people are on to their scheme and won’t fall for it. What remains to be seen is what the newest, and likely decisive minority to join the electorate, first-time voters, will do next week.
But before, of course, there’s Halloween even as it sounds redundant to call it one of the strangest. For apart from the coronavirus, this may be the last All HallowMany Americans haven’t been sleeping well lately. Some worry about Nov. 3; others about how early voting is beating records across the land. Those concerned about that were sure their anti-democratic efforts to prevent people from voting had been successful. They may be up to a rude awakening.
Yet it’s Covid-19’s record of 83,000 cases in a day that the majority is rightfully scared about. Or an FBI report confirming foreign interference in the elections. On the other hand, most people support an antitrust lawsuit against Google. And others are celebrating the United Nations’ 75th anniversary.
Other issues worrying folks everywhere are climate change-driven wildfires, rising sea levels-boosted coastal flooding, and pandemic-aggravated hunger. In this particular, there’s Brazil, ironically one of the world’s four-largest food producers. In fact, with the U.S. and India, it also shares the top spot of coronavirus-infected countries. Combined, these countries have less than two billion people but over half of the 43 million cases worldwide.
What’s behind the stats however is the brutality of income inequality and our insatiable war machines. Although food insecurity and starvation are old foes of poor Indians and Brazilians, Americans in similar dire straits now are likely more than the 35 million with nothing to eat for most of last year.
Colombia’s indigenous peoples took the streets of Bogotá to protest the methodic extermination of natives and environmental activists that’s reaching a fever pitch in the country. Four years since an agreement with leftist guerillas, it’s now right-wing paramilitary groups that are crushing their dreams of peace and stability. More than 230 civic leaders have been killed this year, often in mass executions, to little or no action by President Iván Duque.
Still in South America, an E.U.’s trade accord with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, would boost meat and ethanol imports to Europe, and machinery, chemicals, and drugs to the Mercosur countries. But it’d also be bad news for the Amazon forest, which in case you’re wondering, is still burning. It’d open up more land for agriculture, according to the Friends of the Earth group, and with it, more predatory mining and oil exploration.
And finally, – ‘homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family‘ – Pope Francis’ spoke out in support of same-sex unions. While most would greet such news with joy, it comes out as too little, (and a lot) too late. It neither addresses the threats to the LGBTQ community nor the Vatican’s own dogmatic position. It also fails to acknowledge the church’s own closeted members or the vicious and mostly unpunished sexual abuse of children by the clergy.
On Oct. 24, 1945, the world was reeling from the war and faced the daunting task of reconstruction. As the U.S., the Soviet Union, and the U.K. set to determine how they’d manage the new reality, there was the need for a common forum for them but especially for nations now under their control to have a voice and role in global decisions. That was the aim, anyway, of the United Nations charter, and for over 75 years, it more or less did just that.
It became the place where international cooperation and respect for human rights had their best chances to succeed even as the three powers conspired against its independence. Nevertheless, a transcendental document such as the Universal Declaration of Humans Rights would be possible only with the U.N.
As the victors broke their own ban on military force, the nobility of its original purpose lost some substance. Institutions were created or implemented to compensate for it, but to this day, the U.N. is still the best arena to air national grievances and resolve conflicts. The World Health Organization, for instance, has been instrumental in saving lives and coordinating a global response to the Covid-19, regardless of the White House’s nonsense about it.
One would be hard-pressed to find a single Silicon Valley fan. Unlike what its leaders may believe, among the world’s wealthiest people, the sway of hi-tech companies over the most intimate details of our lives, and their potential to control us based on their mega storage-capacity is not just mostly unwelcome but downright frightening. Mainly because they’re deceiving, unaccountable for, and act like a typical cartel. So yeah, sue the bastards.
The House of Representatives had already come up with a 400-page report on Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, and grilled CEOs Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai about how come they became several billion dollars richer while the country and world wilted under the pandemic. There were obvious silence and contempt in their response, though; after all, the House report has no enforceable power.
It may be different now with the Justice Dept.’s lawsuit. But in what could be a good opportunity for the U.N. to enter the fray, even government suits may have no teeth with the current laws. That is, unless the action is globally coordinated, incorporating aspects of a previous one brought up by the E.U. Problem is, these corporations have clenched all levers of power and the muscle to pass favorable legislation. It’ll be a worthy but tough fight.
Another bad legacy to be left by Trump upon leaving is the undermining of our intel community, in particular, the FBI. Without proof, no one should question their loyalty as he did; we own our lives to their service. But they did lose their nerve. That’s clear in its latest report about Russian electoral interference, which most people already knew, and the puzzling addition of Iran as a co-conspirator, which lacks the clarity of a proven fact.
See, anyone can understand that Iran would like to get back at the president for being so wrong and irresponsible with it. But to put it in context, to believe that it’s doing that amid an economic and political down spiral, with heavy sanctions to boot, is a bit of a stretch. It reminded everyone of 2016, when at the last minute the FBI said that there was ‘something’ in Hillary Clinton’s emails with no further details. Then and now, neither passes muster.
With the illegal, amoral, and open criminally-intended measures to prevent, disenfranchise, and make it all but impossible for people of color and minorities to vote, the Republican Party is now the world’s biggest anti-democratic organization. And the Trump administration its sole beneficiary.
So to see so many determined to vote this early must be unsettling for the architects of the death of American Democracy. Yes, they’re counting on the Supreme Court, and years of groundwork gerrymandering to assure victory to the GOP. But at least a few million people are on to their scheme and won’t fall for it. What remains to be seen is what the newest, and likely decisive minority to join the electorate, first-time voters, will do next week.
But before, of course, there’s Halloween even as it sounds redundant to call it one of the strangest. For apart from the coronavirus, this may be the last All Hallows’ Eve when the scariest ghouls are in the White House and not buried underground. The other currency the holiday caries, fear, has no way in hell to upset what frightens us the most.
That said, don’t let it spook you. Have fun, wear a mask, and vote them out. Bats and spiders are welcome.s’ Eve when the scariest ghouls are in the White House and not buried underground. The other currency the holiday caries, fear, has no way in hell to upset what frightens us the most. That said, don’t let it spook you. Have fun, wear a mask, and vote them out. Bats and spiders are welcome.

***

10/19/2020 Sixteen Days to Reality, Colltalers

2020 could end now and still be one of the deadliest. Over a million Covid-19 deaths worldwide, a savage rise of hunger and dispossession, wildfires, climate change-driven superstorms, Democracy at risk, we thought we were done. But no, not until a religious zealotry murder had been committed.
Thousands of women marching over the weekend though offered a powerful counternarrative to the criminal negligence, hate incitement, and sheer malfeasance coming out of the White House lately. Paraphrasing Lincoln, another past, way more dignified occupant, they can’t fool us all, all the time.
It’s great to see a mass mobilization of women at such a crucial juncture. Given that the issue of reproductive rights has just landed at the core of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, any progressive change in the status quo has to necessarily go through how mankind treats half of the population.
But to be fair, women are already protesting in Belarus, France, Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere, and their fight against corruption, domestic violence, for equal pay, racial justice, and yes, the right to safe, legal abortion, is one with the rest of society. For patriarchy can no longer deliver us our future.
Thus the significance of the re-election by a landslide of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Domestically, it was her outstanding leadership that neutralized the pandemic and kept Kiwi casualties to only five. But even before she’d already become the embodiment of a morally-sound leader, concerned about all her constituency, with her handling of a racially-motivated murderer who shot and killed 51 Christchurch people over a year ago.
Women have also been a driving force behind political protests in Lebanon, Iraq, and Nigeria, which has been rocked this month with massive Black Lives Matter-inspired rallies in several cities, against police violence. Despite President Muhammadu Buhari and state governments trying to crack down on the protests, which has at the forefront organizations such as The Feminist Coalition, they have only grown in size and impact. #EndSARS.
Back in the U.S., #1 in coronavirus deaths, 225,000, despite its less than 5% of the world’s population, vaccine development has suffered setbacks that further hinder Trump’s prospects. Eli Lilly halted its antiviral trials, and Johnson & Johnson its own therapy, both out of potentially harmful effects.
In a separate, much larger study, the World Health Organization said that Interferon and Remdesivir, this one long pushed by the Trump administration as a ‘cure’ for Covid-19 without any evidence, has failed to increase survival. Once infected, Trump was given a cocktail of Remdesivir and other drugs and declared himself cured, all while lying it’d be available to everyone besides his family and close friends. Well, it’s actually better that it wasn’t.
Two billion people go hungry every day, with no access to essential foods, according to the U.N. Food Program. On World Food Day, Saturday, it also reported that the pandemic may kill more people from its economic impact than from the virus itself. So much for being upset about the new iPhone.
It’s been a trying week in America, what with a sham confirmation hearing rushed to place radical right-wing judge Amy Coney Barrett in the Supreme Court in time to assure a Trump victory. She knew it and so did the entire Senate. The same court that’s about to help Trump exclude the undocumented from the census numbers used to reallocate Congress seats, which will also result in less funding to support the growing diversity of American cities.
Almost six years ago, Islamic terrorists broke into the French satirical zine Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, and massacred 12 people. Among them, Georges Wolinsky and other well-known cartoonists. The ‘reason’ for the attack was depictions of Prophet Muhammad, considered sacrilegious by Muslims.
Friday, Samuel Paty was stabbed and beheaded within sight of the school he taught and had just left, and suddenly we’re back into the Dark Ages when people got killed for picking the wrong god. Or none. The excuse: he had discussed freedom of speech and showed Charlie Hebdo cartoons in class.
It’s not a stretch or ‘unfair’ to relate these extreme cases of religious obscurantism with the push to prevent women from owning their own bodies. Many of the armed militias who seem ready to kill those who disagree with their psychopathic beliefs are devout Christians who pray to go to heaven.
Trump, who has unequivocally invited them to patrol the polls, uses religion as political expediency, but VP Mike Pence, the Attorney General William Barr, and many in this administration and in Capitol Hill do have the ill-intended, and unconstitutional, aim at eliminating church and state separation.
That’s not going to happen because, unlike what they preach, the great majority of Americans, religious or not, has no problem living according to the laws of the land and worship the deity of their choices without proselytizing. ‘Nones,’ as in the non-religious, are now up to 26% of Americans. The Founding Fathers, some of them themselves Christians, wanted no one using allegiance to a king or god as an excuse to break the law. They were right.
The Women’s March should be the opening salvo for the most important 15 days for the future of humanity most of the living have ever experienced. There’s no exaggeration and if a reminder is needed, here it goes: Trump has broken the law in office so many times to disrupt almost three centuries of peaceful political transition. If he doesn’t win the vote, he’s textually promised to do anything to yank that victory out of voters. If he succeeds, there won’t be respect for the rule of law left, and these violent gangs will come after us. He needs to be defeated so to show that the U.S. is bigger than him.
Call back the Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ activists, those amazing kids who promoted large gun-control rallies, immigrant advocates, labor unions or what’s left of them, your friends and family, the support of the world which is surely on our side. Let them peacefully stake out streets and media, the polls and public squares of America to send a clear message: we’re all equal under the law, votes must be counted, democracy is not up for sale.
This is what many of us will be thankful for just a few years down the road, or forever regretful for not having acted when there was still time. Either most of us or another eight billion will be cognizant of this reality, and some of them will be ‘blood of our own blood.’ But even if you care not about what your relatives can do for you, or how they’ll choose to curse our memory, there’s a once upon a time world that took 13 billion years to evolve and become the only survivable place for humans to live out of this vast, wholly indifferent but splendid universe. A world that made us what we are.
Don’t be afraid if your contribution is only making a few calls, or taking just but a few steps, to dispose of a matter of only a few minutes daily till the election and possibly beyond. For if on that Tuesday the evidence of this landslide that some are talking about with such unearned confidence does turn into reality, a number big enough to overcome the electoral college, no amount of litigation, threats, or high-heeled lawyererese spoke will snatch our future out of our hands. It’ll be over just like it will if Trump is still standing and willing to destroy our democracy to remain in power. Do not let him.

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10/12/2020 Tainted as Sick Folk, Colltalers

It’s disturbing how President Trump’s knowingly contaminating supporters and cabinet members with the coronavirus. It’s execrable he’s spreading it to the press corps and White House staffers too. But it’s downright despicable that the GOP and those invested in his reelection remain oblivious to it all.
A domestic far-right terrorist plot caught by the FBI, to kidnap and harm a sitting governor, or 220,000 American lives lost on the president’s watch are not of their concern. Although history is never kind to lack of moral compass, sycophants and enemies of democracy are seldomly bothered about that.
We begin in Guatemala our news roundup with the calls for justice for Laura Daniela Hernández and Litzy Cordón, kidnapped and murdered a week apart from each other. 350 women are estimated to have been victims of femicide so far this year. Defined as ‘a sex-based hate crime,’ the term coined by author Diana E. H. Russell in 1976 identifies one of the most serious consequences of domestic abuse, which is rising throughout Latin America.
‘Why Do They Want To Kill Us?‘ The Amnesty report published last week is about the murder of activists in Colombia and the lack of action by the government. Some 223 social leaders fighting for human, environmental, and land rights have been assassinated only in 2020 with no relief in sight.
And a referendum on Oct. 21 will determine whether Chile will finally bury its dictatorship-era constitution and start writing a new one. According to polls, Chileans are likely to approve it, and the process may take up to two years to complete. It’s an overdue move to cleanse the county from a bloody legacy left by the U.S.-backed 1973 military coup that killed many of estimated 30,000 people by simply dropping them from helicopters into the sea.
Devastating climate fires in California, Australia, and Brazil; floods in Southeast Asia, and now in Louisiana and surroundings, brought by Hurricane Delta. All on the account of climate change which made September the hottest on record. Again. It was 0.05C hotter than last year’s, then the record high for the month. In response, tech companies have increased investments in solar power since 2019, according to the Solar Means Business group.
That’s good news. Meanwhile, a House of Representatives report calls for four of these same corporations, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook, to be restructured and anti-trust laws to be reformed. Lawmakers want to break them up in ‘structural separations,’ to prevent them from abusing their monopoly of power, and grow bigger by swallowing smaller companies. But the plan will draw opposition by ‘sponsored’ officials and politicians.
Outside of Michigan, few had heard of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer before June, when she correctly ordered an extensive shutdown of most businesses in her state, to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But by April, alarmed with the rise of cases, lack of protective equipment for healthcare workers, or help from the federal government, she ordered a lockdown that would place her literally in the crosshairs of right-wing terrorist militias.
Fortunately, the FBI stepped in and arrested six members, accused of a plot to kidnap Whitmer, occupy the legislative, and even blow up some bridges to delay responders. Apparently, this particular group had been planning it for quite some time. It’s a good exercise of law enforcement used against the ‘very bad hombres‘ Trump refuses to denounce. But it won’t end there and there’s a chance that all may be dismissed if he gets to remain in charge.
And that’s the scariest part: that one day we may have such organizations operating directly from the White House, which in a sense, they already are. The rise of vigilantism, of armed extremists, and ideologically repressive groups is yet another sight of a dictatorship in the making. A Trump legacy.
The picture doesn’t improve much with the prospects of the Nov. 3 presidential election. Despite being behind in the polls by several points in crucial so-called swing states – just like he was four years ago – Trump and the Republicans may have already succeeded in implanting two false narratives that will have a dramatic impact on voters: that the Post Office won’t be able to handle mail-in votes, and that voter fraud is so rampant to nullify votes cast.
They’ve been relentlessly working on all fronts, be it by removing mailboxes and sorting machines in USPO branches, by gerrymandering districts in Democrat-dominant areas, by spreading falsehoods about voting accountability, or by, of course, loading the Supreme Court with judges attuned with White House’s wishes. Thus the former party of Abraham Lincoln resumes today its attempt to jam on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination process.
They’re preparing for the fact that Americans may just want this president to fade into the dustbin of history, along with his ever-growing entourage of wealthy hacks and spineless lackeys by voting him out. Given all the intricacies and surprisingly uncertain terms determining who can be the winner of a chaotic presidential election (See Florida, 2000, chad votes et al), they’re counting on a partisan court to give them what the people may not: power.
It’s astonishing that, given the million people worldwide killed by Covid-19 and 37 million cases still in progress, the president has been allowed to campaign while sick with no mandated-protection to anyone but him, who’s just had a first-class, taxpayer-funded drug therapy to rid of his symptoms. For as far we know, everyone who has ever caught the virus has infected others. And in the case of Trump, through tracing, there’s even proof he did.
Don’t waste your breath telling it to his supporters but even at this late in the game, the president shows that his first priority from Jan. 1, 2017 on was to be reelected, and nothing will stop him now from pursuing that. Unless, of course, his symptoms take a turn. Or you and you and you vote. In fact, never mind how it’s beginning to look like; the apparent chaos he speaks of at his rallies is a smoke and mirrors trick to get us to give up and surrender.
But we won’t do it, not if we’re still breathing a few weeks for now and beyond. While the Democratic Party contently surveys its focus groups, just as certain of victory as they were in Oct. 2016, grassroots movements are left with the gigantic task of bringing those who never voted or don’t usually vote to cast their will, knocking on every door, and patrolling every poll and post station, so no one is left out. Except for the Spreader-in-Chief of course.
It’s Indigenous People’s Day. Take a look at this still beautiful planet and the youth we brought to this world to enjoy it. See how much wonder and wisdom will be lost if we drop the ball. That’s a realm of existence essential to all living beings, but invisible to the likes of Trump and his henchmen, alien to Putins, Johnsons, and Bolsonaros. Kids, the Amazon, the Great Barrier Reef, they count on us. Let’s answer their call and fight the good fight.

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10/5/20 No Karma. Simply Reality, Colltalers

So Trump caught Covid-19, a ‘fake’ virus that’s nevertheless killed over 200 thousand Americans and is nearly lodging 40 million cases worldwide. To say that chickens have come to roost doesn’t do justice to the irony of this cataclysmic event. Now the presidential election is officially up for grabs.
Suddenly all world headlines are locked below yet another stunt by the U.S. President. To the media, the galloping resurgence of coronavirus cases, the Amazon on fire, mass protests in Israel and Mexico, an armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, all pale in comparison. Except that it doesn’t.
Thousands took the Israeli streets over the weekend calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign. One of Trump’s staunchest supporters, he’s been indicted for bribery, corruption, and breach of trust, but that may not be the rallies’ main reason. Some say there’s anger at surveillance tools used during the virus lockdown, which is being reinstated, that’s made citizens face tough measures long associated with the suppression of Palestinians.
Mexico’s President López Obrador is facing criticism from both civil and women’s rights organizations, for his failure to curb the Covid’s rise, now at almost 800,000, and apathy towards rampant femicides in the country, and by the Chihuahua, the state bordering New Mexico. The president accuses opposition governor Javier Corral of denying by political reasons, to send water to the U.S., as dictated by terms of a little known 1944 bilateral treaty.
And Facebook, which is not a country but has a budget larger than many, has again blocked environmental and social justice groups, this time for an online event against the Coastal GasLink pipeline, set to cross land belonging to the Wetʼsuwetʼen, a First Nations people. Greenpeace USA, Climate Hawks Vote, and Rainforest Action Network were zoomed out, just when the ‘lungs of the world’ burn to the ground. Ads for Trump though remain.
There was consternation last year when fires of the Amazon Rainforest broke records; nothing close to it has happened in 2020, when the devastation is twice as bad, according to NASA’s Global Fire Emissions Database. The world seems to have settled into blaming President Bolsonaro’s ineptitude, which is not wrong but only part of the problem. Brazilians are still not reacting strongly, with the proper indignation to this tragedy in their backyard.
It’s been said that the wave of totalitarianism infecting the world for the past four years has followed similar patterns in the U.S., the U.K., parts of Europe, and Latin America, mainly Brazil. Some would even call it an agenda, a combo of indignant but phony, conspiracy-infused claims against humanism, history, and even the role of science and rationality in society. It got a boost with the collapse of neoliberalism and took off like bushfire.
Now, in times like these it’s very easy, and dangerous, to slip into conspiracies, or unwittingly create one that goes viral and ultimately further damages this world. So we won’t dwell on a debunked theory linking the stabbing of Bolsonaro one month before his election in 2018, to claims that his attacker knew his sons and even shared a fire-range membership with them. But it did spare him from exposing his poor verbal acuity in candidate debates.
For all accounts, however, Trump’s diagnosis breaks up a Republican streak that started the moment Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg departed this world and put the party in lock-step to replace her with right-wing Judge Amy Coney Barrett in the Supreme. Right to when the president himself opened his mouth at the debate with Joe Biden and mainly didn’t shut it up. It was a karmic curveball for someone who’s belittled and discredited the pandemic.
Worse, it’s placed a terrifying prospect for his supporters in Congress and at large: if VP Mike Pense, who’s been in almost every rally and presser alongside the president, also falls sick, Madam Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will take charge of the country in these crucial weeks before the election. However limited, she’ll have presidential powers to say, postpone hearings for the Supreme, or opening up polling stations and Post Offices.
Noted journalist and author Naomi Klein fears that Trump will exploit his infection to further destabilize the election, but the quest is now one belonging to ‘the Richard Nixon’s smoke-and-mirrors’ realm: what did the president know about his condition and especially, when. As it turns out, a quick look at the news of the past few weeks show an array of potentially infected supporters and reporters who may or may not know they were being exposed.
The Superspreader-in-Chief, of course, will deny knowing anything and this time he wouldn’t be too far from the truth. But a likely outbreak within the White House may have originated with him, and we simply don’t know how the massive spread will affect each one of those involved. Starting with the VIP. It’s more than an embarrassment for him and his party, and a giant task for operatives to spin the reality and articulate a way out of it. Fast.
Lastly, the moral angle, which poises some difficult views on the president’s predicament from those truly concerned about the pandemic. The man who showed a callous reaction to those suffering and dying from a virus he was incapable or unwilling to protect them from, will now receive more than his share of solidarity and well wishes. So be it, our compass shouldn’t flinch as a result. But we still know what he did throughout the summer.
We’ll know whether his illness will help him, out of sympathy or on the sheer disruption of the election process, something he’s been sowing non-stop since the inauguration. But besides guaranteeing, as usual, the command of the media narrative, time is running out for him and the alternative too. The Poor People’s Campaign has been working hard to keep our compass straight and eye on the ball, and another ‘Moral Monday’ like today will help it.
We need to connect the dots between what’s happening in the world and the morally bankrupted attitudes of egotistical leaders like Trump, Bolsonaro, and others. Climate change-driven wildfires, rise and rise of coronavirus cases, repression and racial wars, the undermining of institutions, and even the powers of the republic, these are harbingers of the worst to come. To lose this election means literally losing this planet. We won’t allow it.

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9/28/2020 A Record Turnout Beats All Lies, Colltalers

Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s seat at the Supreme Court all but assures two things: the court’s conservative majority for years to come, and the urgent need for its reform. Critics say too that the Obamacare and Roe v Wade rulings now top an endangered list.
It may be worse if the Nov. 3 election is contested and that new majority keeps Trump in power, even if he loses again the popular vote. In these 36 days left, Americans who want to pick a new president must go back to basics: the battle cry now is, break all voting records, win to leave no doubts.
There are indeed few doubts about certain things. Covid-19 will still be rising from the current 33 million-plus cases worldwide, and so will the U.S.’s ‘leadership’ position, after adding a million cases in less than a month, to over seven million. No safe vaccine will be ready before at least six months, no matter how much the administration lies about it, and by then, if there’s no change in Washington, its interest in the cure will be greatly diminished.
Another pattern that emerged early on was that the ranking for most cases and fatalities is headed by nations whose democracy is under siege: the U.S., Brazil, India, and Russia. That is, calling them ‘democracies’ may soon become inappropriate. For obviously, the more economies reopen and public spaces are filled with unconcerned people, the higher will be the contagion rates. Some see the coronavirus becoming endemic just like the annual flu.
But it’s not just that most viruses take time to be studied in-depth and for vaccines and therapies to be safely developed; it’s also for the scandalous U.S. response to the virus, which could’ve inspired the world but rather treated it as a tool for political gain. Also, the U.S. and China chose not to be part of a global effort to find a cure, which is an unqualified misstep; instead, the two, plus Russia and others, are funding corporations to develop their own.
That launched a global race to sell a proprietary therapy, a precipitous and downright greedy step that will likely be available first to those who can afford it. It breaks with a long tradition of making vaccines free and readily available to all since it’s most advantageous to the majority that no one has the virus. And it may give Anti Vaxxers validation to use people getting sick from untested methods to justify their stand and increase their profile.
Saturday marked the sixth anniversary of the kidnapping and likely murder of 43 students who disappeared near Guerrero, Mexico. Protesters took to the streets demanding answers, just as the government has issued the first arrest warrants for police and military personnel accused of involvement in the murders. The case caused a commotion within the Mexican society as the young would-be teachers are believed to have been killed by mistake.
There’s yet another climate-emergency tragedy unfolding in Brazil, of the many we should expect in the coming years. The Pantanal, one of the richest biodiversity regions in the world, is ablaze and killing an unbelievably vast array of flora and fauna species. As the wetlands’ soil, trees, and exotic animals are burnt to a crisp, just as it’s doing in the Amazon, one wonders how much more environmental devastation Brazilians will put up with.
Breonna Taylor, the Black medical worker killed in an unwarranted, no-knock police invasion of her Louisville, KY, home couldn’t have imagined that her death would inspire months of nationwide protests against police brutality towards African-Americans. The trial of her killers could’ve become a landmark for racial justice. But even as others were killed in a similar fashion, it became instead an undignified way to absolve trigger-happy officers.
Six months of Black Lives Matter protests, a half dozen police killings of Black Americans, a public outcry for justice, it all seems to come to this: no murder conviction to any police officer involved in the fusillade. No, her life and our grief are not in vain. But it shows the limits of our criminal laws. It’s unlike that much will change till election day. The submission of the U.S.’s highest court to the whims of our egotistical leader had already started earlier in his term, and they will side up with him again. So will the entire GOP. Financially, this campaign has already set records as history’s most costly, and there’ll be no stop to the xenophobia, misogyny, and the obliteration of our voting rights. All that’s left for us to do is to go vote.
Let’s get the early voting going as never before. Let’s make sure that women, the Black community, people of color, immigrants, and especially first and second-time voters do exercise their power to change the future. We know with almost certainty that thousands of votes will be discarded, and minorities will be once again disenfranchised. The only way the majority will regain power in this country is to every minority to step into that booth.
There’s no more time to convince the unconvinced; if they still don’t know, they can stay at home. There’s no need to proselytize on social media about how much better off we’d all be if healthcare were affordable, if women’s and gender rights were respected, and fossil fuel was a thing of the past. It’s even harder to find any sense in spending millions on TV ads, when there’s so much that needs investing on the ground, at the polls, from door to door.
But there is something that may top all the outrage the Trump administration has caused in the last four years, from openly stoking racial mistrust to inciting armed crowds, to intimidating governors and local leaders not in sync with the official word, to sheer incompetence to save American lives. It is the possibility, repeated so often in the past week, that the president won’t accept a defeat and may turn the election into an unconstitutional circus.
In just over a month, issues such as healthcare, climate change, race, and immigration reform, women’s reproductive rights, and press freedom, to name a few, will either fuel a crucial turnaround in U.S. priorities or be buried for four more years. The greatest loss a Trump win will mean however will be the death of American democracy as we know it and the Founding Fathers conceived it. The difference is going to be how high will be the turnout.
Americans have only themselves to rely upon; we can’t count on the fairness of the process, or expect to beat every dirty trick Republicans may come up with for preventing us from voting. Above all, until it’s extended and parity is re-established, with term limits imposed on justices, don’t expect the Supreme to avert Trump’s bid for reelection, even if Joe Biden wins. But the reality is, if all those who want change, vote, America wins. Let’s do it.

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9/21/2020 Real Change Comes at a Price, Colltalers

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg won many women’s rights battles in her life. In the past years, she became a leading dissenter at the Supreme Court and a hero for her progressive stands. She beat cancer too. But not even her could’ve pulled this one off: when the time came, she crossed it like a champion.
Her death may’ve upended the election – and vaporized Joe Biden’s polling numbers. It’s also topped the week’s other staggering news, from revelations that the U.S. immigration agency forced hysterectomies on asylum seekers, to seven million Americans sick of Covid-19, or climate-change wildfires.
The superstition-inclined sees the ongoing mass die-off of migratory birds across the U.S. and Mexico as an omen for what’s coming. Theories abound but there’s no clear scientific answer to what’s going on. Maybe they took off too early, or maybe it was the wildfires. It’s quite a sight to suddenly see a bird drop lifelessly from the sky, but it does happen. On a related plea, can we be done with the weirdness and heartbreak of this year already? Thanks.
As for the coronavirus, it’s still doing its thing: it passed the 30 million worldwide mark, and daily cases are still on the rise in many countries. Worse, there are unfounded expectations that a vaccine will suddenly deliver us from this scourge. As with most things these days, from rallies ‘for freedom’ against lockdowns to mostly American skirmishes of people refusing to wear masks, it’s all pre-fab and its purpose is to instill confusion and fear.
That’s Trump’s strategy to win. So perhaps getting as many people to vote as to take it to the streets and protest may be the perfect counter-strategy. He wants the chaos that may frighten his base into voting for him; but when the unrest is for racial and social equality, for dignity to dissent and freedom to protest, if it’s all to fulfill citizens’ constitutional right to choose their own leaders, then be it. We’ll be out there too, at the pavement and at the polls.
Speaking of it, Italians are choosing regional representatives today, but the biggest draw is a referendum on whether to reduce the Parliament’s size. It’s a move that shows a high level of voter education since such an important issue completely lacks mass appeal. Perhaps other countries with oversize congresses may consider a similar call, as size and number of parties almost never reflect diversity or choice. For more on that, see (Brazil, Congress).
The surprising issue of animal rights is causing a stir in Poland and may force an early parliamentary vote on last week’s ban of fur farming and the ritual slaughter for the Kosher market. Rather than Covid-19 – 80,000 cases, 2,000+ deaths -, the European Union, Belarus, or relations with Russia, what has tickled the Polish and may break up the ruling coalition has, of course, involved a cat: PiS party leader’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski is a cat lover.
The news that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement gynecologist was performing hysterectomies without consent of detained women fell like a cruel and unnecessary sucker punch at the end of a fairly brutal beating. What? kids in cages, families split, mass arrests, deportations, subhuman jail conditions, deaths, virus outbreaks, and who knows what else goes in those concentration camps, learning about this make us all gag in disbelief.
We’re now in Joseph Mengele territory, and quickly turning the unredeemable tragedy of the Holocaust into a practical guide to terrorize immigrants. But let’s not even ask what’s next, just dismantle this new Gestapo, and put in jail all psychopaths at the service of White House before it’s too late.
‘I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor and had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going.’ revealed the whistleblower, nurse Dawn Wooten. She declined to tell the doctor’s name but news organizations reported that he’s Dr. Mahendra Amin.
The loss of Justice Ginsberg, who once said, ‘Enduring change happens one step at a time,’ quickly threw the elections down the stairs and prompted one of the most unkind and dirty politics-driven moves by a man who came to embody unkindness and dirty politics, Mitch McConnell. The Senate majority leader wouldn’t wait for a humane ‘five-minute warning’ of her passing to rally his troops and rush to name her replacement at the Supreme.
By the way, that’s what he does: he won’t pass relief legislation for working Americans hit by the pandemic but has given no-strings-attached billions to Big Oil. By naming dozens of anti-abortion and pro-Trump judges for lifetime court benches throughout the land, he puts Roe v Wade on notice – an Evangelical wet dream – along with the Obamacare, besides assuring top of the line legal counsel for his boss and party in case they lose at the polls.
His attitude elicited an unrequited 2000s flashback and just the coordinated Republican mobilization has already caught Democrats off guard. The only way to assure that a new justice will be named only after the vote goes through convincing some spineless politicians, especially those up to reelection, that they must listen to their constituency. And surely, popular mobilization; every one of the 165 million American women must be on board for that.
The late Justice couldn’t have picked a more meaningful time to depart: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and/or the ‘universe’s birthday.’ And the Autumn Equinox, when days and nights have the same time length. Maybe as the late great Prince put it, ‘This is what it sounds like when doves cry.‘
It’s so hard to lose Ruth, John, and last year, Elijah, so close to an election with potential for saving the world, or watching it going down in flames. Hooray to whistleblowers, and dissenters, and conscientious objectors; they’ve given us their best and that now lives on inside us. So please, vote.

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9/14/2020 The Path We Choose, Colltalers

Why don’t they call it climate change? The apocalyptic wildfires burning California and Oregon are frightening enough to trigger public outrage. But the fact that only 15% of media coverage mentions it shows how gas and oil corporations are spending their Covid-19 bailout money to avoid scrutiny.
It’s the United Nations’ 75th anniversary and the General Assembly gathers in New York to reassess its relevance. It’s not part of Taliban-Afghanistan talks and has had only a limited role in the pandemic, and yet, it’s as crucial today as ever. Meanwhile, there’s been bad news about a virus vaccine.
Before diving into that, let’s also reassess the week that’s been, starting by a WWF report on the two-thirds of the world’s wildlife wiped out by human activity in the past 50 years. It’s a staggering loss only compounded lately by catastrophic wildfires and man-made climate change. A vicious circle, it begins with rising global demand for forest clearings for agriculture, which then become out-of-control fires, ultimately killing more flora and fauna.
Adding to the Amazon Rainforest, for instance, which it’s burning at a faster clip than 2019, fires rage now through Pantanal, Brazil’s wetlands, home to jaguars and other endangered species. Then and now, though, President Bolsonaro remains unmoved to the fate of animals and indigenous peoples. There as in the West Coast, it’s the countless anonymous heroes who supply the compassion that counters these horrifying tales of tragedy and despair.
There’s an uproar in Mexico against femicide, the rampant violence and killing of women, which lockdowns only aggravated and may surpass last year’s record of 3,833 deaths. As President Andrés Lópes Obrador calls such protests a ‘conspiracy,’ feminists at NiUnaMenos and Aequus groups have joined Marcela Aleman and Silvia Castillo, whose daughters were either raped or killed or both, to occupy the country’s Human Rights Commission.
Violence against women has been on the rise throughout Latin America, in tandem with their enhanced role as mothers and providers to their families during the pandemic. ‘Intentional killing of women because they’re women,’ as well as rates of rape and abuse, have also spiked among minorities and impoverished indigenous communities in Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, among others. Strangely, there’re not many studies about the situation in the U.S.
On a related calamity, Mexican journalist Julio Valdívia was beheaded in Vera Cruz last week, a sobering reminder that many of those reporting on the violence may also fall victim to it. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called Mexico and the entire continent one of the deadliest to the press.
The dystopic, red-intense ‘Blade Runner‘ images of California and Oregon wildfires couldn’t be a more explicit example of the devastation a warmer planet has in store for humanity. Some half a million people may have been evacuated to no one knows exactly where, and we’re just at the beginning of the season. For the media not to link that to fossil burning and negligence about the climate emergency should indeed be treated as a criminal matter.
More than 7,000 oil, gas, and petrochemical companies have collected from $3 billion to $7 billion in funds from federal bailout programs set to help Americans cope with the coronavirus epidemic, according to the Sierra Club. But while Republicans have blocked and short-changed workers and low-income taxpayers, companies had immediate access to the funds. The industry that must be dismantled or it’ll kill us got a lifeline from Washington.
Talks among the warring forces fighting the U.S. in Afghanistan have started and ended in the past with no time set to end the war or even discernible improvements. Whether this time will be different remains to be seen. But we know what the Trump administration is trying to accomplish by joining the talks, and it’s nothing to do with bringing the troops home. Just like a planned ‘vaccine’ announcement, it’d be another timely prop for re-election.
For there’s no safe vaccine to hit the market in the next 60 days, only the ‘promise’ of one, including the one being developed in Russia. In fact, the most eagerly expected one, that AstraZeneca is developing with Oxford University, has had a serious setback last week and it’s added even more trials before it can be approved. Regardless that Anti-Vaxxers stage phony indignation rallies, vaccines must be thoroughly tested or they may indeed kill.
Trump has taken steps to profit from whichever reaches the market first, even if it proves ineffective or toxic. For that is beside the point: just its mere announcement is likely to deliver him four more years. For those seeking comfort in poll figures showing him behind in the race, just consider the U.S. is near seven million Covid cases and 200,000 deaths, but according to the GOP retelling, the patient may be dead but the operation was successful.
Since the 1980s, Rieli Franciscato had been working on getting to know and contact Amazon tribes that refuse to come out of their secluded existence. Last week, he was killed by an arrow from the one known as the Cautario River group. It was a great loss to the movement of protection of isolated tribes which are now under even more danger. Fires and the spread of Covid-19 in the Rainforest have been decimating local indigenous populations.
Brazilians are a little ambivalent about natives peoples, and their remoteness to the mainstream of society, both geographically and culturally, has been a too wide a gap to cross. We admire and fear for those who dedicate their lives to bridge that gap. Not just because they’re usually vulnerable to the kind of fatality that took Franciscato, but because they’re also all but ignored by average citizens. But there’s no survival without these original peoples.
The guy at your corner deli, the rain-soaked mail lady, the kid who delivered your dinner, the sanitation man who took away your rubbish, they’re all carrying on often in better ways than you and I. They’re not losing their sleep over your tip, or think twice about helping you cross the street. Like the nurse who saved your neighbor, they serve because life without tending to others doesn’t make sense. Like us, they too don’t deserve to being lied to.
We work hard to become better, we refuse to give in to cynicism, we teach our young that the world is theirs but they still have to earn it. We don’t need to put up with greedy billionaires, or leaders who’d do anything to remain in power. We may need to work harder but some things we do know: there’s no saying when the next virus or climate catastrophe will hit us, only that next time, we must have an honorable government to stand by us. Cheers.

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9/07/2020 Prepping Up a New Season, Colltalers

It’s Labor Day in the U.S., Independence Day in Brazil, a coincidence that adds to the ill-advised pax de deux both have been engaged on lately. Other Latin American nations have their own day this month too. But only Canada and the U.S. mark today what everybody else honors on the First of May.
The end of the Northern summer also ushers mournful Sept. 11 remembrances, both from 2001 and 1973. And global isolation as the U.S., leader in Covid-19 cases, is out of the World Health Organization’s 170-nation coordinated strategy against the virus and chooses to ignore the changing climate.
We’ll get to that but first let’s go out to the races, the belated 148th Kentucky Derby, and the almost normalization of sports events being held without a crowd. As it turns, it’s fine, the horses still run and this year Authentic came out on top. What cannot be normalized though is the scary presence of squads of incredibly armed far-right supremacists, aching to pick a fight with social and racial justice protesters, such as Black Lives Matter activists.
It’s no longer possible to believe that Big Media is mistakenly equating their hate and intent to harm with earnest calls for a better nation and a safer planet. Short of condemning civilians for having such easy access to military-grade arsenals, it’s fair to assume that their narrative itself is crooked on purpose. Their faulty reporting benefits the Arsonist-in-Chief on his quest to put the country on fire and name himself as the one who’ll put them out.
The Trump Circus is as ratings-lifting as a train wreck and few can take their eyes off it. Thus, big news corporations have spent the past four years playing on the crowd’s bemusement while collecting fat advertising fees. As the Orange Clown diverts with gimmicks, hordes of pickpocketers feast on gullibility and work the audience. Every time they buy one of his many crate-full of snake-oil bottles, they unwittingly surrender their citizenship.
He cannot conceive of courage because he is a coward.‘ Retired Capt. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, a pilot who in 2009 safely landed an airliner in NYC’s Hudson River and save all its 155 passengers, has had enough and is not going to take it anymore. His was the indignant response by a combat veteran to a draft dodger who has reportedly called ‘losers‘ and ‘suckers‘ those who served and died in wars for this country, according to The Atlantic.
It’s not about how far down below the belt the bone spur-prone, bankruptcy-manipulator, scandal-ridden MC is willing to hit; we’ve already been in bottomless territory even before he blamed the late John McCain for ‘being caught.’ It’s about how well we all fit next to his enablers and sycophants.
Switching to the climate emergency, records have been set in California, for most land scorched by fire, in the Arctic Circle, for greenhouse-gases emissions, and in the Amazon, for yet more man-made destruction of the Rainforest. Owners may mourn the loss of property; everyone else grieves the indigenous lives, flora, and fauna lost to the smoke, the coronavirus, or oblivion. But that’s not just Trump; Joe Biden is still reluctant to take action.
Hundreds of wildfires rage in California and firefighters can only hope to control but not to extinguish them. Temperatures in the triple digits and toxic smog are forcing evacuations and threatening even people living far away. But as a Blue state, no one expects help from the Trump administration.
Siberia – who’d have expected it? – is now one of the hottest places on Earth and giant craters have begun to pop up on its tundra. The latest, a 164ft.-deep hole, was caused like the others by climate change-induced cryovolcanism, a process when ancient built-up deposits of methane explode and break through the melting permafrost. The bad news is, greenhouse gas methane has a global warming potential 84 times greater than carbon dioxide.
The majestic Amazon may have reached a point of no return but we won’t know it until man-made fires stop. Amnesty International said deforestation increased 34.5% between Aug. 2019 and July 2020 compared to a year before, and 9,205 km² of the forest have been razed. As of Sept. 5, Amazon Day, 63,000 blazes have been reported. Untrained Army troops sent by President Bolsonaro neither helped nor an extra hand is expected from Brasília.
It was also in Brasília that a legislative coup ousted democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff halfway her second term and sent Brazil back to constitutional and administrative chaos. The same artificially-inflated chaos that now boosts Trump’s reelection hopes was used on Aug. 31, 2016, to justify deposing the South American giant’s first woman president. But unlike her, many of those who conspired against her are now facing the law.
But even though they may be now either in jail or being indicted, none has been held accountable so far for the dismantling of Brazil’s Democracy. It’d been hard-earned after 20 years of military dictatorship, and it lifted the nation to the world’s sixth-largest economy. But after Rousseff, trumped-up charges sent previous President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to jail and gave his front-runner stand to a then distant Bolsonaro. Then Brazil hit the wall.
Short of the staggering celebrity deaths, nothing came close in importance to the three disastrous political turnarounds that happened in 2016. In June, a disingenuously-induced referendum set the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and with it, to bury the dream of a future with no borders. In Aug., the Brazilian state collapsed and set back the clock. And then in Nov., of course, a blowhard TV show host got elected to the world’s top spot.
Even with England already on the path to further dissociation and economic hardship, what with a ‘lite’ Trump model as Prime Minister and a total lack of vision for what’s coming, the undeclared Annus Horribilis will come full circle first in the U.S. There’s just one way this tide may make a turn and let us all take a breather: a new American president. The planet desperately needs to reset its timer and simply cannot afford four more years of ‘this.’
There’s good news about Brazilian Indigenous Chief Raoni Metuktire, believed to be 90; he’s been discharged from a hospital after being treated for Covid-19 and is already back to his village in the Xingu National Park. But he’s not out of the woods yet, so to speak, and remains under medical care.
There’s sad news about David Graeber, one of the Occupy Wall Street movement founders, who passed away last week. An anthropologist, author, and anarchist, two of his many books informed and inspired the OWS upheaval, ‘Debt, the First 5,000 Years,’ and ‘Bullshit Jobs.’ R.I.P., Master Agitator.
And there may be news today at the extradition hearing of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in London. The U.S. wants to try him on conspiracy charges for publishing classified documents and footage of American troops shooting and killing civilians and journalists. Army Intel Officer Chelsea Manning, who brought him the material, was court-marshaled and then pardoned by President Obama, but remains in jail for refusing to ‘cooperate.’
It’s Brazil 198th anniversary but few are celebrating. The coronavirus scourge only added to Brazilians’ palpable sense of despair and helplessness. We’ll come back, is all one can wish for at this time. May Day is named after the 1886 violent repression of workers pushing for an eight-hour workday at Chicago’s Haymarket Square. President Glover Cleveland created Labor Day eight years later exactly to unwisely cut this link to the workers’ cause.
It’s a long, long while/From May to December/And the days grow short/When you reach September…’ Kurt Weill & Maxwell Anderson’s September Song may be over 80 years old but still fits with today’s mood. That is, grieve for another summer gone but prepare to have spring to come back a bit sooner, say Nov. So rather than enduring a winter full of fire and lies, we’ll be all out in the streets celebrating a new season for the world. Be well.

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8/31/2020 Don’t Watch it From the Shadows, Colltalers

The Democratic Convention brought comfort and hope to part but not all of the party’s constituency. But the Republican one, held while protests raged against police brutality and white supremacists killed three (white) people in the ‘inner-city chaos‘ they see, was everything supporters wished it to be.
Meanwhile, the U.S. still tops the world with six million Covid-19 cases and near 190,000 deaths, California wildfires are burning an area larger than Delaware, and about 20 million Americans are unemployed. To the GOP, though, these are not a priority; only the consecration of Donald Trump is.
We’ll go back to the Democrats’ half-delivered message and to the Republican lying feast, but first, let’s ask once again, why almost as many have rallied in big cities against the use of masks as those denouncing the killing of Blacks and people of color? While the latter rebel against an unjust system that perpetuates itself, the former is an absurd, spoilt demand that could be called ‘Save the Virus,’ for it’s the only one to gain from it.
There’s no global vaccine – and mercifully, no anti-vaxxer to deal with – yet and despite the extraordinary efforts by some nations other than the U.S., the virus is alive and kicking. That’s why many doubt the sincerity of such rallies as they don’t make any sense given rising casualties and seem rather childish on their complaint about social restrictions. So, when do people fight against their own interests? When someone paid them for it, that’s when.
There’s no cynicism or intended irony though after China ordered the arrest last week of Lam Cheuk-ting, a Hong Kong lawmaker. He’s charged with publicizing on social media a 2019 subway attack on activists returning from a pro-Democracy rally by an unidentified group wearing white T-shirts and armed with clubs. Along with denying visas to foreign journalists, the arrest is another nail on the coffin of the once-proud island’s freedom hopes.
When Pakistani-American Tahir Ahmad Naseem was arrested last year, many fear the severity of Blasphemy Laws which could send him to life in prison for his ‘crime’ of expressing an opinion. But few expected him to be shot and killed inside the courtroom and even fewer see the teenager who murdered him out of religious hate to be ever convicted of the killing. Instead, people paraded with his picture and lawyers are lining up to defend him.
Amnesty International has been keeping track of blasphemy laws that ‘violate rights to freedom of religion‘ and of opinion and expression. ‘They have been used to target some of the most marginalized people in society‘: children, the mentally disabled, religious minorities, and, surely, poor people.
And for those who haven’t yet connected the dots of floods and wildfires, Cat. 4 and 5 hurricanes, plus the 100° temperatures in Siberia this summer, not to worry: the president plans to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of most pristine regions on Earth, even as global oil consumption is actually declining. Environmental groups are challenging the administration but their biggest shot to succeed will be a new president.
The Democratic convention did deliver on a few important goals, presenting detailed plans on how to accomplish them. What to do about the virus, the economy, new jobs, a new dignity for the White House, and a nation healed and united to face the future. All to end before bedtime for the aging but still influential part of its target crowd. For even with so many common people having a moment on camera, it may still have bored the young to death.
There were many fresh voices, people truly engaged in saving Democracy in this country, others fully committed to community building and social justice. But there was much to be missed. Julián Castro, for instance, sole Latino presidential candidate and a member of President Obama’s cabinet, was not invited, but anti-abortion GOP’s Dennis Kucinich spoke at will. Many legendary Black leaders and poor people activists were also missing.
To have an idea, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, arguably the most visible voice of the progressive caucus within the party, spoke for less than two minutes, at the invitation of Senator Bernie Sanders. Nevertheless, several days after the convention she was still battling hate conservatives and far-right trolls in social media. She holds the crucial support of the youth vote and yet she was not allowed to have a slot. It reminds us of the 2016 convention.
Then too, a respected but not universally liked candidate had the best shot for a woman to break the glass ceiling and win in a landslide. That’s when filmmaker Michael Moore went to Bill Mahrer’s program and, against all apparent odds, declared, ‘Trump will win.’ Four years later, after watching ‘off the charts‘ support for him in battleground states, he cryptically asks: ‘Are you content with the trust you’ve placed in the DNC to pull this off?‘ Neither are we.
Not even when tens of thousands descended to Washington DC over the weekend, to mark the 57th anniversary of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.-led March for Jobs and Freedom. They came from all over to the Lincoln Memorial to pay homage to a historic turning point to the civil rights movement. But just like the several Women’s Marches, the Anti-Gun and the Climate Change many parades, and even the many Black Lives Matter rallies, the DNC didn’t send rank-and-file by the busload to support the crowd. Biden’s missed a great opportunity to show that he doesn’t always do as he’s told.
It’s been the BLM’s turn now to lead the charge but all of these groups have contributed to keeping the message of justice and equality alive, more so at times than the party itself. So it’s poignant that during the same weekend, while crowds rallied all over the country, the actor and activist Chadwick Boseman, the Black Panther, passed away. While the president was busy destroying the country, Boseman built a new dream. R.I.P., King T’Challa.
Republicans are out to put America on fire for all the wrong reasons: racism, xenophobia, corruption, nepotism, inequality, and white privilege. They do not want people to vote and even used footage from riots in Spain to foil their base. As for Democrats, the majority is now convinced that Trump is an existential threat to the world, but we’re still coming up short and time’s running out. For Democracy’s sake, get all those kids to join us. ‘Yibambe!‘

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8/24/2020 All That We’ll Ever Need, Colltalers</

Another week, another member of the Trump administration gets in trouble with the law. But Steve Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist who makes a living advising would-be despots, is arguably the greatest grifter to be caught. Given his influence, though, it’s unlike that he’s down and out.
130° F. That may’ve been the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth if it’s confirmed. The scorching heat in Death Valley, CA, was the opening salvo of yet another season in hell for the state, courtesy of the climate emergency. Wildfires and the deadly coronavirus: 2020 is not nearly done yet.
But before having another crack at those two headlines, let’s get going with the newest episode of poisoning in Russia suffered by a political opponent of Vladimir Putin. Despite his denials, the dissenting voice of Alexei Navalny was muted by strong symptoms of poisoning; he’s now in a coma em Germany, where he’d been flown to. He’s the sixth well-known foe of the Putin regime to suddenly experience a devastating, likely lethal intoxication.
Now, there’s a demonization of Russia spoused by most of the Western media, after it’s been reported that it did interfere in the 2016 election and may be at it again as we speak. Such heavy-handed coverage all but clouds facts and drive us to unwittingly fall prey to conspiracies, for lacking the tools to make the right call. Putin may deny it but these poisoning incidents, if Navalny’s indeed another one, have the clear purpose of silencing his critics.
The armed forces of Mali staged a coup d’etat Tuesday that ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, in office since 2013. EcoWas, a group of West African nations, and the United Nations are negotiating with the mutineers to end the mostly bloodless coup. The military blamed the president for bad economic decisions and corruption as their reasons to intervene, and promised to hold elections sometime ‘soon,’ but most of us have heard that before.
In Iraq, Reham Yacoub, a feminist doctor and activist, was shot dead in a country where political and journalist assassinations have become routine. The murder of Yacoub, 29, who organized women’s marches and protests, and that of Tasheen Osama a week before may’ve started a new grim cycle.
And then a rapid rundown of what’s happening in Belarus, Lebanon, and Hong Kong. In Minsky and other cities, government troops have clashed with protesters over a presidential vote largely perceived as rigged. In Beirut, the Lebanese face the gargantuan task of rebuilding after an Aug. 4 blast razed the city’s port and economy and killed a still undetermined number of people. As for Hong Kong, it’s being discretely crushed by China as we speak.
The Republican Convention that starts today is bound to ignore it but the biggest Trump-related news is the arrest of Bannon, arguably the world’s most recognizable white supremacist. Accused of fraud, he was yanked out of a blissful sunbath on the deck of a Chinese billionaire’s yacht by the ‘lowly’ Postal Police (yes, there is one). Apparently, he and other grifters pocketed $25 million in donations for a Trump’s wall at the Mexican border.
Whether he saw it coming, and above all, that he’ll be convicted remains to be seen; he was freed on a $5 million bail. That the under-attack USPO was involved is nothing less than a bit ironic, since its attackers are people of Bannon’s ilk, including the president. The convention could do us all a favor explaining how come so many in this administration, from top to bottom, have been accused, arrested, often convicted, and in jail for breaking the law?
Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos, to name just the most notorious bunch, all have been accused, some confessed, and a few are doing time for lying and abetting on the president’s behalf. The difference with Bannon is that he’s also ‘helping,’ under not too shabby fees, governments around the world to squash dissent and take as much personal advantage of public office as they can.
Marco and Laura. Perhaps it’s the climate emergency, but hurricanes now may come in pairs, and these two are slated to landfall in Gulf Coast states, Louisiana included, just in case we missed them too much. As warnings have been issued, one wonders how communities still recovering from past storms, and now struggling with wildfires and floods, will fare in a nation of 40 million unemployed and an economy grinding to a near-total halt?
Hopefully, not the way New Orleans was forced to cope with an incompetent president when Hurricane Katrine struck 15 years ago this week. When thousands drowned in their own homes and a Bush crony left international donations of trailers and supplies rotting unused in ports of call, Americans suddenly had a first glimpse of what it means having no government help when it’s the most needed: people die and wealth is redistributed upwards.
5,874 million cases, 181,000 deaths. That’s another thing you probably won’t hear talked much at the GOP convention: Covid-19. The disproportionate toll exacted on Blacks, the poor, and minorities, and that we have no uniformed testing system, as claims of a vaccine have been greatly exaggerated. Or worst, we may actually hear hypocrites and sycophants praise the U.S., based of course, on no proof whatsoever. And then there’s the vaccine.
In two months, we’re likely to see an onslaught of claims about a new vaccine, even knowing that trials should not be abbreviated for the sake of rights to brag, or that it will even be effective. Trump, of course, will claim victory and tide himself up nicely for Nov. 3. After all, he and his friends are all set to profit from it, even if it proves ineffective. And then, as a deranged twist, there are the anti-vaxxers, who are mounting a campaign to reject it.
As the most unusual summer of despondency draws to a close, humanity wonders whether we’re up to what’s coming: will the coronavirus finally be tamed? will this election be the turning point towards planetary healing? will any of those Lotto tickets stuck in a drawer for so long hold the winning numbers to lift us out of such overspread misery? The fact is, it’s irrelevant. Just a look at your loved ones is enough to get all the answers you crave.
We’re not following an agenda, no one has a roadmap for the future, few even believe they’ll stick around much longer. We do what’s being asked from us because there’s no longer a choice; we choose to be kind because not to be is to cast yourself askew. Yes, we have a pandemic that keeps punching back, an economy for the ultra-rich only, a raging climate set to burn the Earth to smithereens. But we have ourselves, and that’s all we need. Rock on.

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8/17/2020 The Cheater’s Playbook, Colltalers

A deceptive Middle East diplomatic agreement has shed some light on what the president is willing to do to get reelected. Sold as a peace accord, it’s in fact a coalition of Israel, the Arab Emirates, and the U.S. to put Iran on notice. If a Covid-19 vaccine won’t work, an Iranian blast could come in handy.
The first-ever virtual Democratic Convention starts today to deliver its strategy to block the White House and the GOP from preventing people from voting them out. It’ll also name Joe Biden for U.S. President and Kamala Harris, the first Black and Asian woman in a presidential ticket, for his VP.
With 78 days before the election, headlines may be dictated by these and other related themes. But let’s begin today with a class of profiteer directly related to people’s misery: health insurers. The pandemic has killed over 170,000 Americans, probably more, but your plan may cost more, thank you.
You may no longer afford it – and still owe for that 10-minute doctor’s visit last March – but top U.S. insurers’ profits doubled in the second quarter compared to the same period last year. They’ll certainly be joined in record-topping earnings by big pharma when a vaccine becomes available. Even if it’s under-tested, useless, or downright dangerous, shareholders and the Trump administration will cash in their investments either way. But not us.
Healthcare coverage in the U.S. was a failure way before the coronavirus scourge. Now it’s also helping the industry to pack billions in profits. That thousands are struggling and can’t spare a dime on their health even if their lives depend on it, which they often do, are not a glitch but a feature of the system. In the richest nation in the world, don’t dare to fall sick unless you’re, say, a CEO of a healthcare corporation. Or work for the White House.
The aggravating factor, of course, is candidate Biden’s refusal to embrace Medicare for All. If the evidence is not enough, that the system is broken and the Obamacre Act has proven vulnerable to manipulation that renders it ineffective, then only public pressure to change a new president’s convictions.
Almost in tandem with the rising power of insurance companies is, surprise, surprise, the staggering accumulation of wealth by U.S. billionaires. Their combined net worth jumped $685 billion since March to an uncomprehensibly sky-high pile of $3.65 trillion. They could as well be living on another planet but instead, they are here, riding the same decrepit bridges and roads and making sure Congress won’t grant the unemployed livable benefits.
Of course, Jeff Besos or Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, could individually or together support a decent living to new teachers, healthcare workers, food professionals, or housing authorities, just with the billions they’ll never be able to spend in several lifetimes. But why would they? It’s not that they can’t; they truly believe they made it on their own and the rest of us should be so lucky like they’ve always been. But a president could and must.
In Belarus, thousands took the streets of Minsky to protest the result of the elections that gave president Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, 80% of the votes, at odds with poll estimates and the unusual enthusiasm for his opponent Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Fearing for her life and family, she’s gone into exile in Lithuania. The turmoil around his supporter has hardly rattled Vladimir Putin so far; his priority is still that ‘other’ election.
The insidiousness of the domestic violence issue, of killer partners eating up American homes from the inside, still weights down heavily on the literal backs of women. The lockdown has partially hidden this national public health emergency as if there’s any shortage of them. But it can not be ignored.
Speaking of violence, survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests are again dissatisfied with Pope Francis leadership. As Poland’s Archbishop Slawoj Glodz, long accused of protecting child rapists in their midst, handed him his resignation, the pope’s failed to live up to his word and demand accountability from a notorious apologist of cleric misconduct. By the way, as a whole, the church’s been spectacularly indifferent to this pandemic.
The UAE and Israel have a long, albeit ‘reserved,’ trade and cybersecurity partnership. The announced ‘deal’ merely formalizes what’s already a reality. It is ‘historic’ as some have called it but not a breakthrough. With UAE’s support, though, Israel can pressure Iran and do Trump’s bidding. It does look like a fail-safe strategy in case no vaccine works out. Short of curing Covid-19, an old-fashion little war would be a great distraction for the president.
It’d be worse than the 2003 invasion of Iraq, likely bloodier, and just like it, completely purposeless. But it may bring many a famed anchor, say, Brian Williams, to praise on a news broadcast the ‘beauty’ of Tomahawks missiles taking off for war. A quick strike may immediately empty the news decks for 24/7 war reports and cheers for the commander-in-chief and all that; fear of a world catching fire always leads people to vote for the status quo.
It’d be a travesty, for sure, one not even the ‘shock and awe’ campaign in Iraq couldn’t hold a candle to. But the tragedy of that is that the White House thinks it can control such an apocalyptic nightmare from going full spread. It won’t and the resistance may become strong enough to topple democracy. And that’s ultimately the excuse they seek, even if it won’t mean much in the Nuclear Winter that would follow it. Yes, we’re talking about nukes here.
Domestically, the agenda is coming along nicely. Forget the half a million new coronavirus cases since last week; turn press conferences into headline-hogging stump speeches; destroy the Post Office’s ability to deliver mail-in votes. But the self-sustained agency is not going into the sunset without a showdown and that’s what’s expected next. The Trump donor leading it may not last, but vote-suppression tactics will continue. It’s that or the Iranians.
In reality, a functional vaccine won’t be in place till next year, and there must be vigilance for the moment a fake one is propped up as such before that. Besides that, we must pull all stops to protect the USPO which is often the only game in many a town for folks without Internet access and poor long-distance service. If they won’t discuss canceling the Electoral College, then by Betelgeuse, they won’t tear up the Constitution right in front of our eyes.
In 2018, a ‘blue wave’ rode the Democrats to House majority and a slew of progressive new leaders calling for a revolution. But this year’s Convention, as in 2016, will be dominated by conservative, donor-rich old-party foxes, ex-presidents, spouses, and assorted moderates. Bernie Sanders will speak but the most recognizable face of the party’s future, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, will have exactly a minute to talk. We do hope she’ll let them have it.
Democrats fell behind on climate change, the Black Lives Moment, the Women’s Marches, young protests for gun control, and voting rights. They need AOC and her ink to bring out first-time voters and new libertarians. They’re in control but this is our moment. Don’t let them screw this up again.
Elvis Presley ‘has left the building‘ 43 years ago Sunday. It was also the 100th Anniversary of Charles Bukowski, a chronicler of skid rows and lost lives everywhere who was actually a USPO mail carrier too. And today, not to extend the ‘celebrity watch moment,’ is Robert de Niro’s 77th birthday. Their art and lives went beyond fame to actually mean something to the world. We’re getting to the home stretch. Let’s make it memorable. Banzai.

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8/10/2020 Notes on a Planned Failure, Colltalers

When the first American caught Covid-19 in Jan., there’d been plenty of warnings from China to the WHO. But the world was not worried because the U.S. had top epidemiologists and detailed pandemic playbooks to guide us through the crisis. America would lead and save the day as it’d done before.
Instead, it ‘leads’ the world but in cases, over five million, and logic-defying health polices. Everything the Trump administration has done contradicted what we’ve learned in a hundred years of knowledge and public health practices. Puzzling, though, Americans are not quite fired up with indignation.
In fact, one wonders if the Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t already on the streets, people would be even up in arms protesting. In Israel, Bolivia, Lebanon, Russia, and other nations led by authoritarian regimes, citizens are confronting their leaders’ self-serving attempts to cover up the tragedy.
The BLM unrest hasn’t let up either, but its fight against racial prejudice and police violence has been hijacked at times by other pressure points of popular dissatisfaction. It must not lose its clarity but it’ll have to welcome those hurt by Trump’s neglect. All the way to the polling pols of Nov. 3.
For at close to 20 million cases worldwide, Covid-19 has become the darkest horse running against democracy all around. Since it’s still rising and a safe vaccine is at least months away, it’s already exposing the sheer incompetence of some political leaders and leading to multiple, violent rallies.
We’ll come back to that right after checking what else is news. And it turns out, plenty. Starting by the month-long marches in Israel against four-time Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies, a position he fought charges of bribery and corruption, and three election cycles in one year in order to keep it.
It’s a sight for sore eyes for those who don’t get how come 64% of well-educated Israel’s 18 to 34-year olds identify themselves as right-wing. They’ve been major P.M. supporters and of most of his even more far-right opponents in the last 20 years. People have just grown used to the fact that for one reason or another, they have apparently no sympathy for the Palestinians’ fate or the Gaza Strip. So maybe something’s different about the coronavirus.
The virus may have also been the excuse for what’s happening in Bolivia. The caretaker government of Jeanine Áñez has canceled the scheduled election for a new president that would replace Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, ousted in a coup a year ago. Senator Áñez, who grabbed the nation’s helm bible in hand, promised new elections, declared herself a candidate but has gone after poor Bolivians ever since.
The native majority has faced brutal repression of their demands for clean elections, even if Morales can’t run. They’ve set up highway barriers and roadblocks throughout the mostly rural nation, while also reporting close to 100,000 Covid-19 cases, and just under four thousand confirmed deaths.
As for that tragic, spectacular explosion in Beirut that pretty much razed the county’s port, its main structure of economic support, never mind what our Orange Menace has said about it, it was not a military or guerrilla attack, that much is clear. Much less evident though is where aid is supposed to come from to what was once known as the Paris of the Middle East, in a nation buried deep in mountains of government corruption and high poverty.
In quick sequence, also worth mentioning is the New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit to dissolve the National Rifle Association; the obscene death toll the coronavirus is taking in the U.S. jail population, the biggest in the world, including immigrants and asylum seekers; and the record 32% drop in second-quarter GDP, with the correspondent 30 to 50 million Americans unemployed, who saw their benefits dried up this week.
Ms. James may succeed where others didn’t want to and if she does it’ll be due to the pro-gun group’s own arrogance and malfeasance. Good riddance. That the U.S. economy is in the toilet even the president knows it. That’s why he’s forcing children to get the virus, rather than an education, at their schools; he needs the appearance of normality rather than saving lives, even if it implies false hopes for a vaccine or the death toll reaching skyward.
‘I’ve been detained for five months in this center with my lung condition and problems with my liver. Do you think that proper nutrition for a sick person is bread and ham every day?’ The poignant letter is among dozens from detainees at ICE facilities, smuggled out to The Intercept. After kids in cages, families split-ups, secret deportations, violent raids, this is a new shame to stain Trump and its immigration enforcement agency. Heartbreaking.
It’s not the Covid-19’s pace that is numbly fast, but the administration’s response that’s been always inept, ever since the virus outbreak in China back in Dec. From just one case in Feb. to over five million now, the president’s turned America into the land of the sick and the home of the virus.
It’s unacceptable that 165.3 thousand died from this. It went from that first case to over 18,000 in March, 27K in April, and down to 23,000 in May. In June, cases reached 41.5 thousand, and July 65,000. Then in roughly a month, it more than doubled. It’s still rising fast. See what we’re getting at?
New Zealand, for instance – yes, it has only five million inhabitants but the scale of comparison is still off the charts – had no new cases to report last month. Other nations are following careful steps to reopen while making sure their workforce, now unable to find jobs, receive enough aid to survive. But the U.S. is a mess of contradictory efforts, no uniformed policies, ill-reputed acts of political theater, no leadership, no testing, and no vaccine.
About that. ‘Can you patent the sun?’ asked American virologist Jonas Salk in 1955, about the vaccine for Polio that he’d spent years developing. But that was then, certainly a time of more generosity than the one we lived in now. The administration has not just pitched state against state for the ‘right’ to receive protective gear for health workers, but it’s also provoking an international, literal lab race for the profits generated by a patented vaccine.
Down in Brazil, which has just broken the three million cases threshold, second only to the U.S., and 100,000 obits, COVID-19 has taken yet another indigenous leader. Cacique Aritana Yawalapiti, 71, was instrumental for the 1960s creation of the Xingu National reserve, home to 16 tribes. His is one of over 600 deaths of Brazil’s indigenous people, just when the Amazon Rainforest has lost a São Paulo-sized area to fires just last month. R.I.P., Chief.
Numbers and stats make us numb and abstract the flesh-and-bone costs behind them. The coronavirus is challenging but only for those who ignored the scientific evidence, the same way climate emergency may cause a shock to those who chose not to face its reality. That’s what you get when you elect a game show host as your president. When stuff hits the fan, they usually get caught covering their own behinds. That’s why Nov. 3 is so crucial.
We must stand for the Post Office, a self-sufficient agency that predates the constitution and it’s under attack by paid nimrods. They may close polling stations, create hurdles for the poor, and prevent Americans from expressing their will. But they can’t stop us from voting by mail. The BLM has earned the right to lead this fight, but every single progressive group must join in. We need a new president, we need a better world. Buckle up, Sonny.

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8/03/2020 Guts to Not Repeat the Past, Colltalers

A sample of four of the biggest threats to the survival of humanity highlights the week ahead: a virus nearing 20 million cases worldwide; the faltering democracy in the world’s strongest nation; a mild but still powerful hurricane; and the sobering 75th anniversary of Hiroshima’s atomic bombing.
Plagues, oppression, climate change, and nuclear power are of course what makes these apparently unrelated events relevant as we’re helpless against any of them. It’s been sheer luck that they’re yet to strike us all at the same time. But it’s getting closer to it and if they do, we’re certainly doomed.
More on that later, but first, Asia’s monsoon season is up to a particularly nasty start and a quarter of Bangladesh is already flooded, with millions left homeless as per reports. Millions more have been dispossessed in China, in torrential, climate change-boosted rainfalls. Monsoons are known for ages but were never as deadly as in the past 30 years. Sad then that, unless we address the climate emergency, all we can do is wait for the water to recede.
Speaking of China, it again did something while no one was looking: it postponed Hong Kong’s September elections that a moribund pro-Democracy movement was counting on to remain breathing. Officially, it was COVID-19 but if you believe that, we’ve got a 2008 Beijing Olympics ticket to sell you. Which does not justify Sec. of Sycophancy Mike Pompeo’s warmongering threats, since his boss wishes and may still do just that in the U.S.
Another piece of scary news comes from Germany, where an underground militia was just uncovered. It had elaborate plans with artillery to match for taking over the government with a Nazi 0.2 regime. Politicians and members of law enforcement were involved in a sort of echo of what’s happening in America, including the police involvement. Even scarier is to think of a present-day Axis, with the U.S. and maybe Russia replacing Italy and Japan.
That’s as good as any a moment to mention the Anti-Fascist movement, born in the 1920s to fight the rise of Benito Mussolini in Italy, and later, Hitler in Germany, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ research on victims of politically-driven events and killings in the U.S. since 1994.
Unlike false claims by the president and contemporary white supremacists, Antifa is not a violent organization as the thinktank’s database has compiled a grand total of one death related to it, and that was of the attacker. During the same period, however, far-right terrorists have murdered 329 people.
The U.S. has reported 1.86 million new coronavirus cases in July, a whopping 41% of its staggering total of 4.8 million. The worst month since the pandemic started also matched almost seamlessly the massive re-opening of public places in Florida, the current epicenter, Texas, most Southern states, and California. Looking at pics of those places fools us into thinking that the virus and its devastation are both done. Sadly though we are far from it.
Even worse, July also saw COVID-19 taking its first pet in its wake. Seven-year-old German Shepherd Buddy, by all accounts an exceedingly good boy, succumbed before anyone knows exactly how transmission occurs between humans and their companions. It’s a red flag for pet owners all over and an untimely event for Buddy’s loved ones. If it’s of any consolation, he didn’t go in August, the infamous month of Mad Dogs. R.I.P. old champ.
As for red flags, they were all up, along with fittingly outrage and alarm, since Trump floated the idea of postponing the November elections. He did get clobbered even by Republicans, but don’t rest assured just yet. It was one of his devilish genius impromptu tirades that somehow hits the target. Don’t expect him to drop the whistle as he’s bound to come back to it now that the issue is part of the national, and global, conversation. Be prepared.
U.S. elections were never postponed in 244 years of Republic, and have been held during wartime, hurricanes, and every other kind of circumstance in the book. It’s one of the most solid trademarks of American democracy, one that was never contested either. So, of course, Trump will come back to it.
Floods and landslides in Bangladesh, China, Nepal, and other areas haven’t been the worst ever but they’re still increasing in overall intensity. The same about the Isaias storm. But climate emergency is not just the weather, the warming of the oceans caused by greenhouse gases, or our sick fossil-fuel dependency. It’s also aggravated by the astounding income inequality and other nefarious realities we experience in our world, circa 2020.
At this point, the wide array of factors causing the planet to heat up, in some places to a crisp, helps feed and exponentially worsens knuckle-headed policies, extreme greed, and the appalling lack of empathy by those profiting from pandemics and misery, who believe they’re rich out of divine grace.
On that note, Amazon Rainforest fires have risen 28% more in July than in the same month last year, because of, well, Bolsonaro. And keep in mind that a record 212 environment protectors were assassinated in 2019, in the Amazon region and worldwide, according to a new Global Witness report.
At 8:45 am on August 6, 1945, 80.000 people were instantaneously killed in Hiroshima, Japan, by an atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. Three days later, the same happened in Nagasaki. 75 years on and that day is ever more marked by the infamy of murder and mayhem brought about by war than by a frantic effort to stop the conflict for good. It was both, but at the end of this long day, what really counts is the brutal loss of life any war causes.
And the most disturbing thing about it all is, we haven’t learned our lesson. It’s not just that Trump withdrew from nuclear treats and made the world unsafer than ever. But that we and pretty much every nation in the world are still actively seeking to build nukes with the same unreliable technology. We’re closer than ever to a global nuclear disaster, and the Atomic Scientists-managed Doomsday Clock is now counted in seconds, not in minutes.
There it is, in a nutshell, the multi-pronged challenge staring at us all whether we ‘believe’ it or not. Divine intervention? more like the luck of the draw: we’re all here, no one knows why or wherefrom, but there’s nothing else more important for us to confront and conquer while we’re indeed here.
We do know what we need to do to survive: vote for better leaders, yes, freely share knowledge to combat diseases, absolutely, stop consuming fossil-fuels, for certain, and elect only natural sources of energy to get moving, obviously. But the reason it hasn’t happened, or rather that our efforts haven’t reached critical mass yet is that we do need to come to a common understanding about life, the planet, and the worthiness of our very existence here.
Don’t even start with how heavy a load this is, and if you need to, brush up your history books to see what ‘difficult times’ are really all about. The difference this time is not that we are here, but that the world may soon not be, and that’s a first for mankind. Since the 1950s, we’re living on borrowed time, so it’s time to find ways to pay it back. Welcome home astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. We’re glad, now back to work. Cheers

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7/27/2020 Riding Out the Storm, Colltalers

150,000 Covid-19 deaths; paramilitary forces kidnapping activists; steps curbing minority voting. What’s going on in the U.S. has been alarming. But to Trump believers and the Republicans, all is fine. For he’d promised, ‘We’ll determine the course of America and the world for many years to come.’
But despite a still-rising number of cases worldwide, the European Union for instance is managing to flatten the contagion curve while passing a new stimulus package to help workers and safely reopen their economies. That surely gives Trump’s inaugural speech a dark, contrasting shade, doesn’t it?
If anything, the virus has exposed the contrast between the pandemic response by actual or soon-to-be restrictive regimes, and countries more focused on preserving their democratic ways. It’s a difference that shows how nations led by repressive leaders, China, India, Brazil, Russia, are facing growing resistance and social turmoil, while others have experienced mostly a tragic disruption of their way of life but are still engaged in keeping people safe.
China, which had a strategy in place for the novel coronavirus and followed scientific procedures to control it, couldn’t help itself though, taking the opportunity to crush dissent in Hong Kong. Similar to India, which has been using the virus spread to raid minority communities and arrest dissidents.
For Brazil’s Bolsonaro, four times is apparently a charm: after three positives, he now says he’s tested negative for the virus. For the other 210 million Brazilians, however, it has been an awful escalade of deaths – the second highest in the world, with over 87,000 obits – and despair. As the president is not interested in supporting a stimulus package for a crisis that up to a few weeks ago he denied it even existed, the poor has no way to turn for help.
Except, well, to organized crime, which has been fulfilling the role of local governments and providing minimal aid for people. For a price, of course. Drug and weapon gangs operating in shantytowns are known to dispense exacting policies to those under their aegis and require a pathological, Trump-like style of loyalty. Amazon communities though have no such ‘luxury,’ and the virus has been reported navigating freely through the Amazon river.
There’s a surprisingly robust anti-Putin movement in Russia’s far east region with thousands protesting the arrest of governor Sergei Furgal allegedly on trumped-up murder charges. For now, such unrest is far too remote even for other Russians to challenge the ex- KGB agent in power, or risk a contagion of another kind. But knowing how he treats foes, and now that he’s set to rule for 16 more years if he wishes too, the future still looks bleak.
Europe, which has banned U.S. visitors just in case, has been jockeying to step on the U.S.’ shoes for global leadership. But it hesitates while tyrants solidify their grip on power and use the crisis to go after opponents, as corporations and the rich, dictatorship enablers, grow, well, even richer.
In France, like in other nations, the Black Lives Matter movement has triggered an important conversation about how the French see their own past and present sins dealing with racial inequality and police brutality. Protests Saturday marked the fourth anniversary of Adama Traoré’s death, a Black man killed while in police custody. The murder of George Floyd is said to have been a crucial factor for the new push for accountability for Traoré’s killing.
And while nations sharing with ours a cruel past of colonialism and indigenous extermination have tried to come clean about their origins, America’s image as a safe harbor for the dispossessed, the wronged, and the persecuted, has suffered a blow when a Canadian court declared it ‘unsafe’ for asylum seekers. And another when the president ordered the Census to exclude the undocumented from population totals that determine congressional seats.
To add yet more clarity to the race issue, a new Duke University study found that a North Carolina’s Eugenics program – a debunked effort to prioritize ‘desirable’ racial characteristics – prescribed mass sterilizations to ‘breed out’ Black folk between 1958 and 1968, way after the Nazi had conducted their harrowing Eugenic experiments during the war. The study calls the decision to sterilize over 2,100 people across the state an ‘act of genocide.’
The sight of ‘stormtroopers,’ which in the U.S. were revealed to be federal agents disguised as Swat-like platoons, arresting and shoving people out of the streets into unmarked vehicles is familiar to millions around the world, not lucky enough to have a constitution declaring that all people are born equal. But it’s also a symptom of something more profound: the resolve to intimidate law-abiding citizens into supporting state-sponsored terrorism.
Media airwaves in the U.S. should be flooded by now with documentaries and every sort of cultural expression depicting what happened in Germany in the 1940s and how regular, well-intentioned citizens were used and took an active part in the extermination of six million mostly Jews, penalized out of racial hatred.
How many were murdered themselves and how, in the end, excuses that they didn’t see it coming were considered just that, excuses. Late repentance was deemed irrelevant not just because by then, people had already been killed, but because we all have a moral obligation to do the right thing now, not in a future that may never come.
Many believe that hordes backing Trump even though he’s personally responsible to more than 100,000 deaths are simply misinformed. But that’s simply not true and unfair to the many putting the skin of their own teeth in the game, so to speak.
It’s clear that the president has turned his back to the record and heartbreaking daily deaths many in his constituency are facing, and his fumbling of the Republican Convention location, now officially moved from Jacksonville, Florida to parts unknown, show that he’s s well aware of the danger around.
Just like he’s bullying public schools to reopen – potentially exposing millions of kids to the coronavirus – so to give the world a phony resemblance of normality, while the private college his own son goes to is allowed to remain closed. Worse: the president has one priority at this time: reelection and for that, he’s prepared to do anything, including sending people to their graves. And yes, he’ll keep on holding his scary rallies to ensure that it happens.
The resistance and turmoil in Portland and Seattle may have been stealing part of the BLM’s thunder but they’re necessary and should escalate to the entire nation. When moms and veteran combatants take to the streets to fight with and protect activists, many, yes, Black and people of color fighting for their dignity, it should inform all Americans that it’s time to spring into action. For there are people willing to take a bullet (again!) for justice.
The Americans With Disabilities Act completed 30 years, and here’s yet another minority struggling to gain respect and the opportunities they deserve. It’s been a fractured trajectory, no pun intended, but it’s a human cause worth defending by everyone for all the empathy and solidarity spirit it sows.
The BLM movement has been a lightning rod for America’s neglected issues. It’s been connecting and galvanizing people, not the opposite. We must sign on for its struggle for it represents everybody. It’s July’s last call but don’t hang out in front of its counter: take it to go to prevent the spread. Salut.

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7/20/2020 Lives Making Ours Better, Colltalers

Record COVID-19 cases and no federal action to reverse them show that President Trump’s mind is elsewhere: reelection. But with falling polls, many say he may not leave the White House if he loses. Law enforcement and the military won’t go along with that, but his new, unmarked police force may.
As Black Lives Matter strikes nationally today, after months of protests against racism and police brutality, it’s fitting that two giants of the 1960s’ civil rights struggle, Rep. John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian, passed away on the same Friday. Both have made this world better than when they came to it.
Let’s start the news roundup with the imminent danger of annihilation faced by Brazil’s indigenous peoples due to rampant coronavirus infection rates. President Bolsonaro’s just vetoed legislation that would support heavily affected native communities in the Amazon. Under pressure from corporations and investors, the administration had enacted a bill temporarily banning forest fires but it still refuses to address the seriousness of the pandemic.
A ‘stillborn decree,’ calls it Dinaman Tuxá, coordinator of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples Articulation, about an act seen as largely ineffective for lacking funding to be enforced. Over 500 natives have died from the virus out of an estimated 15 thousand cases, Tuxá told Mesa Para Seis, a virtual panel with journalists. Over two million Brazilians – and Bolsonaro – have COVID-19, the second-highest number after the U.S.’ near four million cases.
Something else became apparent in the tragically incompetent response to the pandemic by the most powerful country in the world, closely echoed by Brazil, India, and Russia: apart from the fact that most of their misery is of their own making, they’re all regimes ruled by autocrats solely focused on self-preservation. While these nations still call themselves democracies, they’re heading to institutional authoritarianism. So many more will perish.
But don’t count on nature to offer us a reprieve from the climate emergency, while we sort out petty issues related to intellectual property of medicines. A Global Carbon Project study showed that atmospheric levels of methane, a greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat and increasing Earth’s temperature, beat the record in 2017, the latest estimates available. Raising cattle and coal mining are the main culprits for the spike.
As is, such rise undermines goals set by 195 nations at the 2015 Paris Summit, to keep global warming under 1.5° C, and further reducing that later. In what may be a first, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden took the cue and presented his comprehensive, $2 trillion plan to fight the climate emergency. Even without embracing the Green New Deal, the current standard blueprint for changing the economy from the ground up, and pressured by progressives to deliver a platform that would rile up first-time voters, Biden proved that he can be coachable and geared into the right direction.
The four-year plan addresses key issues such as adopting clean energy in the transportation, electricity, and building industries, to revive the economy onto an entirely different set of fundamentals. Leading in the polls and relatively protected from too intense media exposure, the former vice president still has a major hurdle to clear on his way back to the White House, apart from curbing his occasional mental slips: his VP choice. It has to be great.
On the other side of the pond, the European Union has struggled to fulfill the vacuum in global leadership since the U.S. has left the building of that capacity. In a virtual meeting last week, the 27-member bloc has pledged to cut down greenhouse gas emissions by 40% against 1990 levels by 2030, but failed to define how exactly it plans to do that. Not to mention that some nations are still resisting phasing out all fossil fuels from their economies.
No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.’ That was Trump’s answer to Fox News on whether he’d abide by the results of the presidential election in case he loses. In a nutshell, that’s the stuff democratic nightmares are made of: a president clearly stating that he won’t obey a law that he doesn’t like, which has also been his M.O. throughout these ghastly times. How can he possibly do that, you wonder.
By the omission of the other powers of the republic; by the complicity of members of his party; by dismayed citizens; and by creating a paramilitary force to enforce his decisions. The scenes broadcast from Portland, OR, last week, of heavily-armed squads of unidentified soldiers kidnapping people in the streets and shoving them into unmarked cars to usher them away to parts unknown, were not just disturbing but also unheard of in the U.S.
Later in the week, Homeland Security Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli acknowledged that they were federal agents, deployed for who knows what other than to add yet another military squad to oppress peaceful protesters. It was also an attempt to arrest the public perception that these forces have been created ultimately to serve the president’s needs, not the public’s. The scenes, though, of what looks like a banana republic, are utterly scary.
The American Civil Liberties of Oregon dutifully sued the administration for deploying the unnamed forces made up of agents from the DHS and the U.S. Marshals Service. According to the ACLU, rather than helping out, they were there ‘to crush demonstrations’ against racism and police brutality.
Rep. John Lewis, 80, a Democrat from Georgia, and Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian, 95, a longtime civil rights activist, were both friends and collaborators of the Rev. Dr, Martin Luther King Jr., and together put in motion the conditions needed for the great mass movements of the 1960s. That they passed away during the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests just shows how interconnected people and historical events really are. Rest in Power, Two of a Kind.
July is the monthlong StopHateforProfit boycott against Facebook which still insists it can’t curb hate speech and/or the president’s lies. Owner Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said it’s all just a big coincidence that since 2016 it’s been hosting and sheltering thousands of shady conspiracy groups that support Trump. With 2.6 billion monthly users, to quote a Biden’s favorite intro, ‘the fact to the matter is’ that FB is too big and should be broken up.
Speaking of the BLM, today’s strike is a call for ‘Black workers and allies to walk off the job,’ demand anti-racism changes for society, and push back against worker exploitation. It’s yet another step forward for accountability and to heal and rid the nation of its murderous beginnings. All Americans are being asked to do something symbolic if they can’t strike, to show they know which side the toast is buttered on and which will land on the floor.
Revolution is always an act of self-defense,’ said the Rev. Vivian. Voting ‘is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have’, said Rep. Lewis. These twin towers of the civil rights movement never deviated from their principles, which still power the Black Liberation movement and all changes their lives brought about to the American society. One raised by a single parent and the other, a son of sharecroppers. And yet their spirit represented multitudes.
No one is a hero at birth and the accolade rarely defines a person even at the end. We grow through our flaws and warts, not by virtue of being special. While some rise above the heap for inherited circumstances, or for their extreme physical ou artistic ability, and yet others simply land there without any purpose, a few get to the mountaintop on the sheer power of their empathy to strangers. Vivian and Lewis were it. So can we. Keep on breathing.

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7/13/2020 A Trail of Tears Haunts Us, Colltalers

It’s now frighteningly easy to predict the COVID-19’s expansion. With the U.S. set to reach 3.5 million cases, and Brazil, two million and counting – the two top spreaders have no discernible health strategy to slow it down – worldwide cases may reach 14 million next week. Will they change? Nah.
Not even if Trump gets sick, as Bolsonaro and many members of their inner circle did. There’s no pro-democracy movement in Brazil, as Hong Kong had, and in the U.S., the Supreme Court just wrapped its ‘full of sound and fury, signifying‘ well, little term. So the president pardoned another crook.
To begin unpacking this chock-full of news week – you’d be surprised – let’s get to the issue affecting most nations around the world: when should kids go back to school? Many leaders have detailed plans to proceed in stages, along with testing and tracing for new cases, while social distance measures are to remain in place. Some countries have also enviable public policies for child care and health coverage so it all can be orchestrated accordingly.
Not the U.S., of course, and neither Brazil, as it’s clear their leaders’ rule number one is to self preserve by any means necessary. They’re not just quickly becoming global pariahs but their policies have the potential to encourage other far-right would-be despots to seize more power on the slight.
India and Russia, the two following coronavirus record-holders, have reportedly close to a million cases each, even though knowing what’s really going on in any of these four nations is a game of educated guesses. The bottom line is countries with virtually half of all cases have no school plan at all. In families struggling to remain above the poverty line, no classes also mean less time to earn income, and worse, no school meals available for the kids.
In the U.S., as daily cases of infections are beating all-time records, the president is bullying schools to open, threatening to suspend federal funds if they don’t. It’s not hard to know why: businesses running, schools open, rallies and a promised vaccine by October, all mean just one thing: reelection.
Many of the nations signing off from the pandemic’s casualty roll have implemented unemployment benefits and extra protections far beyond anything considered by the ‘sleeping giant’ below the Equator, and its big bro in the North. The nearly 50 million Americans who filed jobless claims in the past months may see benefits dry out as soon as the end of July. Other temporary protections, against evictions, for instance, are also set to be phased out.
Will that spell a robust opposition to the discriminatory, racist, and incompetent policies of the Trump administration? Meaning that Black Americans and their allies will soon be joined by every American affected by this crisis and Trump’s tragically misguided response? Let’s not trust twice-told tales.
While conservative estimates see the COVID-19 scourge being extended to the far side of 2021, there’s something else that may extend for a thousand years: global warming. A study by U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization found that annual global temperatures could exceed 2.7°F over the next five years. That goes against the below 35.6°F or less which 195 minus-the-U.S. nation signers of the Paris climate accord had committed to pursuing.
That may drive another nail to the Amazon Rainforest coffin. Scientists at NASA have predicted a season of hell there, as nearly 800sq.km of forest were cut down during the first three months of 2020, 51% more than in the same period last year, and the extra dry season may set widespread fires.
For now, as no one is tending to the store, what’s widespread is the land-grabbing of government and indigenous territories, plus illegal mining and logging. A new law bans forest fires but lawlessness in the region has increased since Bolsonaro ordered an overhaul of environmental agency Ibama for conducting a single raid that irritated big landowners in his constituency. Result: the beating (of the forest) will continue until morality gives up.
In the latest package to address the rising number of obits and new infections registered in Brazil, Bolsonaro vetoed legislation that would guarantee natives free potable water, hygiene, cleaning, and disinfectant products, and access to hospital beds. Not completely unrelated to that is the passing of Chief Domingos Mohoro last week, another indigenous leader who’s died either by the coronavirus or by an assassination squad. R.I.P. old warrior.
To offer a reprieve, we’ve got some good environmental justice news: thanks to the effort, moral compass, and sacrifice of Native and African Americans, major oil pipelines have hit the dust or at least, halted for further reviews of their environmental impact. The first was the stoppage of the Dakota Access Pipeline construction, fought against by the Standing Rock Sioux and tribes of the Lakota People, along with help from the EarthJustice group.
On July 5, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy canceled the 600-mile-long Atlantic Coast Pipeline, that’d have carried fracked gas from Virginia to North Carolina. Tribes including the Lumbee, Coharie, Haliwa-Saponi, and Meherrin had opposed the project for years and so have Virginia’s Black communities.
On the next day, the Supreme rejected Keystone XL’s permit, which the Cheyenne River Sioux had opposed from the get-go, in 2008. The last one was one of the rulings by the highest court on land that led many to believe there’s a silver lining on its term that’s just ended. There isn’t.
In fact, the Supreme Court has clearly had its favorites that, one can bet their soul, will be enforced, no matter what. One is to avoid a wrestling match with progressive forces. The other is faith, or rather, its free reign interfering in state matters even when that poises a blatant constitutional challenge.
The court ruled, for instance, that religion-devout employers can deny health coverage for abortion. Viagra, however, is fully covered. Court decisions like this have little to do with morality and everything with values cheered by a patriarchal society. While abortion is a personal decision with social implications, forced upon by harsh realities, the Blue Pill is mostly prescribed for vanity and age-old sexual delusions. Self-interest? Let’s not be crass.
The arguably most enduring decision of the court presided by Justice John Roberts was about Trump’s tax financial records, maybe a crucial indicator of his misdeeds before and while president. In a verbose, overwrought, and pompous decision, the court proclaimed that no man is above the law. But the many caveats it encrusted onto the ruling put any chance for the American people to gain access to them right up there where the sun won’t shine.
That’s why only Shakespeare to put it all properly as he did on Macbeth. In four terms under Trump, and in many before, the U.S. Supreme Court has consolidated a political and partisan role in decisions that have affected the lives of the majority of Americans. That’s why there’s so much money in electoral campaigns, voting became subjected to the ill will of corrupt leaders, and now, a woman remains a second-class citizen for getting pregnant.
The decision was one that unmistakenly favors the powers of church and religion, of the extreme kind, who still insist that abortion and homosexuality are worse crimes that the sexual abuse of kids by priests. Speaking of the Catholic Church, it’s one of the groups that’s received what most Americans have not: a substantial federal aid to compensate for COVID-19 disruptions. It’s got a cool $1.4 billion that it will likely use to fight victim lawsuits.
‘On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise.‘ That how starts the winning argument, written by Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch, no less, for the Supreme Court ruling that much of eastern Oklahoma falls within an Indian reservation. Despite a dissenting opinion by chief Roberts, the decision has positive implications to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and all Native Americans, even as it does not mean that land will change hands.
It was a good week for descendants of the ‘first Americans,’ those already here when the Europeans arrived. But like the land, it won’t change much. Indigenous communities continue to be ravaged by COVID-19 all over the Americas. So are Black and Brown people. Thus, they’ll all be present at the July 20 Strike for Black Lives. As will all ‘thoughtful, committed citizens,’ to quote Margaret Mead. And so will we (wearings masks). Get it on.

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7/06/2020 The Sad Disparity Among Us, Colltalers

Psst, hear that? It’s the frightening silence of China crushing Hong Kong’s bones of democracy. Now there’s a second generation of young Chinese to mourn the missing opportunity for regime change. Not that it was ever in their hands. Would this have happened if the West cared just a little about it?
As if 12 million cases, over 500 thousand obits, and vaccine research still far from trials were not enough, here comes the greed of big pharma not to help us but profit from it all. Gilead has priced its COVID-19 drug, Remdesivir, which is not even a cure at $3,120 per treatment. And ‘experts’ like it.
Throughout the U.S., Black Lives Matter protests continue, even if in a subdued way. But as the movement decides its next steps – may we suggest start working for getting a new president at the White House? – gratuitous police confrontations and despicable acts by white supremacists are still on the rise. Rewards from the top can be significant: the St. Louis couple who pointed loaded guns at peaceful marchers got a tweet from the president.
But in Seattle, it again went too far when a car drove through a police barrier on Saturday hitting a crowd and killing Summer Taylor. The hard-to-watch video, as many to come out lately about police brutality against African-Americans, doesn’t show that the 24-year-old BLM supporter was actually white but it doesn’t matter. Hate towards people of color includes their allies. (In case you’re wondering, we won’t name these criminals here).
The fact that black Americans amount to 12.3% of the U.S. population and yet just in 2020 have already been killed 105 times out of 506 fatal police shootings, according to business platform Statista, stands akin to the odd logic of the U.S. to having less than 4% of the world population but more COVID-19 cases than anyone else. That’s not for the stats to explain, but to corrupt leaders that fuel such a tragic disparity to be held accountable for.
Speaking of accountability, in Brazil – second to the U.S. in coronavirus cases – pandemic-denying, rainforest-destroying Presidente Jair Bolsonaro is fighting to survive a likely string of revelations to come from Fabrício Queiroz, the arrested driver of the president’s son and also politician Flávio, and longtime friend of the family. The laundry list of crimes associated to Queiroz and Flávio includes the charge that they assassinated Marielle Franco.
A Rio councilwoman and a rising black leadership in the LGBTQ community who came from a shantytown and was known for a progressive agenda, Marielle was executed two years ago last March and albeit her assassins are known, and one has already been killed, Queiroz and virtually everyone accused in the conspiracy to murder her was at some point connected to the Bolsonaros, even living at walking distances of the family’s big compound.
Now, long-dormant institutions such as the Supremo Tribunal Federal, the Brazilian supreme court, decided they’ve had enough and, shock, are doing their job. Naturally, the president is telling his supporters that he’s a victim of vengeful judges and politicians who want to oust him as leader of Brazil, which by the way, has gone anyway but down, both economically and socially. Yes, we’ve just heard the same message at the foot of Mount Rushmore.
Queiroz was a member of the ‘Office of Crime,’ the militia that controls Rio’s law enforcement organs and terrorizes its slums dwellers for years. Many Brazilians, however, wonder if ‘dethroning’ Bolsonaro and welcoming again the military into power, as his VP is a general, is really what’s best for the country. Yes, many still beg for the return of the dictatorship, which ruled Brazil for 20 years, but to be blunt, they’re usually considered psychopaths.
In Botswana, hundreds of elephants have been found dead in the past months and no one can explain it. This time, the usual suspects, poachers, are not deemed involved since tusks having been left intact. Research continues into the causes but lab results may take a while to be completed. For now, we mourn this yet new threat to the survival of such a magnificent creature, whose numbers have been steadily declining. Poachers, circuses, now this.
We also grieve the death of Regan Russell, an animal activist killed by a truck last month in Ontario, Canada, while protesting a pig slaughterhouse. And Santiago Manuim, Awajún indigenous leader and Amazon Rainforest defender, who succumbed to the coronavirus. Their losses are irreparable.
‘Welcome to the Security Law’ reads an irony-free banner on a barge navigating Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor. Inland, there’s been a depressing round of arrests, intimidation, and even deportations of activists to the mainland. And around the world, the silence about this has been too insufferably loud.
China has the confidence of facing even less pushback than it did in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which the current movement for autonomy has echoed. If Bush senior did nothing then, don’t expect, as some students did, help from the White House occupier. But it’s inconceivable that civil rights organizations in the U.S. and Europe haven’t so much as protested against this unequivocal act of authoritarianism. Thus, China grows stronger.
Of our sinister scoreboard of last week, China got its way, and so did Putin who now may rule Russia for 16 more years. But Israel backpedaled on its plan to annex Palestinian land in the West Bank. Publicly, only art group Partners4Israel produced a giant mural in Tel Aviv protesting annexation.
A group of 239 scientists is calling for the World Health Organization to step up warnings about the airborne transmission of COVID-19, as cases rise worldwide. Unlike the U.S.’s criticism of W.H.O., this one is based on evidence and with the reopening of the global economy, it’s crucial to control it.
Remdesivir’s initial tests were positive for some patients but they need to be proven on trials; it certainly won’t cure the infection. But Gilead, which developed the drug with taxpayer funds, is already projecting a windfall to its bottom line once it hits the market. What’s disingenuous about this is that it’ll charge over $3,000 per treatment regardless of whether it works. And the Trump administration has already purchased its whole production of it.
It’s so obvious that the company, and you-know-who, will make a killing not on the substance of the resolution of a global pandemic but on the account of backdoor deals. It’ll almost surely serve to ‘trump the Trump’ comes November, as he’ll probably declare total victory on some bogus claim. Again.
Otherwise, this administration is doing nothing else to stop the coronavirus since, well, the beginning. Just thought it’s important to remind everyone.
This Fourth of July was arguably the most dispirited to date. That is, crowds were out, as maskless and in close contact with each other as any stock pessimist would have it, but something was missing. Would it have to do with what abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass – whose toppled statue in Rochester, NY, has been replaced – had pointed to back in 1852? ‘Your independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us.‘
Invited to speak about Independence Day, the former slave who rose to prominence on the strength of his convictions, said, ‘the sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. (…) You may rejoice, I must mourn.‘ It’s mourning in America, indeed, as someone has already said it. But for Douglass and so many others, to give up was never an option. We must climb that wall and topple the monster. Free at last.

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6/29/2020 Rulings & Reparations, Colltalers

The scary but thoroughly expected explosion of new COVID-19 cases in the world has a common cause, the rush to restart economic activity even if people are dying as a result of it, and a disheartening realization: the coronavirus is now an integral part of our near future. But a vaccine may not be.
Meanwhile, constitutional decisions in Israel, Hong Kong, and Russia may further erode human rights and the ability of democracy to truly represent people. That’s why the Black Lives Matter uprising has been so crucial exposing the racist complacency of American society. Now, to reparations?
But let’s start with the proposed settlements of lawsuits brought up against Bayer and Johnson & Johnson over two of their cancer-causing products. Bayer offered $10.9 billion to settle 75% of 125,000 cases against its subsidiary Monsanto’s weedkiller Roundup. And J&J agreed to pay $2.1 billion in damages for people who got cancer from using its asbestos-suffused talc product. As noted, other lawsuits against the same products will continue.
Don’t get too impressed with the amounts, though, or expect either company to give up or stop pushing those products to impoverished communities and minorities. Even as lawyers have been already paid millions, corporations always try to slash the compensation awarded to its harmed customers.
Furthermore, in the case of Bayer, it’s had the help of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to whom Roundup does not cause cancer, despite all evidence. And J&J, which like Bayer has issued statements supporting the BLM movement, is working hard to deny the allegations. They shouldn’t, people died using their products. But it’ll be enlightening to watch how they will wiggle out of their social responsibilities. For they certainly will.
To provide clarity about the law of the land is why there’s a Supreme Court. But the current term presided by Justice John Roberts doesn’t seem to see it that way, at least as far as immigration is concerned. After granting a temporary but much-needed reprieve to thousands of children born in the U.S. to foreign parents, the so-called Dreamers, it made a 180° turn and gave the Trump administration rights to fast-track deportations of asylum seekers. It contradicts not just last week’s decision, but the very principle of habeas corpus, the jurisprudence basis supporting the naturalization of immigrants.
The president suffered a defeat on another front of his quest to further isolate the U.S., though, not by the court but by a federal judge: ICE, Trump’s border enforcer agency, must release all immigrant children it holds by July 17, as coronavirus cases increase in its detention centers. But as the ruling falls short of also granting freedom to their parents, due to legal constraints, it remains to be seen how these forced orphans will fend for themselves.
A quick note about things falling from the sky. Starting with a bigger-than-usual Sahara plume arriving over the U.S. that may aggravate COVID-19 symptoms. Also, a study on Science about the estimated 1,000 tons of microplastics – equivalent to over 123 million plastic water bottles – raining down on the U.S. each year. And then locusts taking over air space over Gurugram, India, a kind of terrifying event that’s popular among bible readers.
The virus has crashed through the 10 million-case threshold, with over 500 thousand dead by it. But that hasn’t changed how the U.S. and Brazil, leaders of the ‘Welcome Virus’ pack, and India, are handling the crisis: that is, doing nothing and wishing that underreporting new cases will help it to go away.
Within days, Chinese lawmakers may pass a new security law that outlaws political protest and crushes dissent in Hong Kong. It’ll be the end of the political independence and democracy on the island, which for a century helped China moved from a rural economy to an industrialized superpower.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may present his plans to annex about 30% of the West Bank as soon as July 1, even as António Guterres, U.N. Secretary-General, has warned that’s ‘against international law’ and may destabilize the region. Palestinians and most of the world seem to agree.
And in Russia, the government is on an all-out campaign to promote a week-long, single-vote referendum that raises pensions and minimum wage, and bans gay marriage, among other things. Oh, and it also resets President Vladimir Putin’s term limits. If approved, he may remain in power until 2036! At 84 then, few believe he will. But since he’s been on top for 20 years already, don’t bet the voting machines he won’t. These three decisions will hurt the world.
The BLM uprising has turned racism, police brutality, and social inequality into issues relevant to all Americans, but the movement has to keep the pressure on if it is to lead to real change. Even considering the relative brevity of this new spike of awareness, it’s time to be concerned about passing laws that effectively keep the momentum going. And one of the ways that that may happen is having far-reaching goals to achieve. Thus, reparations.
We applaud the decision by the Mississippi legislator to take down its 126-year-old state flag with the Confederate symbol on it. It’s a step in the right direction. But beyond that, what used to be a non-starter in discussions about the plight of African-Americans is now considered a possible solution to reboot race relations in America. Reparations are the fastest way to bridge four centuries of inequality and rescue black families from a life of poverty.
The pandemic and the way the administration gave away half a trillion dollars to corporations, no questions asked, while shortening aid to its victims shows that what’s been missing is not resources but political will. There’s no need to print money, just slashing the staggering defense budget will do it.
A 10% cut in the U.S. military budget – which is larger than the next 11 nations combined – for education, healthcare, and poverty programs is what Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed last week. But one doubts he’s willing to murder Mitch McConnell, the only way such a plan could be approved.
‘How our labor is used (…), who we’re working for, and who benefits from the labor of our lives.‘ These are some of the questions tech workers should ask themselves according to ex-NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden. Speaking on a teleconference about technology and surveillance, he was referring to recent actions of dissent by industry workers. But he could as well be thinking about his evil twin Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.
Unlike Twitter and other social media, which have taken (timid) steps to curb fake news and support to criminal misconduct that the capo at the White House often does, the Zuck instead has reportedly held private meetings with him and other Republicans about his reelection, just as he did in 2016.
Here’s something else to remind us that life is precious and that we should keep an eye on the sky, just in case: June 30 is Asteroid Day, when we’ll be informed on what’s being done to prevent a civilization-ending impact. For dust, plastic, and locusts, a hardhat suffices. But it’s much harder to divert a giant supersonic rock. People are more likely to be hit by one than by lightning and in 2036, Earth will be visited by one that may actually hit us.
As we now know, Putin may be the president then, of an ember and cinder world, no doubt. Trump’s reelection may anticipate that. So, work against it. Sunday was Pride Day, sadly with no NYC Gay Pride Parade to celebrate its 50th anniversary. But we do, so here’s to the LGBTQ community. Ba-bye.

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6/22/2020 A Confederacy of Dunces, Colltalers

As long as you keep a person down, you cannot soar. It’s fitting to paraphrase the great Marian Anderson to mark yet another fervid week of protests in America, for black lives lost and re-energized. Nearing the first act’s end, we cannot yet soar. But ours will be a better country by heeding to this struggle.
Despite a brutal push back, racists and xenophobes sustained big blows to their hegemony, as the Supreme Court refused to endorse deporting citizens born here from foreign parents, and supported rights of working LGBTQ people. Would a favorable ruling on abortion be next? Don’t hold your breath.
The world, however, is not helping much as we hit nine million COVID-19 cases, two million in the U.S. and a million in Brazil, the title holders of a ‘confederacy of malefic dunces,’ as an exhausted nurse put it to a sympathetic bodega audience. There and here, as more choose to ignore the reality, the coronavirus keeps its neck-breaking rate of contagion. Half a million lost their lives to it and many will never have one worth living after this.
The protests have been revealing to Americans, in what the majority is now fully behind the Black Lives Matter movement, appalled by police caught on camera murdering black people. Starting of course with the excruciating killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day, which ignited the current unrest.
They displayed a scarily heavily-armed police force acting as the army they are not, ready to steamroll peaceful protesters in the reassurance they won’t be held accountable for their crimes. Well, they now are, and the whole institution of law enforcement was put on notice with calls to defund the police and/or simply, dismantling it. Starting with the Minneapolis cops who killed Floyd and those who’ve tried giving the guilty cover under their badge.
Protests also highlighted the indiscriminate use of tear gas, a so-called ‘safe’ weapon of mass control that nonetheless is banned from the battlefield and has caused permanent injuries to many a peaceful city marcher. An Amnesty study found that its global use has become a gateway to yet more police violence and poor trade regulations have turned it into a highly toxic substance about which little is known, apart from the fact that it’s far from safe.
To the toppling of statues of confederate generals, put up long after the Civil War and with the sole purpose of glorifying slave profiteers, and demands to rename Army bases that perpetuate such unjust distinction, white supremacists responded in the only way they can: but showing up armed at rallies and shooting black people. Still, it was a relief that a deflated and under-attended first Trump rally in months failed to stir any deadly confrontations.
The highest point of this cycle was, of course, the celebration of Juneteenth, a date hardly known by many before but now a candidate to becoming a national holiday. It marks the official liberation of slaves, over two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. It’s also a reminder of the 1921 massacre of an entire black neighborhood by white supremacists in Tulsa, the city Trump picked to resume his reelection pitch. But it wasn’t to be.
Lastly, two more news to keep us up at night: a string of hangings of black men in three states, along nooses found elsewhere; and a study on JAMA, the medical association journal, about the impact of climate change on pregnancies, affecting black mothers at higher rates than the population at large.
Two of the hangings, of Malcolm Harsch and of a Texas teenager, seem to have been suicides, according to video evidence. Still to be probed further are the cases of Robert Fuller, from California like Harsch, and Dominique Alexander, a Hispanic black man found in a Manhattan park. Still, their graphic reminder of the horrifying past of lynchings in the U.S., and peculiar timing, raise disturbing questions about racial dispossession and despair.
Among some 32 million births in the U.S., the medical research found that high temperatures and air pollution may cause premature, underweight, or stillborn children while social-economic factors place African-American and Latinx mothers at the most risk since they are more likely to live in areas vulnerable to climate disruptions and pollution. Climate is indeed disrupting: want to know what was Saturday’s temperature in Siberia, Russia? 100°.
If you seek relief from bad news don’t look at Brazil and the disastrous and possibly doomed Bolsonaro administration. In the latest round of a war among the powers of the republic, the police arrested long-sought-after Fabrício Queiroz, a former driver of the president’s son Flavio, himself being investigated for possible ties with Rio’s corruption rings and militias accused of having assassinated black councilwoman Marielle Franco in 2018.
Queiroz was a member of the inner circle of the Bolsonaro family since the 1980s and is expected to sing like a jailbird to avoid heavy sentences. But since it’s Brazil of late, one never knows. They are all part of a nefarious cadre of sinister characters that are looting the nation, but the greatest crime to be blamed on Jair and his sons is not even part of any probe: the neglect leading to the destruction of the Amazon and killing of its indigenous peoples.
Paulinho Paiakan, 67, who died last week of COVID-19, was a controversial chief of the Kaiapó tribe who rose to prominence decades ago for leading the fight against the construction of the giant Belo Monte dam. He was also accused of rape and served time in prison. What no one denies, though, is that he was a natural leader, whose ardor will be sorely missed by a population that’s being decimated by the virus and natural habitat losses.
Like the murder of Franco, if indeed the president’s family was involved, the destruction of the Rainforest and abandonment of its vulnerable natives to alone and unarmed fend off loggers, miners, and big landowners-hired hitmen, is among Bolsonaro’s greatest crimes and for that, he deserves every harsh sentence in the book to be thrown at him. It may take long, though, or it’ll never happen. Brazilians have never been so depressed. With reason.
We salute the Dreamers in their quest to be legal in their own homeland, and hard-working gay and transgender people for their deserving protections. It’s about time the Supreme reaffirms its independence but we remain wary. All and all, a time of progress in America, despite the risks and false starts. We’re almost done with act 1, so let’s get ready for the second, our highest priority: a new president in November. For that, yes, all lives matter. Cheers

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6/15/2020 The Making of a New Day, Colltalers

It’s clear by now that the administration doesn’t care about people. Massive worldwide protests against racism and murder of African-American George Floyd by the police, and eight million COVID-19 cases, are not as important to Trump as the economy. And now, cops killed Rayshard Brooks too.
Many say that Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro closely follows the U.S. president but there’s one big difference: he’s not up to reelection. Thus, besides a threat of a coup, he’s free to pursue his deranged denial of almost a million coronavirus cases and the unforgivable killing of the Rainforest and its natives.
We’ll be back to these two intertwined topics but first, let us have our usual world roundup. Starting with some good Middle East news, as Israel’s High Court canceled the Regulation law that’d retroactively legalize settlements built on Palestinian land. But the ruling may as well be symbolic; on July 1, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will bring up to vote the law for the annexation of West Bank, which may render this and other rulings irrelevant.
Speaking of Israel, Europe’s Court of Human Rights sided up with pro-Palestinian activists convicted of campaigning for the BDS movement, which seeks to condition support to the Israeli government according to its treatment of Palestinians. The non-violent movement has found resonance around the world, from civil rights to peace in the Middle East organizations. But not from Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who spoke against it.
On Saturday, Ilyad al-Halaq, an autistic Palestinian with a ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner, was killed by the Israeli police. His death happened in the context of traditional Palestinian support to African-American causes. According to black liberation activist and scholar Angela Davis, commonalities of their struggle and alliance reach far back to the 1960s when Palestinians led the international pressure to free Davis, jailed on unproven murder charges.
Also on the good side is the spontaneous Twitter movement of women in Turkey who are switching genders of misogynistic assumptions and making the Turkish society rethink its view of feminism in the process. But don’t let the humor of Tweets such as, ‘I’m a modern woman, so I help my husband with housework,’ or, ‘Men should be chaste. They should not laugh out loud in public,’ fool you: it’s gotten a powerful response. And of course, threats.
A note of solidarity to the heroic Navajo people in New Mexico who are facing yet another devastating battle. Besides being one of the world’s worst-affected communities by COVID-19, they’re also waging an unfair battle against the U.S. Land Management Bureau’s plans to lease land to the oil and gas industries to dig some 3,000 wells for fracking. It’ll disrupt sacred native sites, destroy pristine extensions for millennia, and make everyone sick.
And then there’s Russia, the country most likely to welcome a reelected Trump – yeah, we’ve run out of good news, sorry. It’s been battling, apparently without much success, an over 20,000-ton spill of diesel fuel in Norilsk, Siberia, above the Arctic circle. After Greenpeace sounded the alarm, that it’s comparable to the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, Putin declared a state of emergency while curbing info and help from abroad. But it doesn’t look good.
The timing of this new spill could hardly come at a worse moment. NOAA and the Scripps IO have just announced that atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory reached a seasonal peak of 417.1 parts per million for 2020 in May, the highest monthly reading ever recorded. Nothing less than the highest CO2 level in 23 million years, according to a separate study by Geology. Yeah, good news is hard to come by.
‘My worst nightmare.’ That’s how Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called COVID-19, an accurate assessment of the crisis, in the same week that he also sort of backpedaled, by saying that a second wave ‘is not inevitable’ in the U.S., at best, his educated opinion. Such inconsistency undermines the only role we should see fit for him to play: that of the knowledgeable expert, calling it as it is.
Which brings us to a tenet of the scientific method: replication. As in, the more a result can be replicated, the likelier it is accurate. We’ve seen what happens when people isolate, wear masks, and dutifully sanitize hands: the pandemic shrinks. Consequently, we know also what happens if that stops: the virus thrives. But that proven experience, replicated millions of times globally, doesn’t seem to be the basis for the reopening of the world economy.
Instead, the U.S., Brazil, and too many countries are restarting their economies while contagion is still on the rise, and it’s only logical that it’ll have nefarious consequences. How hard will it be to lock up people at home again, once they’re out, basking in the sun? when did the cat return to the bag?
To no one’s surprise, Trump supporters will need to sign an agreement not to sue the campaign if they contract the virus. Thus if his legacy will be the few million casualties of the virus that he did not take seriously, and was incompetent to fight it, Bolsonaro’s will be the deforestation of the world’s biggest Rainforest. Near 10,000 sq.km. have already been cleared, and 2020 may beat all records of casualties in the region under his pitiful watch.
Which is also a grave concern for indigenous communities in the Amazon. The coronavirus may usher a large-scale genocide so considered because it’s happening mostly either from neglect or policies of extermination, which have also caused deadly confrontations of natives and landowners’ hitmen.
The killing of Rayshard Brooks follows a nauseating ritual by the U.S. police: called to referee a routine incident, they wind up killing another black man. It gets terribly worse: since Floyd’s agonizing final breath, there’s been a half dozen assassinations, either recently or on videos resurfacing only now, some eerily similar, others obscenely cruel, but all inexorably brutal. Protesters were shot and beaten up while marching against police brutality.
It seems that now that the reelection season is on at a full clip and will increase its pitch in the months ahead, any racially-motivated crimes bound to happen again will continue being ignored and chastised by the GOP candidate. He’s made clear that he’ll do anything to get his campaign going, (even if he’d have to shoot someone on Fifth Ave.) The BLM movement and those who support it must transition now from rally to action to face this threat.
Biden, who continues to be tone deft about most of the issues facing America today, may not represent the dreams and aspirations of all of those who may vote for him. But he must win if we’re to have a chance to promote real change, despite himself, his party, ingrained prejudice, or the status quo.
Perhaps toppling statues of traitors and slave-traders is a place to start. Or making cops accountable for murder. But if protests won’t evolve into a new society, prisons will remain loaded with people of color and profits for corporations. As Angela Davis says, ‘if reforms have failed to have a transformative impact on police or jails, does it make sense to simply call for more reforms?‘ That will require guts as hell but we’ll fight to win. Happy Juneteenth.

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6/08/2020 Stop the U.S. of Lyncherdom, Colltalers

‘Get your knees off our necks.‘ The eloquence of Rev. Al Sharpton’s eulogy of George Floyd, choked to death by a white Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day, was appropriate to match the public horror about his death. Hundreds of thousands across the U.S. and the world marched in protest.
The massive 11-day rallies are not only a response to the horrifying 8:46min video of Floyd’s killing but also a demand for change, redress, renewal of our tenets as human beings. Not surprisingly, the police behaved badly all along, arresting and beating people up. So now there’s talk of defunding it.
The crowd also paid respects to Breonna Taylor, whose 27th birthday was Friday, and countless of young black lives cut short by police brutality and cruel social inequality now reigning in the U.S. Breonna, an African-American medical technician, was shot by police at her own home in the middle of the night, mistaken by someone already in custody. And then there are all the people of color who face daily the wrath of white supremacists.
The grief also brings up our desperate need to comprehend the magnitude of what’s happening for 400 years. The toxic legacy of slavery boils up again about the disproportional number of COVID-19 fatalities among minorities, biased laws, overcrowded jails, prison-for-profit, police unions, restitution, and, yes, police defunding. In four decades, wages, safety nets, health, and education budgets got all savagely slashed. But not the funding for security.
American police forces today act like armies and there’s always a tragedy in the wake of their street deployments. And a crucial reason for such status quo is rarely mentioned in the same sentence, or articles about it: defense budgets. If city and state budgets prioritize police over community building and other badly needed social reforms, it’s almost redundant to remind everyone that the U.S. military budget surpasses entire groups of nations.
That includes billions of dollars allocated yearly to weapon makers, military equipment suppliers, intelligence, and especially, defense contractors, the expression that replaced the word ‘mercenary’ in the crooked lexicon of Pentagon insiders. Now, these agents spent millions scouring the world for potential conflicts to which sell their wares. Until recently, there seemed to be no limit for what they’d do to promote just that: wars, small and large.
But even they could see that there’s actually a limit and we probably already reached it circa 2001. That perceived diminished demand had no impact on arms production, though. After all, the funding for today’s continuing development and manufacturing of sophisticated weaponry may’ve been set over 10 years ago. So, what do to with this expensive surplus of rifles, tanks, bullets, handguns, ‘legal’ chemical gases, and such: sell it to the police.
And that’s why talk about defunding police has to be in synch with cuts in federal budgets dating back from the 1990s. So, while state and municipalities make sure their local police forces destroy the unappropriate tools they were given to fight traffic violations, for Pete’s sake, Congress has to show the cojones needed to get it done. It’s complicated but absolutely crucial. Will it happen? Of course not, not now anyway. But it’s worth the fight about it.
As a demographics, African-Americans, and people of color could hit the streets every day for the next 20 years demanding what was taken from them long ago, what used to be called the American Dream. And organize. And vote for people that will have a place at the table with the powers that be. But it won’t be enough; we know who’ll stand against it to defend their privilege. We’ll need a bigger boat but with another president as its captain.
Speaking of which, with due respect to President Obama, a man whose arousing and brilliant oratory was never matched by radical actions, he should sit this one out if he’s not coming out to protest. He’s more valuable behind the scenes turning the Joe Biden candidacy into something meaningful.
What we need is grassroots efforts of countless groups dedicated to human rights and social reform, the Women’s Movement leadership, organizations fighting for climate change action, antigun groups, all aiming at getting a seat at that table. Black Lives Matter is an American cause: it’s essential to the survival of our democracy just as climate action is for mankind’s survival. No armed-to-the-teeth police force can beat these issues into submission.
For now though, as curfews are being lifted and a misguided order to reopen the economy goes into effect, as global cases of coronavirus cross the seven million mark, with hundreds more and their implicit fatalities expected to increase, the police will have the momentary reign. It’ll continue to oppress rather than protect Americans, using military antics to dispel peaceful protests, and, naturally, going after reporters and journalists.
Just as the NYTimes published a list of black people killed by the police on its front cover, Bellingcat, an investigative online forum, accused U.S. law enforcement of deliberately targeting journalists during protests against police brutality. Reporters were shot with rubber bullets, hit, assaulted, sprayed with tear gas, and arrested, all for doing their job. Remember the bit about democracy being under siege? there isn’t one without freedom of the press.
The world keeps spinning around; we are the ones stuck with hate that defies comprehension and challenges our self-attributed ‘democratic spirit.’ But there’s no room in this newsletter to cover even the highlights of what afflicts us. For instance, in Brazil, apart from a reduction of 14% of the Amazon Rainforest due to President Bolsonaro’s policies, there’s now a threat of widespread genocide of indigenous populations contaminated by COVID-19.
Just as solar, wind, and other renewable sources have toppled coal production in the U.S. for the first time in over 130 years, the president has relaxed regulations allowing commercial fishing in marine sanctuaries. It wasn’t a sneaky attack: he’s been doing that for years, climate emergency be damned.
Friday was also the 76th anniversary of D Day, the fateful sacrifice of thousands of American, British and Australian troops to land in Normandy and start the final cavalcade that ended WWII. And while the illiterate leader of the free world promised to go after ‘Antifa terrorists’ supposedly abetting protesters – which is not true, according to the FBI – someone had to remind him that it stands for Anti-Fascism, the scourge the U.S. helped defeat.
In fact, it was a sitting U.S. president, Ike Eisenhower, who founded Antifa in 1945. And if it was involved at all in the Floyd protests, it’d be doing the exact job for which it was created: to fight the threat of Fascism. They’ve thought they’d beat it but the beast’s back and it has now a White House ally.
In 1901, after witnessing a lynching followed by the carnage of hundreds of African-Americans in Pierce City, MO, hunted down and killed by white citizens, the great Mark Twain wrote ‘The United States of Lyncherdom,’ a devastating indictment of his contemporaries. But despite being at the time the most celebrated American writer, Twain thought it over and ended up not publishing his essay, something his biographers say he bitterly regretted.
When it came out, 13 years after his death, it lacked the authority of being spoken by a living legend. Twain’s humanity is beyond reproach. But let’s not repeat his error: let’s keep flooding media and the Internet with true tales of oppression told by those whose lives were snapped out by a murderous police knee or bullet. We’re witnesses, participants and architects of our time here. It’s up to us to make it better. So put your mask on and join the resistance.

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6/01/2020 We Do Not Lack Conviction, Colltalers

All the suffering COVID-19 has caused – over six million cases worldwide and close to 400,000 dead – almost pales in comparison with what the 200-year-old open wound of racism has exacted upon people of color in the U.S. Even if they’re also the majority of the virus’ victims. Yup, it’s on again.
The explosion of protests that erupted over the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, knee-chocked to death by a white police officer caught on camera is not only absolutely justified but has now a troubling component too: white supremacists disguised as allies inciting violence and looting.
It’s been hard to focus but did you hear that? It’s the silence about what should’ve been major news: Hong Kong and its struggle with its motherland’s crushing hug. The Trump administration rushed to help Beijing again by revoking H.K.’s special status, a colonial relic that allowed Communist China to do business with the West. No one needs that now. As for the violent repression and persecution of pro-democracy activists, there’s now just silence.
Another one? hunger. Actually the threat of child starvation, not in remote African villages or war-ravaged Yemen, Gaza, and Syria, all caused at some level by one-sided U.S. foreign policies, but here in America. Be it for the temporary lockdown, as school lunches are often the only meal millions of American children eat daily, draconian cuts in the welfare support systems, or downright neglect by the administration, the fact is, hunger is growing.
Study after study has shown that what was already a disturbing trend, that of academic scores getting lower as food availability becomes scarcer, may become a catastrophe of its own. Given that most data was collected before the crisis forced 40 million to file for unemployment benefits, the potential negative impact of childhood hunger on the future is obvious. Worse, it also exposes how the world’s richest nation treats and feeds its own children.
And Brazil, a sentimental favorite never so riddled with political dysfunction as now. As it’s crossed the half-a-million mark of COVID-19 cases, President Bolsonaro stuck to his ‘little flu’ posture. Like Trump, he won’t mention the rising number of deaths. Or wear a mask. Rather, he’s oblivious to the infection; on Sunday he paraded on horseback at a supporters’ rally against a Supreme Court probe into his campaign’s spread of fake news.
There’s another disgrace going on under the cover of the coronavirus crisis and that’s led by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency Trump has instructed to deny even the most basic human rights to asylum-seekers and refugees, and deport the greatest number of them as quickly as possible. Thing is, ICE’s not equipped for the enormity of what’s happening and as a result, it’s causing its own spread of the virus among detainees.
Not that it cares either way; for weeks immigration and justice rights advocates have demanded it to release all those potentially infected, which may be the majority among the detained, and immediately stop deportations and relocations of the undocumented, in some cases workers living and paying taxes in this country for decades. The same goes for for-profit prison companies, whose overcrowded facilities have also become virus epicenters.
But the big story is an old one with no relief on sight. After the president called ‘thugs’ people seeking justice for the murder of Floyd in Minneapolis, of Breonna Taylor, a medical technician shot multiple times ‘by mistake’ by the Kentucky police inside her own home, and of course the execution-style murder of Ahmaud Albery, in Georgia, the lid blew off. And now come reports of the presence of out-of-state instigators among the crowds.It’s a scary prospect, that of having far-right extremists using the unrest as a cover to further destabilize already hurt communities of color. Some have been seen leading the destruction of property and businesses that locals would hardly think of harming, and their actions seem to be well coordinated.
It’s insult added to injury, and black leaders disavowed these imposters who pretend to be allies. But their trail of destruction does put the Black Lives Matter under unfair pressure. For at the end of the day, even the language conspires against the already victimized, by calling ‘riots’ a democratic right to dissent, or demanding peace and conformity when black, Latinx and every minority community is being targeted and ravaged by police brutality.
In this context, the timid and inadequate measures Twitter took, placing labels on the president’s inflamatory tweets, are a flash in a pan. And the cynical, tone-deft Mark Zuckerberg statement, about Facebook not ‘getting involved’ in content, is a just lie and a shameful admission of where his true loyalties lay. It’s an unrequited, amoral intervention of yet another billionaire whose greed and ambition knows no limits. FB should be broken up.
As for now, police and, reportedly, army helicopters scrutinize crowds in their fourth-day of NYC protests. The absurdity of having the police arrest and at times beat up participants of a protest against police violence is not amiss among those calling for accountability by law enforcement agencies. That some police officers were honorably kneeling with protesters doesn’t take away the fact that these killings don’t happen in a vacuum.
We’re way past the ‘bad apples’ excuse; only institutional reform, starting by setting jail sentences to killer cops, will show that America is serious about crime. That includes those using their own vehicles against protesters, and the unlawful-behavior-setter-in-chief, the orange cockalorum himself (look it up).
‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world./The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned.’ When W.B.Yeats wrote the often-quoted The Second Coming, in 1919, the world was still in the throes of two scourges, WWI and the Spanish Flu. Millions had perished but ‘the worst are full of passionate intensity.’ These are just such times and it’s fine to find ways to grieve.
We pay homage to Antonio Bolívar, an Amazon indigenous elder, the last of the Ocaina tribe, and an actor who died of coronavirus at 72, in Colombia on April 30; and to Larry Kramer, longtime AIDS and LGBTQ activist who never lacked any conviction, to paraphrase Yeats again, at 84 in New York on May 27. Both Bolívar and Kramer embodied an ideal, an aspiration for a just and happier world, and by applying their lives to it, they’ve changed it.
Not everyone is a hero, a champion, an outstanding member of society. We’re mostly painfully aware of our flaws and have missed way more than got anything right. But we do come to moments when our name is called and we must choose. Whether there are witnesses around is irrelevant; in a split-second, we are our own judge. There’s no knowing what’s coming but there are ways to be ready for when it does. Prepare to do the right thing. Cheers

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5/25/2020 Don’t Let it Happen, Colltalers

Norma McCorvey never meant to be part of an American cultural landmark, the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S. Then she switched sides and became a ‘pro-lifer’ activist. But in her deathbed she confessed that she did it for the money. The Evangelical money.
China thought the tragic COVID-19 diversion was perfect to crush Hong Kong pro-democracy movement. Instead, it turned the world against it and fueled President Trump’s conspiracy claims blaming it for the virus and for all he hasn’t done about it. Also, Hongkongers won’t take it lying down.
Not to sound spoiled, but let’s face it, we’re not doing too well. With close to 5.5 million cases worldwide, the coronavirus pandemic is still expanding albeit at a slower rate in some places, and according to epidemiologists we’re still at least a year from a vaccine if one can be developed for this virus.
You’ve seen the numbers, with the U.S.’ unquestionable ‘leadership’ in cases and fatalities, and now Brazil in second place. Numbers may jump again in the coming weeks as U.S. states start to reopen for business and nations that have ‘flatten the curve’ of contagion set to fire up their economic engines.
The rhetoric for some governments to get it all going again, before any semblance of a coordinated global effort is in place, stands at odds with what most citizens think they should be doing instead. But the emergent authoritarianism currently dominant around the world has no place for dissent. Just now, the U.S. threatens to cut funds of the World Health Organization, the very entity that for 70 years has been dealing with this kind of global crisis.
As for Brazil, which seven years ago had the sixth-largest world economy and now is mired in political turmoil and subjugated by the coronavirus, its 360,000 cases may not include the devastation of Amazon indigenous communities. It’s also out of luck with Jair Bolsonaro who’s seen raging in a vulgarity-laced (in-person, mask optional) cabinet meeting viral video against governors, health officials, and anybody who’s against reopening Brazil.
Back in the U.S., the president who’s inspired Bolsonaro and once lent his name to a book called The Art of the Deal has failed to sign a single accord with anyone and often blundered the proceedings. He’s now after deals others successfully put together. Warning: civilization hangs on the balance.
Last week, by announcing he’ll withdraw from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, Trump will have quit or terminally undermined four major, world-impacting treaties: the Paris climate change agreement, the Iran nuclear accord, both of 2015, and the 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. At near 100,000, the U.S. has now more than a third of all casualties of COVID-19, even as Americans represent only 4.25% of the world’s population.
But despite thousands of deaths, the virus putting half of the world’s workforce out of jobs – the U.S. has trashed records set still during the Great Depression – and the likelihood of at least one major climate-caused natural disaster, there’s a group of individuals who are doing extremely well indeed.
They’re the infamous ‘0.01 percent,’ the less than ten thousand silver-spoon-fed folk who make way more than the remaining 7.999.992 billion people combined. In fact, this crisis, like others before, got them over $400 billion richer in three months. Such gargantuan income disparity prevents even the few well-meaning among the lavishly wealthy from letting go of all this privilege. That’s why change never comes from the top; it’s fought for.
Why would anyone hold on to so much wealth knowing they can’t spend it even if they’d live to be 500, or, anathema, billions starve outside their luxury estates? Longtime civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson offers a quip about it: ‘The gated community does not protect you from the pandemic.’
Before ‘Jane Roe’ McCorvey passed away three years ago, she recorded a ‘deathbed confession’ for a Nick Sweeney-directed documentary about her life. ‘I took their money ($450K, according to tax filings) and they took me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say,’ she said. ‘They’ are the Evangelical groups still behind the drive to outlaw abortion in the U.S. Her confession has delivered a revealing punch to the so-called pro-life groups.
It’s not only exposed how religious and far-right organizations use their monetary muscle to shape legislation and public opinion, but also how they lobby politicians and finance campaigns to intimidate the medical establishment. By ignoring the nefarious social consequences and the unholy price paid by disenfranchised women caused by their hypocritical moralism, they assert to all but the faithful their true intent: it’s always about the money.
By imposing a new ‘security law’ on Hong Kong, Xi Jinping risks reenacting the atrocious massacre of Tiananmen Square on the eve of its June 4th 31st anniversary, and to irk the world. That though is already happening ever since the Trump administration thought it could beat China on trade, a typical fools’ errand given its history. But the generation born after the 1987 British handover is nothing like the doomed Chinese students of the 1980s.
For one, they’ve been practicing civil disobedience and not even recent ‘disappearances,’ the stealth way Beijing uses to get rid of dissidents, has scared them off. What happens next may depend on the world’s resolve to step in, a move that used to be led by the U.S. but that now may be moot if Europe doesn’t act decisively. Either way, it doesn’t look good so brace yourself for rough months ahead at the island at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta.
‘You better start swimmin’/Or you’ll sink like a stone/For the times they are a-changin’,’ sang Bob Dylan in 1964. And changed they were, along with the song’s author who became 79 Sunday. Lyrics like those helped blow the winds of change throughout the 1960s and beyond. Happy Birthday, Bob.
History has shown that we always overcome daunting obstacles when we find commonality with one another, not through our possessions but with our shared sense of empathy, need, solidarity. When George Orwell wrote 1984, his view of the future was of ‘a boot stamped on a human face – forever.’
But what he and others have written is not about discouragement but fair warnings. For just because it can happen, it doesn’t mean that it has to. 72 years ago this June 8, Orwell was near the end of any hope that things would turn out Ok. Thus he warned: ‘Don’t let it happen. It depends on you.’
It’s Memorial Day in the U.S. and the date carries extra poignancy this year as scores of veterans have succumbed either to COVID-19 or to Trump’s irresponsibly promoted hydroxychloroquine drug, which has already been given to at least 1,300 of them, and it’s still being prescribed to elderly vets. We can’t postpone upholding our humanity, our will to serve, our unwavering solidarity. Let’s get it right, including that recipe for Margaritas. Cheers

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5/18/2020 When Leaders Play With Matches, Colltalers

Daily acts of courage, altruism, and compassion by common people have been overwhelming on the Internet. But none has come from Trump, Xi, Putin, Bolsonaro, or others alike. Would it be fair to expect that the three billion-plus under their rule are ready to kick them out of office? Hardly.
The toll of having the coronavirus on the hunt; a continuous flow of lies and false promises; and the staggering pace of deaths of people of color, the elderly, and indigenous natives has caused yet another dark side of the crisis: depression. By the way, Antarctica’s biggest iceberg just broke off. Again.
There have been devastating times in our history before. But none had a combination of too many nuclear bombs, a terminal climate emergency, and the resurgence of lethal viruses to haunt us. As democratic institutions are attacked by many, even those benefitting from them, manipulated by leaders with a book of matches at hand, there comes to mind the acuity of a popular line in a comic book hero: ‘some men just want to watch the world burn.’
But whereas in fiction heroes catch the bad guys to exact revenge, in real life, flesh-and-bone heroes run to tend to the victims left behind from the explosion. They can’t wear capes; in fact, they chronically lack protective gear but still they go, for life wouldn’t be acceptable to them if they wouldn’t. While we’re busy mourning loved ones who died or are in the throes of the pandemic, the world’s stockpile of nukes is slated to increase dramatically.
That’s an assumption based on credible information: the U.S. has withdrawn from treaties with Russia and Iran; China’s just said it’s reinforcing its arsenal; and Saudi Arabia is investing billions to add some to its own. They all speak the same language to justify these dangerous policies: to ‘protect’ ‘us’ from aggression as if there’s no absurdity in trusting a weapon that can destroy the planet to save us. Or polluted it to death, whichever comes first.
The breakoff of A-68, a behemoth of an iceberg seven times the size of New York City, is fully credited to a rise in Antarctica’s temperatures. Its not-too-slow meltdown will help increase sea levels, especially combined with the melting of the Andes ice cap and ancient glaciers near the Arctic Circle. There’s a solution to stop that, widely demonstrated by the global lockdown: stop greenhouse-effect-causing emissions. Retool the economy. Survive.
Yet, the order is to reopen economic activity now now, damned the dead, and let’s resume our suicidal policies of deregulation and subsidizing oil, gas, and coal industries. That is, most current heads of state are not interested in doing any of the lifestyle changes required. The tragedy of climate emergency is not lacking effective solutions to deal with the implications of throwing away the old book; it’s that we lack the power and political will to do so.
The instability of climate and weather patterns, as well as overpopulation, are triggers for new virus outbreaks. They’ll become more frequent as living settlements advance over wildlife areas and disrupt ecological balance. Predator and prey, natural foes, and all the elements evolution put in place do not take into consideration humans; there’s only so much our immune system can handle before becoming prey to new organisms eager to spread out.
Amidst the cultural turmoil of the 1960s, there was a brief discussion about the role of leaders in a revolution, a still-raging discussion in times of political turnaround, or a leader’s assassination. It’s an argument that became a losing proposition, for counting on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, or Malcon X, who’d be 95 tomorrow, to still lead from beyond the grave and keep the movement alive.
Time proved it all pointless. For although both still inspire us, they no longer can do what they did best: point the way, keep the powerful in check. They both helped usher the civil rights and anti-war movements and pushed for social justice, but in the end, their clout has sadly faded away.
At the same time, we’re living extraordinary times which are known to produce new leaderships. We already recognize some of them, speaking to elders with the authority of someone who’ll inherit the planet, which they will. But they still lack the democratic power that gives idealists legitimacy.
We grieve over our losses and for the mortal threat poised against democracy, as rulers of today use this crisis to turn institutions into their personal advocacy clearinghouses. For instance, the U.S. Supreme Court should announce soon its decision on whether the president must disclose his income tax filings, or that he’s above the law, and there’s no thrill to expect that they’ll make the wrong ruling. After all, that’s why his nominees are there for.
We worry over the firing of watchdogs and whistleblowers, those courageous enough to step forward and declare, ‘the emperor has no clothes.’ Their heroism, however, will mean little to biased judges, picked for their loyalty and not for their sense of justice. That we see simple demands like these from a lifetime judge as shifty is indeed deeply troubling. To whom will we appellate in case the president loses the election but tries to stay on longer?
We’re concerned about disputes among Canadian native tribes over how to handle invasions of their land, this time under the excuse to cure, not kill. Some are adamantly against it while others want to be pragmatic about this real threat. We’re heartbroken by the carnage the COVID-19 has inflicted on worldwide indigenous communities. No wonder everybody has been so depressed. But we desperately need their leadership and wisdom right now.
The coronavirus exposed the sheer ambition and psychopathic lack of empathy of Don, Wlad, Xi, Jair, Kim, Recep Erdogan, Viktor Orbán and so many authoritarian rulers, but now people are focused on surviving. What a gift to the powers that be: an obedient and disenfranchised constituency. But we’re not quite there yet, and they’re far from crushing our spirits. Before they’ve got a chance, we’ll crush them. Be prepared, wounded scouts.

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5/11/2020 The Killing of Native Sons, Colltalers

No matter the national event or moment: a virus killing thousands or a rogue government with no competence or decency: in America, racism is never far away from anything else. COVID-19 should be a glaring example, but there had to be a cold-blooded execution of a black man in the mix too.
‘Skyrocketed.’ That’s what happened to deforestation of Brazil’s Amazon between Jan. and April, according to a Greenpeace analysis. While President Bolsonaro got busy dismissing the coronavirus, the razing of indigenous lands increased by 59%, raising fears of fatal contamination and genocide.
But let’s start with the grim task of reporting the tragic, broad-daylight ‘lynching’ of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old stalked and shotgunned to death in February, while jogging outside Brunswick, Georgia. The father-son duo of murderers was known by local police but hadn’t been charged until now.
That’s because the video of the slaughter surfaced last week, and while the elder killer has been arrested, neither his son nor the friend who captured it on camera has been so far. The case reminded us of the late Trayvon Martin, another black youth murdered eight years ago, who’d also be 25 now.
Even as the killings of black young men by police or white supremacists, or a combination of both as in this case, is so terribly frequent, just as mass shootings of any kind, it never ceases to devastate us. Their brutality and banality of their killers’ obsession convulse our guts deep down to near exploding our hearts and minds over it. Why? Not why they do it and mostly get away with it, but why we accept living in a society that allows that?
As if the profoundly unfair toll of this pandemic hasn’t b een enough to shock us all, for its crushing majority of casualties among people of color. A preliminary study by Amfar, an AIDS research group, found that despite one in five counties nationally is black, representing only 35% of Americans, they account for nearly half of COVID-19 cases and 58% of deaths. As of Sunday, there were 1.35 million U.S. cases with over 80 thousand deaths.
Factors such as ‘health care access, density of households, unemployment, pervasive discrimination, and others drive these disparities,’ the study notes. A new ProPublica report adds a twist to the disparity of fatalities due to institutionalized racism: the undocumented, the millions of Trump-villainized quasi-invisible workers who nevertheless are still tending to our every need, even without any government relief or leniency from law enforcement.
Even when trying to enforce the law, the majority of our urban security forces can’t help it but go after the black and brown. Despite crowds of armed, mostly white people protesting the lockdown in major cities and on behalf of far-right, pro-gun, and militia activists, the great majority of people charged and arrested for violating lockdown regulations are black, a ProPublica report found. Some arrests caught on video are truly terrifying.
Thus, only in America, every instance of social upheaval and disgraceful display of inequality seems to have a racial overtone to it. And we usually know who’ll be murdered, beaten, dispossessed of their dignity, or denied legal support. It’s a moral bloodstain we can’t seem to be able to wash it out.
Before we go, remember the climate emergency? It hasn’t been canceled and we should count our dwindling blessings for it hasn’t ‘attacked’ us this year yet (knock on wood). Research by the U.S. academy of science, PNAS, shows that ‘over the coming 50 years, 1 to 3 billion people are projected to be left outside the climate conditions that have served humanity well over the past 6,000 years.’ It’d be up to us to radically cut down emissions. Now.
Speaking of moral bloodstains, the Department of Justice’s appalling case dismissal of self-confessed Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and the shameful ‘history-will-be-written-by-the-winners’ comment by U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr has to have set a new, even lower bar to this administration. It shows that there’s definitely a claque of undignified officials who no longer even bother with the rule of law at the White House.
Lastly, the clumsy attempt, by former Green Berets, of staging a coup in Venezuela last week, and possibly kill President Nicolas Maduro follows a long string of failed unlawful attempts, even if none as feeble as this one. What, you wanted to take over a nation with a dozen combatants? Seriously?
A shout out in protest against what’s happening to Mubarak Bala, a Nigerian human rights activist arrested for criticizing Islam on Facebook. Many are very concerned that he’s been taken to Kano, a state ruled by Sharia law, which determines that ‘blasphemy’ against the religion is punishable by death.
So we have our work cut out for us. And so does the person dressed up as the Grim Reaper who last week tried to scare off Floridian swimmers and sunbathers, now allowed to congregate by the thousands, virus be damned. It didn’t work but thanks for trying. Florida and other states now reopening seem unfazed by paying for their foolery in human lives. Trump and the GOP are not kidding though: their goal no matter what is to win the election.
So from Republicans to Fox News to the president’s own minions, it’s time to call victory over the virus, even as its death toll continues to escalate. We still have no mass-testing, not enough hospital beds or medical supplies, and frontline and essential workers are making the ultimate sacrifice so to help the sick. But for the administration, an estimated loss of over 100,000 lives, likely many more, is worth opening the country for business. Heinous.
Plus, with 33 million unemployed – again, possibly way more – hundreds of thousands of small businesses closed down for good, and a general feeling that the U.S. will be left behind to deal with this pandemic, while the rest of the world slowly gets on its feet, what economy they plan on pushing as a ‘success story?’ We’ll pay with our lives, but Trump will need so much money to buy up his second term that one almost doubts he can win. Almost.
It’s a sad time for America, and more so if, like the black writer James Baldwyn, one takes it up for its fascistic ways. Our headline today paraphrases a book title by this great American who graced the cover of Time 57 years ago next Sunday, and to whom ‘power without morality is no longer power.’
On the somber 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, Americans need to heed the lessons of history and press for government accountability. We must throw the whole lot of them in jail for their crimes. Eugene Jarecki had the right idea: the Trump Death Clock lists in real-time fatalities from COVID-19. It’s up in New York Times Square for the whole world to see and never forget. No one guilty for this disaster will get away with it if we can help it.
We’ve lost so many good people, hard-working, dedicated, already victimized by income inequality and racial prejudice, people simply caught doing what they’ve been doing all along: helping others. We must not forget them and we must honor their radical altruism. We must be them now. Cheers.

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5/04/2020 Solidarity Is a Loaded Gun, Colltalers

How to measure a tragedy? by length? global reach? number of casualties? Heading to 70.000 deaths, the U.S. already passed the near 59 thousand American lives lost in Vietnam. The war that left America with PTSD ended 45 years ago last Thursday. Vietnam has reported no COVID-19 deaths.
Calamity also brings up strong feelings for those who’ve experienced it on a personal level. For instance, victims of mass shootings, a preventable social disease. Canada took a step in that direction by banning some assault weapons. Which are mostly purchased in the U.S. and may all return to it.
Let’s leave those heady words ending in Y behind for a moment and take a look at what else is news. Remember the glorious four-time World Cup U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, which had filed a suit against the federation for being paid less than the men’s team? Well, a federal judge dismissed their case.
The ruling found no Equal Pay Act violation, even though they were, in fact, paid less than their less brilliant male counterparts. Hero and all-around awesome person Megan Rapinoe scored another one of her defiant, beautiful goals when she tweeted, ‘We will never stop fighting for EQUALITY.’
Two traditional, community-building, utmost essential American institutions are under threat of being extinguished and that has little to do with the coronavirus crisis: the Postal Service, and restaurants in general. Yes, the tragedy has worsened everything but the former has had long-term foes, eager to privatize it and turn a civil right older than the Constitution into a for-profit cash cow. They’ve been trying for years and this time, they may get it.
Unlike false assumptions capitalized by the president and the Republican Party, the Post Office is not funded by taxpayers; it survives strictly on its own. And despite all bell and whistles advertised for the Internet, that in the future everyone would have access to it, the mail-carrying agency is often the only game in town for citizens to connect. It’d do much better if it could offer banking services too, but heaven forbid if the FDIC would allow it.
It allowed the end of the separation between commercial and investment banking, the root cause of the 2008 catastrophic financial collapse. That, in turn, cost Americans billions as their accounts and savings were used to boost the stock market. When it all crashed, the FDIC dutifully helped the financial system and Wall Street to recoup their losses with, yes, taxpayer money. But when it comes to saving the Postal Service, don’t count on them.
As for restaurants, we’ve been slow to recognize their importance as gathering places, altars for cultural exchange, in this and any other country, all the while being a source of jobs to both the unskilled and the top-notch professional, the part-time student and the undocumented. Great eateries may not come back but for its workers, this crisis has already been life-changing. That, however, is apparently not of the GOP and the White House concerns.
There have been four multi-billion ‘stimulus’ packages, which were mainly dumped into the already stuffed coffers of billionaires and corporations, including those that don’t pay a dime in taxes. But little has reached restaurant and fast-food workers. Since his clients are satisfied for the moment, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said he won’t support aid for deli workers, or renters, or anyone without a six-digit banking account for that matter.
Speaking of which, the rich won again, all viruses be damned. A hidden tax change introduced by Republicans in the economic relief legislation will let those making a million or more annually ‘avoid nearly $82 billion of tax liability in 2020,’ according to non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation. Taxpayers will lose nearly $90 billion they probably didn’t even know they had with the change which lifted restrictions to Trump’s 2017 tax cuts bill.
Journalism Without Fear or Favor. That’s the theme of yesterday’s World Press Freedom Day, as willful misinformation and censorship of COVID-29 coverage around the world have prevented reporters from exercising their right to inform. The crisis also cost the category lives and thousands of jobs.
Let’s celebrate it with a piece of good news (yes, they exist): the International Energy Agency said that measures to stop the new coronavirus have caused ‘a staggering drop in energy demand.’ That means the air has been cleaner lately that it’s been since most of us were born. The IEA also expects an increase in demand for renewables. Funny then that a few articles ran against that logic and declared that energy prices will actually hurt us all.
Hum, let’s guess who may be behind these strategically deflating statements floated all over the media. Just the other week, CEOs of the gas, coal, and oil industries were in DC collecting the bailout they wanted, amounts unknown. It’s as if they’re the unsung victims taxpayers must save and give money to, on top of the multi-billion dollar government subsidies they already receive to compete with renewables. They’ve definitely got a friend in Trump.
One world about meat: we may have to reconsider eating it. Look at workers at meat plants in the U.S.: many are dying and others are being forced to work without protection in virus-infested conditions. If they refuse, no healthcare for them either. This is absurd and wrong. All so we can have a beef? Perhaps vegetarianism or going vegan is not for you. Fine. But it is for the planet. Read about it and maybe start today; after all, it’s Meatless Monday.
The irresponsible, downright criminal handling of the pandemic by this administration may cost something else Americans are so used to: the U.S.’s relevance in global events has lost its commanding role, and whatever the president may say is now solemnly ignored by the world. Thus, if you care about others, remain mostly at home no matter what kind of snake oil Trump may try to push this time; our guess is that this week it’ll be China, again.
What Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did banning some assault weapons follows what New Zealand P.M. Jacinda Ardern had done over a year ago. But for all purposes, it remains a pipe dream for grieving Americans. Still, we should paraphrase Rapinoe: we’ll never give up fighting for it.
A moment to mourn with the Lakota People the passing of Andrea Circle Bear, a Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member, who died while pregnant in a Texas prison, weeks after giving birth. Her cruel death of COVID-19 transcends even the brutal reality of dying away from her loved ones. To them, her tribe, to Maddona Thunder Hawk, and the dignified legacy of all native Americans, our profound condolences and commitment not to ever forget.
We should also dedicate to her the Gastrodia gunatillekeorum, a new orchid species discovered in Sri Lanka. Orchids are widespread and numerous, and most are stunningly beautiful. Just as the late Circle Bear, and the Lakotas, and the Cheyenne, and the Sioux, and all our courageous brothers and sisters. We’re in this together and even if odds are often against them, they won’t be for long. Here’s to them, to us, and to the month of May. Cheers

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4/27/2020 Of Failing Leaders & Stardust, Colltalers

Rumors North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, who acts like a king, is dead and will be replaced by his next of kin, sister Kim Yo-jong, haven’t been confirmed yet. But as China, North Korea’s ‘sponsor,’ is expected to handle the situation, no new world order will be established. The future will still be redacted.
Down South America way, turmoil in Brazil reached a feverish pitch, as Minister of Justice Sergio Moro quit, opening a gash on the already porous Jair Bolsonaro administration. The corrupt judge who played a national hero until his illegal deeds were caught, is the latest to jump the sinking ship.
‘Is there a way we can do something like that by injection (of Lysol!) inside?’ It was the most irresponsible and staggeringly ignorant remark uttered by Trump, the world’s most dangerous president. And that on a long, extensive, exhausting list of risky, absolutely non-sensical, self-serving statements.
Obviously, calls to poison centers and medical facilities flooded the hotlines with members of his constituency, to whom everything he says is the law, nervously inquiring about the right dosage for their president-prescribed COVID-19 treatment. No, not one has died of it yet, but since when that’s the standard to which we should hold the president accountable for his words? Even Republicans, concerned about their own jobs, acted as if startled.
Don’t believe it for a minute, though. As we approach three million coronavirus cases worldwide, of which almost a third are in the U.S., and over 200 thousand deaths, again, with more than a quarter being Americans, don’t expect there won’t be another outrageous briefing, broadcast live, with some other set of criminally-uninformed statements. Insulated by the GOP and an army of sycophants, our only shot at shutting him down is in November.
If there will be one. Joe Biden, a presidential candidate who believes he can unseat the president from the couch of his basement, fears the elections may be postponed. Gee, who’d have thought of that? Well, Trump, who tweeted back on June 16, 2019, ‘Do you think people will demand that I stay longer?’
Somehow though Biden hasn’t yet launched a powerful, passionate national campaign to fire up Americans about the issue before it’s too late.
Maybe all that he and his Democratic Party wanted to do was to warn us about the possibility and that they’ll vehemently condemn such a shameful plot, about which nothing can be done and that’s absolutely not their fault, but Trump’s. Now that’s such a winning strategy. Thanks, Dems; no, really.
With unemployment at 20%, 4.4 million claims filed last week, and a loss of over 26 million U.S. jobs, there could be no better time for the party to articulate a clear, easy to understand strategy for November. But it’s already a month behind in one crucial instance: cash for the poor, unemployed, fired, sick, and hungry. While several corporations have already received millions in stimulus, most miserable $1.200 relief checks haven’t arrived yet.
It’s yet another cruel immorality that compounds the infamy of this administration which doesn’t even try anymore to pretend that’s not helping only the wealthy and the well to do. The president is desperate to reopen the economy in the losing idea that it’ll recover in time to win him a second term. Old foxes from his party know it better but are fully behind the idea, even if it may cause another, likely deadlier wave of infections later on this year.
The staggering number of victims mentioned above cannot be ignored or used as a ploy in some kind of evil calculation about who’s been selected to die and by whom. Thus it never seems redundant to remind everyone that without testing and an agreed-upon treatment, deaths will keep on rising.
Over 260 million people are forecast to be facing acute food insecurity in the world by the end of this year, according to both the U.N. and the World Food Programme. While last year, ‘only’ 130 million were estimated to suffer food shortages, it’s still too early to accurately estimate the global impact of the pandemic. Or the pressing climate emergency. One thing though is almost a certainty: hunger will fuel political upheaval of biblical proportions.
Many Americans are already being hit by this reality. NYC food banks have reported unprecedented daily lines of thousand of hungry people, going on for dozens of blocks, not only of homeless or severely dispossessed people but of many who just a month ago would call themselves middle class. But again, you wouldn’t know it by just watching the established media. Their coverage has been all about the few dozen paid-for lockdown protesters.
Now, here’s the thing about the ‘gradual’ approach to change professed by many political leaders including candidate Biden: it assumes radical change is impossible because things, well, don’t change. And then they go home, happy to have delivered safe and sound advice to the masses. As in, stay put.
But oil, of all things, proved them completely wrong this week. For who could’ve expected oil prices to fall below zero? Powers that be moved fast to increase subsidies of the industry that’s literally killing the world. So it’s not that things can’t change; it’s not seizing the moment what really remains encrusted on the minds of ‘gradualists.’
In reality, the lockdown offered a glimpse of how to stop toxic air pollution: shut down the fossil-fuel industry.To act upon that realization would take more than emphatic words or tweaks in the legislation. It’ll take political courage and a mandate that only the majority of Americans, who actually already think like that, put their will and pressure on the candidate they believe will lead to the change needed.
In the big geopolitics game, Western societies play with dictatorships and rogue states such as North Korea, the death of its ‘dear leader’ represents but a drop of unsettling news, not at all unexpected and already factored in their scenarios and war games. But it does concern over 76 million people. And even if their fate isn’t comparable with the plight of Palestinians, or Syrians, or Yemenis, it definitely draws global scrutiny about what comes next.
The fact is, no one knows for sure. It can play out a number of ways but none has the guarantee of a peaceful power transition. If Kim, the brother, shows up tomorrow, or Kim, his sister, makes an announcement instead, things are sure not to be the same. But at least the world will relax for a bit.
When a coalition of far-right parties, a powerful family-owned media complex, and some say, a bit of U.S. help, ousted Brazil’s democratically-elected President Dilma Rousseff, in 2016 (what a year!), halfway through her second term, it aborted the country’s most arresting government project without any semblance of a plan to replace it. Rather, preventing ex-Presidente Luiz Inacio da Silva from returning to office jumped to the top of their agenda.
For that, there was Judge Moro, portrayed as an anti-corruption paladin who, we know now from an Intercept exposé, has used tricks and illegal moves to build a case without evidence against Lula. By coercing witnesses to testify in exchange for leniency, Moro’s succeed in forcing the Supreme Court to ban a Lula candidacy. That gave Bolsonaro, an Army-ousted ex-Captain with a mediocre record as a politician, the chance to snatch the presidency.
But if Trump’s likely finally met his match on a novel, highly transmissible virus that’s killing thousands of Americans, Brazil’s president may fall by the betrayal of close allies. And not for having all but destroyed the Amazon Rainforest, though, an issue that consistently fails to captivate Brazilians. (It may be unfair to indict 200 million for not caring for a forest, most of them hungry and utterly disenfranchised, but this crisis grants it to be said).
30 years ago last Friday, the Hubble Space Telescope started providing earthlings with astonishing images of the vastness of the universe. As we accept that humans may never venture to those spectacular worlds whose pictures it sends home, we can still travel on its digital retina and imagine we’re one with them by what we share within. Yes, we’re small but our hearts have the same beauty and fire and life of those endless worlds. Keep on shining.

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4/20/2020 Racism Is a Deadlier Virus, Colltalers

We’re free but not equal,’ says civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson. He sees the coronavirus as a ‘reality check’ that exposes a disproportionately high rate of COVID-19 infections and death in black and brown communities. That’s not a glitch but a feature of race relations in America, circa 2020.
The world’s largest marine oil spill happened 10 years ago today. The lasting impact of the explosion of Deepwater Horizon’s rig and Trump’s plans to allow drilling in pristine areas will certainly dampen any cheerful mood for the week’s other environmental news, the 50th anniversary of Earth’s Day.
But let’s start by the phony controversy of the week, that of whether to open or not the economy and when. It should be a non-issue whenever there’s no exact account of infections, treatment is not reliable, and no one knows when a vaccine will be available. That is, in the U.S. and most nations. Not to the Trump administration and other far-right regimes around the world, though. They’re set to reopen for business even if kills even more people.
From an initial outrageous statement, that he had the ‘ultimate authority’ to cancel the nationwide lockdown, to a more tactical, constitutional backstep, since it’s up to state governments, not him, to decide, the events are already set in motion. Soon enough we should see some business almost-as-usual along with an inevitable spike in new cases and deaths. Ultimately, no one won the tug of war between Washington and the states, but everybody loses.
The U.S. president, a strict constitutionalist – not really – has already despatched his minions to put up ‘protests’ against the lockdown in the only way he sees fit: by carrying slogans and targeting officials with calls for ‘lock him/her up.’ Plus, by crowding streets that should be traffic-free for first responders, deluded ralliers are in fact endangering even more lives. That’s what ‘state TV’ Fox News won’t show in their round-the-clock coverage.
Don’t bother trying to understand why people whose own lives and those of their loved ones – assuming that they have some – are in mortal risk would willingly support corporate views that place profits above human life. How long do they think it’ll take for someone they love to fall sick and die?
Take Florida, for instance, where beaches have reopened and swimming (and maybe being devoured by a shark?) were deemed an ‘essential’ activity. Who’ll tell them now that even pastors who mocked the virus in social media have died? What’s unmistaken though is that the same playbook is being applied worldwide too. In tandem with U.S. Maga-hat wearers, loud parades wreaked havoc elsewhere too, including Brazil. And the media loved it.
Speaking of which, President Bolsonaro was out again this weekend, shaking hands and smiling at the cameras. The country is on a virtual stand-still, the economy is in the gutter, and there’s an incipient coup being set up against him, but his priorities are clear: get the economy going, never mind under-reported casualties. Or that basic healthcare precautious are being provided, and enforced, in shantytowns by their own wardens, drug gangs.
Up in the Amazon, the association of indigenous people of Vale do Javari is suing to prevent fundamentalist missionaries from invading their lands to proselytize. Evangelical pilgrims have occupied the region since the 1970s, trying to ‘convert’ natives without much success other than contaminating them with ‘white man’ diseases that resulted in death and illnesses to which they had no immune defenses. They succeeded in the rest of Brasil though.
They now form one of the congressional caucuses that support Bolsonaro, along with big landowners and members of the military. Like in the U.S. and other nations, the religious right has an uncalled for influence on political decisions that reversed long-standing civil and reproductive rights. All while amassing a fortune for its messianic preachers, who have encouraged followers to ignore scientific advisories and keep congregating weekly in church.
A message to those asking to return to normal, now, now, because freedom, et.al, should be straight: there’s no normal to return to anymore. And since we’re at it, the fact you’re demanding an end for the lockdown, not for the viral threat, shows you’re not aware to whom you’re doing the bidding for.
Back in Brazil, drug trials for the malaria drug chloroquine were abruptly suspended after 11 patients died. Trump, who has a previously undisclosed financial interest on the drug, has been pushing it for months – ‘what do you have to lose?’ he said at one point – with no scientific basis to back up his claim. But so far, he hasn’t been challenged on such blatant conflict of interests, or any other for that matter, by the docile White House press corps.
Trump’s immoral decision to suspend funding for the World Health Organization for supposedly covering up for China is also preposterous. From his January tweets praising Xi Jinping’s efforts to Chinese scientists themselves, who dutifully informed WHO and the U.S. about the coronavirus onset back in 2019, all about it reeks of scapegoating, blame-shifting, and coward refusal to take responsibility. We’ll mark that as another big, fat lie of his.
We need to repeat the crystal-clear, truthful version of what’s happened: Trump ignored warnings, did not act when he should, use the virus to rally his crowds, and thought he could skip the crisis altogether on his way to reelection. As a result of his inaction more than 35,000 Americans have died, the U.S. is the epicenter of the worldwide crisis and based on pure rational speculation, chances are that we haven’t reached a peak of infections yet.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30% of all U.S. cases were of black people even as they represent only about 14% of the population covered in the study. In NYC alone, blacks are dying at twice the rate of whites, and Latinos are also falling to the virus at a much higher rate than whites or Asians. The higher rate of casualties also reflects systemic racism, as racially mixed Queens and the Bronx are the hardest hit.
4.9 million barrels of crude were spilled in the Gulf of Mexico for several months until the leaking valve was shut in the U.S.’s worst environmental disaster to date. Giant BP corporation was ultimately charged with the accident and spent a few billions paying off its guilt. Losses of wild and marine lives, however, were irreplaceable as well as thousands of closed small businesses along the gulf. Oil is still found in fish and on the ocean’s bottom.
It should make it for a sobering celebration of Earth Day, which for half a century did help raise mankind’s awareness about pollution. But it also happens as wildfires near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine continue to burn and contaminate the air of its capital Kyiv. That’s so ironic as most cities around the world have shown improved air conditions due to the suspension of global industrial activities. Not to mention, well, nukes.
The coronavirus destroying lives of impoverished, black and brown communities, the elderly and the vulnerable, the sick and the working poor, health care and first responders, food workers and immigrants, is an extension of the already reigning unequal social order within the world’s richest country.
Our best shot at overcoming this is to not listening to the fox and his friends at the White House. We must stay together, at home if it’s possible, trust science, and resist. It’s murderous to reopen the economy with the potential for an explosion of new cases, while our brothers and sisters are still down, trying to survive the first wave. The Trump reelection campaign is doing great but the nation is dying. Let’s not let him get away with it. We are one.

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4/13/2020 The Beauty That Still Remains, Colltalers

In February, most people here and abroad suspect it; by April, they were sure this was already a tragedy. Now, COVID-19 has killed near two million worldwide, 20,000 just in record-holder U.S., and it’s evident who else also knew it all along: the president. Many told him about it; he ignored them.
As more black and brown people catch the lethal virus, though, the conversation’s shifted: not so much about how this crisis reflects income inequality but when to reopen the economy. Never mind that it may cause a deadly reoccurrence; the established media will latch on this topic the whole week.
It’s the absolutely wrong thing to focus on right now but when did that stop this administration from going ahead and perpetrating another avoidable blunder? Some 2,000 are dying every day in the U.S., there’s no widespread testing or sign of a vaccine, and we don’t even know when it’ll strike next. But the people who dismissed this threat when they’d a chance to stop it, and kept denying it for over a month, now want to make that fatal decision.
The half-full version of any scourge is how some rise to the occasion, usually followed by a technological leap that lands us on the other side with a better outlook in life. The half-empty one sees an pandemy as an opportunity for leaders to tighten up their grip on power. To hold contradictory visions within one’s mind is Ok but while being half-full is grounds for a cheer, leaders trying to seize even more power is something worth fighting against.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. The past week, all hopes that the U.S. presidential election would represent a change of pace toward a more humanitarian, progressive even direction were dashed. Bernie Sanders has bowed out and Joe Biden is the Democratic presumptive candidate.
It was a contest that started unusual and promising, with lots of diversity candidates, several women to break the glass ceiling, and great debate on issues crucial to the well being of Americans. Climate change, Medicare for all, and to a lesser extent, immigration, and a green new deal were all debated at length. That was a first, at least in numbers and intensity. But it’s all gone now. First the Latinos, then blacks, then women, and here we are.
Once more, the dominance of white males of a certain age prevailed and we’re left to dream on about a time when the President will resemble more of what Americans really look like. And then, down to Sanders and Biden, with one committed to full change, and the other, well, we don’t know it yet.
The candidate the Democratic establishment wanted all along has been mostly missing from the battle against the virus. Two months ago, his positions were alike that of any traditional Republican if there were any left: a gradual, incremental change of some kind at some point in the near future, but nothing to be done right away, as the moment requires, when the world is burning, millions of people are starving, and our democracy slowly wanes.
Rather, under such stewardship, it’s unrealistic to expect that income inequality, for instance, or an immediate stop of any fossil-fuel processing would be addressed any time within the next four years. And that’s too long, and it’ll be necessarily too little too late. Above all, can Biden beat Trump?
The seven months ahead will be though even as the election itself is under threat of cancellation. But every segment that has given us hope in these past few years that change can come if we really fight for, climate action, protection of the poor, labor justice, and reproductive rights guarantees have stated their conditions for supporting the former VP. Again we can only hope he’s listening, and the choice of a running mate will be crucial for that.
Two ideas he came up last week, though, reducing retirement to 60, and partial student debt forgiveness, do not address the urgency of their, and our concerns, as they both seem inadequate and out of touch. In fact, 20 years ago, Democrats were already proposing, with no traction, Medicare for 55-year-olds. And the student plan doesn’t even begin to tackle the crippling reality of millions of graduates who are slaves to their debts. Really, Joe?
Isn’t now the time to be bold and demand the impossible so as to at least get our foot in the door? These sound like an almost coward strategy to ‘ask for permission’ to change. But change happens, as Sanders has said, and it’s still on us to pressure Biden to fight for and represent most Americans.
One word about exempting churches from the ban on public assembling: why? Isn’t this whole thing about religion a matter of invisibility, of being alone with god, spiritual congregation and all that? So why are followers allowed to go to mass and spread a deadly virus in the name of their beliefs? Isn’t it enough that certified pedophiles like George Pell walk free among our children? Have you heard anything about it on the pope’s Easter sermon?
Compared to such callous behavior, virus hard-hit Italy again has shown its resilient spirit. Take the ‘solidarity baskets’ for the homeless of Napoli. Repurposing an old costume of busy mothers lowering baskets with money to purchase supplies from street vendors, two musicians decided to lower baskets too but with food for the hungry instead. It’s a simple and generous way to show true love to others in need. Maybe it’ll set a new standard.
The global threat of having half a billion people suddenly being thrown into poverty because of the lockdown requires an urgent economic rescue plan for developing nations, said international charity Oxfam. Or risk those broken economies collapsing and dragging the world into a much deeper hole.
So as the so-called king of reality TV shows that he can’t handle reality, and New York officials talk about burying people in public parks, at least for a while, we’re suffused with bad news we see on screens, and encouraging acts of heroism and solidarity we witness in our current predicament. Time to remember Anne Frank, who was killed in Berger Belsen just months before British troops liberated the concentration camp, 75 years ago Wednesday.
For all this time, she’s being a source of optimism people distill from quotes of her diary – which inspired our headline. She resisted and found ways to carry on. Just like our deli and grocery workers, our delivery people, the bus and train and cab drivers, farmworkers, GE employees demanding to make ventilators, and of course, nurses and first responders who are out there, so we can be in, sheltered as we can. That’s why we’re in, actually.
We’re not only protecting our immediate family. We’re but making sure we’re not actively infecting others under the excuse we don’t know any better, or we’re not in a risk group, or simply because we don’t believe in science. The longer we stay in, the faster everyone will be able to also stay in, safely.
If there’s the need for some encouragement, look no further than to the indigenous peoples everywhere. ‘Get up, because we can it,’ says Alessandra Korap, leader of the Amazon’s Munduruku tribe. She was born inside the cause of saving the Rainforest and protect the vulnerable, both universal values to live by. There are so many others, natives whose wisdom makes us stronger. Here comes week 5; don’t be discouraged, we’ll win. Salut

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4/06/2020 Adopt a Local Healthcare Worker, Colltalers

The oil industry ‘moved with breathtaking speed’ to seize the moment,’ says respected environmentalist Bill McKibben about the outbreak. And so did the whole fossil-fuel complex and their Congress acolytes. And Big Plastic. And an entire cottage conspiracy net that’s freaking out people to death.
But no matter how billionaires may trivialize it, a million of anything is a lot. This threshold of coronavirus cases in the world was vanquished, with no signs of relenting. And yet, it’s Trump’s knuckle-headed decisions, the breakdowns, and vile misery profiteers what really is making it all much worse.
Some Americans may think they’ve got the answer for the crisis: to buy another gun. Either incentivized by far-right radio talkshow hosts, or by that insane rationale that they’d be able to go to war with the world’s most powerful army, people are lining up to get ‘ready’ for a dystopic future that could come about exactly as a result of their thoughtless behavior. Wanna bet how many feet of distancing they stand from each other in those lines? Don’t.
COVID-19, the respiratory infection caused by the new coronavirus, has lodged some impressive records, and that’s without counting victims or even cataloging the industries that may have gone out of business for good. It’s been hard, for instance, to imagine a rebirth for the restaurant industry, which has been plagued for ages by labor violations, wage theft, waste, and plain, old-fashioned corruption. Servers, cooks, and kitchen help are out of luck.
Since the 1980s, the U.S. has moved from manufacturing hub to a finance and services-driven economy, and by a record of technological invention. The latter is hardly true now as brainpower required for scientific breakthroughs comes either from access to higher education or smart immigration.
As a result, most of the 13 million-plus restaurant and bar workers are out of jobs they most likely won’t be able to return to. Part of the relief package passed by Congress last week was supposed to provide immediate help to them, the small-business owners employing them, and to countless little eateries that contribute to life in the mainstream U.S.A. But Senate Republicans and the president were rather in it to aid those industries listed above.
Thus $500 billion of the $2 trillion funds have already been attained by the Trump administration to aid poorly-managed airlines and big polluters – and likely, his reelection campaign – while Treasury has announced that the stingy, one-time $1,200 checks will start being issued in weeks. Possibly.
Leaders of social movements to fight for the poor, such as the Rev. Dr. William Barber, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren and others are calling for a Truman Committee-like to supervise the distribution of funds, so they won’t solely benefit big corporations. But Trump, of course, has refused to even acknowledge that anyone but him has the power to demand accountability over this so-called free slush fund.
He has had a big hand from the established media, which insists on printing every lie and misinformation he has uttered about the coronavirus, covers live his infuriating ‘daily shows’ as breaking news, and won’t challenge his excuses to diffuse blame. Despite the catastrophic conduction of this crisis and a horrified body count, the president has managed to even raise his ratings among supporters; it’s what he spends most of the time talking about.
The crisis has affected the entire world in similar ways, but results vary according to who’s in power in each country. Sadly, most Western societies have been led in the past few years by an elite of incompetent leaders, if not downright authoritarians, and we won’t get anywhere under their watch. It’s a devilish logic, of a world where windfalls make the rich richer and the poor, well, they don’t ever get windfalls, to begin with, only bills to pay.
The first native Brazilian was diagnosed with the disease, sounding the alarm that the virus may wipe out whole indigenous populations before any help is forthcoming. It certainly won’t come from President Bolsonaro who’s under a threat of a coup orchestrated by the same forces that helped land him in Brasilia in 2018, by outlawing then front runner ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. So it’s been the volatility of current politics in Brazil.
In the staggering leadership vacuum, some are coming up with needed but unfortunately out of scale solutions. Thus for each lampost sign, advertising illegal sales of likely counterfeit n95 masks, the ones every medical worker should be given dozens every day to properly care for the sick, there’s a friend of a friend making simpler masks to give it away. Or volunteering to aid neighbors, even with no idea whether they’re immune or not infected.
For every bit of misinformation by the Cheater-in-Chief, there’s a ship full of medical supplies crossing the ocean, sent by goodwill nations to those in need. The U.S. is out of this noble loop, though, and American firms are still exporting the very supplies U.S. hospitals and healthcare workers are in desperate need of. Worse, Germany and France have accused the U.S. of diverting supplies headed to their countries by outbidding the original buyers.
That’s a form of cruel piracy. Back in January, the Trump administration had refused life-saving masks offered by the World Health Organization and other countries because, as it turned out, it was trying to have them produced to be used exclusively in the U.S. and sold at a profit to other nations.
When a 6.5 earthquake struck Idaho last Tuesday, its second most powerful ever, rattling roadways and wrecking people’s nerves, a lot was reported about its aftermath, damage to property and a sense that it shouldn’t be happening at all. But one word was missing from the coverage’s vocabulary: fracking, the highly-pollutant and unsettling procedure of injecting water and chemicals to extract gas from the shale, hundreds of feet below ground.
Producers are careful to mud the water, so to speak, about the link between fracking and earthquakes or environmental destruction. Try googling it and the first non-corporate study about the connection appears only after several screens. They call it ‘natural gas’ for a reason, and it’s one that can kill us.
For years, the black market for exotic species has Another week of this season in hell is upon us and while the virus still rages, the planet has had a reprieve but till when? Will we emerge from the pandemic more determined to fight climate change and income inequality? Time will tell but our odds depend heavily on whom we’ll vote to lead us.
Every day, at 7 pm, New Yorkers, and maybe other citizens everywhere, lead a round of passionate applause to healthcare workers and first responders who’re risking their lives to care for strangers. While we’re clapping, let’s remember who’s forcing them to work under these conditions, besides their own conscience: corrupt politicians, profiteers, merchants of death, smugglers. Take down their names and we will hold them accountable. Stay safe.

3/30/2020 Don’t Die to Save the Dow, Colltalers

Here’s Trump’s America: the world’s biggest climate-denying nation, with the largest prison population and a stellar healthcare system, of course. Also of note about this paradise are its 3.3 million-strong unemployment claims. Good thing Congress just signed a $500 billion relief bill. To corporations.
The world is in lockdown with more confined people than those alive during WWII. Numbers are staggering and bound to increase. But that sort of stats and its big numbers are mind-boggling: good for shocking headlines and little else. There are more important lessons to be learned from this all.
But first, our usual news roundup even as most seems to be either related to the new plague or to the catastrophic leadership of some top world leaders. Following the nefarious sway of the U.S. president, who called the virus a hoax and is still lying and misinforming the American people, many were caught flat-footed and are now behind the curve. Thus, there’s no global coordinated strategy and each country is doing its own thing. That is crazy.
The world spent 70 years signing agreements, forming alliances, and setting international organizations to protect dialog and peace, the food supply, labor and trade disputes, and the rule of law. Whether it succeeded is beside the point; Trump spent three and a half years cutting ties with allies and singing praises to tyrants. The ‘leader of the free world’ sowed distrust, threatened war, acted as a criminal brat while enriching himself and his family.
Even if Trump doesn’t get reelected in Nov. – which is as improbable almost as there will be an election in Nov., – the consequences of his acts will be felt for years. How will we survive in a world where China, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Venezuela, Ecuador, the entire African continent, and allies such as Germany, France, and others can’t trust us? He made us all look like violent pariahs, white supremacists thirsty for power and armed to the teeth.
Part of that predates the Liar-in-Chief, for sure. Historically, so-called American exceptionalism drove us to do despicable things as a nation and justify them as needed for our survival. In other instances, it served to highlight how even a then healthy democracy can open its doors to authoritarianism.
But there’s something about the history of this country that has always prevailed: no one is above the law, and people have the right to pursue freedom.
It’s been hard to abide by these constitutional principles these days or even prove that that’s still the law of the land. Slowly and suddenly quickly, the downward moral spiral of average Americans tilted heavily to a raw individualism and the pursuit of personal gain at any cost. It took a deadly virus to reunite the majority under a spirit of solidarity and empathy. It’s a sight for sore eyes seen all over America, no thanks to current White House lords.
As ‘social distancing’ enters the global chatter, this has been the worst of times for Americans, Italians, Spaniards, Brazilians, all leading in cases and fatalities, and the prospect of prisons, refugee camps, and India becoming the virus’ next playgrounds won’t improve things. While Europe as a whole continues to battle the spread of the virus with all their weapons, Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Narendra Modi, leaders of 1.9 billion citizens, keep lying.
India, which is now under the biggest lockdown in the history of the world, seems particularly problematic. Already marred in government corruption, brutal social inequality, and staggering poverty, it’s been asked again to sacrifice. Unlike other countries, though, there’s no place of progress and social harmony to return too. Modi made sure of that by all but outlawing 200 million Muslims. So even if there were no viruses, it’d still be in utter misery.
Brazil, which since the 2016 coup that ousted President Dilma Rousseff, is adrift amidst the dismantling of its industry and social institutions, is wising up to the fact that they’re stuck with the worst of the worst: no help on the way, and Bolsonaro. He presided over the start of death by fire of the biggest rainforest, the Amazon, and over the corruption of labor and retirement laws to favor bosses and the rich; now he wants people to go back to work.
Brazilians, who thought they had it rough with Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s social reforms prioritizing the poor over the elites, are now acting as if they couldn’t possibly have expected that an expelled Army Captain with zero experience or ideas, and a mean streak, would inflict so much pain to people. Worst, that he’d be an embarrassment to the country by becoming a groupie to the American bully, from whom he seems to crave the attention. Even repentant ‘bolsonaristas,’ or rather, those who claim now not having a clue that their leader was so incompetent, are shocked. But will still vote for him.
That’s nonsense, certainly. And so is surveys that rated at 47 to 49% the job the U.S. president is (badly) doing with COVID-19. Granted, without tests many a red state doesn’t yet know how many are infected and how many will die from it, which may undermine his approval rate. But given his luck – despite all diatribes and risky political moves, nothing with potential to destroy his presidency had happened till this – he should beat the latest rap too.
But not without causing unnecessary deaths, and that’s a prospect that scares everyone during the next few weeks. If it’s already impossible to prevent that from happening, we must at least press to hold accountable every member of this administration, from top to down, for their unforgivable actions.
And Congress, which unwittingly endorsed the biggest U.S. taxpayer handout to mega-rich corporations, while giving the working poor a few dollars.The record $2 trillion stimulus package, which should help those affected directly by the administration’s failure to act, that is, salaried workers, ‘gig economy’ slaves, the undocumented, and the elderly, turned out to be close to a cruel joke. While industries that squandered huge tax cuts they’ve got in 2008 and 2017 won’t need to answer any questions, regular people will have to run an obstacle-ridden track to get a ridiculous one-time $1,200 check.
Small businesses, restaurants, bars, services of any kind across America won’t have the muscle to survive being closed for too long while competing with MacDonald’s and other rich franchises for the funds. Similar political leaders will prescribe similar harsh recipes too. Meanwhile, that biggest of nightmares that humanity faces, a global climate emergency, won’t wait till we’re done with the virus before striking at its multiple fronts again.
But we can’t close on ‘welcome to America, where you are expected to die to protect the Dow.’ The quote that inspired our headline must be credited to Jerry Ashton, last week’s happy 87 birthday boy who co-founded R.I.P. Medical Debt, an organization that buys medical debt and forgives its debtors. Arguably a maverick as today’s birthday genius, Vincent Van Gogh, at the ripe age of 167, Jerry’s already has a legacy too. But it’s one of compassion.
And that’s how we roll with this atypical column for a most atypical week in recent memory. Experts say the coronavirus crisis will get much worst before getting any better, but don’t tell us to give up on anybody. Well, maybe all the above-mentioned leaders. We the people, however, will last. Cheers

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3/23/2020 Six Feet Apart, Not Under, Colltalers

The U.S. is far behind the coronavirus curve and, yes, the Trump administration is responsible for it. All headlines about COVID-19’s stunning spread are related to these two truths. No large scale testing is scheduled; no extra medical supplies will be provided; Americans are sitting ducks. Discuss.
And yet, elected officials have profiteered from the crisis just as Big Pharma and healthcare insurers surely will too. Keep that in mind as a depression approaches; when social justice is restored in this country, they shall be all accountable. Will American compassion have its own day to shine too?
The U.S. woke up this morning in a virtual shutdown. With unemployment set to break records and fatalities from the disease unfortunately set to skyrocket, Americans are doing their best to stay safe and together. But most don’t know whether they’re infected, or if there’s still time to be saved.
There’s such a gargantuan vacuum at the top leadership of this country that even billionaires with the muscle to move markets and create a path to solutions are confused and unarticulated. The same about the legions of healthcare and customer service workers thrown in the trenches of this battle with little more than a thermometer – don’t bother trying to get one; like face masks and rubbing alcohol, most retailers online or not don’t have them.
We’ll be back to that, but let’s first note China, whose brutal tactics to control the virus have finally reversed the curve. It kicked out the NYTimes, Washington Post, and Wall Street journalists in response to U.S. restrictions to its state-run news outlets. Yeah, bash reporters; that’ll teach them well.
On the other side of the spectrum, Cuba has stepped up to the plate and is offering medical and humanitarian help. Besides having developed a drug, Interferon alfa 2b, proven effective with dengue fever and HIV/AIDS, adopted by the Chinese medical authorities to this coronavirus too, it’s sending doctors to Italy to help out. It did the same during cholera and Ebola outbreaks but you wouldn’t know about it by just following the American media.
It even allowed last week a 1,000-passenger-and-crew British cruise ship to dock in Mariel, after charting what was dubbed the ‘voyage of the damned.’ Some 50 people suspected of being coronavirus-positive were among those it took care of and arranged for their flights home. To the deranged far-right, it’s all propaganda, but its Samaritan efforts of the past decades go beyond that and equate to what was one of the U.S.’s main export: solidarity.
A major crisis such as the one the world faces now has also another side effect: other stuff happens but no one notices. Or rather, some pick the time to advance their interests. Take Vladimir Putin, for instance. Last Monday, Russia’s Constitutional Court approved changes to allow him to remain in power till 2036, pending a referendum. As president or prime minister, he’s been there since 1999, so his latest maneuver surprised absolutely no one.
Also, speaking of washing hands, the United Nations marked yesterday the International Water Day by reminding everyone to use it plenty to protect themselves. Unfortunately, some 20% of humans don’t even have plumbing, others have to walk miles for a gallon, and in major cities such as Flint, MI, and Newark, NJ, drinking from the tap is not a good idea at all. That leaves us with all the extra water that’s being melted from ancient glaciers.
Consider Greenland. In a stark development, its melted iced raised global sea level by 2.2mm in just two months. That’s faster than anyone had predicted, indicating that, well, science was right, climate deniers have been wrong, and no matter what, humanity still has an even bigger fish to fry.
But if there’s a silver lining to the coronavirus worldwide pause is that it grounded economic activity, and its pollutants, to a halt and, guess what, air and waterways got immediately cleaner all over the world. That proves one remarkable thing: we can do it. We should take this worldwide idleness to apply a grand plan, say, a Green New Deal, and reboot the economy from a different, renewable starting point. Sadly, Congress is not with us in that.
Back to stuff that happens when no one is looking, here are some of the less honorable, and downright ruthless things the White House is setting up behind doors: a cut in food stamps for 700,000 Americans; a multibillion-dollar package for airlines – which spent their tax breaks on buying back stocks and let their business rot – and oil and gas fracking companies; and the immoral, pervasive rush to nominate the highest number of judges.
That’s an unforgivable travesty, to load the bench with utterly party-biased federal judges who by stamping rulings favorable only to the executive will simply destroy the independence of the judiciary. It’s been a well-planned tactic from the get-go by the Republican Party and it’ll take years to be rebalanced even if a combative, argumentative, visionary Democrat defeats Trump in November. Can Joe Biden be that people’s warrior on this issue?
Time will tell but the events of the last few days bode poorly to President Obama’s VP. While his adversary Bernie Sanders was all over the country fighting to prevent yet another bailout to big business, Biden was all but missing. He was part of the single stimulus Congress was trying to pass and failed. For it would neither protect over 20% of the U.S. workforce nor guarantee free testing and treatment and offered only a paltry 15 days of leave.
Now comes word that he was ‘preparing’ (which probably means, learning his lines). Indeed, many think Joe’s a nice chap, just as Trump rated a 10 his disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus crisis. We’re not giving up on anyone willing to lead the country into another direction before it sinks for good, but it seems Trump has successfully downgraded all expectations for this election. Disillusioned Sanders supporters may stay at home again.
With rampant profiteering from the crisis by all sides at the top, the impossibility of having massive protests around the nation, and imminent collapse of the entire hospital system due to an expected spike in demand, ‘Spring Will (Indeed) Be a Little Late This Year.’ Frank Loesser could never have imagined that his beloved Broadway, where The Fantasticks broke records, would be in the dark just before the new season. But here we are.
We’ll miss it to save ourselves and be around for the next spring. Instead, we’re actually calling people we’d talk to only online; we’re cleaning and doing stuff around the house; cooking, reading, digging the garden, or just being silly with kids and pets. And thoroughly washing hands, of course.
Over 500,000 thousand will sleep in the streets tonight; countless will perish either from exposure or the virus; many more will get infected. But we’ll survive and resist this ungracious leader who hasn’t offered a single word of comfort to Americans before and during this scourge. He’s actually made it worst whenever he opened his mouth. But we’ll find the strength. Yeah, it’s Ok to call Mom again. Rest well, we will need you tomorrow. Cheers

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3/16/2020 We’ll Take Care of Each Other, Colltalers

Over 160,000 cases worldwide; 6,000+ dead; nations in lockdown; doctors, authorities, even celebrities infected; travel restricted, a looming global recession. As Americans wonder how many got the coronavirus or will be tested for it, the leader of the free world says, ‘I do not take responsibility.’
Yet when markets crashed last week, the Fed injected $1.5 trillion into the banking system – and slashed interest rates to near zero. State bailing out a private enterprise is the kind of ‘socialism’ not available for 140 million with no health or labor guarantees: Congress can’t ‘find’ an $8 billion relief.
Despite a heartless Trump, who is indeed responsible for the jitters and misery caused by an unbound virus wreaking havoc wherever it’s coughed on or spat to, it’s on these occasions that humanity excels. Empathy and compassion were all over last week but look no further than Siena, Italy, where rather than cursing (or affluent people knocking on cooking pots for missing privileges), one heard home songs a capella sung by entire neighborhoods.
Such is the way that common people, otherwise known as heroes, cope with adversity: they rise, they sing, they volunteer. Even when facing imminent danger, as in the case of nurses and medical personnel, they still stop to offer help, run towards the fire, hug to comfort a stranger. We won’t forget this.
By the way, boards of elections across America are begging poll workers to show up during this busy voting season. Gerrymandering, draconian rules to keep people of a certain race and class from voting, and millions of dollars flooding campaigns, the exercise of democracy is having yet another tough call to make: how to protect thousands of skilled workers and more, how to assure they’ll get the professional, free medical care they may need.
And the answer is, like most U.S. government agencies and institutions, starting by the top, no one knows. Few have committed to free-of-charge care and/or vaccines when one becomes available, and the healthcare industry has all but said that they’re not on board for it. This crisis has shown why free universal medical coverage is better: everyone is accounted for, so everyone is cared for. How such a basic human right came under so much criticism?
At least, the human rights of one person were restored this past week and it’s a reason for rejoicing: Chelsea Manning, the ex-Army intelligence officer who leaked proof of American war crimes in Iraq, was finally released from prison. It’s not quite justice: U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga’s refused to vacate a $256,000 fine pending over her head. But for someone who’s spent seven years in prison and has been detained since May, it is something.
Manning, who attempted suicide in jail, was court-marshaled for passing footage of U.S. forces killing civilians and journalists to Wikileaks, which published it in 2010 and 2011. It’s founder, Julian Assange, has had his own ordeals through the years, but Manning suffered the indignity of having a major personal transition while in care of prison wardens. She was detained for honorably refusing to testify against Assange. Welcome back, Chelsea.
Another good news of sorts – we take all we can get – is about the lawsuit the victorious U.S. Women Soccer Team’s moving against the Federation. Its head, Carlos Cordeiro, has resigned after it was revealed that his defense against par parity, or equal pay for equal work, was based on such a rancid misogynous argument, not even his board would support. Again, not justice; there shouldn’t even be a need for such a suit. But something anyway.
Brazilians, who are also facing an unprecedented institutional crisis, with a president who may or may not be infected by the coronavirus – does it sound familiar? – had Saturday a moment to pause and revolt. Two years before, Rio councilwoman and LGBTQ activist Marielle Franco was executed by still unpunished hitmen, and the chorus throughout the country is, ‘who ordered her murder?’ Many fingers point to a Bolsonaro’s involvement.
Franco was more than an activist. As an elected politician, she immediately captured people’s imagination with her personal story of redemption and push to challenge powers that be. To her supporters, that did her in. But now, with her murderers, and their links to the government being uncovered as part of the public record, she’s also become a symbol of feminicide, the assassination of women which has been rampant in Brazil and Latin America.
It ‘could happen next in Rome, or a week later in France or in Germany. The U.S. might be a week or two behind that. It looks as if the same shifts in perception, the same shifts in political discourse, are taking place everywhere, delayed or accelerated only by a country’s ability to face the facts.’ That’s Italian journalist Monica Maggioni about the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused Italy’s lockdown and marked its record 368 single-day deaths.
Trump says he’s been tested negative for the virus, but like the Brazilian president and other strongmen at the top, he may be lying. Unfortunately, no one ‘s shocked by it. It’s not that the president stood shoulder-to-shoulder and shook hands with people who later were found to be infected. It is as if, like when he stared at the sun during an eclipse, he’s purposely trying to prove some deranged point against science by defying its safety guidelines.
Trump’s closed agencies and fired almost every scientist in charge of the U.S.’s medical and biodefense preparedness, besides hacking the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s budget. And then replaced them not with a trained doctor but with science-skeptic, climate-denier VP Mike Pence.
Worst, amidst the confusion he helped to sow among Americans, it came out that the administration was considering to bail out the.. oil and fracking industry. With declining oil and gas prices, all the White House considers is the ‘suffering’ of industries directly responsible for the climate emergency we’re facing. Never mind a likely mass contagion at makeshift immigrant camps or overcrowded U.S. prisons; the priority is to keep burning fossils.
‘It’s socialism for the rich. Everyone else is treated to harsh capitalism,’ wrote economist Robert Reich last year. Or as Rev. Dr. William Barber II tweeted, ‘Overnight they found $1.5 trillion for Wall Street, but they can’t find money to provide healthcare & living wages for 140 million poor people in America.’ The coronavirus is now the biggest argument for Medicare for All, and for having a new president in November.
A lot of what makes living bearable is being canceled: the performing arts, sports, restaurants, bars, even the St Patrick’s Day parade is off. As we wonder what else we’re about to lose to COVID-19 – wash your hands! – we must seize this opportunity to reach out and being there for others, friends, family, and neighbors. We’re better together. Often we’re all they’ve got and we’re forever in their debt. Ce la faremo amici miei.

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3/09/2020 Watch Out For Viral Excuses, Colltalers

Over 100,000 cases worldwide; 15 million Italians quarantined; no contingency plans in the U.S. The Coronavirus is doing what viruses do, including exposing authoritarian regimes’ ineptitude: good at self-preservation, ugly at saving lives. It’ll keep spreading and you’re on your own. Don’t catch it.
‘Torture, (cruelty), outrages upon personal dignity, rape, and sexual violence.’ The International Criminal Court is probing possible U.S.’s war crimes in Afghanistan. But peace talks won’t bar the Taliban from oppressing women. For this and other reasons, they’ve marched around the world yesterday.
Speaking of women’s independence, Elizabeth Warren became the last to drop out of the presidential race leaving us with, brace for the unexpected, two old white males who’ll slaughter each other for a while, big bucks vs youth enthusiasm, while Trump shadowboxes and weights a cancellation.
Wait a minute? Does that mean that if the virus explodes in the heart of America, against everything the White House had said about this health crisis,  the president may actually cancel the Nov. elections? Yes and the 50 million or so Americans who have seen this coming are not enough to prevent it.
Going back to Senator Warren, democrats of a certain understanding, and gender, are mourning her departure because she had actual ideas on how to change the national conversation. More than the other five women who’d already left and have now promptly endorsed Joe Biden, Warren was fearless and yet enthusiastic about the future. And she’s held steady her support to front-runner Bernie Sanders, a fact his campaign must consider carefully.
Most Americans grew up with the notion that, despite the First Amendment, to display Nazi symbols or to propagate supremacist ideas was illegal. So it was a shock to see someone boldly unfold a Nazi flag at a Sanders’ rally in Arizona, before being escorted out. But it’s just another step down the ladder of what the president started four years ago: hate of ‘them,’ the ‘other,’ or in a Maga kind of way, just calling the opposition enemy of the nation.
The seeds for this new, terrifying era of fascism have been sown right at the gate, in Trump’s inaugural speech. He remains as oblivious to the rise of attacks on Jewish, black, and brown communities as he’d promised to be on that address. It’s also from the same time his outrageous claim that he’d get away with shooting someone on 5h Ave. But while his supporters love him for even making that claim, let’s not let him have any chance to prove it.
‘The unchecked brutality of autocratic regimes and the ethical decay of democratic powers are combining to make the world increasingly hostile to fresh demands for better governance.’ Given the above example, many Americans would agree with this year’s Freedom House report’s assessment. The organization whose founders included Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Wilkie, a 1940 Republican presidential candidate, surveyed 150 countries and 15 territories and if in 2010 freedom in the U.S. was at par with Switzerland and the U.K., now it sits behind Slovakia and Mauritius. But despite its lucid conclusions, the report frames only the most obvious authoritarian regimes, such as China and India, and doesn’t mention Brazil and Mexico.
That’s a glaring omission that doesn’t compromise its results though. A U.N. report estimated that in 2017, 50,000 women were killed worldwide for their gender, a feminicide. But last year only, Brazil and Mexico have reported over a thousand murdered in each of their territories, a reason for anger and one of the themes of International Women’s Day marches in both countries, according to Brazil’s G1 and data from the Mexican Interior Ministry.
India, on the other hand, did get mentioned in the report for its quasi-government-sanctioned violence against Muslims, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal brand of cruelty is cited along with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Unlike these, however, India is still called ‘the world’s largest democracy,’ and is not featured with Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Somalia, and yes North Korea, among others as ‘the worst of the worst.
‘A survey conducted by the National Nurses United, the largest U.S. union, shows that most hospitals and healthcare facilities are unprepared to handle and contain cases of COVID-19. It found no plans, isolation procedures, and policies in place; poor communication between employers and staff; lack of personal protective equipment: and no training offered to handle the crisis. And that’s even before U.S. cases are expected to reach a critical mass. But that display of extreme incompetence, arrogance, and callousness comes from the very top. At the same time that the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention issued its initial guidelines to begin a resemblance of virus containment, the president was ‘advising’ the old and the sick to go to work.
And here’s one of the ironies of our present quagmire: over 40% of the American workforce can’t afford to skip a day of work: they won’t get paid for it. So it’s almost cruel to blame likely high rates of contagion on the backs of working people. Worst: the administration won’t commit to guarantee free treatment or vaccine to those affected. All overworked, underpaid Americans want to hear is that they’ve got yet another ‘out of pocket’ medical bill.
As the 19th American died from the coronavirus, almost the entire world is under lockdown and, spoiler alert to the president, markets will tumble and fall. That’d make no difference to average citizens but counts a lot to the 0.01%, backers of whatever is necessary, whoever the despot du jour, to keep the status quo. Would that be a destabilizing factor or a viral excuse for authoritarians to cancel elections they’re not sure to win? Tune in next week.
The Hague, Netherlands-based ICC, which began activities in 2002 and is recognized by 120 nations but not the U.S., decided to proceed with a probe into American armed forces in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, and later in clandestine C.I.A. facilities in Poland, Romania and Lithuania. Although it has the right to persecute non-signer nations if crimes were committed in any signer’s territory, it has no law enforcement arm to go after perpetrators.
On March 7, 1965, now Georgia Representative John Lewis and hundreds of voting rights activists began a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery. They got beaten and injured while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the crime of advocating that all Americans – regardless of their skin color – should have a vote and a voice in democracy. The 55th anniversary of that ‘Bloody Sunday,’ which ushered the passage of the Voting Rights Act, was celebrated in Selma Saturday.
The Act has since been bludgeoned by the court of Chief Justice John Roberts but that’s a matter for future litigation. While Women’s Day is marked rightfully so with rallies and marches in defense of women’s rights to live free and have agency over their own bodies, today is Barbie’s 61st anniversary, an event that’s no longer taken kindly giving all the appalling sexual, racial, and class stereotypes it helped inculcate on innocent minds. But we did evolve, slightly, and today no doll holds such strong sway over society anymore, not like tablets or cell phones anyway.
Still, in politics as in life, we must adapt however we can so to hold close to our principles, regardless of barking dogs, race supremacists, corrupt leaders, or social mores. We must honor those who were brutalized by what they were. Let’s not coward before the enormous challenges of our age. Carry on with the task at hand: protect democracy, fight inequality, restore the U.S. to standards of human rights, and save the planet from climate collapse. It may sound like it’s too much but it’s nothing compared to the ultimate sacrifice of early civil rights militants. What’s better in our world than it was in theirs is due to their courage to dream a new day. And R.I.P. Joyce ‘The number you have reached is no longer in service’ Gordon. Cheers

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3/03/2020 They Like the World As It Is, Colltalers

It’s spreading, it shows no mercy, and it may kill thousands. Not the coronavirus, though, but the bombing of Syria’s Idlib by Russian-backed Syrian forces against Turkey-aided rebels. Thousands more are caught between fire and freezing weather, but world headlines had little room to report them.
Instead, coverage has focused on the virus scare and not much else. Far-right governments in China, the U.S., Brazil, and others first tried to dismiss the crisis and then named hacks and climate-change deniers to manage it. It won’t work. That’s why so many believe that it’s time to vote them all out.
Speaking of elections, Israelis are at the polls today for the third time this year. But as before, no major changes are expected regardless of who wins. Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest acting Prime Minister, and his challenger Benny Gantz think alike about Israel’s major issue: neither is interested in treating the Palestinians as equals. Thus what seems obvious to the world isn’t to Israelis; there’ll be no peace without good-faith talks. Americans, on the other hand, are thrilled about what may happen tomorrow. Super Tuesday means 14 state primaries and American Samoa caucuses may grant to the overall winner over 30% of delegates required for nomination. Front-runner Democratic Party’s Bernie Sanders is being challenged by moderate competitors – plus arguably his own party, Vladimir Putin, the GOP, some billionaires, and most likely Steve Bannon. It hasn’t been pretty.
Let’s take a moment to wonder how his foes envision a government under their stewardship. Remaining moderates and the only billionaire left of a field once diverse believe they can bridge the gargantuan income inequality gap and the threat of extinction by climate catastrophe with few tweaks to deliver us from polarization, seeing Republicans and Democrats working together on an agenda of gradual change. No young voter will fall for that.
The Democratic leadership has stopped hiding who they don’t want to get the nomination and it’s mounting an offensive to control it at the convention. As a result, it’s already screwed up the first primary in Iowa and has been missing from the trenches for voter registration, legal support, and voting supervision. While its foes are unified and engaged in deep electoral sabotage, the Democratic Party is waging an internal war over its heart and soul.
No matter how much spin is put into this, there’s no question which administration Putin would be better off with. In four years of Trump, there’s been an unrestricted power-grabbing and buildup to an oversized global role for his Russia. But with Sanders or Warren, there certainly won’t be such luck.
GOP operatives are betting on inflaming anti-socialism sentiment among Trump supporters to break the hold progressives have held over the American electorate, today much farther left than even some candidates. Like a melting iceberg, though, the hardcore of their strategy is enmeshed within social media. Forget 2016; barely legal propaganda-delivering engines of Facebook, Twitter, and others will be the true superdelegates to be reckoned with.
Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe have developed a justified fear of candidates Sanders and especially Warren. And they did send one of their own to neutralize the latter and battle the former. Even a few hundred thousands of votes Mike Bloomberg may manage to buy will be greatly appreciated.
As for Bannon, he’s currently on a hands-on expertise tour selling his popular guide, How to Destroy Democracy and Elect Despots in a Decade or Less. To him, a Trump reelection will all but assure a new print. And the accolades of the ultra-wealthy. And more clients. Everything but oblivion. Some of these opposition hotwires are misguided and may indeed cause the reelection. Which would be appalling since the president seems bent into turning America into a fascist regime. Consider his attacks on Justices Ruth Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor for criticizing his use of the Supreme Court as a clearinghouse for approving draconian acts – which the court has mostly granted him. Stay clear of ‘Trump-related matters,’ he’s tweeted.
That sounds like a threat and it’s an outrageous attempt to influence another branch of the government which, like Republican-controlled Senate, has been quickly losing its said independence. Four more years and both may be constitutionally-amended to reflect their absolute subservience to the executive. Forget the Founders; that’s how it is in Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and other world authoritarian regimes. We may as well be next.
Changing gears, news that the 18-year-old Afghanistan war may be finally ending received only tepid response. As it appears here, major newspapers have already demoted it to below the fold. No wonder; there aren’t many people in the world who believe anything that the Taliban or Trump says.
In other news, mass rallies in the Dominican Republic are protesting the cancellation of local elections. Also, concerns grow in Brazil as over 4,000 requests for mining-related activities in indigenous and protected lands have been filed. Given President Bolsonaro’s posture, most of them are a-go.
But the news some waited for half a century to hear about came out on Thursday: the Emmett Till Antilynching Act that the U.S. Congress passed to mark the 65th anniversary of Till’s lynching, and also the 55-year anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights marches. On to Trump to sign.
A revolting aspect of war is that its mongers are willing to wage it anywhere, preferentially far from home soil. That’s the world where Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, his buddy Putin, and Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan, feel comfortable playing games of power and domination and sending people to their graves. None of them is invested in protecting Syrians and winning is relative; there are profits to be made before considering those caught in the crossfire.
As for the coronavirus, we’re still far from the last of it. As global contagion increases and casualties seem to head to epidemic levels, much fretting is going on about VP Mike Pence, the appointed czar of everything virus who mistrusts science and denies climate change. As governor of Indiana, he backed the grotesque trend of ‘fetus funerals’ while cutting funds for HIV meds and treatment; deaths spiked under his watch. Yeah, serious jitters.
This has been a particularly disheartening winter in the northern hemisphere – and a violent one below the Equator. While it cools down there, we may get some of that spring and summer heat of activism for causes relevant to the whole of mankind. Trump and these substandard tyrants are not up to what it takes to rescue civilization. We’re on our own but the world supports us. It’s Women’s History Month, so let’s march accordingly. Namaste.

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2/24/2020 Let Tomorrow Begin Today, Colltalers

Even before crashing the White House President Trump disliked the U.S.’s top law enforcement agencies. And once there, it became clear he had their number. But few expected that the FBI for one would willingly become such a tool for this administration. Or that it’d be still doing it three years later.
Meanwhile, 12 women are murdered every day in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a U.N. report. But while rampant feminicide is part of a larger issue of oppression against women, society has been all but indifferent. Some say, so has the chief of 1.2 billion Catholics: Pope Francisco.
But let’s get going with Bernie Sanders, the front-runner Democratic presidential candidate who’s causing severe heartburn within his party leadership.
Even holding his pole-position till July, he still may be challenged at the Convention. Not by voters but superdelegates and other regimental tricks aimed at crowning the party’s favorite, not necessarily its most popular one. Brace for griding discussions about party politics minutia. And a possible ‘consensus’ candidate. The big question then may be, will the most popular support the party’s pick, assuming it’s someone else, or give it all to Trump?
January’s temperature was 2.5°F above the 20th-century average, or the hottest since records have been kept. It was also the 44th consecutive January with heat being above the century’s average. Yet the climate emergency keeps falling off from headlines and the national conversation. A tweet from the president is enough to change the media coverage and set up a roundtable about his latest whim. Meanwhile, the Earth burns to a crisp everywhere.
‘We’re done playing by the rules,’ said an 18-year-old Sunrise Movement member, before being arrested at a protest in DC last week. The activist group supports the Green New Deal, so far the only proposed roadmap for survival from climate devastation. No other ideas but plenty of opposition though.
Other developments of note: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange appears at a U.K. court today to fight deportation to the U.S. where he’s likely to get life in prison. In 2010, the site published classified U.S. government communications, passed along to him by Army Intel Officer Chelsea Manning, who was court marshaled and remains in prison. And in the eve of the 2016 election, he leaked emails linked to Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Even his critics, who accused him of having helped Trump win the election, are offering support since he’s been prosecuted as a journalist and editor. With the administration so engaged in silencing journalists and whistleblowers such as Manning, there’s fear that the case will embolden it to pursue further restrictions to press and freedom of expression. Sore Democrats may find that challenging but there’s really no excuse to go after journalists.
‘A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.’ The Malcolm X quote may not be his after all, but he did stand for something and was killed, 55 years ago last Saturday, for unwavering convictions. A new doc refocuses public attention on his murder at Manhattan’s Audubon Hall, but his legacy, at pair with that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s and other civil rights leaders of the time and now, is that of a fighter for the dignity of black people.
As a visionary, he’s left valuable insights into America’s future, and given the current rise of white supremacism, his was also a legacy of defiance, of race empowerment, and justice. It’s why his words still resonate with millions of black lives still periodically visited by the nightmare of racial hatred.
The Boy Scouts of America became this week another male-dominated institution that had to file for bankruptcy protection from thousands of child sex-abuse lawsuits accusing it of covering up for pedophiles. As with victims of Catholic priests, many are no longer here to testify about the events that so traumatized them to the point of suicide or drugs and alcohol abuse. And like the church, the BSA had fought hard to discredit the accusers.
There’s no telling whether this can be fixed by lawsuits and bankruptcy, but the personal traumas it caused will certainly never be. We should have figured out by now though what these and other institutions have in common: a ban on women. Sex exploitation of children is more prevalent than we usually assume to be, but despite different cultural or social contexts, it tends to occur within a universe that excludes, oppresses, or berates women.
Religion, tribalism, and/or simply neglect are all factors in the exploitation of the vulnerable. Since sexual abuse is about power and control, it often escalates from classic male-bonding rituals that leaders like to encourage. But tradition should never be an excuse. The right of children to find their own way into the world, both as sexual beings and mentally sound citizens, requires a moral compass and a well-defined guardianship of the young.
The wave of women killings through Latin America and elsewhere, however, can be linked to fear of their power. Women are perceived as the ‘other,’ disruptive, undecipherable, threatening. So men created male-only clubs to help shape the world to their needs. Hazing, rites of passage, ‘traditional’ customs are all grooming ways leaders remind future soldiers sworn to their protection to whom they owe allegiance: those who stole their innocence.
This week we honor radio broadcaster Teresa Aracely Alcocer, known as Bárbara Greco, who was murdered in Juarez, Mexico. She’d become vocal about the increased feminicide in the country, and paid with her life for her defiance. Others like her will rise and are already pushing Mexican officials to face the issue. Last year the country was second only to Syria in the number of reporters killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Many Catholics believed that Pope Francis would not just publicly intercede in defense of women, but that he’d also announce the church’s intention to ordain women as priests as well as to allow married men to perform some clergy duties. But that was not to happen and it likely never will. The ‘C’ word – celibacy for the well-acquainted – is back to common usage, and that means no, marital sex is out of the question for priests. Anything else?
Two weeks ago, intel officials warned House lawmakers that Russia was already interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get Trump re-elected. That enraged Putin’s protegée who then fired acting national intelligence director Joseph Maguire. Then the very next day, the news was that the Russians were aiding Sanders, not Trump. Sanders publicly denounced it, but despite its suspicious timing, it was the latter piece of news that made headlines.
It reminded some of the 2016 election when then FBI director James Comey told Congress about ‘something’ on frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s emails. It was all debunked after the election, but the damage had already been done. Since then the president has insulted, ignored, or picked at the agency often distracting it from its mission of protecting the U.S. And Comey, now gone, was his favorite punchbag. So why they’re still so eager to please him?
If no disruption occurs – say, Trump alleging unspecified threats to remain in power, or an actually very specific threat – we may be closely repeating 2016, except that people are now more aware. Still, there’s only one condition that would break through it all, including all the gerrymandering and all efforts to curb minority vote: a record turnout. If that sounds like a cliche, don’t stop thinking about er yesterday, when Hillary lost. And then some.
It’s crucial that Americans understand what kind of world is one where fossil fuel industries expand as they please, and income inequality continues to grow. Pick the candidate demanding the most, not less. Any ‘moderation’ will grant this unruly president the keys to a new kingdom. Cheerio

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2/17/2020 Unsung Heroes to the Rescue, Colltalers

We can’t change the world while ignoring Earth defenders in mortal danger for doing our bidding. The Wet’suwet’en nation blocking a gas pipeline, or Amazon warriors, or Mexican butterfly protectors faced police and hit squads but the media’s top week headline was the misleading ‘Trump Acquited.’
The coronavirus is spreading and so are China’s draconian containment measures, but coverage is about death tolls. Climate change-triggered fires and floods abound, the U.S. boosted its brutal immigration raids, racist chants disrupted two major soccer games. But little about the news-related activism.
One promising news this newsletter did miss last week: Ireland. So it goes that Brexit has unwittingly opened the gates to a potential revolution – and likely its sole good news – with the surprising win by Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Revolutionary Army. Suddenly, Ireland’s reunification has re-entered the political lexicon. With Scotland also hot for independence, it’s the U.K. Commonwealth’s own future which is now hanging by a thread.
The possibility has revived old dreams of a stronger Ireland, while also soothing mourners of the Remain movement. They didn’t want any of this but now it actually sounds like a great way to get rid of the corrupted class that cheated and lied on its way to power, so to rebuild England for a new age.
The COVD-19 coronavirus ‘has a stronger ability to spread than the World Health Organization has estimated so far,’ according to researchers at Umeå University in Sweden. Their study considers its transmissibility at least equivalent to SARS, even as its lethality can’t be determined without reliable estimates of infection. There are officially 60,000 cases worldwide but their real number is likely higher than that. Oh, by the way, masks don’t work.
About that: as with any disease, misinformation and unproven methods of cure spread faster than contagion. There are types of facemasks that offer limited protection against viruses, but nothing stronger than personal hygiene and medical care. Most of those available in the market can’t do either.Worse: manufacturers of cheap and ineffective masks are profiting from the public anxiety, and not to accuse anyone, guess where most are made?
In the name of fighting the virus, China’s decided to showboat its construction might to the world by building hospitals in record time, but valuable lessons of epidemic management may be lost in the shuffle. That is because it’s still insisting on containment, which in an anti-democratic regime, counts as yet more ways to control its people. There’s little hyperbole in saying that 11 million Wuhan residents are not quarantined but in internment.
Eventually, the spread will plateau and the coronavirus will either get its own vaccine, or it’ll mutate into something less acute. Either way, diseases are and should always be about public health and scientific breakthroughs, not supporting repression, restrain political freedom or worsen social inequality.
‘All fires are now contained’ in Australia’s New South Wales, declared government officials, hoping that their climate-change-denying stand won’t be linked to this tragic summer. Dream on, environment activists say; even if the fires are gone for good, which they are not, it’ll take years and millions of dollars to rebuild the country. Then again, it all may change quickly if Aussies choose accountability and vote the incompetent out of public office.
Twin typhoons in a roll, Ciara and Dennis have battered Europe and more seems to be in store, especially for the U.K. where floods, high winds, and landslides have forced flight cancellations and drawn the Army. But as we expect, the news may be reduced down to how many are dead; two, btw. Wonder what a government with no policies for climate emergencies may do? Send in soldiers, thoughts, and prayers, and blame a foe or two for it all.
Just as the Trump administration is doing with undocumented immigrants, minus the thoughts and prayers. The past week, law enforcement tactical units joined scores of ICE agents arresting people in sanctuary cities such as New York and Chicago. The ill-devised escalation has already produced many an illegal deportation of thousands of long-time U.S. workers, some deeply involved in their communities, who’d actually qualify for residency.
Unfortunately to all those affected, the Democratic Party has already nixed any chances of offering workable alternatives to the immigration issue, via slight and opaque tactics. From an initially numerous, heavily diverse field of candidates, including Mexican-American Julian Castro, the party short-tailed it to its current contenders – four men and two women -, none of them Latino or black for that matter. Our guess is that it’ll choose the billionaire.
And then there’s the miserable trail of hatred around the world, sowed upon by American government-backed white supremacism. In Porto, Malian soccer player Moussa Marega walked out of the pitch due to racist chants. And in Würzburger, a local fan was arrested for hurling insults to his team’s German-born Leroy Kwadwo, of Ghanaian descent, but this time the offender’s own fellow supporters shouted ‘Nazis Out,’ while he was being led out.
As yet another journalist, Brazilian Lourenço Veras, was executed by hitmen in Pedro Juan Caballero, Paraguay, killings against the category continue to rise worldwide. 18 were killed in 2019 in Latin America, according to the International Federation of Journalists, and besides other regions, if one includes environmental activists and Amazon protectors, under the general subtitle of ‘freedom of speech fighters,’ then that number is much larger.
That’s why it’s so crucial what’s happening in British Columbia, where five Wet’suwet’en hereditary clan chiefs oppose the $5 billion-plus, 670-km pipeline that Coastal GasLink is building. And why even councils of tribes and nations that initially agreed with it are now seeking to withdraw their support. For they’re risking their lives on mankind’s behalf to prevent yet another fossil-fuel enterprise from helping destroy the land and the planet.
In all the most puzzling is the enduring popularity of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His carefully crafted public persona is that of a liberal painfully aware of the climate emergency we’re experiencing, all moving speeches and modern posture, including bad jokes about Trump. But in practice, his environmental policies have been all but disastrous. We wonder if, besides Melania, is there anyone else still infatuated with him? don’t answer that.
In 2018, Global Witness counted 164 murders of community leaders defending forests, land, and water ecosystems, by hitmen hired by illegal loggers, miners, and big landowners. Workers caught in the middle of these conflicts are often killed by bullets or die from the slavery conditions they endure. And yet, they’ve got no place in the headlines and/or hearts and minds of city dwellers, themselves mostly overwhelmed by own personal struggles.
Truthful, accountable information can help change that as long as it goes beyond good intentions and hopeful wishes. Whenever a defender or freedom fighter succumbs, it makes tighter the shoes we’d have to wear to replace them. Get to know your real heroes; there’s no film saga about them. Cheers

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2/10/2020 A Triple Threat Stalks Us, Colltalers

Trump’s crossed another line last week, to eyes-rolling everywhere: he went from firing not-loyal-enough staff to purge dissenters. Being a decorated war hero means little to a draft dodger. Stalin comes to mind. So does Don Corleone. But his spiked ratings owe a lot to the Democratic leadership.
64.9°F was also a crossed-line of sorts; Antarctica’s temperature last week was its highest ever. Will sea level be next in climate emergency immediate threats? Or will viruses like the coronavirus, now deadlier than SARS? Not if drama, not factual implications, it’s all one hears about in the media.
But let’s start with something less topic: the Catholic Church. It’s been accused of hoarding charity donations to fill up holes on Santa See’s budget. It reminds us of a certain president who’s also been accused, again, of misusing donations to his inauguration for personal gain. Corruption is contagious. On related news, investigative journalism ProPublica has compiled a searchable, 900-page database of priests accused of sexual child abuse. Finally.
This has been such an upsidedown era. Remember Gandhi? India’s arguably greatest global figure, whose non-violent resistance movement inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has fallen from grace in his own country. Even more depressing, it’s his assassin who’s not being named here the one now celebrated. This travesty may be attributed to rising Hindu nationalism, but blame must be placed at the doorsteps of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Since ascending to power in 2014, he’s presided over a lethal spiral of poverty and religious hatred against 200 million of its increasing 1.339 billion population: Muslims. Why Gandhi? misinformation perhaps for he opposed the 1947 Partition of India that created what’s today’s Islamic Pakistan.
In wild wild Brazil, one of the hitmen who executed Rio councilwoman and LBGT activist Marielle Franco two years ago this March was himself shot dead by the police. The news raised concerns that it was a hit job to silence those involved in the murder of the popular politician, as the nameless thug had been part of the entourage of President Bolsonaro and his sons. ‘Dead men don’t tell tales,’ as they’d say in his underworld.’ Heavens have mercy.
Which was not given to yet another protector of monarch butterflies in Mexico: Raúl Hernández Romero was stabbed to death a week after the body of Homero Gómez González was found with similar wounds. Thus the majestic creature has now another formidable foe, besides extreme poverty and a climate going berserk: illegal loggers linked to drug gangs operating in Mexico. How unsung are these environmental heroes? Let us count the ways.
The Trump administration’s immigration policies are blatantly racist, discriminatory, and we should all brace ourselves for it to worsen. But it didn’t start the fire so to speak. A Human Rights Watch report, for instance, found that 138 people deported back to El Salvador between 2013 and 2019 were either killed or abused or both. That is, they came for Lady Liberty’s help only to be given back to those they were fleeing from. Well done, America.
Speaking of which, the past week saw the president celebrating his impeachment acquittal with his trademark brutality: by going after those who dared to tell the truth about him. When war hero Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was escorted out of the White House like a criminal, it was a revengeful perp walk not even Joseph Stalin granted his enemies (before slaughtering them). Some day, history will come after those who stood silently by this.
But the Democratic Party should also take credit for his giddiness, and not just by the catastrophic Iowa caucus, still without an official vote counting. More troubling is the way it’s clearly trying to pick winners in its presidential candidate race. Liberal talk show host Bill Maher was no match to guest Steve Bannon, an archenemy of democracies everywhere, who ostensibly threw a bait at potentially disappointed supporters of Bernie Sanders, in case the now frontrunner’s schemed out of contention. It was a gift to his ex-boss and proof that he’s more than ever engaged in sabotaging the U.S. election.
As for the ‘heatwaves’ being ever more frequent around the poles, there’s no more question that the melting of ancient glaciers is already at full clip. It won’t be subtle: once multiple icebergs the size of Manhattan start getting loose, coastal areas will flood and people will die. It’ll put an unbearable strain in impoverished communities and force millions to flee or perish. It will happen but we’ll be informed about it only with waters suddenly cover Miami.
It’s been 56 years ago yesterday. When the Beatles performed at the Ed Sullivan show, it was a fateful correction to a decade that had started with much optimism only to be crushed by the weight of the nuclear threat, and in the U.S., by the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The four musicians started a new conversation, one about love and peace and faith in the future. But even they couldn’t stand for all our hopes and dreams and quit five years later.
It’s unfair to pressure anyone to please us to no end. It’s also irresponsible of grown-ups to rely on the young to carry on ideals of rebellion they once held dear to their hearts. But the new generations must change this world if they’re to survive and the least we can do is joining them at the trenches. Trump, nukes and the climate are here to wipe us out of our humanity. Fight them as if your life depends on it because it actually does. Cheers

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2/03/2020 Bad for the Constitution, Colltalers

If the bad comes in threes, get ready for another punch. The first two that hit us in 2016 are out toasting their luck. In synch too: as the U.K. left the European Union, the GOP was done defanging Trump’s impeachment. He’ll make tomorrow’s State of the Union his victory lap. But there are ‘buts.’
Democrats begin today in Iowa a gruesome marathon for the party’s presidential ticket. And as fears of the coronavirus subside, concern grows about its impact on China, now a global economic power. Ah, and the president’s son-in-law came up with a plan to give Israel land that’s not his to give.
Still, about China, it’s had its share of being underestimated both by foes and at times, its own citizens. But it’s adapted at each new millennium to find ways to out trade everyone else. It was unfortunate that a fire at a New York’s museum last week has destroyed a still unknown amount of records of the Chinese American experience, essential for clarity about their history. Challenging times indeed for the Chinese, here, in Hong Kong, and all over.
‘We do not accept mining, agribusiness, and the renting of our lands, nor logging, illegal fishing, hydroelectric dams or other projects that will impact us directly and irreversibly.’ The Piaraçú Manifesto was signed by indigenous leaders of 45 nations, gathered by the Xingu River in northern Brazil.
Called by Kayapó Chief Raoni Metuktire, it was an act of defiance to far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who on Friday appointed his vice Hamilton Mourão, a retired general who favors mining the Amazon, to increase ‘security’ the region. The administration seems concerned about safety only for loggers, miners, and landowners.
As the manifesto indicates, this is a struggle to ‘all humanity because it is a struggle for the protection of the planet.’  Recent news about the possible opening of Alaska’s 16.7 million-acre Tongass National Forest to logging and other large-scale predatory projects fit in this toxic picture. Timing for these and other scary plans to extract yet more fossils from the ground show that all that’s happening is not of their concern.
Sad news from Mexico with the murders of Isabel Cabanillas, a Juaréz feminist artist, and Homero Gómez González, a Monarch butterfly protector, in Ocampo. They join a heartbreaking list of gender, environmental, and indigenous activists killed for crossing paths with enforcer of the drug and arms trades or other Latin American economic interests. 28 activists were killed in the region in 2019, according to Cultural Survival, a human rights group.
Time is likely to show that the U.K.’s departure of the E.U., after forty-seven years of intense but relatively drama-free relations, was one of great humiliation and bewilderment. For let’s face it, its entry into such a flawed but forward-looking project helped ease the Commonwealth into its new, diminished role. With the British Empire long-defunct and former colonies gaining independence, the European option seemed like a swell one.
And swell it was but not to last. Virtually overnight, the shine of being the U.S.’s ‘special friend,’ which for years had covered up shortcomings of the U.K.’s industrial and military complex, vanished amid false assertions of being exploited by the union, and immoral promises of a return to greatness.
Every elected politician on both sides of the pond who has endorsed the garish spectacle of democratic principles being crushed in the past four years now belongs to a hall of shame of political corruption. We’ll pay for a long time for the costs of their betrayal. But if Brits are out of luck, Americans still have options before conceding. One is to flood Congress before Trump’s official ‘acquittal,’ on Wednesday. The other one is to vote in November.
Speaking of which, two Democratic factions will start today in Iowa the battle for the heart of America: the big donor side, seeking a moderate to get Republicans to respect the Constitution, and the one backed by contemporary electors which won’t settle for ‘gradual’ anything. Keep that in mind.
A last word about the impeachment: it proved that the president withheld military aid to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on his political opponent Joe Biden’s, accusing him of letting his son profit from their position. But that’s exactly what the Trumps have been doing. Look no further than Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner who came up with a biased, laughable even Middle East peace plan – and who knows how many personal business openings.
Knowing that makes it impossible to watch tomorrow’s S.O.T.U. speech without screaming at the streaming. But hey, Groundhog Day was Sunday and Punxsutawney Phil has predicted an early Spring, so maybe we’re due to a Great American Spring for Revolution. The prospect of playing a part in a global reversal towards human rights and the planet powers my heart. Congratulations to the Kansas City Chiefs for their Superbowl win. Cheers

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1/27/2020 100 Seconds to Midnight, Colltalers

Back-to-back coverage of a contagious disease, say, the coronavirus, is good to raise awareness about preventive measures and not much else. But it’s terrible for other reasons: unjustified panic, baseless prejudice, racial and cultural biases. Oh, and for kicking other relevant news out of the headlines.
Which, as we know, are not without fault. Take the impeachment of the U.S. President for instance. At its 11th hour, the media has done a poor job separating provable fact, backed up by witnesses, tapes, and testimonies, and what it’s basically denial. We know where this is all going. Or do we?
But that’s for later. Today’s most transcendent news is actually a celebration of history and its gift to teach humanity not to repeat it: the Red Army’s liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp 75 years ago. It’s one of those anniversaries that never lost its urgency, a perennial warning to the living from those who didn’t survive the despicable horrors of white supremacism being run as a government policy. It killed over six million Jews.
It’s heartbreaking to realize that we’re again risking to repeat history, for Jews seem to always be the first to be slaughtered, and with them or right after, minorities and political foes. Some would argue that the killing of a few is different from a mass killing, but they need to shut up right now: no matter how many, they got murdered only when citizens focused on stupid things like that, and did nothing, believing they couldn’t possibly be next.
What’s tragic about the America of the 21st century to begin resembling the 1940s Germany is how vulnerable our democratic institutions are at this moment to prevent it. And how come there’s little rage about it. When the president claims to be above the law, dismisses constitutional checks and balances mechanisms, and openly demoralizes Congress (i.e., the people), we are in effect in a no man’s land. Let us know when they come for you.
Speaking of other horrible things, equally preventable, Saturday marked the year anniversary of Brazil’s Brumadinho dam collapse, which launched a tidal wave of 9.7 million cubic meters of mining sludge that razed a town and buried over 270 people. Iron ore producer Vale, which owns the dam and mining operations that caused the tragedy, was also behind the catastrophic collapse of the Mariana Dam not too far from there, just four years before.
Both disasters contaminated nearby waterways and soil, ruining the land and compromising the water quality of Belo Horizonte, a major metropolis. And yet, no restitution or allocations have been set up by Vale. Given President Bolsonaro’s support to mining, it’s unlikely that any is forthcoming.The Army-expelled far-right captain shares yet another trait with other despots, apart from cruelty and incompetence: he doesn’t care. Sounds familiar?
Consider Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist who made public devastating evidence of wrongdoing by the National Security Agency, provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. He’s now on Bolsonaro’s crosshairs for publishing secret recordings that debunked infamous Car Wash operation, which through deception and fear, prevented ex-president, and 2018 election front runner, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from running then or ever again.
The tapes leaked to Greenwald by a hackers group proved an extensive manipulation of facts by Sérgio Moro, a judge in charge of the probe and now Minister of Justice. After going for the hackers, now they’re ‘investigating’ Greenwald, who’s married and has kids with a Brazilian politician. It’s an outrage and an attack on the press the likes of, well, those we’ve been seeing from Trump. It’s unlikely it’ll grow legs, but it’s nefarious to democracy.
The outbreak of the coronavirus is soon exposing yet another side of the authoritarian Chinese regime: even as the virus has killed over 50 people and is spreading across borders, nothing justifies to quarantine millions of people in the name of safety. Viruses have existed since the dawn of times and many couldn’t be cured in time before they vanished on their own. To use an outbreak to corral and catalog citizens is inefficient and morally wrong.
The Holocaust can and has been repeated before, but we don’t have to take it this time. The already too many recent massacres of Jews should’ve given us pause about this administration, for what it didn’t do to avert them, what it did to actually boost them, and for inspiring and praising the murderers.
But Trump’s lying – how come his lies are not front-page news and how come they’re given equal footing as facts and witness testimonies? – his rapist mentality, his disastrous foreign policy that brought us closer to WWIII, his mendacity, and utter indifference to suffering and injustice, his use of the White House as a business counter, are, sadly, not on trial at his impeachment. ‘Only’ his breaking of the law. Why is that even up for argument?
Above all, it’ll be part of history the cowardice and utter contempt of a certain class of politicians, now closing ranks with a corrupt leader. It’ll be written, unfortunately, with the blood of innocents who sacrificed their careers to inform Americans, but nevertheless, it will be remembered. Just like the shameful Marshall Philippe Petáin and his collaborationist Vichy France, or the Catholic Church’s omission about the murderous Nazi regime.
Doomsday Clock, the conceptual device that tracks risks for a nuclear, potentially final worldwide conflict, has just been reset. It’s now 100 minutes to midnight, its closest proximity since its creation in 1947. Nukes proliferation, climate change, and cyber-based misinformation were cited as reasons to make the alert be expressed in seconds, not minutes like before. But the world’s most powerful power, and its deranged leader, have a lot to do with it.
R.I.P. Kobe Bryant, the late basketball great whose tributes are deservedly filling airwaves. For comfort, listen to the mournful Clarinet Quintet K581 in A Major by W.A. Mozart who’d be 264 tomorrow. As a 20-year-old, he was surely acquainted with the American Revolution, and it’s a pity he can’t testify on the Constitution his contemporaries have drawn. These two improved the world, which would look good on anyone’s eulogy. Chin up, folks.

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1/20/2020 The Two-Minute Warning, Colltalers

‘Surprise: 10 Biggest Oil and Gas Multinationals Switch to Wind and Solar Energy.’ ‘President Trump Is Removed From Office.’ ‘Public Schools Adopt Green New Deal.’ ‘Three Ex-Presidential Candidates to Head Newly-Created Race, Immigration and Labor Reform Bureaus.’ ‘Supreme Court Upholds Removal; Criminal Case to Follow it.’ ‘Pot Is Now Legal.’ ‘Troops Finally Arrive Home From the Middle East.’ ‘Democrats Retake White House.’
We’re not too far from these headlines. Right on cue, millions of women have marched again Saturday in Washington, D.C. and 200 cities around the world. Their lead sets the standards for this crucial election year. Given the right pressure, the impeachment against the U.S. president has the potential of disarticulating his political base, leaving him with his 30 million supporters and not much else. And then there’ll be us, pushing it all over the hump.
We’ll be back to that in a minute, but first Australia, which in past weeks has offered a horrifying glimpse of things to come very fast to everybody else. The dystopian pictures of a continental-size inferno clearly showed that there are not two sides to the climate emergency crisis: there’s one, which is based on facts and is proven by a tragic reality. And then there are corporate interests willing to choke anyone to death to hide their true motivation.
We mourn the dead, including the (correctly) estimated billion animals who may have perished in the fires. We also grieve over what may get even worse if it’s up to the current Australian administration, and the country’s most notorious citizen, Rupert Murdoch, still at his evil self. (And rather pointlessly wonder why Mick Jagger’s former wife Jerry Hall would swear love, seek shelter, and bring her own kids to the household of such an ogre).
Neither Australia’s woes, not Murdoch are ‘local’ phenomena; what’s happening to the world’s 13th-largest economy, and the role the creator of the nefarious Fox News and Sky News networks has been playing for decades, are happening with increased frequency all over. Interesting how strange bedfellows, climate change denial and corrupt journalism, can seamlessly breed such a perfect storm on a global scale: pollution and misinformation.
They’re now fully engaged in preventing the natural conclusion most people are getting at: polluters should foot the bill for the damage caused by their enterprises. Just like plastic producers should be liable for the trash they create, we want the same inflexibility they all subscribe to when it comes to sending to jail the poor for being poor. For half a century, big oil and gas knew they were wrecking the planet. And yet, most don’t even pay their taxes.
At the dawn of 2020 we can still say that there’s time. Maybe our falling national levels of science proficiency have something to do with it, but a U.N. Center for Biological Diversity report says that saving life on this planet would cost a meager $100 billion, a fraction of the U.S. military budget to kill people it doesn’t like. The roadmap addresses the ‘insect apocalypse’ and decline of vital ecosystems, but the usual suspects will say it’s ‘fake news.’
Never mind the Sex Pistols; scientific research and the global mobilization of the young prove that it is possible to stop this train wreck by removing some of its key parts. The U.K. is mostly lost? Eastern Europe won’t quit coal? Infamous ‘mini-trumps’ are jockeying to reach power? Trump minions won’t look at the evidence? Never mind the bollocks; there are more of us than they, and if all women and all just-18 and over decide to vote, we win.
‘What are humans made of.’ ‘What should I do with my life.’ ‘How not to get away with murder.’ ‘How will the earth end.’ ‘How to be more beautiful.’Never mind Google Searches either; these discouraging entries are as deceiving as our social networks’ profiles: a fiction even its authors believe in.
Instead, don’t give up on fact-based reality, and yes, some newspapers and a few viewer-sponsored sites do report verifiable news without commercial breaks. Search for that, instead – and join efforts to pressure Google, Apple, Amazon, and all other gargantuan corporations to pay their due taxes.
“Be sure that we will keep the pressure alive. We’ve never made any gain in civil rights without constant, persistent, legal and non-violent pressure.” That was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s on his ‘Three Evils’ speech – racism, poverty, and war – in Atlanta, May 1967. His message across time is one of resilience and conviction on the fairness of our purpose. Perfect to defeat the horrors sown by pro-gun, white supremacists rallying in Richmond, V.A.
What those wishful headlines are useful for is to focus on what’s at stake. We may not see them in our lifetimes, because bigger changes are needed first. But that doesn’t mean what they announce won’t happen; no matter what, the corporate media will take their sponsors’ side. But we don’t have to. There is no longer time for hope but for engagement, dedication, resistance. Women are showing the way, and we won’t take any more talk on whether one can be the next U.S. president either. Kids are sacrificing their own education to educate us to be adults. Let’s not waste time trying to convince anyone; the human brain is a marvel as long as it’s active; not everyone uses it. We’ve got a mission should we accept it: keep fossils on the ground.
This must be the year of accountability: fossil fuel businesses must divest or get out of business; war profiteers must be banned from the White House; the Supreme Court can’t be coerced by the executive branch, or become race, class, or pro-business-biased; candidates can’t be funded by big money. Media airwaves belong to the people and should serve them, not advertisers. We must have the clarity to understand that there’s no future with rampant social inequality; at one point, the wealthy always choose themselves over everyone else. But the Earth is ours to save it, should we choose to do it.
In Zaire, Norman Mailer saw a moment of fear in Muhammad Ali’s eyes at the beginning of his 1974 fight with George Foreman. But he overcame it and knocked down the giant in the eight-round. It’s not always good to be back, and we’re well acquainted with that fear that Ali must have felt. But like him, we’ve got no choice either; we’re trapped on this ring, with no place to run but to fight (and rope-a-dope whenever needed). So, let’s dance.

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12/23/2019 Time For Survivors Recharge, Colltalers

A handful of issues rose to the top of humanity’s woes at this wrapup of the year and decade. Climate crisis, income inequality, gender, race, and faith persecution, and a few others have all but prevented billions from living free, dignified, and peaceful lives, and life on this earth from having a future.
Still, we greet the new year with some hope and a few wishes, with heavy hearts but much resolve to turn the civilization around. That’s what’s at stake here. A lot to do on our own while street rallies continue until morale improves. But first, let’s vote out all the leaders who stand on our way forward.
Starting by the top: we must do what the Impeachment won’t and choose a new U.S. President in November. It’s clear that for as long as Donald Trump and his enabling sycophants remain in the White House, every one of those issues of concern has the potential of becoming unmanageable nightmares.
In three years, the president and his family grew richer as did the powerful who benefitted from his trillion-dollar tax break, while national poverty levels spiked. Immigrants and sexual and racial minorities were brutalized while white supremacists felt empowered. Environmental protection rules were dismantled as fossil fuel industries rejoiced. Women’s reproductive rights faced a threat and so did the Constitution and entire judicial system.
As a nation, we’re weakened and embarrassed by our overweight, unhinged, diatribe-prone ‘leader’ becoming a giant fatberg clogging global airwaves with the grease of his amorality. Save for misconception or lack of judgment, no decent American believes anything that he says unless their earnings depend on them endorsing the ogre with the nuclear codes. But we’re all accountable to those we love; when the time comes, what will we tell them?
Americans must show Brazilians, Chileans, and Bolivians; Philippinos, Hondurans, and Guatemalans; Ukrainians, Indians, Pakistanis, and Yemenis; Iraqis, Iranians, and North Koreans; Hong Kong students and Pacific Islanders; the Polish, Hungarians, yes, the British, and every world’s indigenous nation, that we’ll lead the way. That we, as the richest and most powerful nation, will rise up and stand with them all by canceling one-term Trump.
But our commitment to change can’t obscure or let our purpose to be tainted by corrupt leaders. One of the great signs that things may actually evolve and we’ll survive this, is the increased global popular revolt. Someday we may catch ourselves in a better future, looking back at how we overcam
e incredible odds and rescued the planet and most species from the brink. People marched for existential causes, through the year and all over the world.From the U.S. to Europe, from Latin America to the Middle East, with few focuses elsewhere, protests against lack of action on climate change, for gun control, women’s and gender rights, democracy, and freedom of choice, for indigenous people and the poor, have often seized global headlines.
Such mass reaction against oppression fills with joy the hearts of freedom fighters and democracy defenders. Yes, we’ve lost too many warriors and green activists, journalists, and justice advocates. And sadly, whistleblowers extraordinaire Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange remain in prison, exiled or facing mortality. Plus almost all wars and conflicts head to a state of permanence. No, not the world we’d choose to live in.
But by the same spirit behind Hannukkah, which started last night, Christmas, on Wednesday, and Kwanzaa the following day, it is a moment to count blessings and make our peace with what we could not save. Time to collect our thoughts, to dispassionately look back at the things we’re so passionate about and to comfort ourselves and those around us. Let’s prepare, gather strength and keep it all together. See you in your dreams. Happy New Year.

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12/16/2019 We Need a Better Year, Colltalers

‘Marshall Islands’ contribution to climate change is only 0.00001% of the world’s emissions,’ says youth activist Carlon Zackhras. Yet it may become the first nation to evacuate its homeland due to it. It’ll get worse as the U.N. conference’s failed to broker a global agreement on carbon emissions.
Two articles of impeachment of the U.S. President will go to a full vote in the House, and then to die an undignified death at the Senate. Even to many under-rock inhabitants, the testimonies did prove Trump’s guilt. But that apparently means nothing, according to GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell.
But let’s start off with the world’s two most populous countries, China and India, home of almost 40% of mankind. One is known for dominating world trade and soon for overtaking the U.S. as its largest economy. And the other, for being the biggest nominal democracy, but with emphasis on nominal. They share another scary fact though, besides their colossal stats: they’re ruled by authoritarian leaders who’ve had their unchallenged ways for years.
They’re also twins on their hatred of Muslins. Under P.M. Narendra Modi’s direct sway, India’s just passed a law that all but cancels citizenship to 200 million of them, in a betrayal of so many of its own citizens, and a rebuff to next-door nemesis Pakistan. The law throws the region into turmoil and brings up India’s post-war years when Pakistan was founded as home to Islam followers, in 1947, and 1948, when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.
Modern China, of ‘Paramount’ leader Xi Junping, was founded a year later, but Islam has been a factor in Chinese society for at least 1,400 years. That hasn’t helped ethnic Turkic minority Uyghurs: reports about detention camps, persecution, and death have only confirmed the regime’s authoritarian bent. But with China more engaged than ever in world trade, the U.S. and most nations have shamefully ignored the many claims of rights abuse.
Arsenal’s Turkish-German soccer star Mesut Özil, who follows Islam and Tweeted about it, – ‘Despite all this, Muslims stay quiet?’ – faced criticism even by his own club: when it comes to China, it seems, business opportunities fare better than human rights. It’s an unwritten rule that Hong Kong protesters have learned the hard way. Granted, Turkey’s Recep Erdogan was a guest of honor at Özil’s wedding, but still: his comments were spot on.
Speaking of staying quiet, nothing has done more to bury any prospect for hope we had to heal the U.K.’s self-inflicted wound than Boris Johnson’s landslide win. For the second time, but with much fewer excuses, Brits chose to believe in the unbelievable: that Brexit is their best bet to the future. Thus amid the grief of such a recurrent error, it’ll take time for some to begin seeing what’s already clear to most of the world: this will not work.
As Scotland has announced that it’ll vote to split up from the U.K., Northern Ireland will likely follow suit, possibly to finally rejoin Ireland. That could turn into a perilous journey that may sink the Good Friday agreements, and awaken, knock on wood, the Troubles. And Wales? it’s fine, thanks.
But the news bombshell of the week happened last Monday when the Washington Post began publishing excerpts of a 2,000-page trove of secret government documents on the Afghanistan War. And as most reports not compiled for the public at large, it doesn’t look good. It actually confirms what many already suspected, that we dove into our longest war – 18 years and counting – without preparation, purpose, or a long-term exit strategy.
After 2,400 U.S. troops and over 30,000 civilians dead, we’re stuck in a barren land, wasting taxpayers’ money into an unwinnable conflict. No change is expected, not at least till a new president moves into the White House. Some are reminded of Daniel Ellsberg and his Pentagon Papers which were crucial to end the Vietnam War. But others are concerned about Americans’ lack of outrage about their government spending trillions in endless wars.
The U.N.’s efforts to orchestrate global action against climate change is doomed if it can’t achieve what it was created for in the first place: to offer the table for nations to agree on solutions for issues affecting everybody. But for as long as pollutant corporations, oil, gas, and coal industries have a seat on that table, they won’t allow any progress to be made. Almost surely, Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ Greta Thunberg won’t be there next time around.
The three cages stand apart from each other; inside, Joseph and Mary try to look after an also caged Baby Jesus. The display by Claremont’s United Methodist Church has raised hell from those to whom Jesus was a blue-eyed blond promoting luxury real estate at the ‘Kingdom Not of This World.
There are plenty of Christians ashamed by the Trump administration’s criminalizing of its immigration policy, though. To them, the scene memorializes nameless families, victims of the border crackdown, who will spend the holidays either detained or worse, missing their children. Merry merry? Not.
Trump’s war on immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, along with his dismounting of environmental protection laws are two relevant issues not to be on the impeachment articles. That makes the whole process, albeit necessary and inexorable, also ineffective and apart from reality. Let’s hope that Congress wraps it up, book the results, and gear towards what’s important: pass the Green New Deal, fight the climate, and save the planet. Adiós.

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12/9/2019 Protect Mothers & the Climate, Colltales

So this is it. The U.N. Climate Change Conference is not yet done in Madrid but it’s clear that no breakthrough is about to be announced. We’re on our own, and as Greta Thunberg put it, ‘we have achieved nothing.’ Not to give anything up just yet, there’s the alternative Cumbre Social por el Clima.
Tyrants share a common trait of hating women. But only Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro was caught on camera telling a congresswoman that she was ‘too ugly to be raped.’ Since he’s president, rape and femicide rates have spiked: four girls are raped every hour and over 1,200 have been killed this year so far.
We’ll touch these headlines later but first, let’s start at a Texas Border Patrol facility’s unsanitary cell where a sick Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez spent his last minutes on this earth. A ProPublica report includes a harrowing 5/19/19 video of the 16-year-old Guatemalan asylum-seeker agonizing and dying as his also sick cellmate slept. He found Carlos’ body in the morning. The footage debunks the agency’s claims that his death was inevitable.
It also, once again, exposes the Trump administration’s sheer cruelty and staggering lack of empathy by which it’s been rewriting immigration laws and universal human rights. It’s another image in a gallery of horrors that top each other every few months: the grotesque separation of families, many to remain as such for an unpredictable time; kids in cages; toddlers testifying in court; and the brutal, and often secret, deaths of children in custody.
But the issue is unlikely to be on the articles of impeachment against the U.S. president the House of Representatives will compile this week. If laws were based on morality, he would’ve been already removed from office; as it is, a technicality could do it. Either way, it needs to be done but it won’t.
‘Trump has the real potential to become ever more dangerous, a threat to the safety of our nation.’ The warning comes from a group of 350 mental health professionals, in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee. They fear a high-stakes event such as the impeachment could trigger an emotional response from the president which itself ‘could lead to catastrophic outcomes.’ It’s not every day that mental illness is so evident.
It comes after yet another erratic performance of his at the world stage, this time the NATO conference in London, which he abruptly left, not before publicly calling Canada’s PM, Justin Trudeau, a ‘two-faced.’ Timing of his unexpected departure seems in sync with the release of a now-viral video, showing world leaders led by Trudeau openly laughing at him. Remember when he used to say that was happening (it was not) to President Obama?
Two more worth noting. Questions are being raised about the Organization of American States’ role in the coup that deposed Bolivia’s democratically elected President Evo Morales. After analyzing the results, which the OAS declared ‘hard to explain’ on Oct. 21, the day after his reelection, a group of intellectuals, political scientists, and economists are calling for a congressional inquiry on the agency whose incorrect statements supported the coup.
And Thursday, the U.K. may have – possibly, likely, almost surely – the last word on whether to support Brexit, while one of its architects, P.M. Boris Johnson plans his next move. By now, with all due respect, the Brits must decide this issue for good as the world is too busy to keep up with its tosses and turns. Even those who see Brexit approval as a disastrous step for the Commonwealth are now too fatigued to care and want it settled already.
No one can say it’s the United Nations’ fault, or that this sort of summit is, by definition, destined to fail. But the stakes were never so high, so blame will be uselessly assigned either way. The climate conference will last till Friday, but way more relevant has been what’s happening outside its walls, in the streets of Madrid and world cities. Resistance to the U.N.’s likely canned solutions mounts and independent groups are seizing the moment.
A feeling of great disappointment and even disgust has been taking hold, especially by the way corporations have been allowed to infiltrate the climate emergency narrative without spending a cent on solutions. Advertisement budgets, however, are always hefty and usually drown legitimate proposals.
The parallel Cumbre gathers social justice and environmental groups protesting corporate influence, political repression in Chile, and Spain’s own failure to address the crisis. Saturday half a million people heard Thunberg and other global youth leaders from Fridays For the Future, Pacific Warriors, and many others, call for action, not words, to radically reduce carbon emissions, but hope may be waning that we’ll get it together in time.
A World Meteorological Organization study found that this has been the hottest decade on record. To keep priorities straight, the week brought us also the Right Livelihood Award to be graced to Thunberg; Sahrawi human rights activist Aminatou Haidar; Chinese women’s rights lawyer Guo Jianmei; and Indigenous leader Davi Kopenawa and the Yanomami Hutukara Association. The 40-year-old award has been called the Alternative Nobel Prize.
Lastly, it’s also fitting that Chaules Volban Pozzebon, considered the Amazon’s biggest deforester, was finally arrested for being part of a criminal organization. Locals have long suffered in the hands of this ruthless logging owner, capable of anything to keep his 120 logging projects in the area.
Nov. 25 marked the International Day For the Elimination of Violence Against Women and thousands marched around the world. What’s happening in Brazil is far from being the exception and besides notorious offenders such as India, Saudi Arabia, and most of the middle eastern world, violent crimes against women, and repression of their reproductive rights, is a constant even in rich societies. In many ways, we’re already backpedaling on it.
Over 17 percent of women around the world have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or ex-partner, and of the 87,000 murdered in 2017, half were killed by them or a family member, according to the U.N. And the World Bank estimates that more than a billion women lack legal protection from domestic violence. This picture is reinforced by a disturbing increase in gender violence and discrimination against sexual minorities.
Electing the first woman and mother to the U.S. Presidency may be a way to start addressing those vicious trends. But most importantly is to denounce and expose not just the perpetrators but the system that allows them to fester. If all women would vote out of the office certified sexual abusers, we’ll surely be halfway there. But we need more. It takes lots of courage, so offer them support and watch them and the kids show how it’s done. Cheers

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12/2/2019 Close to the Edge, Colltalers

Almost all reasons triggering the climate emergency are man-made. But here’s one not usually mentioned with say, fossil-fuels reliance and greed: out short-span attention. It’ll be tested again at Madrid’s U.N. Climate Change Conference. Don’t fall asleep.
Americans proud of their democracy don’t seem to notice the president’s been undermining it. By reversing the demotion of war criminal Navy Seal Edward Gallagher, Trump showed confidence that neither Congress nor the Supreme will challenge him.
Sticking to domestic affairs, a week of heavy-hitting revelations about truly impeachable offenses have done little to his polls. It’s evident he sought the help of a foreign power to probe a political enemy, but supporters continue to cheer him up and the GOP is fine about it. Democrats may have looked on track to win in November, but once billionaires felt ‘hurt,’ all bets are off.
See, the mega-wealthy is very sensitive. It was enough for frontrunner Elizabeth Warren to come up with a clever plan to get them to pay back a share of their stratospheric income for their well-heeled troops to rally and fight back. Besides pathetic and utterly absurd claims that the 0.01% would suffer having to pay up, one was actually caught weeping on national television.
After a far-right push to crush civil and labor rights around the world with coordinated anti-democratic attacks, citizens pushed back and unrest has erupted in several countries of Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Apparently, that has scared powers that be.
So here comes the billionaires, those who have basically nothing to lose – some actually can’t spend or waste their money even if they wanted to – believing their riches are entirely the result of hard work, and not luck to be born on the profitable side of the tracks. They step in as if people should thank them because you know, if they can run a corporation, a nation should be easy.
That’s an incredibly myopic view of how society really works, and ultimately, how human beings will never react like numbers on a balance sheet. It may not sound obvious but it’s hard to understate the average mediocrity of the ownership class. Dig a little deeper, and it’s a wonder how some even manage to remain rich. Not for their ‘powers of deduction,’ for sure. Ah yes, lobbying.
The most obnoxious, tragic, and unredeemable assumption most of that elite base their existence upon is, of course, the climate crisis. For how can they believe their wealth will save them when all else around them is drowning or burning to a crisp? Can’t they see what we see, that rising sea levels will disrupt food supplies and force billions of desperados to try anything to survive?
In fact, history and popular culture are suffused with an excess of dystopic visions of what’s coming, while there’s a deficit of views of a future when everybody lives and thrives, and climate change is just the biggest hurdle humanity has ever overtaken.
Moving on, and speaking of social turmoil, with Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation, Iraq dives into yet another circle of hell. And things may get worse even as they’ve already started at a pretty low point. Since the U.S. invasion of the once-proud nation, a string of corrupt and incompetent leaders have led it into the ground. Now people want something else, though.
Not another puppet government, neither the tug of war between Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, their friends, and relatives. And not another sign that the future has nothing good in store for them, either. Since they’re on their own, they’re hitting the streets and ducking bullets to demand justice. Yes, the death toll and the all too familiar violence are mounting. But silence is unacceptable.
Just like the latest explanation offered by Brazil’s President Bolsonaro for the fires currently erasing the Amazon: the culprit is… Leonardo di Caprio. Rather than digressing about such a ridiculous claim, let’s once more drive home the point: the world’s biggest rainforest, home of indigenous populations, uncontacted tribes, and an unknown number of species, is still burning.
A U.N.-issued report on climate change, released in anticipation of the conference that starts tomorrow, has shocked but not surprised many with its almost pessimistic overall tone. Things don’t work by themselves, and there’s a solar-powered yacht to anyone who can prove that governments committed to the 2015 Paris Conference’s goals have done anything about it lately.
The report calls for the 20 richest countries, responsible for over three-fourths of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, to do more and move away faster from fossil fuels. But since Trump’s pulled the U.S. from that agreement, even as it remains the world’s biggest polluter, and China’s efforts are dwarfed by their economic reliance on oil and gas, the outlook is indeed bleak.
That’s why the single-mindedness and clarity of voices such as Greta Thunberg and others are so relevant now. What the report does not spells out is what the young and the wise have been saying for a while already: ‘hey, this is going to kill us all. Soon.’
Compared to the magnitude of what a climate catastrophe represents, to speak of an insignificant man doing all he can to destroy one of the most beautiful, humanitarian systems in history may sound shallow. Except that the U.S. president is, for all effects, the president of the world; at least no one has as many guns as he commands. And he’s a chance to stay in power beyond 2020.
That’s something that can’t be taken lightly. For his decisions may speed up even the darkest of the dark prospects a changing climate suggests it’ll become reality for the next decades. And he’s proven that, 1., he doesn’t care about what’s happening with the world; and 2., for such a person, the ultimate goal is to retain unlimited power, and remain in office for as long as he’d like to.
Renouncing an agreement signed by 195 nations of the world, to fight a potential civilization-ending cataclysm; disavowing rules protecting the environment; quitting peace accords with nuclear nations; breaking bread with homicidal dictators; denying rights to women, racial and sexual minorities, immigrants, asylum seekers; and now vouching for war criminals. That’s Trump.
He’s not well and neither are we, but at least for 10 days, leaders will be grilled on their commitment to saving the planet, and people will be asking what’s their excuse – if the media reports it, that is. Not the best we all could do but something. As we were reminded yesterday with the World Aids Day, we’ve got to prevail, ‘community by community.’ And we will. Cheers

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11/25/2019 No Thanks to Tyranny, Colltalers

Remember in 2016 when powers that be and the media went giddy with a global so-called ‘wave’ of tyrannic, right-wing leaders being voted to high office? Well, it doesn’t look too good now. Something got in their way to total domination: people’s outrage.
Democracy, or the struggle to nurture it and defend it, is still under attack. Thousands of Latin Americans are out on the streets, trying to defend it, and so are citizens in Asia and the Middle East, while some in Eastern Europe wish they could do the same.
Hold that thought as we review key events of the week. To get it out of the way, the impeachment of the U.S. president folded its hearing phase with astonishing testimonies about Trump and its cabinet of infamy by those who had to deal with it. Pardon the name-calling but to separate the revelations from their deleterious impact on the rule of law, one’s better off tuning in to CNN.
Partly because of that right-wing ‘contagion,’ attacks on journalists and activists have increased. Countries such as Egypt, Turkey, China, and Saudi Arabia, for instance, are notorious for their efforts to control information and for going after those who share it.
On that note, Sweden dropping its rape allegations against WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange restores his stature as a persecuted news publisher, not a rapist on the run. Whether the case was built on flimsy evidence, it served the purpose of vilifying him, and divert attention from the 2007 footage of a U.S. aircraft killing Iraqi civilians which WikiLeaks published three years later.
Two journalists were also killed that day. Army Intel Officer Chelsea Manning was court-martialed and sent to prison for leaking the images to WikiLeaks. Pardoned by President Obama, she’s since sent back to jail twice and remains detained, while Assange is not doing too well either despite his lucky break: a U.N. rapporteur has said that jail time has taken a toll on his mental health.
Morality is not a choice, and where many choose to ignore or pretend that what’s happening is normal, whistleblowers are often the only way most of us learn the unvarnished truth; about the government, corporations, the powerful or anyone who pays to cover up their crimes. Once that choice is made, however, be prepared for death threats, either on your character or on own life.
The latest results of Hong Kong’s local elections revealed that a high voter turnout has elected pro-democracy candidates, in a show of force to Beijing. For months, China has used every tool in its authoritarian box to crush dissent in H.K., short of what it did 30 years ago in Tiananmen Square. And that’s what the world fears since if it does happen, Trump will likely stand idly by.
It’s clear that the opportunistic right-wing and Evangelical coalition that ousted Bolivia’s President Evo Morales is incapable of pacifying the country. On the contrary, daily clashes between armed forces and the indigenous majority have killed hundreds and driven Bolivia away from the path of stability and socialism it had followed over a decade. Morales, though, remains defiant.
Next door Colombia is the latest nation with massive public unrest going on, just as in Chile and far-away Iran. Although to just keep track and report on these rallies won’t add much to their resolution, to ignore them is a bigger, much more tragic mistake.
‘We have a president who doesn’t govern, who sits discussing fake news 24 hours a day,’ said former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva about Jair Bolsonaro. Fresh out of jail, Lula was referring to the latest scandal linking one of Bolsonaro’s sons to the murder of Rio councilwoman Marielle Franco a year ago. And the fact that Brazil has all but stagnated economically.
Oddly, there were no rallies for the biggest news this side of the political world: Israel’s long-term Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment on bribery, fraud, and breach of trust charges. Having failed to form a government, he may be thrown in jail, and his country, into turmoil. But no matter what, Israelis don’t seem interested in candidates without far-right credentials.
Which is unwise. Netanyahu, Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Xi, Erdogan, Rouhani, Orbán, Márquez, Piñera and so many others are in it not to promote the well being of the common folk, but to advance their own agendas. That has been exhaustively proven. The Judiciary may indict them, congress may subpoena them, but ultimately, it’s the voter that will save or throw them all out.
Consider that they all are also climate deniers and won’t do a thing to save the planet, supporting them at this crucial time is like naming foxes to guard the henhouse; it’s an endorsement to their diet. After all, why vote for those who won’t hesitate to curb and manipulate the electorate? Protesters already know: keep them on and we may not get another chance to get rid of them.
Speaking of doing something, Tuesday’s the beginning of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Madrid. Kicked out of Chile by Piñera, who was probably afraid it’d empower people to demand his resignation, it’s yet another shot for us to find practical, enforceable, radical solutions for the already-in-progress catastrophe. And get going already. It’s either that or we’re doomed.
That lands us on the strange combo that closes this week in the U.S. On Thursday, Thanksgiving, a holiday that despite its false myths and vicious family brawls associated with it, it’s also about what families can teach society: the spirit of solidarity and love. And then there’s Black Friday, when all hell breaks loose and even seemingly nice people become beasts for shopping.
Still, everyone has something to be thankful for, and it’s nice when we buy something we want or will give away as a gift. But if Thursday is already blocked to be the day to be good, and therefore be it, it doesn’t need to be followed by a materialistic frenzy. Just in: U.S. Justice Ruth Ginsburg is now home, recovering from a health scare. Stay with us, Your Honor, we need you. Peace.

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11/18/19 The World’s Street Fights, Colltalers

Here’s something few of us ever think about if not directly affected by it: in 2019 alone, there are near 70,000 migrant children detained in U.S. facilities. Locked up with strangers, many may never see their parents again.
Other kids of all ages around the world, facing a future of climate catastrophe and social inequality, are fighting back. Anti-government rallies are still going strong in Bolivia, Chile, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Iraq, and now Iran.
An update on those is on its way, but first, let us focus on the week’s climate crisis picture: a flooded Venice, treasury of humanity and likely already doomed even before we started burning fossil fuel for energy. Still, the second-highest tide of its history matches, at least visually, what most of us already fear about what lies ahead.
And yet, what the submerged Piazza di San Marco may not show, besides that’s sinking faster than ever before, is that new global, man-made conditions may also drown other world cities, even if few are as pretty as Venice.
But for all the talk about radical revolution as the only way to reverse disaster and teen heroes at the vanguard of the charge, absolutely nothing has been done by those who count the most: government and big corporations.
We’re not near the pace of change required for anything meaningful, and really big, to be done about the tragedy. Next month’s U.N. Climate Change conference in Madrid – which yes, will feature Greta Thunberg, fresh of yet another hike on an environmentally-sound cross-ocean boat – may be one of our last chances to set an urgent agenda of action to be undertaken in the next 180 days or so. Why three months? One’s got to start it somewhere.
Consider the Marshall Islands. During the 1940s and 1950s, the U.S. detonated dozens of nuclear devices there, before burying 3.1 million cubic feet of the resulting radioactive waste in what’s called the Runit Dome, a giant container locals call The Tomb. Guess what? Rising waters threaten to seep beneath it or worst, to crack it open.
Unlike its reinforced cement top, the bottom is vulnerable to water infiltration and spillage. If no action is taken by the Trump administration, and most likely, it won’t, radioactive leaks could render what used to be a paradise in the Pacific unfit for humans, punishing even further the already declining standards of living of the islanders.
That brings to mind Emmanuel Essien, a Ghanaian fishing observer who’s missing since last July. He was one of  Ghana’s network of protectors of the fishing population, each placed on the many foreign trawlers that crowd and have depleted of marine life the country’s territorial waters. Still, the depletion now verges on total collapse.
An illegal overfishing crisis threatens Ghana’s supplies and these guardians face overwhelming odds to succeed, or simply live, despite official support. If he’s gone as feared, he’d be the 18th observer to disappear since 2017.
In these three tumultuous years, the U.S. government has been accused of terrible atrocities against immigrants. Following brutally draconian policies, it has put children in cages, unsanitary camps, or inadequate facilities, and their serious neglect has caused a record number of kids to die under their ‘care.’
But the most horrid directive it has followed, a source of shock and disgust throughout the world, is their separation of families at the border. With the arrogance and lack of compassion typical of authoritarian regimes, the U.S. under Trump has broken and betrayed every humanitarian convention regulating the treatment of immigrants and refugees. Especially when it splits up infants and toddlers from their parents, with no reliable system to reunite them afterward.
The result is a growing population of traumatized children, a social time bomb bound to explode in our faces soon enough, no matter how the administration spins it. Whether detained or let out to fend on their own, these youngsters will join other impoverished Americans, struggling to escape extreme poverty. Where’s the outrage?
But as those fighting the establishment and its police forces on the streets of major world cities, there are ways to resist and defend everyone’s democratic right to a decent and just life. Even if by doing so, they’re exposed to the wrath of the state. It takes common citizens to rise and fight injustice, risking arm and leg. And yet, they do.
In H.K., the army stormed a college campus to arrest students barricaded inside and was received with Molotov cocktails. In Chile, as President Jose Piñera’s proposed reforms, a new constitution, and call to probe abuses by the military during the violent repression on ralliers he ordered, convinced absolutely no one, so fight is still on.
While Evo Morales, Bolivia’s indigenous president ousted by a coup last week found exile in Mexico, a fanatical evangelical, Jeanine Anez, used a bible to claim the government to herself. Naturally, the majority of Bolivians who are native will keep putting their lives at stake to oppose her and restore the nation’s embattled democracy.
Along with the continuous turmoil in the streets of Lebanon and Iraq, there’s now a not surprising new addition to what could be called a chaotic global resistance against tyranny: Iran. Tickled by higher fuel prices, working families – who Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called ‘thugs’ – have started a rare, 100-city wave of national protests.
That, and the recent 30-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, make the Vision for Democracy recently endorsed by 150 civil rights groups so timely. Under the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights, it mainly proposes strategies for guaranteeing the right to vote by traditionally disenfranchised segments of society.
The difference from other alike initiatives is that they offer a road map for crowds already on the streets, rallying for their dwindling rights. And that’s where they must remain till those demands are met. May we count on you?
In the U.S., where the president pardons war criminals decried even by their former commanders, and tweets to intimidate a witness while she’s testifying at his own impeachment, there’s no choice. Democracy is in peril and Americans must set the example and fight to prevent it from extinction. Or we’ll be the ones to be erased. Cheers

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11/11/2019 The Whirlpool Speeds Up, Colltalers

Brazil’s former President Lula is out of jail, and Bolivia’s President Evo Morales was forced to resign. Americans outraged by Trump’s dangerous follies must admit: no one gets more rattled by politics than Latin Americans. And things change faster too. Meanwhile, the U.S. is officially out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. So if there’s something urgent to be said about deadly wildfires and ravaging floods, here and abroad, the time to take it to the streets is now. Don’t wait for next November.Elsewhere, none of the ongoing popular uprisings around the world seems likely to abide by curfews, government concessions, or even force. To those who don’t see updates about them on the mainstream media, let’s be clear: they’re still at it. All of them. Citizens of Chile, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, Iraq, and Lebanon may lack coverage but not courage, and that’s the kind of news that matters to people: that there are others like them, billions in fact, who can’t help it but demand justice. And leaders engaged in the existential threat to the planet, represented by the climate catastrophe, and to the majority, by income inequality. Australian may see mass evacuations in New South Wales and Queensland today as expected heat and strong winds may fuel ‘the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen,’ as fire chiefs see it. Other parts of the country will be also affected. But to the brilliant, most excellent deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, the out-of-control fires have nothing to do with climate change, which to his abundant wisdom, is nothing but ‘ravings of … inner-city lunatics.’ The Aussies need a new deputy.Not to dismiss Australia’s woes, its hundreds of fires are still far from the over 6,000 currently burning in California. But as they become a threat to some movie studios, expect some serious cash being poured to put them out. A depressing side of this reality is seeing unpaid inmates risking their lives to save common land, while private brigades focus only on mansions of the wealthy.As it goes, central to the U.S. presidential campaign – oh, yeah, it’s at full speed already – isn’t even the likely impeachment of the president. Public hearings about it, televised ‘Watergate-style,’ begin Wednesday, and whether witnesses’ testimonies will inflame people like in the 1970s, or just bore everyone to oblivion, remains to be seen. But they’d better wrap it all up before Christmas.No, the issue that is weakening the only shot Democrats have at defeating Trump is, in fact, the climate crisis but not for the reasons one would think, though. It was enough front-runners Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to insist on bringing the issue to the forefront of their platforms, along with healthcare for all, for Wall Street to run seeking cover among its billionaires. Suddenly, there’s another one, Michael Bloomberg, ready to take the helm of the interests of a class so badly represented. Not. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked at Bloomberg News). For the record, my former boss is a decent and even-handed man, a truly self-made one, who had at least one, out of three, very positive term as Mayor of New York City. That being said: Mike, don’t run.He’d be the fulfillment of the desires of a very restricted group of people, who’s not satisfied in owning a baffling disproportional share of the world’s wealth and resources, and now wants also to govern the rest of us. Not that they don’t do just that already.  And then, there are the ‘moderates,’ whose ‘proper,’ ‘gradual’ approach to climate are so revealing. It indicates that either they don’t get it, their lot in life requires they don’t see it, or they just don’t believe it will affect their own families and constituency. And as this is an opinion column, here it goes: the Democratic Party is wrong, and a moderate’s bound to be triturated by Trump.But it’s the twin blockbuster news that will move markets and hearts and minds this week, to way more than half a billion South Americans. While Lula is out of prison by a twisty loop of Brazil’s legislation, ironically created as a maneuver to keep out of jail political allies, there’s already a forming consensus in the region that the Morales administration was taken down by a coup.Respected political dissident Noam Chomsky and historian Vijay Prashad said in a statement that ‘for over a decade, the U.S. embassy’s Center do Operations in La Paz has articulated (…) two plans – Plan A, the coup; Plan B, the assassination of Morales.’ Leaders around the world deplored the end of 13 years of democracy, led by the only Indigenous American president.  Lula’s freedom, on the other hand, represented a big splash into the fetid, staled-water of Brazilian politics of lately. And his supporters are jubilant and a bit too optimist that he’s the answer to reset Brazil‘s path to the one it was a mere five years ago. They immediately took to the streets, and so did the rabid anti-Lula crowds, hurriedly assembled by some, but not all, media and right-wing think tanks who provided conditions for the 2016 coup that ousted democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff.In other news, Spanish acting P.M. Pedro Sánchez won the most votes but not enough to grant majority to Socialists. Of course, there and here, the focus of coverage is on a supposed ‘surge’ of right-wing votes, which proves that money in politics is not an exclusive ‘American thing’ any longer. For otherwise, how to explain them voting against the future, their own children, et al?It’s Veterans’ Day on the U.S., so here comes that ‘Thank you for your service,’ a sentence so thin of meaning to be on a verge of insulting, This time though there’s a question that should’ve been a major headline over the weekend and of course it was not. Do they know that Trump admitted that a fund-raiser for veterans he ran in Iowa was, in fact, a campaign event, and proceedings went to his re-election? A judge fined him $2 million for that. Come on, media, it’s your job to inform them. On the headlines. Finally, there’s a rare cosmic event going on today: Mercury’s 5-hour transit in front of the sun. It’s visible to the naked eye but don’t dare stare at the sun without protection. A good conversation break, between news about the climate-driven fires, and what to expect from the impeachment trials. And please, today and ever, do think about the future of our kids. Cheers

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11/4/2019 Warriors & Deniers, Colltalers

Guajajara tribe warrior Paulo ‘Lobo’ Paulino, a Forest Guardian, was shot to death last week. It was as coward an act as the 2018 assassination of black, LGBTQ Rio Councilwoman Marielle Franco. But hers may lead to President Bolsonaro’s impeachment. Billionaire President Sebastián Piñera continues to try crushing Chile’s revolt against his neoliberal policies. After troops killed 20 protesters and injured over 1,000, he’s now retaliated further by giving up on hosting next month’s U.N. climate conference.In the U.S., California’s devastating fires have multiple fronts and hundreds of evacuees. But their cause, man-made climate change, has been absent from most news coverage. It’s as if suddenly, nature got out of whack, and not because we’ve raped it. The climate has been also hardly mentioned in the coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline, which just had a 383,000 gallons leak. It was a new spill on a history of hundreds of them which makes this just another day in North Dakota. Guess who else is left out of the coverage: the Lakota people, courageous nature defenders whose efforts to shut it down have come at a stiff cost. The Trump administration and the fossil-fuels industry have worked hard to get it off the ground, despite public outrage and its poorly run operation. But as the 350.org founder Bill McKibben tweeted. ‘It happens over and over and over and over and over.’ It’s been a few weeks of popular unrest all over the world. Although local and specific circumstances have triggered rallies in Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Haiti, Lebanon, and Iraq, among others, they endure on common issues affecting the planet: income inequality, the climate, and endless wars. The world’s 0.01 percent superrich, however, doesn’t seem to care about it.They should. According to the science group Climate Central, more cities will be underwater by 2050 than previously thought, and 150 million may flee their homes (and likely seek shelter in rich countries, major fossil-fuel producers and polluters). Just picture Mar-a-Lago, which is not cited in the research, being taken over by hungry homeless refugees. They certainly should. Jair Bolsonaro’s been tracking, so far in a smaller scale, the Orange man at the White House, including incriminating himself, blaming the press, and believing against all evidence, that what he’s done is not illegal, immoral, impeachable, or at least, stupid.In testimony last week, the doorman of the president’s private condominium in Rio told the police that he had spoken with ‘seu Jair’ right after Élcio Queiroz, one of the suspects of murdering Marielle in 3/14/18, gained access to the condo that very same day. As the president and sons deny being in the city then, Brazilians ask, who buzzed Queiroz in only hours before the crime?Marielle had risen from a life of poverty in one of the city’s shantytowns to become a political advocate for the lower classes. Her eloquence irritated militias that patrol the favelas and are often involved in horrific acts against the poor. Queiroz, who appears in pictures with the Bolsonaro family, belongs to one, as does the other accused, Ronnie Lessa, who also lives nearby. What, the president posed for pictures with known criminals? You bet, but that was not the news. What changed is his possible direct link with her murder. As it turned out, the intercom connects to a cellphone, so technically, he could’ve opened the door.But Saturday, Bolsonaro delivered a bombshell, by admitting he’d taken that day’s intercom recordings, allegedly to prevent fraud, in a flagrant obstruction of justice. He raged against former supporter and now foe TV Globo, but a probe is all but sure. Paulo Paulino Guajajara was shot dead by illegal loggers in the outskirts of the Amazon Rainforest, on which he grew up and had sworn to defend. He was a member of a group of indigenous forest guards who face daily battles with contract killers, hired by big landowners in the region. He left an infant child and a legacy of resistance by his people, not to be forgotten. R.I.P., Lobo.As for Chile, new protests over the weekend turned into violent confrontations with the army and law enforcement. Piñera seems determined to win by force and intimidation, a fool’s errand as Chileans continue pressing for their demands to be met. And now for him to step down. It wouldn’t solve the crisis but it’ll surely be a victory to the over 14% who live under extreme poverty.Spain, which holds presidential elections next Sunday, will now host the climate conference in a month. That posed a problem for climate activist Greta Thunberg, who’s currently in the U.S. and had planned to travel by land to the conference in South America. Now, she has a special request for climate crisis-aware captains: ‘can I catch a ride with you to Madrid? Let me know.’Two final notes to lighten up this post: the last McDonald’s burger produced in Iceland is completing a decade and there’s a live WebCamp to watch it age. And, amid the fiery SoCA wildfires, there was a moment that the Ronald Reagan Library was about to be consumed by flames. But it didn’t happen; a herd of goats saved it. Would you call that bad or good luck? Let them know.They run fast and win often. Sunday it was again Kenya’s celebration at the NYC Marathon; Joyciline Jepkosgei and Geoffrey Kamworor kept the tradition alive. A beautiful win to divert from gender and corporate sponsorship issues plaguing the sport. If they can, so can anybody. We’re still losing but the world is coming together as it does in times of crisis. Be part of it. Cheers

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10/28/2019 A Season For Fire & Turmoil, Colltalers

They are back! Surprising no one with a frontal lobe, wildfires are again ravaging California, in an opening salvo of sorts for bad weather to come. Will current Kincade Fire – yes, they have nicknames now – dwarf last year’s Camp Fire, the deadliest so far?Political stability, a South American old foe, is also rearing its ugly head again. Either new presidents in Argentina and Uruguay, and a reelected Evo Morales in Bolivia last week, ease the continent’s institutional turmoil or they may as well extend it further. Elsewhere, Chilean students and worlds-away Hong Kong democracy fighters are not about to fold their demands and go home quietly. To top it all, a giant oil spill of origin still unknown has coated 2,000 miles of coastal areas of Brazil, in one of its worst environmental disasters. As with the Amazon Rainforest, which is still burning, little is expected from President Bolsonaro. Don’t count Catalans out of contention either. Massive protests over the weekend, demanding freedom for separatist leaders sent to prison with harsh sentences, and for an independent Catalonia state, continue to dominate the national conversation in Spain. This being the ‘season of the dead,’ Thursday’s timing of the exhumation of dictator Francisco Franco’s body from the place it’d rested for 44 years to a family plot, was at least curious. It was also a win for the few survivors of the Generalíssimo’s iron-fisted regime, who have been battling to prove what should be a universal unanimity: despots should never get a public mausoleum. Guess which other nation is fast approaching its own institutional reckoning? the good ole U.S. of A. The impeachment against the president has produced some pretty startling revelations, which nevertheless, have failed to gather steam outside the Capitol Hill walls. Good thing it’s moving fast, but as vital as this process is, it won’t remove Trump from office; voters may, though.A concern running high among Democrats is that we may waste too much time pursuing a pie in the sky, and not enough going about the business of telling every American in clear terms what exactly is being taken away from them, bound to hurt us all. And how important values such as honesty, dignity, and solidarity must define us as a nation, not having an ogre as your leader.As well-heeled lawyers – and back-on again global persona-non-grata Stephen Bannon – feast with the legalities of impeachment, the administration undermines environmental and civil rights legislation, and continues enforcing its cruelty towards refugees.We seem to be losing our sense of outrage. An American Civil Liberties Union study, for instance, has found that over 5,400 immigrant children have been split up from their parents at the border since 2017. Meanwhile, there are now one million fewer kids receiving Medicaid or other government assistance programs. Still, neither of the two bad news made into media headlines. The Kincade Fire, which already forced the evacuation of over 200,000 Californians, and at least one hospital so far, and others that’ll likely follow it, is a direct result of, first, climate change, and secondly, our own neglect to act. Let’s not kid ourselves, nothing has been done since Paradise was lost to flames, a year ago. 85 people died when the entire town was burned to a crisp. But Democrat funders don’t want to support a candidate who’s committed to radical climate emergency action. And suddenly, from a leadership position in the polls, the two top contenders, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, are under ‘friendly’ fire for being ‘too extreme.’ Big-money backers hope someone else (besides the 20+), maybe a billionaire, steps in and takes their input.Suspect any talk about ‘moderation,’ ‘incremental steps,’ or that old favorite, ‘two sides of the aisle,’ being repeated everywhere by a parroting media. Like, ‘the impeachment is a sham,’ or the never-casual use of the word ‘lynching’ by the president, these buzz expressions are crafted by an elite of conspirators who use them to rally bases while hedging their bets in case it all goes South.Yes, it’s time for front runners to come up with a few ‘back of the envelope’ solutions to most urgent issues affecting Americans, and be off to the races. Turn them into a repeatable chorus, as Republicans do with great efficacy, or take the time to emphasize the likely long-term consequences of reelecting a president who broke the bank, er, the budget, and ran away with the cash. Once again, neoliberal wet dreams got badly dashed in Argentina as President Mauricio Macri ends a particularly disastrous one-term administration. But Alberto Fernández, who’s set to replace him and his vice, former President Cristina Kirchner, do not represent too much of a change; they’re both Peronistas, as in dictator Juan Perón, the ideology that ruled Argentina for decades. A different picture is next-door Uruguay, which’s been the continent’s most consistent success story. Daniel Martínez is on track to maintain the unbroken string of leftist presidents, which started in 2005 with the election of ex-political prisoner José Mujica. Running again for the Senate, Mujica remains popular and still enjoys support for his brand of socialism by many Uruguayans.As for the ‘sleeping giant,’ as it’s mentioned on the lyrics of its hymn, Brazil has found a hole enough to sink in, and there seems to be no end to the suffering of its majority poor. A special interests-driven ‘reform’ of social security has increased the retirement age and mandatory contributions of workers while exempting the military, the political class, and hundreds of Bolsonaro lackeys.Halloween is upon us, as well as the aforementioned Dia de Los Muertos which jumped frontiers and now it’s an integral part of the playful holiday worldwide. Ghosts and goblins will show up on Thursday as scheduled. But today’s focus is on a monument that has grown with the country, and proves its relevance by simply standing there: it’s the Statue of Liberty’s 133rd Anniversary.’Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,’ as goes the Emma Lazarus poem dedicated to the statue, reflects the compassionate spirit of Americans. It’s also a timeless message to navigate these dark times. Today is a great time to meditate on the meaning of those words and recommit to those values. Cheers

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10/21/2019 Make or Break Democracy, Colltalers

‘Violent clashes,’ an expression being increasingly applied to describe the unrest in Hong Kong, may now be also used to protests in Catalonia and Chile. Despite their own particulars, what’s driving thousands to the streets is essentially a fight for democracy.
Which is also the motivation behind Saturday’s massive anti-Brexit rally in London. Demanding a new referendum, protesters have disrupted Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s power consolidation, which’s dependent on the U.K. exiting the European Union.
It may sound presumptuous to see the pursuit of true democracy as the ultimate goal for crowds marching for self-determination, from China and Spain, or against high costs of living, in Chile. But just as climate change, income inequality, fair immigration and asylum laws, and women’s and minorities’ rights, only a healthy democratic process assures that the people’s voice is heard.
Let’s break here for other news of the past week, even if not exactly good news for all involved. Syria-based Kurds, for instance, who the U.S. President’s thrown under the mortal artillery of Turkish’s warplanes, in a historic act of betrayal, are now being backed by two leaders notorious for their own betrayals: Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad. Two foxes guarding the henhouse.
In fact, the Kurds must know by now that they continue in peril since this is not the first time that they’ve been betrayed by the U.S. and others, or served as proxies for settling other nations’ scores. In Kurdish, the word ‘luck’ probably has another meaning.
Meanwhile, guess what? the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest is still burning, and summer may spell tragedy by finishing it off. President Bolsonaro is so entangled with petty vendettas against enemies, that he seems to have set himself to achieve only one thing: to make his English language-challenged son into an ambassador to the U.S. Even on that, though, he’s badly failing.
Going back to the headlines, for those wondering about China’s perceived ‘silence,’ or measured approach to HK protests, it may indeed have a sinister reason: facial recognition. As one of the most enthusiastic adopters of AI surveillance, along pretty much the rest of the world, Chinese authorities may be taking their time to identify and go after each of the thousands of protesters.
Just as they defied over the weekend a face mask ban, water cannons, and tear gas thrown by police, armed with Molotov-like bombs, China’s plans to use software and crowd-watching devices, provided in part by Jeff Bezos’ Amazon, to go after activists. President Xi Jinping himself sounded scary by promising ‘crush bones and shatter bodies’ of dissidents, during his visit to Nepal.
Defiance is also the mark of Barcelonians protesting the jail sentences, some over a decade long, issued by Spain to nine leaders of the independence movement that emerged two years ago. The region’s president Quim Torra has called for talks with the Spanish government as the rallies enter their seven consecutive day marked by increased violence, and hundreds of injured.
Spain’s evident mishandling of the separatist movement may be at blame for the protesters’ intolerance. But Catalonia may no longer see the same past support from the world to its aspirations either, mainly because things have changed in these two years.
Perhaps just as dramatically, mankind needs to pull together to face the planetary threat of climate change. Barcelona’s longing for independence runs counter to that global aim, especially because unlike Kurds and Palestinians, it always had its own land.
As for the students rallying against Chile’s recent commuting rates increase, it may signal something else entirely: a resurgence of a protest movement against its conservative society and a nation that works hard to forget its own bloody Sept. 11 (of 1973) and what it really meant to its future. And that, despite two successful presidential terms of ex-political exile Michelle Bachelet.
About the U.K.’s all but sure exit from the E.U., it’s turning out to be a story about false promises, deceiving statements, phony outrage, and a nation on a profound crisis of confidence. In other words, all that Boris Johnson ever dreamed of. Every day has been another chance for him to prove that Trump is no longer the latest to enter the Hall of Shame for despicable human beings.
‘Our children are the living messages we send to a future we will ever see. Will we rob them of their destiny? Will we rob them of their dreams? No, we will not do that.’ Elijah Cummings, a U.S. Representative from Maryland who died last week at 68, was a compassionate giant and civil rights activist, a son of a sharecropper with a distinguished but short-lived career in Congress.
Before passing, he was collecting evidence for the impeachment process against the U.S. president and was viciously insulted by him. But unlike his over-privileged and likely criminal foe, his legacy and moral rectitude were not or will ever be in question.
Congratulations are in order: to astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, who had the first all-women spacewalk in history. And to Australian newspapers, which got to newsstands this morning heavily redacted, in protest of new laws eroding freedom of the press. They and most of this newsletter’s content show that everything one does with purpose is meaningful. Just aim high.

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10/14/2019 Betrayal & the Excuses for War, Colltalers

‘At first, I thought it was thunder, but soon bombs were raining everywhere. We ran while our home and everything we’ve ever owned was being leveled. But I didn’t cry.‘ (N.S., Syrian-born Christian Kurd, and her family, survived Turkey’s aerial strike).
The Trump-sanctioned Turkey attack on Kurds immediately made the world a more dangerous place. And it showed how a self-deluded president who believes that he has ‘great and unmatched wisdom,’ can actually trigger a global, unpredictable conflict.
Let’s that sink in, while catching up with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. The Swedish Academy mentioned his efforts to end a bloody 20-year war and reestablish relations with neighbor Eritrea as the main reason for the award. But Ahmed’s also been praised for freeing political prisoners and promoting women to his cabinet.
It’s as if it just happened but it was 20 years ago this past Saturday when we reached six billion people. 11 years later another billion had been added, plus the 700 million who showed up since. With Earth’s resources dwindling and the climate spiraling out of control, these newcomers are already aware of what we’ve done with the place and are very angry about it, rightfully so.
These man-made challenges require nothing short of a revolution if we’re to have a shot fighting them. But little has been done, and now there’s another war to stop, income inequality to fight, plus faltering democracies to defend. Thus, yes, let the kids lead.
It’ll be blood, sweat, and tears all over again, that’s for sure. Consider the new research by the Climate Accountability Institute, on the 20 biggest fossil fuel – oil, natural gas, and coal – corporations, that combined have issued since the 1960s 480 billion tons of methanes and carbon dioxide into the air, water, and land. And continue expanding, despite the increased climate emergency.
Or notice that three global fund asset managers, BlackRock, State Street, and Vanguard, own a $300 billion fossil-fuel portfolio, built up from private savings, investments, and pensions of millions of mostly unaware contributors, the Guardian has reported.
Together, these corporations and firms have lobbied and used all means necessary to prevent any action against climate change.
And they’ve got the ears of pretty powerful 0.01 percenters and their ‘sponsored’ elected politicians in Washington, including the president himself. We won’t do much progress if they’re allowed to ignore the citizens’ clamor and keep on ducking regulations.
Speaking of him, Trump’s once again proved that he can’t touch anything without making it worse. The lack of reflexion and prudence of his decisions is staggering and does hurt people. Or kill them. As with the Iranian mistake a few weeks ago, he’s tried to walk back, double down, walk back again, facing the uproar against withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria without a plan.
But then and now, it was too late. Iran’s working toward nuclear capacity, and so is Saudi Arabia, and all because Trump’s ripped an accord that was actually working. But to abandon the allies Kurds to fend Turkish armies on their own is particularly cruel.
It was an appalling act of betrayal of a nation without a land of its own, and whose fighters actually defeated Daesh. Just like in 1988, when the U.S. walked and Saddam Hussein wound up gassing thousands of them, at the end of the Iran-Iraq 20-year war.
This time, they’ve run to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, himself not above gassing foes, for help and, surprise, surprise, Vlad Putin. Perhaps such a development, and the flight from prison of 900-plus ISIS combatants, were all expected by the spymaster. Fact is, the deck is stacked against the U.S., and regrettably, the Kurds’ sweet dreams of freedom are for now postponed. Again.
Note to thyself: if Trump does have an agenda, and somehow provoked this to divert attention from his impeachment process, then stock your shelves full for we’re in it for the long run. And next time he speaks of a ‘beautiful’ deal, hold on to your wallet.
The U.S. has no business messing up with the Middle East, but only a much-needed fossil fuel ban will drive the point home. We always cause more damage than what was there priorly, we don’t understand those countries, and we’ve also failed to inspire their Theocratic regimes to democracy. Maybe is just not up to us or meant to be. (For the record, the opening quote is made up).
Narin Sotoudeh is an Iranian human rights lawyer whose sentence of 38 years in jail, plus 148 lashes, has just been confirmed. Her crime was to exercise her profession, and a campaign is apace to set her free. She and six other women, jailed for advocating civil rights in Iran, are now portrayed on a mural created by artist collective Clarion Alley, in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Finally, it’s now 527 years since Christopher Columbus came to a land he had no idea was part of a much bigger continent and reclaimed it to Spain. That wasn’t to last, though, unlike the genocide of natives which followed it. As it became clear that they were already living here for over 10,000 years before him, today is Indigenous People’s Day, and Columbus Day is no longer.
So, let’s celebrate the thousands of tribes who occupied this land without destroying it, polluting it, or bringing it to the verge of annihilation, something we managed to accomplish in just a couple of centuries. But let’s not forget Columbus for he is us. To reverse climate change will require a different mindset, one that we’re still to learn and indigenous people have plenty of. Cheers WC

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10/07/2019 The Rot Leaks From the Top, Colltalers

Even non-conspiracists have noticed that the current global attack on democracy has at least one commonality: the creation of an appearance of chaos. It links institutional crises in the U.S., Europe, South America, and the Middle East, and it’s not random.
It’s central to the U.S. turmoil, promoted by the president and his sycophants, and essential for Brexit opportunists to get what they want. It’s behind the unrest in Brazil, Ecuador, and Iraq, and it’s been crucial to sending the world back to Cold War fears.
But the biggest and most immediate damage such a corroding strategy has been causing is to distract and sabotage efforts to reverse the existential climate emergency upon us. For now, as the Amazon Rainforest burns, this machine keeps soldiering on.
What could be traced back to deranged dreams of power of the likes of Stephen Bannon and others like him, now it’s a self-reliant, well-funded agenda proceeding with its demolition plan. And that includes bringing into positions of global leadership a class of unscrupulous would-be tyrants, walking time-bombs ready to trade their souls for a shot at becoming the main bananas.
For approximately three years now the world has been riding this out-of-control rollercoaster: rigging of the electoral system and prioritizing the wealthy and powerful. Meanwhile, the climate goes berserk on the account of boundless corporation greed. That it makes no sense, since no one may survive when the environment pays them a visit, is apparently not a question they ask ever.
In the U.S., one wonders what would it take to bring down a corrupt president, if Trump beats the rap and sails to reelection. With him, it’ll be more of the unsustainable same: big oil and big pharma writing the regulations, and his family becoming richer.
Even if the U.K. Supreme Court, unlike its American counterpart, still honors its name, Boris Johnson has successfully diverted the attention off the evidently negative prospects of exiting the European Union, to his well-documented petulance. As a skilled politician, odds are that Britons may be ultimately won over, even if just to catch a little break, and let him wreck the place.
The catalyst to Brazil’s quick descent, from the world’s sixth-largest economy of five years ago to the institutional break down of today, is naturally Jair Bolsonaro. The apologist of torturers and civil rights foe, to whom the Amazon is a source of revenue, and his sons, entitled to share his office, has done more damage to Brazil in less than a year than even Trump’s managed in over two.
Most serious, obviously, is the tragedy of killing the planet’s biggest rainforest. Or his assumption, based on years of misguided xenophobia and paranoia, that the world has no saying on what nations do to the environment and their indigenous communities. Granted, Western societies have indeed been founded upon the genocide of their natives, but that doesn’t mean they should have.
Even with limited intellectual skills, though, he knows the importance of sowing chaos to justify a ‘no tolerance’ approach to dissent. Thus his approval indices always spike whenever he blames Brazil’s rising inequality, violent crime, and poverty levels on those most affected by his policies: the poor. It’s also odd his fixation on the U.S. under Trump, who probably ignores him.
Speaking of indigenous peoples, they’re at the front of Ecuador’s gentrification wars, whose clashes with law enforcement over the weekend have brought death and destruction to Quito streets. President Lenin Moreno, who despite his name is a center-right politician aligned with international capital interests, may lose his grip to power and solicit help from the military. Again.
The deadly protests which irrupted in Iraq surprised no one. We may’ve lost track of the U.S. occupation, but it was long enough to breed a fresh generation of angry dissenters, coming to age now. Like the Hong Kong protesters, they have not much of a choice: either die by lack of prospects for a decent life and/or freedom, or die for saying no. Bless them for choosing the latter.
That’s the world we’ve lived in these past few days, without elaborating on the new Atmospheric Science paper warning of the consequences of a war between India and Pakistan. Assuming that it’d quickly escalate to both nations’ use of their combined 500 or so nuclear warheads, it’d likely cause 125 million deaths, global famine, and Ice Age temperatures. Got the jitters yet?
It’s usually the most wonderful time of the year for the Swedish Academy which will hand out its Nobel Literature (2018 and 2019) awards this Thursday. But since its firing of secretary Jean-Claude Arnault, accused of rape, and revamping of its board, which did not give last year’s award, plus decades of controversial choices, things have been rather murky in the kingdom lately.
The good news is that two top runners for the Peace Nobel, to be given Dec. 10, are Greta Thunberg, their own native who’s now loved by millions and hated by some worldwide for the exact right reasons, and the legendary 89-year-old Chief Kayapó Raoni Metuktire, a Native Brazilian leader and environmentalist. They’re symbols for good, and so it’s the Nobel. Lets vote for them.
Our closing today is also about chaos and muddying of waters: impeachment of President Trump, which got off to a promising start, helped by, well, Trump. The variety of factual punches that actually landed on the Teflon-in-Chief has certainly brought a shy, quasi-secret smile to so many frowned faces. And fate’s little touch, having him helping it all, was the cherry atop the cake.
That is, as long as there’s a consensus that it’ll be a long, winding, and possibly dead-ended road. But it’s Ok because it had to be done, and it may bring up more than the dirt the president was bulling countries to dig up on presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son’s dealings in Ukraine. Almost a comic relief that mustn’t get in the way of kicking him out in 2020. Register to vote.

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9/30/2019 No One Said It’d Be Easy, Colltalers

Lies have been the Trump administration’s currency of choice. One of them, from his inauguration, became a signature policy of sorts: (Mexicans) ‘bring crime to this country.’ Everyone knew it was a vicious lie; now there’s research to prove him wrong.
Still, his diatribes and flimflam headlined most weeks since that grey Jan. 20, 2017. Now impeachment is the kerfuffle du jour, unavoidable but disrupting, so get ready for wall-to-wall coverage, and for now, look for climate crisis news below the fold.
But as the 16-year-old giant who’s just left New York, Greta Thunberg, would put it, ‘this is all wrong.’ Progressive Americans count on world support to defeat Trump. They can’t expect it though to follow the intricacies of impeachment, let alone its likely result: a president deemed a criminal but still the president. To the world, the Amazon Rainforest fires are still our top priority.
And warming oceans, whose quickly changing chemistry is depleting seafood supplies, making storms and floods stronger and more frequent, and threatening millions living along coasts, according to a U.N. study. Or air pollution, whose record levels have been shown to impact children’s brains. Or water purity, which has been contaminated by lead in many big cities the world over.
Ironically, those who resisted a probably Pro-forma impeachment process were not invoking climate change against it; they were understandably more concerned about the politics of it, knowing how short the electorate’s attention span really is. Point taken.But theirs is a misguided concern all the same. For Trump may survive endless battles in Congress, but not a country underwater or on fire. We hardly hear a word about floodings in Nebraska, Missouri, South Dakota, Iowa, and Kansas, which has been going on for three months now, due to overflowing of the Missouri River and its affluents. Thankfully, summer spared Americans from the lethal wildfires of the past two years, for if fire and rain would combine, we’d be toast. Note: all five states voted for Trump.
Contrary to what the president has been claiming since day 1, Germany-based Institute for Labor Studies researchers found that ‘increases in deportation rates did not reduce crime rates for violent offenses or property offense.’ Their findings are evident in communities most affected by the draconian laws of immigration and expedited deportation, but not in pro-Trump regions.
That’s because, despite their manifest hate of immigrants, urban and rural areas that elected Trump have experienced more economic hardship than blue districts, but because of the administration’s own policies, not the undocumented. Plus, anti-foreign fervor has led to more resources being diverted to placate unfounded fears of having too many of ‘those people’ in this country.
Now, about the Democrats, if these facts are not enough to enlighten the Denier-in-Chief’s constituency about his corrupt policies, it’s not clear what they believe it to be. The causes for the hard reality of thousands of working families, rather than an unpredictable impeachment, is what actually may wise them up to think twice before reelecting the hack who’s betrayed them.
Speaking of grim realities, tomorrow is China’s National Day, the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic. While Ji Xinping will make sure celebrations will be joyous, yes, but totally under state control, the Hong Kong protesters are threatening to steal his thunder once again. Sadly, few are paying attention to the courageous students still dreaming of bringing change from within.
But many fear that their clashes with the police over the weekend may evolve into something else, and the odds are in favor of a violent retaking of full control of the territory, and prosecution of protesters. Naturally, the Tiananmen Square tragedy, which remains a forbidden word in the mainland, still haunts that generation of fighters, who’ll get no support from the administration. The bottom line is, as the U.S. is led away from democratic values and allies, Xi has carte blanche to do as he sees it fit.
H.K.’s independence hangs on its central position in world finances. But without real power and strong support – none is coming from its former masters either, the U.K., busy with its own calamities – the protesters are picking a possibly unwinnable battle.
Another even grimmer date comes Wednesday: the cold-blooded murder and dismemberment of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi a year ago, allegedly ordered by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The assassination was never officially pinned on the shady prince, though, and it’s unlikely that anyone will pay for it. That is, some world leaders have had harsh words about it but no action. Besides, he has the crown’s support and, of course, Trump’s. In fact, U.S. troops are now at the Saudis’ service.
One last word about billionaires, that is, the ‘good ones.’ You know, those who’re giving back their money, funding good causes, fighting income inequality. Like Bill Gates. His intentions have been impeccable, he’s been tirelessly helping to find solutions to global social problems, hunger, and all that. But then, his foundation gives an award to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The United Nations Climate Action Summit that begins today in New York City has the oversized task of disarming a bomb that, in a sense, has already been detonated. That is, either the world agrees on the right strategy, or we’ll all be caught on its fallout.
The summit brings world leaders to a country that briefly led the climate change fight but has since become a pariah due to its unhinged president. He’ll surely try to hijack public attention and may even stage another one of his crazy stunts. Brace yourself.
Many people, however, are out to challenge this state of affairs. Last Friday and the next, children and adults have been asked to walk out of school and work, to strike for climate action. The first of this two-punch combination brought millions to the streets of major cities around the world, determined to keep the pressure on; we either rally to save civilization or learn how to swim.
The movement has many leaders and organizations, and at least one now globally recognized face: that of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager that skipped school every Friday of 2018 to sit in front of the Parliament and demand climate change action. She’s come to symbolize the depth and single-mindedness that’s required at this juncture: we will need to do more, much more.
But as inspiring as her eloquence and candor can be, Thunberg’s made clear that it’s not her, but science that needs to be heard.  ‘We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. You’ve run out of excuses and we’re running out of time. We’ve come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not.’
She’s as direct and straightforward as some world leaders are corrupt and neglectful. Suddenly, sincerity is a fresh weapon, one more to enroll people in the struggle against this unfolding catastrophe. And even better, among the legions now heeding to her call, and lucky to be living in functioning democracies, there are likely thousands of new voters. That’s the kind of math we like.
As for Trump as a dangerous rogue, there’s no surprise, given the appalling record of broken environmental regulations his administration has promoted. More than just rolling back over 80 rules, some that even had been agreed upon by fossil-fuel industries, what Trump has pursued is a toxic mix of greed and ignorance that’s already threatening to choke us all to death.
From withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, – effective days after the 2020 presidential election -; to freezing fuel-efficiency and antipollution standards for cars; to dismantling the Clean Power Plan; to promoting drilling in pristine public lands and offshore coastal waters; to removing restrictions to methane, which the crisis worsened, the list is long and nauseating.
And that’s just in the realm of sheer misguided policies. No one should forget that this man has his little fingers on the biggest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction ever known to mankind, and the volatile temper of a toddler, as it’s been often said.
After all, only last week we had a big reminder of the potential consequences of the unchallenged power of an unfit president. To the administration, the bombing of a major Saudi Arabia’s refinery complex, claimed by Houthi rebels, was an opportunity to frame an old enemy: Iran. It ignored claims made by the last group resisting the U.S.-supported Saudi campaign to subjugate Yemen, and sided-up with their oppressors: this week, a ‘small’ contingent of American troops is heading to guard the oil fields.
It’s yet another lethal diversion that’ll have to be discussed by summit participants, as if they, and the world, had any time to spare. It’s also a direct result of Trump breaking up from the universally-supported nuclear deal with Iran. And it follows his recurrent, and all but suicidal, foreign policy: to shun traditional allies and embrace dictatorships. To dire results? You betcha.
Compared to what amounts to crimes against humanity, or at least, impeachable offenses to the U.S. Constitution, the new whistleblower allegations, that the U.S. president has asked a foreign power – no, not Russia, Ukraine – to dig dirt into Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, pale in comparison. Sad fact is, neither that nor this will likely lead to any consequence.
So it happens that in these strange times, a man born into privilege, who’s accused of sex crimes by dozen of women, cheated on his wife, associates and employees, paid prostitutes for sex and their silence, and may have hidden billions from the government through the years, gets elected to the world’s most important job. And another, who told us the truth, is considered a criminal.
When Edward Snowden copied and had it published classified documents, showing the National Security Agency spying on citizens all over the world, in flagrant disrespect to individual rights and often not even relevant to well, national security, he acted on a moral impulse. What he found out as a C.I.A. sub-contractor was simply too important not to tell the world about it.
He knew he was probably going to pay for the indiscretion with his freedom and he was willing to pay such a high price. Now, six years of forced exile in Russia later, he asks: will I have a fair trial if I ever return to my country? And the answer is a resounding no, not at this time. And that’s unfortunate considering that his country is the U.S. of A., once a beacon for justice.
We all saw what happened to Army Intelligence Officer Chelsea Manning, to whom not even a presidential pardon spared from serving time; she’s in her third imprisonment term now. So no, Ed, don’t come back just yet if you can help it. Hang in there for now, because justice and individual freedom are already scheduled to return to this country the day after next year’s election.
This week, let’s keep an eye on Hong Kong, which faces the threat of military intervention from China. The city’s Lennon Walls, makeshift banners of dissent inspired by the late Beatle, have been destroyed by Chinese agents, and the likely Ketchup-stained request for U.S. support is gathering dust in Trump’s wastebasket. Is it because, unlike the Saudis, there’s nothing in it for him?And let’s continue to celebrate New York hometown fictional hero, Batman, on his 80th anniversary. Even though we’re now wary of any lone vigilante taking the law on his own hands, the myth of a regular man who dedicates his life to chase bad guys, solely motivated by a personal loss, still resonates with many. Thus his famous Bat Sign, projected onto the night sky, lives on.
Regardless if you are in Brazil, where the Amazon Rainforest is still burning at record rates, or New York, where the U.N. seeks solutions to put out that and other fires, this is the Autumnal Equinox. And the message is, everyone on Earth sees the same sky.
‘It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.’ The John Steinbeck quote is from his last book, The Winter of Our Discontent, a title he lifted from William Shakespeare’s Richard III, and that’s humbly paraphrased on the headline of this post. There’s still time to guarantee a future for all, and this week must prove it. Join in the action call.

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9/16/2019 Oil? We’re Talking About Climate, Colltalers

Few expect peace in the Middle East in our lifetime. Saturday’s attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities by Yemen’s Houthi rebels just added ammo to that regrettable realization. It rattled Iran and Israel, but it’s the U.S. that seems eager to jump into the fire. It’d be a tragic mistake and a diversion from a bigger threat to mankind: climate change. The U.N. Climate Action Summit, that starts next week in New York, is another chance to drive this point: if we’re going to war, let it be it against this existential crisis.Here’s hoping this is a summit of disruption, of strikes and mass rallies around the world, of citizens of all ages refusing to accept any excuses not to act. But other issues, whether deserving it or not, may compete for headlines and our short-spam attention too.Tomorrow, Israelis go to the polls for the second time this year, likely to guarantee that P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu will continue dictating the country’s expansionist policies. In exchange, he’s promised to annex more land from occupied territories taken by the 1967 war. That move, still seen as illegal by the international community, may bury for good the so-called two-state solution.Netanyahu is confident that his most important constituent, the U.S. president, won’t falter on his so far unrestricted support, and he may be right. Knowing what Trump does to those he initially praises – or names for White House jobs, based solely on their ability to support him back -, such trust is at least risky. But Netanyahu has no other choice but to grasp for straws otherwise.
In other news, Tunisia’s presidential election appears to head to a second round, as none of 24 contenders won the majority. The low poll turnout may reflect apathy, but Tunisians remain committed to the democracy born out of the 2011 Jasmine Revolution. Much more concerning are the reports that Saudi Arabia has managed to transfer technology to enrich uranium from American companies, without congressional approval. The Saudis used a legal loophole, and support from Sec. of Energy Rick Perry, to import know-how to build its first nuclear reactors, claiming they now need to defend themselves from a possible nuclear Iran.It was an interesting development just a few days from the drone attack, which the crown blames on Iran, even as Houthi leaders took credit for it. Not surprisingly, Sec. of State Mark Pompeo has endorsed the Saudi’s version, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his murderous regime have had a strong and profitable relationship with the man occupying the White House. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has been carpet-bombing Yemen, and since Trump’s been in office, using U.S. weaponry for it. As a result, Yemenis are trapped in the crossfire of a vicious conflict that has all but destroyed the country and starved to death its citizens. There’s an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Yemen, but the crown won’t allow medical help or food to get in. A rampant nuclearization of the region is a direct consequence of Trump’s misguided decision to abandon the Iranian nuclear deal. As Tehran has started seeking ways to produce nukes, and with the disclosed intention by the Saudis to do the same, the world braces for what’s coming next. Ironically, the main cheerleader of an invasion of Iran, John Bolton, was fired by Trump.Thank heavens for small miracles, but the administration still has many warmongers left. By jumping into the fray, Pompeo signals that, first, he’s now the go-to guy, in case Trump wants a war for diversion, and second, he’s happy to repeat his boss’ lies.Not that most people need examples, but a simulation of a nuclear strike with ‘tactical weapons,’ by Researchers at Princeton University’s Science and Global Security lab, shows how 34 million people would instantaneously die if Russia were to launch a warning shot. As a result of a sure U.S. counter punch attack, almost three times as many would also be dead in just a few days. Freakishly enough, one of the possible replacements for Bolton is acting National Security Adviser, Charles Kupperman, who once said that a nuclear war with Russia would be ‘winnable.’ Luckily, maybe, he’s just one among many contenders to the job.Crying-foul calls, – that the attacks may compromise the world’s oil supplies -, can’t be possibly taken seriously, but sadly show where the U.S.’s allegiances lie. While the devastating humanitarian crisis developing in Yemen hasn’t deserved any meaning reaction from the Trump administration, this sort of god-forbid attack on Saudi Arabian oil refineries is a reason to go to war.Hunger, extreme poverty, brutal dictatorship regimes, are issues that have stopped having an impact or forcing a reaction from the U.S. these days. Trump’s reduced our foreign policy into a contest of which despot likes him the most, and where to build a Trump tower or golf course. If that level of immorality fails to move his supporters, it’s their problem. But it won’t fly with us.
In preparation for the U.N. Summit, there will be a worldwide strike for the climate this Friday. Led by a multitude of groups and activists, it’ll be a chance for anyone to do something about the violent change in climate we’ve all been experiencing. Even if a symbolic gesture is all that someone can do it now, do it for the cause and consider yourself enlisted as a fighter for the planet.’Who’s gonna tell you when it’s too late, who’s gonna tell you things aren’t so great. You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong.’ An excerpt from ‘Drive,’ a 1980s hit for the Cars, written by Ric Ocasek who passed away on Sunday at 75. R.I.P., old chap.

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9/9/2019 Ready for the Fourth Quarter, Colltalers 

Millions of Brazilians marked Sept. 7, their Independence Day, dressed up in black. It was an angry political statement by a once proud nation, now wounded and humiliated by worldwide criticism. Why, it’s been asked, is the Amazon being burned to death?
Speaking of fire, India – which along with China may soon be home to half the world population – has reignited a largely ignored border crisis with Pakistan, imposing harsh policies on Kashmir and its majority Muslim residents. Note: both have nukes.
But first a quick review of the week, an unfortunate one for thousands affected by Hurricane Dorian. Floods,  destruction, and a rising death toll were left in its wake, all to be followed by more misery for years to come if Hurricane Maria is any indication. Like then, the White House had no plan in place and will likely apply the ‘Puerto Rico treatment,’ that is, do nothing about it.
It could be worse, due to its size, reach, and slow-moving pace with which it devastated the Bahamas and the Abaco Islands, and flooded North Carolina. But besides Dorian’s surprising north turn having nothing to do with prayers, other storms will come, as warm and rising waters add power and resilience to natural disasters and no one’s tending the store; Trump’s already moved on.Let’s not parrot the new series of blatant lies he used to navigate the crisis, between rounds of golf and belligerent tweets. Suffice to say, he’ll probably be greeted with the same deranged ardor by his followers on his next rally, while we’ll fend for ourselves.
He did cancel a scheduled peace talk with the Taliban, after a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan killed a U.S. service member.
Which is better in a sort of terrible way: 18 years after the 911 attacks, the U.S. is still fighting two deadly but ultimately useless wars in the Middle East that Americans would be glad to end. But having Trump doing the talk has been a thorough calamity and caused all attempts to reach an understanding with other nations to fail miserably. At every turn, he seems to make things worse.
There was very little heroism or honor about Brazil’s independence from Portugal, declared by Regent Prince Don Pedro I 197 years ago. The son of Portuguese King João, it was a matter of convenience: rather than being forced to trade only with Portugal, as it had happened for three centuries, the independence allowed Brazil to increase commerce with the U.K. and other nations.
The mourning attire and somber mood of every Brazilian but those presently in power and their supporters are fitting given the state of the nation: the economy all but in suspended animation; scandals and crisis plaguing the president’s inner circle of allies; and a social security ‘reform’ that benefits few and unjustly overburdens even further the working class. How’s that for measure?
Nothing though has the resonance of losing the ancient rain forest, the largest in the planet, a place where thousands of species, many still unknown, have lived under complex and fragile conditions, to the torches and greed of unscrupulous landowners.
Such soul-crushing experience is somewhat new to Brazilians, universally known for their ‘alto astral,’ an upbeat mood, despite the brutal living conditions of most of them. For years, far-right dog-whistling has claimed powerful but invisible forces were conspiring to take the forest away from Brazil, ignoring that to some extent, that’s already happened, but not the way they see it.
So much for phony patriotism; the tragedy has already befallen countless indigenous communities and wildlife, and it’s unlikely the president will ever be held accountable for his policies, which by now should amount to war-crime status. Sounds familiar?
The silver lining, however, is that pain teaches valuable lessons and the level of popular engagement in the issues crucial for Brazil’s future shows that many won’t take it all down. Rallies and crowds are not always effective but the least anyone can do to show their dissatisfaction with the direction the country is heading. Brazil is indeed a very unhappy country at the moment.
Since becoming Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi has been shaping a new India, one ever more discretionary and socially unfair. There’s been virtually no progress in the staggering social challenges the country faces in the five years he’s in power.
Instead, there’s been a steady right-wing radicalization of country, with a widening of the income distribution gap; a few dozen billionaires control millions of mostly destitute Indians. No democracy can survive in these terms, not even the world’s biggest.
Like China’s Xi Jinping and his iron-fist handling of Hong Kong protesters – who should be wished upon ‘good luck,’ as they seek Washington support -, Modi seems to have decided that peaceful co-existence with Pakistan, religious freedom, and dissent, are at odds with his political ambitions, and must be crushed before anyone say anything. And chances are, no one will.
There are clear signs that he may be ideologically aligned with other proto-fascistic leaders around the world, such as Trump and Bolsonaro. After all, it didn’t look good having his U.S. ambassador, Harsh Vardhan Shringlathe, meet with Steve Bannon, the very architect of the common handbook/agenda adopted by would-be authoritarian regimes. That does sound familiar, doesn’t it?
For almost 20 years now, New Yorkers got used to being a bit shaken around this time of the year and will keep on feeling this way, at least for a while longer. Sept. 11 remains the worst event in the history of this city, and not just for the loss of life, which stills hurts many. But the very sense of this being an open city was forever damaged, and fear has been normalized as necessary.
It was also an opportunity for real estate moguls to reset the place as a playground for billionaires, ridding diverse neighborhoods of what has always animated New York: its street life. Powers that be seized the moment to claim it as a domain of high-end consumption, triggering an explosion of homelessness, even as large swaths of Manhattan are left empty in the dark most days.
The attacks felt like a violent counterpunch against the wrong opponent; it’s been said, of all U.S. cities, New York is still the most welcoming towards everyone and traditionally the least supporter of American foreign policies. And yet… But it did give us all a sense of togetherness, of shared-experience that few other metropolises will ever experience. So yes, we’re mourning too.
But as Vernon Duke, a Russian who made our lives so much better, put it on his bitter-sweet classic, Autumn in New York is ‘often mingled with pain,’ but while ‘dreamers with empty hands may sigh for exotic lands,’ in the end, ‘it’s good to live it again.’
We’ll need all the optimism of American Standards to put up with this one. But by our Lady Pizza, we will. And a belated Happy 78th Birthday to Senator Bernie Sanders. Like wine and Bernie, may we all get better with age and make this one count. Cheers

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9/02/2019 Climate Needs Warriors, Colltalers

When Hitler invaded Poland, 80 years ago Sunday, the world couldn’t possibly take him for the mass-murderer that he became. But his supporters knew. Worst than history repeating itself is to see it’s about to happen again.  Meanwhile, the Amazon continues to burn but the news is already fading. Not that it ever matched the tragedy’s significance to the planet in the first place. But if carbon dioxide is bad, wait for what methane can do to our air.Speaking of tragedy, August has signed off by claiming its 51st mass-shooting, near Odessa, Texas. The state’s second massacre in a month left eight people dead and over 20 injured. While many don’t expect this issue to be resolved before the next one – and there will be a next one –  or ever, Americans must still refuse to normalize it.History is also at play in Hong Kong’s current woes, as in the fight between moving toward a real democracy, or acceding to the authoritarian Beijing rule. It’s not a fight to the faint of heart, as shown over the weekend. In some ways, China’s already gaining the upper hand, as it called out its armed troops and arrested protest leaders.How the world is reacting to the movement for HK independence it’s equally appalling though. So far, no global democratic institution has explicitly lent support to it, and it’s fair to expect that the financial system has also some role undermining the opposition to China’s rule. It all indicates that once again, Xi Jinping will have his way.The trial for the accused September 11 masterminds has just been set for 2021, which gives the measure of the George W. administration’s blunder handling the attacks outside a proper legal framework. Instead, it locked up  ‘suspects’ without a trial, in Guantanamo, failed to capture Osama Bin Laden, and invaded and destroyed Iraq.Its immoral lies to justify the invasion are still the biggest scheme ever to get the U.S. involved in a faraway war. That can change though. But the end result of that Pentagon’s wet dream of a war predictably going awry is the dead of thousands and a scorched land left for what was once a proud nation. And a likely endless ISIS’ revival. Up to not long ago, the ‘virtues’ of the WWII were being chanted and praised: the end of the German Nazi and Italian fascist dictatorships, the prosecution and prompted sentencing of war criminals, and most of all, the classification of hate and racial crimes as universally punishable by law. That new world lasted some 75 years.As it turned out, it wasn’t quite that way, and the fact that we’re still dealing with the same issues of intolerance, authoritarianism, and white supremacy, shows that maybe we’ve been a bit too optimistic about human nature these past seven decades. For the war that revealed the ‘greatest generation’ to the world, also helped ruin it. Then as now, there was a charismatic commander, adored by a horde of obsessed followers, to whom the world regarded warily but spared from close scrutiny. Someone who in the span of just seven years built an army eager to take over the world. And a leader who sheltered and encouraged other despots, as he did with Mussolini. Above all, then as now, the world was slow to wake up to the threat that such leader represented, and not willing to go out of the way to curb his advances. That helped Hitler succeeded, and Poland was just the first step. Now though, if history does repeat itself, we may not be able to beat his heirs or a way to come back from it. There’s never been a U.S. president who has lied so much as Donald Trump, and that’s based on bountiful public evidence. But history may see another character flaw of his as stronger: his cunning ability for self-preservation.
See, the president invoked the threat of Hurricane Dorian making landfall in Florida as an excuse to skip the sober WWII date, held in Poland and with the presence of almost all world leaders involved in the conflict. But then the storm changed its path; Trump, however, still went golfing as he had probably planned to do all along.But in that, he avoided two sticky situations that could potentially mean trouble for him – not that that usually matters: facing world leaders who could question his policies, and having a Katrina to which his administration’s so unprepared. After all, it was just reported that Trump is taking money from FEMA to fund his border wall.This would’ve been worse than Bush praising an ex-rodeo manager, who he’d nominated to lead the agency, for doing a ‘helluva of a job,’ just as one the worst natural disasters on record tragically unfolded. But it wasn’t to be. Those who expected Mar-a-Lago to be underwater by now, or Trump’s popularity to take a hit in a cornerstone electoral state such as Florida, will have to silently swallow their despair once again: he’s all thumbs up on TV.  What did happen though, and it’s equally staggering and possibly irrevocable, is the fact that, in the very same week the world’s biggest rainforest was put on fire, and fires were also raging in Alaska, of all places, the EPA has rolled back some 80 regulations to protect the environment and prepare for the fight against climate change. Considering that just a few years ago, the regulatory framework was already barely enough to curb fracking and other predatory fossil-fuel exploration, this is so utterly perverse that even some oil and gas companies oppose it. Digging in the Arctic, where the melting permafrost is already freeing ancient methane would be devastating. That’s why it’s inconceivable that the Democratic Party is not yet on board with the youth movement leading the charge against climate change. But there’s still time to put your representatives on notice. And that’s also why the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who’s arrived in New York last week, has been so relevant right now.After sailing the high seas aboard a racing boat, she was welcomed by thousands of young fighters, angry that the future is being chipped away by their elders. Thunberg, one of the millions of climate activists but arguably the first to achieve worldwide recognition, will be speaking at the U.N. Climate Action Summit, later on this month.If kids are owning their part in the survival of our civilization, then what’s the excuse for whoever’s been around the block a few times? To some extent, even those no longer in the game for belief or conviction could exercise good parenting and inspire those who came after to have a tomorrow. And we should get started today. Cheers

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8/26/2019 Mourning a Green Colossus, Colltalers

‘The sun shall be turned into darkness…’ As the Amazon burns, perhaps beyond recovery, there’s suddenly the realization that a catastrophic climate collapse – and more biblical quotes – may be all but inevitable. Worst: mankind doesn’t even have a plan yet.
A key to understanding how we got here may be this Women’s Equality Day. It’s the 99th-year from the U.S. Women’s Right to Vote and we’re still far from equality, ruled by a mostly ignorant minority belonging in gender to less than half of the population.
The evidence supporting the realities of these two headlines is overwhelming and frightening. So is the ineffectiveness of the Group of Seven’s annual gatherings. Over the weekend, leaders of Canada, U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Japan, the U.S., and E.U. officials, wined and dined in Biarritz, France, and beyond some vague assertions, offered no practical solutions. As usual.
The 2018 summit at least produced a photo – of said leaders and others, led by Germany’s Angela Merkel, staring at a cross-armed, impervious, Trump – which encapsulated what really went on in closed doors. Still, nothing memorable came out of it.
Trade and Iran, whose Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was a surprise guest, were supposed to be the main agenda, that is, until the climate kicked the conference doors down and threatened, as France’s Emmanuel Macron would put it, ‘to burn down our house.’ The ‘chosen one’ (his quote) however had his own agenda: to readmit ‘terrific person’ Vladimir Putin to the bloc. It won’t happen.
His insistence on praising the Russian president, who was expelled for invading and annexing Crimea, verges on the pathetic. After all, the entire world witnessed him being had, not just by the spymaster, but also North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, and now, China’s Xi Jinping. In France, he first claimed to have ‘second thoughts’ about his ill-advised trade war with China but took it all back afterward. The U.S. economy’s already been harmed, though, and if a recession’s coming, he’s guilty of having triggered it.
Ancient forests burning; wildfires, floods, and ever more powerful hurricanes; the staggering succession of ‘hottest month ever,’ of which July was just the latest. Nothing seems to make climate-change deniers forget their phony, self-serving ardor. Neither the Democratic National Committee, apparently, which has voted down having its presidential candidates debate the climate.
The decision is not just a blow to progressive groups, struggling to come up with a plan, the Green New Deal, perhaps, to reverse climate change, but to the party’s own credibility. Someone needs to remind the DNC that without a planet, there won’t be such thing as ‘victory,’ ‘free healthcare for all,’ or ‘livable wages,’ to fight for. Millions simply won’t show up at the polls at all. Again.
More optimistic is the theme for this years’ Burning Man, the annual fest in the Nevada desert’s temporary Black Rock city: ‘Everything changes, nothing perishes,’ by first-century Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The week-long, 30-year gathering went from hippie happening to a giant outdoor art show, and it’s now, mostly a billionaire’s display of wealth and trophy wives.
Speaking of billionaires, Charlie Koch’s death on Aug. 23 was ironically timed. For along with his brothers, he spent billions and decades undermining democracy and denying climate change, and the nefarious results of his appalling life were never more in evidence than what’s going on in South America right now. ‘Where are you spending your dough now, Mr. Koch?’ Rest in hell.
The malodorous wave of far-right populism, which has spread out for the past two years and is funded by the likes of Koch and others, bears responsibility for our impending doom. It’s what fuels Trump’s anti-democratic, anti-environment policies, clearly endorsed by a U.K.’s blowhard, and a second-tier of inept despots already wreaking havoc in Europe, Asia, and South America.
The miserable difference may be that, while no one knows how many dissidents Rodrigo Duterte has murdered, or how much worst the new Italian cabinet may be to immigrants, what Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro is doing immediately impacts the world; as in, ending of civilization impact. Warnings? Seeing the day turned into night in São Paulo at 3:00 pm is all that should be needed.
But alas it’s not: voting is what brings about change and accountability in society. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution was a crucial tool to support social and progressive causes in the U.S. through the ‘American century.’ Topless parades will celebrate it. Let’s hope that for its 100th year, women not just break poll station records, but also elect the first mother as a U.S. president.
This has been an unusually chockfull-of-quotes letter, here to help follow the week’s narrative. For it’s not only most Brazilians and Americans, but the entire world that’s grieving over the burning of the magnificent Amazon, and not just for the air. We’re mourning also our loss of confidence that humans will do the right thing, that we will do the right thing. So here’s another one.
‘We can’t tear out a single page of our life, but we can throw the whole book in the fire.’ Despite her pen name, George Sand was a woman, writer, and proto-feminist born over 200 years ago. She’s also known for her ascetic relationship with Frédéric Chopin. Unlike her, we can afford neither throwing away the book nor losing the Amazon forest. Time to jump-start the revolt. Cheers

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8/19/2019 This Ship’s About to Sail, Colltalers

‘The U.S. President issued a stern warning to China not to use military force to curb protests in Hong Kong. In other news, the president called his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to express worldwide concerns about that country’s nuclear program.’
These headlines, which may have flashed in some alternate universe, are made up, but reports of microplastics raining over the U.S. are scaringly real. What links these issues, however, is authoritarianism as it rises in the U.S. and links us to those regimes.
Holding that thought, let’s scan for other news. Starting by the terrorist attack in Kabul, which killed 63 wedding guests. It’s been claimed by Daesh, a.k.a. Isis, not the Taliban with which the administration expects to draw an Afghanistan withdrawal accord.
The new tragedy poses the disturbing prospect that, after the U.S. supposedly leaves the country, the Taliban will again invite the caliphate to rebuild its pre-2003 ruthless, terrorist-training theocratic regime. This time, with the extra advertising prop of a war-ravaged land. The American legacy won’t be of noble efforts to democratize Afghanistan, just the savagery of a useless conflict.
Also within this cycle, the world saw astonishingly what it’s like for a nation to be ruled by a power-hungry leader, staking his political future in a foreign would-be despot: Israel’s P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu’s abided by the U.S. president’s demand to stop U.S. Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, both Muslims Democrats, from entering the country to visit the Gaza Strip.
Tlaib wanted to see her 90-year-old Palestinian grandmother but obviously also to be there to express critical views of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. In other words, besides having a potentially final reunion with her relative, she and Omar were going there to do their job, which is expected by their constituencies. Ultimately, the ban was lifted but Tlaib gave up on the trip.
There’s no other way to put it, it was Israel’s lamest hour. It may have also deeply embarrassed Israelis who can’t be swayed by Netanyahu’s political expedience and abhor what he’s doing to their country, and to the Palestinians, in order to remain in power.
In the domestic arena, the latest mass shootings in the U.S., once again, haven’t been enough to pass gun control laws. If not now, then it may be never, but no one is giving up this fight. Unfortunately, neither are would-be copycats. Law enforcement agencies have reported a spike of young, white men with mass homicidal plans, so far thankfully cut short by concerned citizens.
That’s far from comforting, as attack weapons remain widely available throughout America and the president is bound to make yet another speech or two, encouraging white-supremacist hate. If Democrats don’t see this is as a worth-addressing issue, just as better training of law enforcement agents, and media ban on mass-murderers’ names, they’ve got another thing coming to them.
Republicans, instead, are always sure about priorities: help the rich, rape the land, take it while you can and walk away. And lie. But one, who’ll remain unnamed – a hint: he’s the Citizenship and Immigration Services head – had an idea about the Statue of Liberty, that’d surely revive Lazarus, so to speak. To justify restricting the poor from immigrating to the U.S., he’d add to Emma Lazarus’ ‘Give me your tired, your poor…’ words, ‘who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.’
To propose such an absurd revision to one of the most famous declarations of empathy, compassion, and humanity, and for good or bad, identified with America for two centuries, could only have come from a truly inept anti-American politician, who’d previously doubted President Obama’s place of birth, and had proposed to make speaking Spanish on the job a fireable offense.
In two years, Trump has signed the U.S. off the Paris Agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. And in every instance, we’ve paid for it. The fight against the climate emergency has lost its most powerful ally, Iran has restarted its nukes program and now represents a real threat to Israel, and now, Russia was caught testing new weapons.
No wonder Hong Kong residents are out protesting for democracy and pushing back China’s tightening grip. They deserve our solidarity, and some would really wish that first sentence was true, as the threat of a new Tiananmen Square massacre looms.
All that Severodvinsk dwellers know is that a nuke-powered rocket engine exploded and killed seven people a mere 20 miles away, on Aug. 8. But however sinister is Putin’s plan, an arms race is already on, and this time, press freedom won’t help us.
That the billions of dollars that such a race will cost would be enough to fund a global strategy to reverse climate change in just a few years, if we were really the smartest species on this planet, is hardly ever mentioned in the U.S. media. Which is, as usual, busy hammering the false claim that social welfare programs and retirement pensions for working-class are simply unaffordable.
But the fact is, plastics are being found everywhere, from the bottom of the seas to the stomachs of marine life to snow rain in high mountains to the deepest corners of our own digestive system. All without affecting an iota of annual plastic production.
The massive amounts of this eternal litter we’re damping on the planet is one of the reasons why any ‘gradual’ plan to combat the climate emergency is nothing short of B.S. An excuse to punt meaningful steps that would eventually criminalize pollution and take its manufacturers to account. Again, if Democrats, etc, etc. Rather, we must do our part, for surely they are not doing theirs.
‘We won’t stop organizing for ourselves, our children, and for the soul of this nation,’ says the only manifesto worth reading these days, that of notable members of the Latinx community. Published in major U.S. newspapers last week, it protests recent white supremacist hate and mass shootings, and Gestapo-like ICE raids, one of which arrested over 700 workers at a Mississippi plant.
Perhaps some will still sail to fabulous vacations without noticing the scourge of climate change wherever they go, and won’t hesitate to ride a gas-guzzling SUV, believing they’re entitled to do so. A word of caution: don’t waste time arguing with them.
The world may be running out of choices, but the privileged few like us do still have options. As Joni Mitchell wrote 50 years ago, on her Woodstock anthem, ‘We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon, and we got to get ourselves back to the garden.’ Not sure about that garden, but to each its own. If not for the children, let’s do it for ourselves. Just climb aboard.

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8/12/2019 Lowering World Expectations, Colltalers

Don’t come to America if you don’t want to get shot. That’s what Amnesty International’s travel advisory means by ‘be extra vigilant’ when traveling to the U.S. Given this country’s 250 mass shootings so far in 2019, the human rights group has a point.
The fair warning came out just as an estimated 400 million people marked the historical significance of Aug. 9. Friday was the World’s Indigenous Peoples Day, and also the five years since an unarmed Michael Brown was killed by a cop in Ferguson, MO.
This August, which got off according to the script of being the month of ‘mad dogs,’ has also another landmark to give it some perspective: the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, a moment in cultural time that has proven surprisingly hard to even celebrate.
For those who lived through it, and actually believed that those ‘three days of love and peace’ were the beginning of something new, there’s now the realization that it exists only as a fantasy, a collective memory barely tettered in reality. On the other hand, it was indeed a moment of transcendence, and because it’s been virtually impossible to reenact, it remains unspoiled and fresh.
Many times people have gathered by the thousands since, under the banner of music, love, and peace, or most commonly these days, to rally for rage, hate, and war. No event has reminded anyone, though, that half-century ago it was possible for thousands of strangers to spent time together in the open, through rain, mud, and no basic sanitation, without a single incident of violence.
It was the 1960s ‘dream’ of living in harmony with nature and each other, now dismissed as a vain utopia. World leaders, and people over 30, were not to be trusted, make love not war and all that, plus the sheer belief that human kindness knows no limits.
Regardless of how or why humanity got so helplessly sidetracked, however, that same dream was as far from reality then as it is today. If anything, we’re now forcibly closer to realize it, because there’s an imperative for survival in pursuing it. At no other time in history, we’ve been offered the chance to join all hands against a global enemy: climate emergency. Making progress yet?
Judging by the U.S.’ longest war – 18 years in Afghanistan and counting, with no sign it’ll end soon -, no assurances should be granted. Over 2,300 American troops and thousands of civilians have been killed, 97 pro-government forces and 35 civilians last week alone, and not a word about it by the media or the president. Plus Iraq and other gunpowder kegs. No, no progress in sight.
Worse. None of this war’s two major goals were achieved: it neither killed Osama bin Laden, caught in next-door Pakistan, nor it defeated the Taliban, still alive and raising hell and, as reported, about to strike a sweet deal with the Trump administration.
But the region’s biggest worry is with the Kashmir territory, whose autonomy was revoked by India. That raised already high tensions, put Pakistan on the defensive, and made the world lose sleep as it does whenever nuke nations get mad at each other.
On that note, mentioning Syria could bring more of the same bad news about war and carnage. But instead, there’s Mohammad Aljaleel, who spends his time among the ruins of Aleppo rescuing dozens of stray cats. Not quite a war hero, but a hero anyway.
The tragedy of Ferguson happened amid a wave of black youth being shot by the police, which has neither dwindled nor gone away. The crucial distinction was the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, which arguably could’ve gotten Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination, or Hillary Clinton the presidency. Instead, Brown, 18 then, remains a symbol of our national pain.
America’s original twin mortal sins, the slaughtered of its indigenous people and slavery, are now fittingly sharing an annual day that may help highlight their similarities. Whereas the genocide of natives was once about conquest, their survival is now linked to reversing climate change. The same way as fighting for racial equality means also to build a more just society for everyone.
Amnesty doesn’t usually issue travel advisories; it’s the State Dept. that does, usually referring to other places, not America. But it did now, along several nations, to call attention to the fact that the U.S. government has seemingly lost the will to protect its citizens and anyone from gun violence. It’s not about undermining the tourism and hospitality industries, but to protect all lives.
The weapons lobby has, once again, successfully suffocated any possibility of having a swift, effective and thorough gun control legislation, even if Mitch McConnell allows it to reach the Senate floor. Survivors and families of those victims of gun violence will, unfortunately, continue to endure constant reminders of this fact for the rest of their lives. So, tourists, please don’t come.
Elephants are thoughtful creatures, organized in matriarchal societies, and historically subjected to staggering cruelty and abuse.
But so far, our new understanding of the species hasn’t been enough to protect them from us. Thus today’s World Elephant Day, and its new pledge, along the usual resolve to protect the species, and end poaching and the ivory trade: Don’t Ride an Elephant.
The goal is to stop using elephants, or any other animal, for our entertainment. Just as circuses are on their way out, it’s time now to treat one the most intelligent and gracious giants to ever walk the planet with all due respect it deserves. Cheers.

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8/05/2019 Make America Grieve No More, Colltalers

It’s mourning in America, yet again: two massacres in California and Ohio added 30 more to the 979 people already killed this year in mass shootings. Thus we ask again: will Congress break its recess and pass urgent gun control legislation? Unlikely.
Meanwhile, the world pays annually $307 billion subsidies to the coal, oil, and gas industries so they can keep on wrecking the planet. Yet only a fraction of that could fund a global transition to renewables, according to a new report. Bothered? Not them.
We’ll get to those issues in a few, but let’s briefly check on Brazil’s political turmoil, ignited in part by President Bolsonaro’s just over seven months of multiple mishaps. For instance, his indication of son Eduardo to be the Brazilian ambassador to the U.S.
The move, which needs Senate approval, was greeted by almost universal incredulity. Not just for the house representative’s lack of diplomatic skills, but also for him to have become the butt of jokes in Brazil after his Fox News interview. It turns out, the candidate to one of the top diplomatic jobs in the world can barely speak English, and clips from his language lapses went viral.
Daddy easily topped that, however, when he bragged last week that he knew what happened to Fernando Santa Cruz, an activist who disappeared during the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985. The cruel remark was directed at his political foe, and Santa Cruz’s son, Felipe, president of Brazil’s Bar Association, who supported Adélio Bispo da Cruz’s acquittal.
Cruz, an acquaintance of the Bolsonaro family, stabbed him during a campaign rally. But his case was riddled with suspicion and as the president insisted on his conviction, Brazilians were reminded that the attack propelled Bolsonaro at the polls, preventing him from potentially damaging debates. As for the Armed Forces, it officially does not know the fate of its political enemies.
But the most deleterious diatribe by far-right Bolsonaro is how he’s fulfilling a sinister campaign promise made to his backers to open up the Amazon Rainforest to the fossil-fuel industry. Despite global protests, mining and logging are already at full clip.
As for the climate emergency and the need for replacing fossil-fuel with renewables sources of energy – there’s already been a dramatic if underreported revolution: solar and wind-related jobs in the U.S. outnumber that of pollutants by a 3-to-1 ratio.
But even with the worldwide boom of solar panels and wind turbines production, we still pay top dollar to prop up Big Oil. In 2015, the International Monetary Fund said that the world spent $4.7 trillion to subsidize it, and it estimated that it’d rise to $5.2 trillion by 2017. Still, many of these companies pay little or zero taxes, while 30 million Americans are behind on their tax bills.
It’s been reported that these taxpayer incentives now top defense spending – as if $700 billion wasn’t more than enough – but a more sobering fact is that they also represent 10 times the education budget. Hence, the 32 million in the U.S. who can’t read.
‘Annual investment in renewables has been greater than that in fossil fuel electricity generation since 2008 and new renewable capacity has exceeded fossil fuel power each year since 2014,’ the Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) report found. Another policy network report, this time from Ren21, has found that 112 nations subsidize their coal, oil, and gas companies.
To stop financing mega-corporations that, despite knowing that their products were harmful, continued to push them, just like the tobacco, pharma, and food industries, is the bare minimum we must do today to get our fight for survival started. The money we’ll save will help us not just switch to renewable energy, but also support every impoverished nation’s efforts to do it so too.
‘Domestic terrorism,’ or white supremacism is a form of terrorism. Barely a week after the FBI finally admitted that the spate of mass shootings in the U.S. is indeed race and class motivated, tragedy struck twice, as we, unfortunately, believe it’s wont to do.
The white, 21-year-old suspect of killing 20 people in El Paso, CA – a figure bound to increase due to the severity of injuries caused by his assault weapon – also published an online racist rant so vile even the site’s founder asked for it to be shut down.
Less than 15 hours later, another massacre in Dayton, OH, took another ten lives, and surely injured many more, to add to this grim but all too familiar habit in America to rate mass murders by their body count, not by how come we allow them to happen.
At this point, the usual ways we relate to mass shootings have become numbing irrelevant, just as the incidents themselves. The difference that may lead us to pass a strong gun control legislation is to law enforcement call them for what they are, domestic terrorism, and for ‘Moskow Mitch’ McConnell, Senate leader for the past four years, to be forced to act or get out of the way.
As the staggering number of casualties and lives damaged forever by these tragedies have regrettably ceased to shock us, we need the kind of leadership that won’t come from Mitch, or from a president who calls white supremacists ‘very fine people.’
To Democrats and Congress, please call the Parkland kids, apologize to them for having ignored their pain and mass rallies, and heed New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern’s ethical and humanitarian response: pass sweeping gun laws until the end of this week!
Two last notes to add hope and levity to this somber day in America. The teeter-totter that Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello have installed through the iron fence separating Sunland Park, New Mexico, and Colonia Anapra, Mexico, an artistic statement no less powerful than a citizen’s rally. It also reminded us that human interaction is a fun and effective way to solve conflicts.
And tomorrow’s birthday of arguably the king of artistic frivolity, Andy Warhol, who’d be 91. It’s a date worth mentioning if for nothing else, then for his flawed but insightful view of human folly: ‘in the future, everybody will be famous for 15 minutes.’ To fight for justice and for the future does give anyone a non-required shot at being famous but for doing the right thing. Together.

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7/29/2019 Tears in the Rainforest, Colltalers

A desperate appeal was issued on behalf of the Waiãpi, an indigenous community of Amapá, Brazil. Miners have invaded their land over the weekend and killed two of its chiefs. Jawaruwa Waiãpi blamed President Bolsonaro and promised to retaliate.
‘We know what’s happening and what needs to be done.’ Excerpt from the scientists-penned Letter to the Future at a memorial to Okjökull, a.k.a. Ok, Iceland’s first glacier lost to climate change. It’s heartbreaking and others may follow it too if we allow it.
Such an eloquent call for urgent action was in sharp contrast to the U.S. president’s viciously racist attack on Elijah Cummings, a black Representative from Maryland. It was vile, just as his previous public insults directed at The Squad. A new low? Hardly.
Fact is, while campaigning for reelection, Trump is casting the darkest, most intolerant and retrograde forces of society, so more is to be expected. At each new slur, slightly more deleterious than the one before, his racism is being normalized. If we allow it.
For too large a swath of Americans haven’t yet realized what’s coming up, with each new frightening rally of his. The roar of hate chanting and idolatry towards him is the glue that sustains his presidency. Sadly, many in his constituency – which is by far the one that depends the most on the welfare system – will soon pay the price for their support. But we won’t say, ‘I told you so.’
As for news from the border trenches, here’s a quick housekeeping tip: there must be constant reminders that the horror show is still on and each new horrifying development is worth noticing. Every American must be fully aware that what’s being done at the border on their behalf is not just illegal, from an international law standpoint, but also qualifies as crimes against humanity.
To flag what’s happening also prevents its banalization; if people pay attention, tragedy doesn’t sink to the bottom of coverage. As Trump hammers falsehoods by the hour, his lies must be exposed by the minute. The media won’t denounce him? We will.
Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez, 16, died in May, alone, at the toilet of an immigration detention cell. He was the fifth child to die after being taken into U.S. custody since December. A similar fate could’ve befallen Francisco Erwin Galicia, 18, who was detained for 23 days, with no family contact, lawyer, toilet, shower or bed available. He’s survived and now is suing the U.S.
The difference between the two is that Carlos Gregorio was an asylum-seeker from Guatemala, a country ravaged by American foreign policy, while Francisco is a U.S. citizen from Texas. Both fell into the same black hole of current immigration rules, with its ‘disgusting rat and rodent-infested’ prison-like facilities, ridden with lawlessness, violence, and disrespect to human dignity.
They will get no help whatsoever from the U.S. Supreme Court: rather than refusing to be part of this infamy, it actually allowed the administration to divert funds, not to save children, prevent deaths, or improve border conditions, but to fund a stupid wall.
Unfortunately, such coordinated brutality also inspires other tyrants around the world. Take Brazil’s junior despot, for instance. Since his campaign, President Bolsonaro has openly favored miners and loggers to break the law and get their business to the Amazon. After all, he despises indigenous communities almost as much as poor people of color, sexual minorities, and so on.
As a result, the forest has been losing an area equivalent to three American football fields per minute. It’s already lost over 1,300 square miles since he took office in January, a 39% increase over the same period last year, according to Brazil’s own agency tracking deforestation. Despite criticism, Bolsonaro’s simply doubled down: ‘the Amazon is not yours,’ he said last week.
Since Brazilian officials have arrived in Amapá, there’s been no reports of violence. But tensions throughout the entire forest are high, there’s no law enforcement, and long fought-for native Brazilian lands will continue to attract the landowners’ greed.
For now, let’s skip commenting on Boris Johnson, the second-half of the Swindler Twins, – guess who’s the other? – newly minted as the U.K. Prime Minister. He, who helped Brexit wreck England for years to come, is now in charge of fixing it, his intent all along. But, like his blond bro from another furrow, he has no clue of course. To our dear Brits, here’s all our solidarity.
Let’s also not waste time with the drop-in-a-bucket penalty the Federal Trade Commission imposed on Facebook. Or the Mueller testimony, a.k.a. Fiasco Vol. 2, which if anything, only confirmed our worst suspicions about well, FB: Russians and anyone can use it at will and in ways that are even more effectively than hacking. Or that hacking is even mentioned in this case. Enough.
Let’s instead celebrate and support battered Puerto Rico. Boricuas have taken a beating but fought bravely back a hurricane of neglect from Washington and ousted their corrupt governor. Now possibilities are wide open even for, who knows? Statehood.
‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.’ Roy Batty’s expiration speech in Blade Runner. But to Rutger Hauer, who I’ve briefly met in 1987, ‘time to die’ came July 19, making us very sad indeed. R.I.P., Vriend.

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7/22/2019 Don’t Get Fooled Again, Colltalers

It’s time for a new, all-encompassing anti-war front. Against any war, but first, the one Washington hawks are salivating to start: a disastrous, if not civilization-ending, conflict with Iran. For it’d easily kill millions, and derail the fight against climate change.
Which it’s what we all should be really up in arms against, be it for the accelerating melting of Greenland’s million-year-old ice sheet, or for the fact that this year, the July 4th was hotter in Anchorage, Alaska, than in New York City, over 440 miles south.
There’s been yet another soul-crushing incident at the border with Mexico. Meet Sofi, a 3-year-old from Honduras, who has been asked by an agent to choose which parent she’d like to stay with since the other was going to be kicked out of the country.
It was but a moment, luckily exposed just in time to prevent further damage to her and her family – they were reunited and sent to Juarez, Mexico. But the point is: what have we become? children dying or missing, in cages, filthy, forced to make decisions they can’t grasp? How can Americans be OK with an administration so brutal to kids, wherever they are, come from or why?
The universal right to seek asylum, either for fear of persecution or grave threat, is a juridical concept recognized by ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Hebrews, adopted by the Christian church and the Western tradition, and still universally accepted as an inherent right. But the president thinks he knows better and wants to change that. And he will if the American people allow him.
The rule may also be illegal, besides being against basic human decency, solidarity, and compassion, the very foundation of living in society. It’s an unfair act inflicted on those who got hurt the most by the U.S.’s Central American policies. Now if only we could find all this historical, unbiased information, so we could actually talk with each other, instead of hurling insults.
Surprise, surprise: if you thought you’ve already heard these words defining the right to asylum mentioned above, you’re right: it’s all lifted from Wikipedia, a source that many could use at least once, before opening their mouth and adding to the madness.
Questions also abound about former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony to House Judiciary and Intelligence committees this Wednesday. He may even shed new lights on the Trump administration’s malfeasances, but it may not be wise to place high expectations on someone who’s already had a chance to enlighten us, but has not, and failed at making himself even understood.
Even if he delivers an unlike bombshell, then what? It may only serve to instruct an impeachment process that’s now all but dead on the water. And it’s more likely to be used as fodder to confirm his previous, foggy, findings: the president sort of did it, but… The second time around there’s little doubt he did it all but would that be enough to derail the Trump 2020 ticket? Hardly.
Speaking of that, it’s doing wonders to normalizing hate. When the president paused to let his angry crowd chant ‘Send Her Back,’ during a rally in North Carolina, he was once again priming his weapon of choice to get reelected: sowing divisionism.
They were referring mainly to Rep. Ilhan Omar, but also to her fellow congresswomen, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, or the Squad, all ‘minority’ women of color. They’ve become a target to his white supremacist base.
To be sure Omar is being villainized also for being the very incarnation of an American dream: born in a refugee camp, she came to the U.S. to work and educate herself, and found her voice by representing others not exactly like her. But not like him. The Squad is now the vanguard of the Democratic Party, and possibly the only one with such a visceral mandate to defeat him.
They’ve cut through grandstanding, so the president and the producers of his White House unreality show, Fox News, are all out to silence them. It may take more than all Rupert Murdoch’s money, though, or what Steve Bannon may be able to squeeze out of coward billionaires. There’s a call to save the earth and they’ve raised their hands, to be counted. Let’s lend them ours too.
The biggest risk of getting into a messy war with Iran, as with any other nation for that matter, is that so many are not paying attention. In typical Trump fashion, there’s a show of mirrors, renewed every week, designed to capture the public eye, and not let it go until it engages. And that’s so easy; by noon whatever tweet or soundbite of his is already being taken as newsworthy.
As the media hammers the same rehashed points with hardly any corroboration, about missing tankers, near misses, and downed drones, for the rest of the afternoon and evening news programs, a few hundred bots spread the new rumor on the Web. All they need is to connect with online hordes of idiots, anxious for attention and voila, that’s your news day. Meanwhile, war closes in.
We won’t repeat the same playbook that led to the death of over 4,000 troops in Iraq, plus hundreds of thousands of civilians. We’ll say no for three reasons: Afghanistan, Iraq, and yes, we won’t let the president play the commander and win reelection.
We won’t send another few thousands of our young into harm’s way – note to oneself, many undocumented soldiers took bullets for this country and still have no Green Cards – or demand those left behind to stand up and sing hail to the great white chief.
Few know by heart what the second man to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, said as he descended the steps of the lunar module. As it turns out, they didn’t have the same rehearsed gravitas of Neil Armstrong’s famous quip. Or made into the day’s headlines.
They did, however, have just the amount of triviality that makes great achievements relatable to anyone, almost like a routine comment. Except that it wasn’t, of course. ‘Wa’al, here I go, down the steps of the lunar lander to join Neil on the surface of the moon – careful not to lock the door behind me.’ Don’t allow anyone to shut the door of the world on our face. Peace, never war.

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07/15/2019 Climate & the Stardust Dream, Colltalers

As hurricane Barry was making its way towards Lousiana’s coast last week, New Orleans was reminded of the trauma inflicted by Katrina in 2005. Barry’s still drenching the state, but mercifully, it all but spared the Big Easy.
Even powerful hurricanes eventually go away, though, unlike the climate emergency we’re facing. That’s why thousands of U.S. colleges are pushing for an action plan, and there’s a new fund helping raise awareness of the issue.
But the week had other themes, with higher or smaller degrees of concern and misery, worth going over before those headlines. Some, such as Iran, are bound to simmer for a while, but since it’s about nukes, let’s not be complacent.
The U.K., a nation with seemingly no one properly minding its business these days, has shown poor judgment again by seizing an Iranian tanker. All that it accomplished was to raise already high tensions between Teheran and Washington. Given the Trump administration’s own mess in the region, it won’t be easy to dial it all down.
In Hong Kong, protesters have spent the past month marching against a new extradition law, that even as it’s officially killed, it still haunts the liberal majority living in the China-controlled territory. No surprise here.
The authoritarian Chinese government would want nothing but to legally do what’s already assumed it does undercover: to bring dissidents to the mainland and shut them down. For that, it counts with a huge ally, the world’s indifference about China’s civil rights violations. But for now, HK activists are keeping the momentum from fading away.
Almost every summer, Rome and most big cities around the world come to a point they can’t handle the gargantuan amount of garbage they produce. The public health and stench crisis will only get worse, but so far no amount of stink emanating from the Eternal City has led to solutions, or driven interest to tackle the daunting task ahead.
As societies still apply a ‘one-way’ approach to consumption, and impoverished economies no longer want to be dumpsters to wealthy nations, it’ll take more than anything mankind has ever done about its footprint on the planet, to solve it. At the moment, though, the U.S. won’t lead the search for solutions, despite being its chief culprit.
In a year, Americans produce more garbage per capita (807 kilograms of solid waste) than Europe, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean combined, or almost twice what the rest of the world produces.
Despite the potential for becoming a dominant enterprise in the future, recycling lacks investments and political will to respond to the global crisis. Worse, corporations producing the bulk of garbage are still not required to play a role in recycling their own goods. Only accountability, of businesses and individuals, will turn this rotting tide.
Which brings us to floodings and downpours, loss of lives and material destruction brought about by hurricanes. And how such a drastic condition may become another year-round climate-triggered event.
‘Work together to nurture a habitable planet for future generations.’ Over seven thousand colleges and universities have signed a declaration to address the crisis, outlined on a three-point set of priorities: going carbon neutral by 2030; mobilizing resources for research and training; and reemphasizing education across the board.
Congressional Democrats have also come up with a ‘Climate Emergency Resolution,’ that outlines ways the U.S. has to gather resources against it and to demand immediate action. It’s fittingly light on implementation details, just like the Green New Deal, as policies have to be all-encompassing but flexible to be applied locally.
And a new fund has just been created by a group of philanthropists and investors, to support efforts of groups focused on the crisis. One of them, Extinction Rebellion, has been particularly visible.
Their most distinguished aspect is how they enroll the help of regular people in their interventions. Rather than trained activists, most participants in traffic stoppages, for instance, or pointed protests at government facilities, are those who wouldn’t usually join street protests. We applaud their courage standing up for us all.
All of that is commendable, of course, but we still lack a global strategy to counter the climate’s disruption and its impact on the lives of millions. That’s why the U.S. has to rejoin the Paris Agreement.
Immigration raids are supposed to increase all over the U.S. this week, and so is resistance to this brutal, politically driven, and ultimately, ineffective Trump policy. Again, thousands of hard-working Americans will be chased down by a Fascist arm of the government, that has long ago abandoned any ethical and just principles.
As Megan Rapinoe, the U.S. World Cup Champion soccer team player, said on their victory rally, ‘it’s our responsibility to make this world a better place.’ And she’s delivered at least part of that. It’s our turn now.
Saturday will mark the 50th anniversary of the man on the moon, yet another promise to turn this into something better than what it was when we arrived. Even if the space adventure bellies an arms race and a deranged quest for global domination, it’s also an ideal inherent to being human: we do want to go back to where we once belong.
After all, ‘we’re made of star stuff,’ as Carl Sagan once said, sort of paraphrasing Shakespeare. Despite all disappointments, walking on the moon since was a shining moment for humankind. Our moral task now is to save the planet, but if we manage that, we may be also ready to someday fly among the stars again. Cheers.

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7/08/2019 First They Chase Immigrants, Colltalers

June was history’s hottest month on Earth. But such a global emergency is still to be matched by a blunt, effective response from governments and the ownership classes controlling the world. So kids fighting for their future are suing the whole lot of them.
Meanwhile, whether Steve Bannon had big expectations for Jair Bolsonaro, whom he helped elect as Brazil’s president half a year ago, is arguable. But it’s unlikely he’s pleased by this train wreck of an administration either. Most Brazilians are surely not.
Before those headlines, though, let’s have a bumpy ride through other news. The two-punch earthquake that rocked California, for one, the strongest in 20 years. Fears of the ‘big one,’ supposedly due around now, made a few hearts to skip a beat or two, but with no casualties, Californians went right back at worrying about a new, now more predictable scourge: the season of wildfires.
California also looms large in the opposition to the Trump administration’s brutal immigration policies. The president, who’s threatened state laws protecting a quarter of its population who are immigrants, or related to someone who is, is also still trying to add the so-called citizenship question in the 2020 Census, which would shorten federal funds to be allocated to the state.
That, in addition to government-run concentration-like camps, where asylum-seekers are treated as criminals, and nationwide, Gestapo-like raids, have created conditions for a potentially explosive U.S. summer, with yet more grief and misery to boot.
It’s no wonder the sad reoccurrence of adjectives last used in WWII. There’s an entire argument going on about just that, and both sides may have a point. Unlike the simpler choice Americans must make; for it’s either to learn from well-known and yet still painful history lessons, or pay the price for being with Stupid and helping undermine dignity and democratic principles.
‘First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist,’ goes an often paraphrased and misquoted 1946 quote by Martin Niemöller, which also mentions Jews. ‘Then they came to me – and there was no one left to speak for me.’
Speaking of expected consequences, the alarming result of Trump’s all-thunder-and-no-substance saber-rattling against Iran is what may also happen with North Korea: as the president tries to walk back on his threats, Iranians are doubling-down on their pursuit of nuclear capability. Now if only we were part of a decent, global agreement on Iran nukes. Oh, wait, we tossed that one.
To say that an unthinkable nuclear conflict in the Middle East shouldn’t be our top concern, though, as a nation and a civilization, is a statement few thought could make any sense. But given the gap between what serves tyrants and warmongers’ interests, and the will and aspirations of the majority of humans, the biggest task is to rise against the former, and be judicious about the latter.
What groups of teenagers are doing in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere – some 250 lawsuits demanding immediate climate action – is much more important. Now if only their last-ditch effort to save the planet could get our support, we’d be fine.
They’re far from it, however. In the U.S., especially, ignorance of the causes and ways of reversing the already harsh effects of global warming is rampant, to the satisfaction of a powerful fossil fuel industry that acts as if the president were on its payroll. Kids who already missed support to fight for gun control, are getting a similar cold shoulder about the climate too. And that just as they may become the voter demographics strong enough to swing the election. Powerful Democrats, such as Senator Diane Feinstein shutting down kids who wanted her support to the New Green Deal, are the rule, not the exception. And we all lose.
The first six months of Brazil’s far-right President Bolsonaro have been about suspicious of corruption of family members, and of allies’ involvement in murders; petty internal disputes; and a recent cocaine scandal. The only thing that remains consistent in his increasingly paranoid administration is the still steady support of the so-called bull, bullet, and bible congressional caucus.
But many wonder that even with the millions of big landowners, gun advocates, and above all, Evangelicals, Bolsonaro may not be able to complete his term. Not because he represents a real global risk, which he does, but for his anti-environmental policies.
The visible impact of his ill-conceived actions and even more absurd statements can already be seen on the Amazon Rainforest.
Last month, for instance, deforestation rates rose 88% compared to the same month a year ago, a likely by-product of his plans to open the forest for oil and gas prospection. This just as understanding of the forest’s importance to fresh air and water, ultimately for protecting the planet, is now all but unanimous. And not mentioning the fate of the many communities living off the jungle.
Not even Bolsonaro’s deranged dreams of largesse, though, will assure that his lines of credit with backers will still remain open.
While the coalition to oust Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first woman in the presidency, in 2016, and prevent former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from being elected again, a year ago, was unified then, it’s now all splintered. Bolsonaro remains clueless at the center of a national crisis that may oust him too. Doesn’t ‘a president who doesn’t understand the issues’ sound familiar?
A shout to Megan Rapinoe & her Team U.S.A. for its 4th Women World Cup (and for not even considering going to the ‘f**king’ White House). And a note about the passing of João Gilberto, one of the architects of Bossa Nova. R.I.P., João. Our condolences to Brazilians proud of sharing their nationality with a true genius of music. And to dear singer Bebel Gilberto, it will get better.

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7/01/2019 A Photobook of Tragedies, Colltalers

Heatwaves shouldn’t make summer headlines. Unless they start breaking records at an unusual rate. Recent 114F temperatures that killed dozens, ignited wildfires, and cut power in seven European nations have one unmistakable cause: climate emergency.
19 of the richest nations have tried to show they’re concerned about that, at the just-finished Osaka, Japan, G-20 summit. But their words sounded hollow, and even their final declaration missed the signature of the world’s biggest carbon polluter: the U.S.
But none of the pictures of devastation and misery caused by the continental scorcher had the emotional punch of the one taken at the southern border of the U.S.: a little girl embracing her father, both face down, who drowned crossing the Rio Grande river.
The viral photo of Salvadorean Oscar Alberto Martinez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria Martinez, tops an already staggeringly heartbreaking collection of images that summarize the Trump administration’s awfully cruel immigration policies.
In these dark times, toddlers in cages, mothers and kids running from tear gas, plus reports of record numbers of children dying, or being abused at border patrol facilities, almost fail to catch our attention. At each new image, we’re forcibly becoming a bit more acquainted with the infamy. But the fate of Oscar and Angie should, or rather, must put a stop on this madness. But will it?
One wonders, because just a few days prior, a harrowing account of what’s like being detained in an overcrowded border station in Clint, Texas, had caused shock but not much else; no sustained media coverage, and even less reaction as a result of it.
Would it be that pictures are not enough to move us? Have we turned our heart blind, and no longer can connect the plight of those fleeing persecution, murder, and extreme poverty, to our own humanity and natural desire to seek a better world for our loved ones? Are we sure that that’s what we believe should happen to those desperately knocking on our door?
A group of lawyers reported that hundreds of children, as young as seven, were caring for infants they’d just met, ‘toddlers with no diapers relieved themselves in their pants, and teenage mothers wore clothes stained with breast milk.’ No one had access to showers or toiletries, amid the unbearable stench of human filth. To believers, few descriptions match what hell must be like.
Speaking of faith, irony would be a word to describe it too, if there wasn’t another one more precise: hypocrisy. For in a country where religious fundamentalism, i.e., intolerance and hate, is on the rise, and the zealotry of so-called pro-life activists threatens to criminalize a woman’s right to choose, no one of that front has said anything in protest or showed up to support the children.
While they proselytize a new authoritarian order, where fetuses have more rights than living, flesh and blood people of color, the horror show at the border has become a ‘Wish I Were Never Here’ postcard-like of life in America under Trump, circa 2019.
Another type of show, usually introduced by an expletive, is often provided by the president himself, whenever on a world tour. At every new outing, he manages to top himself, either with another display of ugly-American-ism, or by smilingly posing next to some tyrannic leader. He followed the script again last week, while also adding new touches of unacceptable showmanship.
At the G-20, Trump not only posed with Vladimir Putin, mockingly asking him, by request of the international press, to not meddle on U.S. elections, but also made a sick joke about getting rid of journalists, to a man accused of having murdered them.
Worst: for the summit’s ‘family’ pic, he made a point of shaking hands with Saudi Arabia crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who a United Nations panel accused of ordering the murder and dismemberment of U.S.-based Saudi reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
The warm handshake was witnessed by a roster of cheerful leaders, including Putin, Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, all happy to wave, contrasting with a subdued U.K.’s soon-to-be ex-P.M. Theresa May.
The fact that the G-20, as a bloc, won’t put the maximum priority on the climate crisis, reveals more about how the system is set up than about its nation members, some of which are indeed taking (baby) steps for change. But overall, the picture is not good.
For instance, take the country formerly known as the land of the free, or U.S., for short. In two nights last week, 20 Democratic presidential contenders have debated and seemed all eager to speak on behalf of a renewed party, almost unashamed to reassert its refocused social aim. Climate though was nearly dwarfed by what candidates, but not the public, consider as urgent priorities.
2019 may turn out to be among the hottest in recorded history, as fires will burn towns, downpours will flood streets, and people will die. But so far, a new, comprehensive legislation, such as the Green New Deal, is yet to be voted on, let alone implemented.
All 20 agree that climate is an issue that turns all others irrelevant, but until Trump’s opponent in next year’s election is picked, count only on the young and the willing for something to be done about it, not on the Democratic party’s leadership, or ex-special counsel Robert Mueller, for that matter, even as he’s finally agreed to testify to Congress on July 17. We won’t get fooled again.
The U.S. celebrates its 243rd anniversary this Thursday, and Americans will have B-B-Qs, parades, games, and fireworks to marvel at. There may also be plenty of grandstanding and ‘support the troops’ speeches, but that’s the part to avoid. Take it easy and skip coal, if you can. More importantly, tell yourself, we’re not that kind of nation; we’ll back you up. Happy Fourth of July.

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6/24/2019 Time to Fight & Be Proud, Colltalers

It’s deja vu all over again. The Trump administration’s threatened to bomb another country, but Iran may be tougher a foe than North Korea. Whether the crisis is averted, is not the president’s concern; having a war at the ready to help on his reelection is.
But the world is, indeed, concerned about it. Such a conflict would surely spill over the Middle East and boost the more than 70 million kicked out of their homes by wars, according to a United Nations study released on World Refugee Day. Worried yet?
The climate emergency is very much part of both equations. For instance, a report by NOAA, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric agency, found that global carbon dioxide emissions reached the highest levels in 61 years, last May, 3.5 ppm higher than the 411.2 ppm 2018 peak. In the same period, floods and rainfall drove the U.S. to its second-wettest month in 125 years.
A just-arrived traveler from another era would think that mankind’s sole focus would be on these two scourges, war and climate, the only two capable of co-existing, while endlessly feeding each other. But such wanderer would be terribly wrong about that.
When the Federal Reserve’s released its ‘Distributive Financial Accounts’ data series, many an analyst searched it for evidence that would corroborate whatever assumptions they had about the market, the economy, and everything. Except what it all means.
Matt Bruenig, founder of the People’s Policy Project, found something else entirely: that ‘between 1989 and 2018, the top one percent increased its total net worth by $21 trillion,’ while the bottom 50 percent saw its net worth decreased by $900 billion.
And yet, that misguided traveler would again assume, war and climate catastrophe affect everyone equally, so those clearly with the means to stop them both would be actively pursuing just that, so their own kin would have a future to live on. Right? Nope.
If the staggering inequality the world has been witnessing getting wider, with tragically fewer ways to slow it down, shows anything about our fellow humans is that those who can, won’t do much about, for as long as their own present status quo holds.
And the majority is simply too busy outrunning floods and the rain of bullets. In plain words, the tiny minority at the top wants to profit, while the rest of us swim, run and survive, or sink and drown. As for that tripper, they’d better head back home soon.
Not every wealthy person is oblivious to the urgency of climate change, of course, and not all survivors at the bottom are noble spirits, fighting the good war. But only one side already pays for a rudderless world, split between haves and will-never-haves.
Which brings us to Trump’s game of teasers, designed to regulate at his liking the heat of bad decisions he makes every day. A compliant media is already drumming up ‘reasons’ to press Iran, even when it omits from its coverage the fact that the U.S. has already started the war. It seems that there’s been an intense cyber attack on Iranian defense systems, anticipating any reaction.
Iran has shown that it’s willing to react, heavens help us all, but it’s also wisely taking its time; who needs a conflict that may kill hundreds of thousands, or worse if involves the use of nuclear weapons? Not Iran, not its neighbors, not even archenemy Israel, if its own administration hasn’t lost it all yet. But Trump does, for war is a sure way for a sitting president to win his reelection.
He’s not alone on this stance either. It’s just so that, while we live in the most crucial time ever challenging civilization to act as a whole, we have also a crop of individualistic, war-mongering, manipulative, and anti-democratic leaders to ever being given the fate of billions to manage. They obviously won’t do a thing to risk self-preservation, everything and everybody else be damned.
Risking losing credibility, it may be fair to say that if Iran does become a full-fledged nuclear nation, it’d be all Trump’s fault. The 2015 nuclear agreement was doing its job of containing its capability of developing weapons, and it was supported by the international community. Breaking from it was a mistake, and not just because the administration had no better plan to replace it.
Iran has recently said that it will enrich Uranium. Despite media coverage, though, that was not what started the present crisis.
And for the sake of sanity, let’s not get here into all the lies, the blurry images of the ‘proof’ for an attack in the Gulf of Oman, the preposterous speeches on the ‘threat’ Iran represents, all nauseating reminders of the buildup to the disgraceful 2003 Iraq war.
Trump may have tried to walk back on his words, claiming victory, and, well, lying a bit more about it. Just as he did with the ‘excellent letter’ he claims to have sent Kim Jong-un. But many Iranians are tired of fighting the Ayatollah and Supreme Council, for an opening to the west, only to be disavowed by the most western of them all, the U.S. They may not back down this time.
It was a week when Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini vowed to send a boat full of migrants back to a war zone; that the U.S. was reported to have been waging cyberwar on Russia’s power grid; and when another woman was featured on a national magazine cover, accusing Trump of sexually harassing her. That is, a typical week in the Trump world of misery we all live in.
And yet, however dark are our thoughts about life, the universe, and the future of everything, there are those who need to be empowered to win the fight for their lives: those whose years on Earth amount to less time than it took us to be alarmed by it.
Older generations have ‘failed to respond properly’ to the climate emergency, while the young are ‘stepping up to the challenge,’ said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutierres at last week’s World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth, in Lisbon.
Besides being concerned about the fate of refugees, that also means stripping power away from those who won’t do anything to prevent war or act on climate, and letting the young and progressive forces of society take charge and lead the way. The rich, or technology, could help, but don’t count on it. Our time’s running out. Be happy, be out, and enjoy the Pride/Stonewall 50 March.

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06/17/2019 A Judge Hero No More, Colltalers

Brazil has been rocked by a series of leaked conversations, suggesting a conspiracy of judge Sérgio Moro, law enforcement, and government officials, to prevent front-runner, two-term ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from winning the 2018 election.
A ‘gut punch.’ That’s how civil rights groups called the Trump administration’s plan to put asylum-seeking children in internment camps, used to detain Japanese-Americans during WWII. Brazilians took to the streets; reaction in the U.S. was more subdued.
To be sure, it’s been a time for political turmoil in both countries, at the forefront of a global struggle that pits progressive forces of society against the assault of a far-right neo-populism, managed behind the scenes by the likes of Steve Bannon and others.
Before probing further these two explosive headlines, let’s quickly review some of last week’s other events of note. Starting with Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange, whose U.K. court hearing whether to extradite him to the U.S. has been set for next February.
In a case that undermines one of the main tenets of democracy, that of a free press, Assange has been persecuted for publishing in 2010, classified documents on the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaked by court-marshaled Army Officer Chelsea Manning.
Between diplomatic cables and footage shot by Air Force pilots, the trove of material shows possible war crimes committed by the Americans, with potential to indict the entire U.S. war effort in those two countries, and implications to the whole region.
Instead, the administration wants to use the 1917 Espionage Act to brand Assange an enemy of the state. For that, it counts on a compliant media, oblivious to its responsibility to inform and side up with whistleblowers who risk their lives, to tell the truth.
U.S. conservatives like to boast about patriotism, and how 911 defined a new America. But just as their ‘unwavering’ support to fetuses, and no regard to the living poor and non-white, such rhetoric won’t apply to those who actually sacrificed themselves.
The case of the first respondents, sicken while recovering bodies from New York City Ground Zero, the Pentagon, in D.C., and Shanksville, PA., is heartbreaking. 18 years after the attacks, Congress is still to provide a permanent cash stream for the Victims Compensation Fund, for survivors and families of those who perished from illnesses contracted while working at those sites.
‘You should be ashamed,’ lashed out comedian, and activist, Jon Stewart to a near empty room in Capitol Hill. It was his latest attempt to boost support for a bill with the potential to help more than 95 thousand survivors and responders enrolled in the plan. But it’s very likely that it won’t pass before the death toll from 911-related ailments outnumbers the attacks’ nearly 3,000 deaths.
Race has also brought Brazil and the U.S. somehow together in the past days. Former slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman is poised to replace American slave-owner president Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Not soon, though, if it’s up to Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin. Whether Jackson-admirer Trump has anything to do with that is uncertain, but at least, a bill design is now out.
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, one of Brazil’s most celebrated writers, would be 180 next Friday. But in a country where over 60% of the population is non-white, many ignore that the son of slaves was black, unlike his official portraits. A project by Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares, named after a former slave, is now trying to correct that and catching some flak in the process.
And another parallel in the week news is also worth mentioning: while a hung juror acquitted Scott Warren, for providing water and humanitarian aid to migrants in the American Southwest desert, Pia Klemp, a German boat captain, faces up to 20 years for rescuing an estimated 1,000 refugees. Let’s hope the Italian court system shows Arizona’s equanimity, and also acquit Klemp.
It was the now Justice Minister Moro, and its ‘Car Wash’ investigation, what assured Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil’s new president. He presided over persecution and imprisonment of double-digit polls leader Lula, on what many law experts called trumped-up charges. The Intercept’s disclosures that Moro was actually driving the proceedings all but demoralizes his public stature as fair.
Audios of his exchanges with Deltan Dallagnol, Lava Jato leading prosecutor, and other law enforcement agents, show that he clearly broke the law, and knew it. What will come next, with further revelations and mass rallies of protest, is anyone’s guess.
But slowly, a sharper picture of what happened to Brazil begins to emerge. From a global leadership position, in less than four years, it plummeted to a backwater nation, with a stagnant economy and paralyzed industry, and whose majority of its population is being haunted again by old demons, rampant hunger, and violence, with increasing social inequality, and a brutal lawless state.
The movement to free Lula has now a substantial legal backing. Even though Bolsonaro is likely to throw a still popular Moro under the bus any day now, the president himself may be sailing into troubled waters. As the universally derided coup that ousted president Dilma Rousseff showed in 2016, allegiances quickly change, and his support may be further eroded in the days ahead.
Some 120 thousand Japanese-Americans were held on four dozen facilities during WWII, due to a xenophobic, and ultimately unjustified, fear of U.S. betrayal by its own citizens. In another cruel double-down of its own stance on immigration, the Trump administration plans to send 1,400 asylum-seeking children to Fort Sill, OK, which hosted some 700 detainees during the 1940s.
That Army base choice represents the worst kind of symbolism, reaffirming the government’s views on immigration, refugees, and asylum-seeking, as a criminal, not social, issue. It’s truly sad to say, but concentration camps are indeed back, and here.
Ideologues of the ‘new’ Fascism have priorities well set. On top, are winning elections, which it’s been happening even if not as overwhelming as they claim. Related signposts to keep close watch: a new prime minister in the U.K., and president in the U.S.
But along that, there’s a core of issues that taken together, can redraw the world’s power balance. Women reproductive rights, race, immigration, wages, access to education, are key for would-be tyrants to manipulate and restrain societies under their fists.
Often, though, lack of vision, and/or a powerful theme threatening their own survival, derail them from that upper perch. These days, such an issue is climate emergency. It’s global, it’s existential, and above all, it’s coming at mankind real fast. That’s why the Green New Deal isn’t about planting trees, but changing social conditions, so we all have an equal shot at living and thriving.
It has to be inherent to any proposal to solve the climate challenge that the most powerful have greater responsibility to lead the charge and sponsor all material changes. But all efforts will be doomed if they merely reproduce the current social order. No one comes alive out of this world, but many will help build a better one. Open enrollment is now. Enjoy the midyear Solstice.

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06/10/2019 Genocides We Choose to Ignore, Colltalers

An inquiry on multiple deaths and disappearances of Canada’s indigenous women has shed light on a brutally common reality around the world. But violence against women, just as genital mutilation and murder of transgenders, still remains on the rise.
Another week, another terrifying report or two on the climate emergency. Out of 7.7 billion, six billion breathe life-threatening air. Worse: besides carbon dioxide, 84 times more toxic methane now accounts to a quarter of human-caused global warming.
Before elaborating on these headlines, let’s talk about what’s tickled the angry bone of those still in possession of a brain lately. What about the visit of that ugly American, and his hopeless self-driven family, to Queen and country across the pond? Needless to hide: it was, well, ugly. Even before taking off, Trump’s insulted a member of the Royals, and Sadiq Khan, well-liked mayor of London. Once there, he praised Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, the notoriously reviled architects of the Brexit disaster.
All the while, he tweeted nasty things about veteran Robert Muller – on D Day, no less -, and Betty Midler, of all people. And to some, he committed his worst offense so far, donning a grotesquely undersized evening wear he seems to have had since the 90s.
Nothing of it amounts to anything his supporters care about, though, or that too-intimidated-to-act Democrats can throw at him.
For all heartbreak and embarrassment the 45th is causing to Americans, he’s still in control of the media narrative and got quickly back on the saddle. An example of vintage Trump? the so-called deal he claims to have struck with Mexico over tariffs.
For anyone light on critical thinking about what they read around, the president threatened to raise tariffs on Mexican imports, if our neighbor didn’t prevent immigrants to entry… the U.S. Looking closely, however, nothing of sorts ever happened. Mexico’s been already doing its part, agreed upon months ago, by trying to streamline the immigration flow. Problem is, it simply can’t.
With the Trump administration doing all in its power to prevent them from gaining lawful entry into this country, no matter how much people warehousing Mexico may afford to arrange, the flow will only engorge further. Those who jump all hurdles to get here will still have no prayer to see a judge in reasonable time, or even get the protection they are due to from international laws.
‘Genocide.’ That’s how Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called what happened to thousands of impoverished indigenous women killed between 1980 and 2012, at the release of a government report that also concerns American native populations.
Most had left their places of origin in search for a better life, only to be murdered while negotiating the underworld of sex trade and drug addiction. The fate of many remains unknown, but overall, the episode fits a despicable pattern rooted in class and race.
Although sobering, the enquiry was greeted with support by representatives of North American tribes, traditionally at the bottom of Canada and the U.S.’ social priorities. Trudeau’s ‘National Action Plan’ aims at addressing the violence, helped by indigenous leaders. But given his flawed record on the tar sand pipeline issue, for instance, many remain skeptic of any meaningful change.
Meanwhile in the U.S., there has been no government probe on the rise of female genital mutilation, and only 32 states ban the practice. The Center for Diseases Control and Prevention estimates that over 500 thousand American girls risk being mutilated, out of 200 million worldwide. The Trump administration, however, is more interested in fetuses than in living, breathing women.
There’s been no probe on the eight transgender black women murdered in the U.S. this year, only a call to the FBI to finally get involved. It’s not just the particular cruelty of these deaths what should get us up in arms about it; it’s also the tacit attitude of law enforcement towards the murders, and our cultural momentum, where rampant hate is often followed by unpunished crimes.
It’s been said, women and minorities are the canaries of society; when they’re murdered, we all also risk dying of asphyxiation.
That may soon come to the rest of us too, even if by another cause. According to the World Health Organization, seven million people die of air pollution every year. The cause of 10% of all children’s deaths worldwide, toxic air also threatens some 40% of Americans. But even those who don’t die as quickly, suffer of mental impairment, disease and premature deaths. So don’t smoke.
The week of World’s Environment Day, Wednesday, and World’s Oceans Day, on Saturday, also had a day to rejoice. D Day on June 6 marked the moment when a few nations pulled together and warded off a social cancer, even if for ‘only’ 75 years. Despite an incoherent speech by the draft-dodger U.S. president, it was a day to celebrate the courage and sacrifice of those who served.
Few heroes of that bloody day are still with us, but their lives matter more than those who’d never risk their skin for a cause. To picture in uniform any of the Trump-enablers war mongers, so eager to engage us into another war, is an exercise in futility.
That’s why it’s beyond comprehension that the most progressive forces today, that of women movements, climate kids around the world, and some newly elected officials, along civic organizations and advocate groups, are not being supported by the political establishment in the U.S. and elsewhere. As time’s running out, it’s crucial to get the status quo out of the way, and soon. Or else.
‘Any politician who wants to be taken seriously by our generation needs the courage to stand up to fossil fuel billionaires and back a Green New Deal,’ says Sunrise Movement’s Varshini Prakash, who is 25. It’s a shame that we let our children fight in the frontlines of the climate emergency, but stand on their way to exercise citizen rights, and get support from the powers that be.
In case one needs inspiration, try listening to a haunting version of the Beatles’ Blackbird by sixteen-year-old high school student Emma Stevens. On the now viral recording, she sings it in her native Mi’kmaq, to raise awareness about indigenous languages. It’s a fitting end to this sort of disgruntled report, one that could be summarized as solidarity and resistance, but it won’t. Cheers

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6/03/2019 They Were Not Afraid of Tanks, Colltalers

The lives and miserable times of almost a million people living in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee camp, go on ignored by even the most truly compassionate. But now the U.S. offers a sample of just how miserable such lives really are.
On another front, the massacre of an estimated more than a thousand unarmed civilians in China’s Tiananmen Square, 30 years ago tomorrow, also went on largely ignored. Despite wider awareness of both scourges, they’ve become now painful routines.
We’ll get back to these, but let’s update the news first. Consider the Scott Warren trial, for instance, a humanitarian activist facing up to 20 years in prison for aiding migrants crossing the Arizona desert. His case, as ludicrous and draconian as a Kafkian tale, shows how xenophobia and prejudice can turn any society’s institutions into weapons of oppression against its own citizens.
We’re talking about the U.S. government asking the courts to prosecute a volunteer whose crime was to provide people in dire need with food, water, clean clothes, and beds, even rescuing their bodies for identification, instead of leaving them there to rot.
That’s not too far from prosecuting whistleblower Chelsea Manning, for showing the American people what’s been done on their behalf, or for demanding life in jail for Julian Assange, the journalist who created an online media outlet to publish her findings.
Two more Latin America-related news developments this week were, first, the ever too often heartbreaking prison riots in Brazil, which this time left 55 dead. And the metastatic growth of Trump’s ‘war on tariff,’ still staggeringly out of whack with reality.
Prison overcrowding is obviously not a Brazilian monopoly, as only a dozen or so nations around the world have an effective system for crime and rehabilitation. The majority would rather focus on crime and punishment. But Brazil may be stretching it.
Nothing unusual about its average inmate population, either. The overwhelming majority are, well, minorities, even if the term is not accurate. For in a country where over 50% of the people are of mixed-race, it’s almost an oxymoron to say most Brazilian jailbirds are black. Apart from that, the country shares a common denominator with the U.S. and many others: inmates are poor.
There are many likely reasons for the frequencyand particular cruelty of prison riots in Brazil, and following massacres as result of ill-prepared law enforcement. Institutional factors, such as brutal conditions, lack of enough space to accommodate inmates, a flawed parole system, and absence of rehab programs, are some. And so is apathy to prisoners’ fate by Brazilian upper classes.

There were four prisons involved this time, and the spark for the latest tragedy is, like others, attributed to war among criminal factions. But it may be also because the customary laundry list of demands, common to every riot in Brazil, and including some basic, humane needs, are hardly ever considered with the appropriate urgency by prison officials. Hence, the recurrent revolts.
As for tariffs, let’s get out of the way a fact, pointed out by well regarded economists: Trump has no clear idea of how they work. Specially, how they can wind up hitting back, and much harder, the domestic economy, rather than that of the targeted country.
There’s a general consensus that China’s ability to hurt the American consumer may take a while but sooner or later, it’ll impact first those lower on the social ladder. But with the president’s plans to extend this so-called war to Mexico, to punish it for its immigration policies, the impact will be faster, harsher, and long-lasting. It’ll increase prices of goods and services charged to Americans, with again, the poor shouldering the biggest blunt. But that, of course, is the least of this administration’s concerns.
There are nearly 2,000 unaccompanied immigrant children, detained in U.S. border facilities now, hundreds of which illegally held on much longer than they should. Reports of kids dying in patrol custody have been increasing, as have makeshift ‘tent cities’ to accommodate the overflow of immigrants the administration is doing everything it can to prevent from legally requesting a stay.
Dozens are being held in open-air grounds, under bridges, behind fences, in appalling conditions. Worse, there’s been disturbing reports of child sexual abuse in these camps, and as the victims remain in a legal limbo, there’s no hope for justice to them. Like toddlers seen in cages, or testifying as adults in court, these crimes will just add to this White House’s long list of immoral acts.
What’s shocking is that this is not Bangladesh, with its 164 million struggling with social, political, and infrastructural needs, but the twice-as-populous America, which is betraying its own principles of equanimity, freedom of speech, and the rule of law.
Freedom to express one’s own opinion was at the core of what happened on that tragic Sunday in Beijing, three decades ago. As tensions between students demanding reforms, and the Deng Xiaoping government, reached a head with the occupation of the Gate of Heavenly Peace, what followed it was a tragic, one-sided confrontation. Even now, few Chinese know anything about it.
As the world began to understand the enormity of what had happened, despite officials efforts to conceal it, another sobering realization also occurred: China was and still is a brutal dictatorship, that won’t hesitate to exterminate its political enemies.
Many say that much of the Chinese anxiously-hoped for new leadership perished that night, assassinated by troops of their own country. And that despite of all its might, the Red Dragon still has a long way to go before calling itself a modern, open society.
With economic growth, comes greater scrutiny, moral accountability, and the need for respect to civil rights. As China takes its due place among the elite of nations, it won’t be without growing pains, and must certainly can’t be about erasing its own past.
‘Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning god.’ The excerpt is from Leaves of Grass, by the American poet Walt Whitman, born 200 years ago last Friday. Cherish June, LBGTQ Pride month, and its full and healthy legality. See ya.

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5/27/2019 Pardon Whistleblowers, Not War Criminals, Colltalers

Grandstanding about troops and the sacrifices of veterans is a political gimmick, always favored by objectionable officials. But Trump’s Memorial Day plans to pardon soldiers found guilty of war crimes is not just morally outrageous. It’s also dangerous.
And so is the indictment of Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange on Espionage Act charges. What would still be abhorrent in some backwater republic, is gravely scandalous as an assault on the very first constitutional amendment of ‘America the Beautiful.’
More in a second, but first, there’s the U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation, and re-emergency of Boris Johnson set to replace her, which has surprised absolutely no one. As European Parliament elections have just shown, though, support to hacks like him is waning. That is, growth of right-wing, conservative populism continues to be a concern, but it did lose some steam.
Or we’re being over optimistic? After all, perennial far-right ghosts, such as National Rally party’s Marine Le Pen, and Hungary P.M. Viktor Orban, have both increased their profile, and Italy didn’t disappoint Steve Bannon either, by going a bit further right.
Brexit helped bring back Le Pen, a collector of major defeats, rejected many times by the French, to once again appear as if she’s less irrelevant than she’s always been. And regimes such as Hungary and Poland to turn into conservative wells, bubbling up a toxic mix of nationalism, religiosity, sectarianism, and anti-civil rights, while pursuing energy policies lethal to the planet.
As it stands, the bloc won’t be dominated by the far-right. While both Germany and France have some about face to do with their own electorate, even if Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron may somehow leave the picture, the Green Party’s stellar showing in the polls is certainly a better bet in the future than a manipulative revival of the worst of Europe’s tragic past of intolerance.
Navy SEAL’s Edward Gallagher, who shot unarmed civilians and killed a prisoner; Green Beret’s Mathew Golsteyn, found guilty of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010; Matthew Behenna, who murdered a released Iraq detainee; an unnamed ex-Blackwater security contractor who shot dead dozen of Iraqis; and a group of Marines who urinated on the corpses of Taliban fighters.
Such a tarnished list and more, supposedly put together by a Fox News anchor, is on Trump’s desk for pardon. And that has a wide array of military authorities, Pentagon officials, and C.I.A. sources, up in arms against it. Not to mention on this day, one dedicated to the under-served and ever growing contingent of U.S. Vets. That, though, holds no water to this White House.
Memorial Day’s usually prone to the kind of empty ‘Support Our Troops’ speech. It rarely features antiwar rallies, or highlights the contradiction of having the biggest armed forces of the world being run by those who never had to set foot in a battlefield, as the president. Meanwhile, one too many high ranking officers seem only too happy to kill the unarmed or stab the handcuffed.
‘The U.S. needs legislation to protect the public right to free speech and a free press, to protect it from the actions of the executive branch, and to promote the integrity and transparency of the government.’ Chelsea Manning, the Army intelligence officer, who gave Wikileaks a trove of thousands of unclassified documents, published by the site to public outrage in 2010.
The material, which included State Dept. cables, battlefield reports, and profiles of some Guantanamo Bay detainees, cost the then Pvt. Bradley Manning, a court marshal and a lengthy imprisonment, between 2010 and 2017. Her foes didn’t end there, as she was put it jail again for 62 days, and again now, for refusing to testify on the case the government is setting against Assange.
The Wikileaks founder is now the one being charged on the 1917 Espionage Act, and although his personal morals and conduct are under scrutiny, they also have no relevance to this case: he’s charged for being a journalist exposing an opaque government.
The sobering ‘lesson’ from this saga is, if you see something at the trenches, or at home, don’t say anything or tell the American people what you saw. Between the legislative contortionism required to frame them both, and its Orwellian spy-catching rules, this administration’s set to beat President Obama’s sad record: seven out of 11 times that the Espionage Act was ever applied.
There’s something about whistleblowers and leakers though: almost no one would do it for gain; it’s too risky and the financial prospects are dire. That’s why they are so important, and the free press that protects their identity, while relating what they saw to the public. Tyrants hate them, and so would any organized armed forces, concerned about safety of its personnel and operations.
But the choice of whether tell the people what’s being done on their behalf never comes from the top. And rarely from someone with the clout to face an entire defense establishment, whose interests depend on public ignorance about what they’re doing.
People who expose facts, out of conscientiousness or sense of duty; those who’d refuse to shoot unarmed civilians or combatants under their guard; who join to serve, not necessarily to kill, are of no interest to the president, or to Fox News for that matter.
What they care about are those they’ve picked for pardon, never mind they were declared guilty, dangerous, and unfit by their own organizations. They rose above even the utmost horror and savage conditions implicit to any war, and committed crimes.
No wonder, those who actually care for the honor and reputation of the American soldier, are against such travesty of justice. In ideal times, it’d be up to congress to deliver a blow deflating the president’s folly. But it’s more likely that he’ll even receive a handful of undignified expressions of support by every Republican, possibly Democrats, plus a presidential candidate or two.
The good news is, that’s not even close to the priorities shared by American women, in the fight of a lifetime to preserve their reproductive rights from becoming dependent of whims of corrupt old men; and that of kids demanding global climate action.
Thousands of women went out to protest recent draconian anti-abortion laws, passed in several GOP-controlled states; and millions were out all over the world, last Friday, in yet another march led by young students. These two groups, along those protesting misguided presidential pardons, are in fact representing the side of the rule of the law and the power of the people.
The majority of Americans, and the so-called Western societies, are invested into a world where women are in charge of their bodies; those who commit murder, even if wearing a badge, go to prison; and whistleblowers are protected for telling the truth.
‘We were young, we were foolish, we were arrogant, but we were right.’ Daniel Ellsberg, whistleblower extraordinaire, whose 1971 Pentagon Papers leaking helped end the Vietnam War. The episode cost his career as a military analyst, and almost his own freedom, but thousands of Americans lives were saved as tide turned against the war. Let’s be foolish but right too. Cheers.

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5/20/2019 Far From the Season Finale, Colltalers

Nukes are not the only way to blast us back to the past; climate change could do it too. And rich Republican white males, going after a woman’s right to choose. Their hide is doomed, though: half of humankind is coming for them for some serious spanking.
But if in the U.S., all (pothole-filled) roads lead to Nov. 2020, in Brazil the opposition to Jair ‘Model T as in Trump’ Bolsonaro has gained a powerful focus: Brazilians are back in the streets, this time for saving something actually real, access to education.
Back to these in a few, but first two interesting developments last week: Austria’s far-right government resigned over charges of corruption – something to do with the Russians -, and San Francisco’s banned facial recognition technology by law enforcement.
It’s a big win for civil and privacy rights, and California’s capital Oakland, along other American cities may follow the Fog City’s lead. As for so-called rise of rightwing politics, the Austrians just proved that it’s neither doing that well, nor it’s above some old- fashion collusion. Nevertheless, populist demagogues are anxious to score big on this week’s European parliamentary elections.
Thursday and Friday vote may indeed consolidate their momentum, or leverage a curb on their grow. Some expect Brexit to be set by it, and for an increasing majority opposing the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, it’s the moment to seize the narrative.
If they do, it’s likely that British nationalists like Nigel Farange will follow P.M. Teresa May on their own way out, and a new referendum, or general elections, will be set. In many ways, though, the Brexit frenzy has ran its course and fulfilled its goals, seemingly, to demolish Britons’ confidence, and boost the U.K.’s irrelevance in the world. Thanks, Boris Johnson & friends.
No thanks to the Trump administration, though, for promoting the most brutal attack on women’s reproductive rights since a 1973 Supreme Court decision made abortion legal. To reverse Roe v Wade has been a common objective by both the GOP and the religious right for years, and now, state by state, they seem to have it all aligned. But it won’t happen if women can help it.
If there’s a coincidence of interests by all rightwing forces in the world, it’s to oppress women back to a subservient role, with no saying over her own body and life. But that’s a story as old as the world, and in the end, progress and justice chase zealots back to their under-rock dwellings, while women, and us all, reemerge stronger than ever. It’s happened often and it’ll happen again.
In the U.S. specially, as most of its population can now be compared to the world’s poorest, it’s not even about choice, but the lack of it. None of those claiming to ‘value life’ are minimally interested in actually preserving it, nursing it, saving it. Beyond abortion, what they’re trying to deny yet again, is the sense of dignity, independence and agency, to mothers and children alike.
Deaths from childbearing, malnutrition, and lack of healthcare and education, have grown exponentially. But pretenders like them, wealthy enough to get wives, daughters, and lovers the care they need, are simply not in the business of giving a damn.
When Brazilians erupted in widespread, national protests a few weeks ago, many were not impressed. After all, similar numbers and noise were caused by successively waves of conservative-driven crowds, demanding all the wrong things for Brazil: the end of a constitutionally elected government, that of ousted Dilma Rousseff, and calls for military intervention and, yes, Bolsonaro.
Less than six months into his tenure, however, the country is in taters, in an economics nose dive, increased unemployment, and a sense, whether induced or not, that it’s gone beyond governability. No piece of meaningful legislation was passed, apart from that allowing more weapons, and those reversing social programs and security that previous administrations fought to approve.
Meanwhile, a series of scandals, many of which involving his family, and covering murders, militias, corruption, and personal vendettas, have ruined the president’s credibility. That besides the international fiascoes he’s been embarrassed by, including his latest, unannounced visit to former U.S. president George W. Bush, and the many political figures who refused to meet with him.
But this time it’s different. Progressive groups in Brazil have finally congealed into a big front, fighting a single, but crucial and all-encompassing target: to save public education of all levels, keeping it accessible to all, politically aware, and independent.
That’s a fight worth carrying not just on its own merits – Brazil’s literacy levels, about 90% in 2014, has been steadily declining again -, but also because it’s one that can be summarized in a few sentences. Unlike the cruel social security reform, for instance, which may pass on the sheer assumption that it involves too complex a theme to be effectively ‘sold’ to those it’ll affect the most.
As the initially student-led revolt gathers momentum, it’s expected that it’ll attract all segments of the working class, intellectuals, and, yes, left-leaning political parties. The issue has surely the potential to galvanize and restart a nation that, for over three years has been in frank decadence. Once a powerhouse for social reforms promoting the poor, its global profile is now fast receding.
Even ex-president, Michel Temer, instrumental in the coup that felled Rousseff, was sent to prison, a sign that the coalition that seized the country in 2016, is all but pulverized. And the new opportunists jockeying for power don’t have minimal qualifications to engage the country. Brazil faces the threat of authoritarianism, but students and their allies can prevent that from happen.
That’s why they march. And so will we, tomorrow. Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Women’s March and others are organizing nationwide demonstrations, and we should all be part of it.
Not because there’s no more Game of Thrones for us to live vicariously our own thirst for getting back at your enemies. Or for world famous Grumpy Cat having passed away, at the tender age of six, he of the frowned face fame who’s given us so much joy.
Even less for the specific reason that, comes Nov. 2020, another person must occupy the White House; there’ll be time for that. But because a woman’s rights is our right, and if you care about children, help those who bear them decide when they’re ready to have them. You’re welcome too if you won’t stand for another toddler’s death at the hands of immigration. Cheers Lady Liberty.

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5/13/2019 Support Your Local Mona Lisa, Colltalers

It’s scary when war hawks digress on bombing another nation. Even scarier is when their dishonest arguments gain unwarranted currency. The same false pretense that led us to the Iraq invasion is now being used against Iran. What can possibly go wrong?
Also scary is the U.S. spending more in fossil-fuel subsidies than even with its defense budget, according to an I.M.F. report. But the U.K.’s first four days without coal-powered electricity, and the Cloud Peak’s bankruptcy, are both great climate change news.
There’s a constitutional crisis caused by President Trump, who’s all but declared himself and his gang above the law. And there’s a fresh round of saber-rattling and missile-launching by North Korea, aimed at us, but frightening the bejesus out of the world.
Naturally, the Big Tweetor is using his baseless trade war to divert attention from such important issues. And the media is blindly following him accordingly. It also helps that few have a grasp as to what trade war really means. Starting with the man himself.
Just in case, though, Trump spent Saturday tweeting like a deranged toddler, if only toddlers could be so mad. He blasted over 60 attacks on the Russian investigation, Don Jr.’s subpoena, assorted politicians, and Counsel Robert Mueller. Oh, and jobs too.
Trying to manipulate the nation by tweet, however, pales compared to the president’s biggest damage so far inflicted on America: the depletion of our trust on institutions. By counting on the Supreme Court to bail him out – and being probably right about that kind of assumption -, more than the lying, this president is setting the stage for a potential democracy-killing autocratic regime.
As Congress, which has the power to prevent that and has refused to do so, Americans must step up and safeguard the country that the Founding Fathers foresaw. No one else will. Mainly because the world’s indeed fearful and expects nothing less from us.
It’s nearly impossible to see Sec. of State Mike Pompeo accusing Iran of being a ‘major destabilizing influence in the Middle East, and we aim to fix that,’ and not to think about the Iraq invasion, in 2003. Based on the half a million deaths, including of 4,400 Americans, it’s also easy to estimate the number of casualties in Iran in case the U.S. bombs the twice-as-populous nation.
The defense budget may not beat fossil-fuel subsidies but it’s still big enough to fund sending an aircraft carrier, four destroyers, bombers, fighters, a warship, and a surface-to-air missile battery, to the region. If that is not ‘destabilizing,’ then their rhetoric is.
The same blanket of approval by media and congress, and sick anticipation by war profiteers, is being revived again, just as it was when George Bush and his cabinet lied about Saddam Hussein’s supposed secret mass destruction weapon stockpiles. They hung Hussein, destroyed the country, and walked away richer, leaving soldiers and mercenaries to deal with the tragic fallout.
It wasn’t Iran that broke the nuclear accord, nor any other signatory nation; it was the U.S. that unilaterally ‘decided’ Iran had done it, and this time, won’t even present fake evidence supporting their planned adventure. Are we to stand down about that?
Another Middle East intervention will benefit no one but Israel and Saudi Arabia. Why on earth should the U.S. assert even more its reputation as the ‘world’s bully,’ and be the enforcer, not for the ‘tired,’ the poor, and ‘the huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ but to two powerhouse countries with scores to settle with Iran? No, the American people won’t be had again. Or will it?
Of course, funding for yet more firepower always means cutting down social programs, and divert resources for fighting climate change. In fact, coal, oil and gas subsidies are higher than what would be used to burn Iran, according to the I.M.F. report.
Never mind the industry’s indefensible tax exemptions, the spurious nature of both budgets, and a U.N. study about an ongoing, catastrophic man-made extinction of a million biodiverse species. Those against protecting the planet are getting rich out of it.
Thankfully, that chockfull of bad news report is partly offset by two factors: the coal giant Cloud Peak’s bankruptcy, signaling an endgame is close for fossil fuels, despite investments by right-wing billionaires with skin in the game. And that’s a good thing.
And so is the U.K.’s efforts to move its national grid of electricity to renewables. It’s just too bad Americans are not that lucky.
But it wasn’t luck what finally freed Chelsea Manning from jail after over a month; it was her dignified defiance, standing tall against the Trump administration. But she’s still at risk of going back, if Democrats keep failing to challenge the president.
Lastly, a grievous note: the assassination of Mena Mangal, an Afghan journalist and cultural adviser to parliament, gunned down Saturday in Kabul. A former TV presenter, she too was defiant and challenged the status quo by advocating for the rights of young girls to go to school. Although it’s unclear whether she had any children, hers is one of the world’s saddest mother today.
To declare this the age when rationality died may be reasonable, but it doesn’t help much. At the end of the day, we still have to carry on with our lives, and protect our loved ones, and stand for what’s right. Slim pickings rewards notwithstanding, we do it so to leave this world a bit better, even when nothing reassures us what we do can change reality. We do it just because. Period.
‘There are those who see, those who can see if they’re shown, and those who don’t see.’ Five centuries ago this May, Leonardo da Vinci, to whom this quote is attributed, left us an incredibly diverse legacy of art and ingenuity, and at least one masterpiece: Mona Lisa, the portrait of Lisa Gherardini, a mother of five whose enigmatic smile graces the world’s most famous painting.
Now at the Louvre in Paris, the work still speaks to us 500 years later, and after Mother’s Day, it’s also a powerful reminder to American voters: it’s time to elect the first Madam President to live in the White House. It’s overdue, and now, the only choice radical enough to shake American politics at its foundations, and scare the hell out of war hawks. Let the majority rule. Cheers.

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5/13/2019 Regulations Went Up in Smoke, Colltalers

As the attempt coup in Venezuela has all but fizzled, its main instigator, the U.S., is scaring the world with disturbing threats of military action if things don’t go its way. Ironic how America went so quickly, from ‘world’s police’ to deranged wounded beast.
A couple of troubling decisions by U.S. agencies will also have a global impact: the approval for Bayer-Monsanto’s herb killer Roundup, banned by the European Union, and Phillip Morris’ iQOS dry tobacco vaporizer, both proven carcinogenic products.
A presidential election in Panama, even with the Venezuelan crisis on the background, is unlikely to move the needle either way; climate change and start of Ramadan usher us into the new week. Plus the return of Halley’s Comet, and we’re off to the races.
Which, in the case of Venezuela, most Latinos hope to be aborted. Despite support to the coup against Maduro, from Brazil, Colombia, even Panama itself, and others, – happy to oblige to war delusions of U.S. V.P. Mike Pence, State Sec. Mike Pompeo, Security Adviser John Bolton, and special envoy Elliott Abrahams – Venezuelan democracy will see the light of another day.
As the foursome have all been accused of xenophobia, corruption, torture, solely or combined, and profess the ‘my-way-or-the-highway,-or-at-least-the-Trump’s-way’ brand of diplomacy, they’ll get some of what they want, or may be oust by their sponsor. Either way, Venezuelans, in particular, Latino Americans em general, or world citizens as a whole may brace for a possible hit.
The biggest news, though, is and will remain being, climate change, or lack of action to counter its catastrophic effects there-of.
Mozambique, which haven’t even recovered from Cyclone Idaí, six weeks ago, was battered again, by an even bigger storm, Kenneth, the most powerful to ever hit the country. It exponentially boost Mozambican misery, while showing us why there’s no coming back from such disasters, no matter where you live, and even if world leaders were actually doing anything about it.
Climate change is also related to the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of Roundup’s glyphosate, which is linked to cancer in humans. As the Trump administration filled top positions at the EPA with members of the industry it is supposed to regulate, creating a private ‘beach head’ inside the government, it expected nothing but unwavering toe the line by everyone.
Bayer-Monsanto is currently fighting some 8,000 lawsuits, and not only in Europe. Last month, a court in San Francisco, CA, ordered it to pay $11.4 billion to a Kenyan farmer, who got cancer while using Roundup. Despite of that, the giant concern still denies, to courts, consumers, media, and even to the World Health Organization, that its best-selling weed killer causes cancer.
Its strategy is to appeal and fight charges and fines, while investing heavily in biased studies and favorable press, which all but buries negative coverage. It’s a tactics that always serves well the powerful, and they surely can afford to loose a few instances.
The Trump administration’s M.O., that is, to destroy the credibility and undermine the regulatory powers of watchdog agencies, has been applied to the Food and Drug Administration too. In a stunning decision, the FDA ignored years of scientific research and cleared Phillip Morris’ ‘heat not burn’ iQOS, an addictive tobacco product, that it’s been clearly marketed to adolescents.
By going back on 1990s decisions that helped declare cigarettes harmful, and a direct cause of lung and other cancers, the FDA also single-handedly rescued Phillip Morris from the verge of oblivion, and back to the game of profiting from smokers. Now as once, they’re also free from accountability; if people get sick and die from consuming the product, they’d likely answer: ‘tough’.
The issue won’t be brought up in speeches by the president, presidential candidates, or victims, whose pleas are traditionally ignored anyway. According to the Center for Disease Control, every year, nearly half a million Americans still die of smoking or second-hand smoke, besides those undergoing expensive but often ineffective cancer therapies. Costs to public health? Don’t ask.
Decisions like that have set the tone of the administration, to which, government agencies, created to protect consumers, are now supposed to favor corporate profits over public interests, never mind regulatory successes. Are you sure you’ve got questions?
It’d be better to have plenty of answers, coming Nov. 2020. Given the unconditional support to this president, even if many don’t see the cruel differences between what he says and what he does, to end this era of shame will require a record number of votes.
In the meantime, there’s no relenting on the pressure for climate change action. It may sound delirious, but there’s another reason all citizens need to get this memo: pulling together and working towards a common, worldwide, goal leaves no time, or stomach, to put with the carnage of war, or the assortment of lame excuses we hear for not to act. It’s literally now or never for mankind.
Just as two billion devouts will be fasting and praying during daylight hours, for month-long Ramadan, Israel and Gaza resumed hostilities. Over 20 Palestinians and four Israelis had already been killed Sunday, but the count, unfortunately, is bound to rise.
This year, the start of Ramadan is marked by an astronomical phenomenon: the Eta Aquarids meteor showers, from fragments of the Halley’s Comet (which is also linked to the Orionids, in October). Happy sightings to everyone and Ramadan Kareem. Peace.

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4/30/2019 Turning Back the Right Tide, Colltalers

Unemployment; corruption; politics. These are priorities to most of the estimated 30-million-plus Spaniards who voted yesterday for a new Spanish parliament. But to the media, it’s Catalonia’s aim to split up from Spain, along immigration, what tops that list.
Meanwhile, the brutal assassination of Northern Ireland journalist Lyra McKee, on the 18th, wound up shaking the foundations of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The Brexit fiasco notwithstanding, however, Protestants and Catholics must resume talks.
The rise of Vox, Spain’s far right party, will strengthen forces contrary to social equality and political autonomy in Europe, but that’s not this week’s most despondent endorsement of Steve Bannon’s international playbook. Italy ran away with the prize: on the 74th anniversary of Liberation Day, last Thursday, it was dictator Benito Mussolini’s name what was invoked with… pride!
Bannon, the most visible global reactionary since his woeful tenure delivering Trump to the White House, – or political hacks who eagerly emulate his tactics – keeps pushing all the red buttons of hate and intolerance, either in Europe or South America.
A lot of Americans got transfixed with two issues, this waning end of April: the massive body count of entertainment franchises The Avengers, and Game of Thrones, and Beyoncé’s latest chart-breaking CD-film combo. Others had something else in mind.
Has the Robert Mueller Report’s failure to paint a clear picture of the U.S. president’s malfeasances got him reelected next year?
As Trump openly challenges Congress’ authority to subpoena him, or key figures of his organization, naturally counting on a biased Supreme Court to back him up if needed, many wonder if he’ll now act, rather than just speak, as if he’s above the law.
He sure seems ready to do just as such. In over two years, he’s destroyed U.S.’s credibility in a vast array of issues the world’s entrusted to America, from leadership against climate change, to defense of civil rights, free press, and fair immigration laws. His biggest legislative coup so far was approving a trillion-dollar, budget-busting tax cut to the wealthy and big corporations.
Still, support for him among the poor who voted for him in 2016, remains unchallenged, and as absolutely no one expects the Republican Party to disavow him, now its richest donors, who’d previously snubbed him, can’t wait to sign him fat checks.
Never mind the increased number of right-wing extremists, caught with small arsenals and hit lists of well-known political liberals. And let’s not mention how easy they’re getting breaks from law enforcement, out of sheer racial identification with their white supremacist messages. Trump’s made praising domestic terrorists, and other zealots, a feature of his campaign speeches. Those riled-up, scary rallies, are prone to rise to a frenzy whenever the president calls up for them go after the independent press, or whistleblowers. And most of his constituency seems to be taking literally his clues. It’s clear what that might lead us all to.
Just as it’s been always clear the potential for Brexit to start messing around with hard-earned foundations of the stability of the entire U.K, and in particular, the Good Friday accord. After all, borders have been a sticky, almost sore point in every exit talk.
Suddenly, it dawned on even its staunchest defenders, that any boundary negotiation among the commonwealth’s four countries, and between the U.K. and Europe, could fire up resentments, reopen wounds, and undue almost a century of uneasy partnership.
Again, most could’ve guessed that, but apparently not those in charge of coming up with solutions they hadn’t anticipated before, even though they must definitely should have. Some even dream of a reunited Ireland, a bleak prospect to the U.K.’s own future.
One can only hope that the slaying of McKee, a gifted journalist who was covering unrest in Londonderry, is all that’ll take for a new resolve for preventing the Troubles from ever returning to Northern Ireland again. Sadly, the 29-year-old LBGTQ activist, who dreamt and wrote about that, and coined the term, ‘Ceasefire Babies’ for her generation, no longer will be around to see it.
The Mussolini episode, though, illustrates how actually close we are from repeating tragic mistakes from the past. Once-fringe far right parties in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, and elsewhere, are already jockeying to coalesce into a unified, continental-wide front of ‘pro-wealth populists.’ Even more so if they manage to win seats at the May 23-26 European Parliament elections.
The difference between what Spaniards considered important, alluded to at the opening sentence, and what the media is ‘selling’ as such, is an all too familiar example of manipulation of the people’s will. There, here and everywhere, the establishment is all for advancing its own agenda, turning electoral contests into horse races, for maximum distraction. And it sells, of course.
The Catalan, by the way, beat poll records, but there’s still no sign that their independence wishes got a boost with the elections. More likely the dream lives on for another day. Europeans are doing their part, virtually stopping the rise of the ultra right on the sheer power of voting, as Spain showed. But their margins of victory are getting slimmer, unlike intolerance and prejudice.
Once again, it’ll be up to Americans to stop madness on its tracks – even if it doesn’t look promising at this point. Vigilantes; white supremacists; climate change deniers; authoritarianism and corruption, all festering with the Hater-in-Chief’s blessing, will have to be at least neutralized by the time a needed record poll turnout will elect a new president. Let’s get very busy, shall we?
‘Why do we scream at each other. This is what it sounds like when doves cry.’ It’s been three years and a week yesterday since Prince passed away, along a slew of celebrities who preceded and followed him, on that fateful 2016. When ‘His Purpleness’ left us, we were arguably more hopeful about the future: the U.K. couldn’t possibly split up, and Obama was still the U.S. president.
Of the three, only Prince can’t come back. His music lives on, though, even if hope is at its lowest at the moment. Let’s mourn our losses, but carry on, on the account of the living. May’s knocking on our door; let’s welcome it as a revolution. Cheers.

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4/22/2019 Short-Changing the Earth, Colltalers

Many question having a date to focus on the environment, giving the catastrophic state of the planet, and world leaders’ lack of action on the climate crisis. But a year short of its half-century mark, let’s use the day to demand change, not simply dismiss it.
Specially as we remembered last Saturday, nine years of the worst oil spill in history, the BP-run Gulf of Mexico rig disaster, and the Columbine High School massacre, 20 years before. Sadly, there’s still no real good news about neither of those tragedies.
On that note, Easter started horrifically for Sri Lanka, with multiple terrorist attacks that murdered almost 300 people. Some fear the 3.000-year-old nation, and oldest Asian democracy, may be too vulnerable to politically and religiously-driven bloodshed.
The attacks may be out of some deranged jealousy, others insist, over the global outpouring of support to Catholics, following last Monday’s fire at 800-year-plus Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris. But terrorism doesn’t have religion, so what’s their point?
In other, seemingly lighter, news, Volodymyr Zelensky, who plays the president of Ukraine on a TV sitcom, just won the election to become the real thing. To supporters, he’s a fresh start, even without expressing his take on any of the country’s hairier issues, such as Russia, and civil liberties. But they sure hope that the comedian is aware that being a president is no laughing matter.
Back in the not so old U.S., Trump, the president who plays a con-artist in real life, seems to have beaten yet another attempt to expose his misdeeds. The Mueller Report, for all its scope and solid investigative approach, has so far not fulfilled its purpose. Even as a fact-full road map to restore truth and dignity to the office of the presidency, a thousand redactions notwithstanding, it didn’t pack enough punch to knock common sense into his political basis, or boost hopes for a new president coming 2020.
Around this time for the two decades, we’ve been forced to go back to a terrible Tuesday when two teenagers killed 13 of their mates and school staff, in what was then, history’s worst school mass shooting. Hardly we knew then that Columbine wouldn’t be the worst for long. Not just many more, and deadlier, followed it, but its bottomless grief hasn’t moved congress to pass laws to prevent new ones. Unlike New Zealand and Australia, clear instances when politicians acted as their voters’ true representatives, few Americans in position of power took the issue of gun control at heart, or chose to fight for sensible legislation as we so need.
On the contrary, survivors of the 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting, where 28 little children died in a quick flurry of bullets, and of the 2018 slaughter of 17 students at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, have had no political support even when holding mass rallies. It’s no wonder that there’s been a spat of suicides, likely out of despair, among survivors of those carnages.
Stats are heartbreaking. A 2018 Washington Post report lists an average of 10 school shootings in the U.S., since 1999, killing or injuring some 400 children. Proving that ‘thoughts and prayers’ don’t work, there’s nothing in place to change this grim reality.
When the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, in 2010, it killed 11 people and spilled some five million barrels of crude oil, and 225,000 tons of methane in gulf waters. The impact was immediate and permanent. It killed almost 200 thousand turtles, for instance, wrecked havoc on marine, shoreline and wetlands wild life, and its long-term consequences are still been understood.
Oil giant BP, the rig’s owner, has spent over $60 billion in reparations and rebuilding efforts. But it all may get a bit worse with the Trump administration’s relentless drive to roll back protections, and open nearly all U.S. coastal waters to offshore drilling.
It’s hard to see how little has been done about climate change since the 1970s, when the first calls of ‘Save the Whales,’ and other rallies, called attention to the already developing disaster. Exxon and other oil mammoths already knew the nefarious impact their products could cause to nature. But they kept it a secret, while sowing confusion and unfounded doubts about the issue.
Last October, a United Nations study found that dire consequences of global warming are occurring earlier than predicted, and that we’ve got less than 12 years to radically reduce carbon emissions, so to avoid a calamitous rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Given the gravity of such situation, plastic, for instance, should’ve been banned by every nation by now.
Not even close. More people, however, are joining the trenches of the battle against the, hands down, biggest threat of our age. While some are trying to do it from the inside, by proposing new laws, others are picking novel, shocking even ways to fight.
In the U.S., the most comprehensive, far-reaching, albeit incomplete and flawed as it may be, piece of legislation, the Green New Deal, was proposed by a new crop of progressive women elected to the House of Representatives. Even as it’s struggling to gain traction there, it’s already popular, and has the support of environmentalist groups, from children activists to veteran dissidents.
That’s having a hard time being adopted by the entire Congress, is sad but predictable. It goes against everything that works well for established politicians, who favor negotiation and pace for advancing difficult causes. Problem is, we’re running out of time.
That’s why a group such as the Extinction Rebellion is becoming so successful drawing attention to climate change. Their rallies, performed mostly by common citizens, many of whom had never taken risks while protesting, have disrupted capital cities of the world, with simple but daring tactics: gluing themselves to city hall fences, for instance, or laying in the middle of major arteries.
At this point, we should all be considering strategies to force leaders and people we voted for, to start doing something radical about climate change, because everything else has definitely not worked. Or choose new ones, pronto, if these are not interested.
The week also holds another depressing date to mark: Friday’s 33rd anniversary of Chernobyl, our worst nuclear disaster so far. As it hasn’t happened again, though, to avoid another one, we must renew efforts to skip altogether this lethal source of energy.
Maybe April does have put ‘a spirit of youth in everything,’ to paraphrase William Shakespeare, born and died over 400 years ago this month. His 455th birthday is honored on the same 26th, but with him, there’s plenty to celebrate about the human spirit.
Reasons to rejoice are like shooting stars: far in between but eventually we get them. Today there’s a chance to see a lot of them, though, with the annual Lyrids meteor shower. Unlike the daylight blue meteor that exploded over Russia on the 6th, this show is more subdued, but easier to observe. Since ‘sweet lovers love spring,’ grab a loved one and feel young like the Bard. Cheerio.

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4/15/2019 Tyranny Hates Journalists, Colltalers

The disturbing sight of Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange being dragged out of the Ecuador embassy in London by the British police, last week, sent shock waves through the dwindling democracies around the world. This time, it was him; the next, us?
But democracy isn’t done yet: 800 million Indians vote till May for a new government; 190 million Indonesians choose theirs on Wednesday; and Finland already has a new, leftist, Parliament. Sadly, Democrats in the U.S. Congress haven’t got it together yet.
In 2018, more than 250 journalists were imprisoned, half of them in China, Turkey, and Egypt, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Worse, 53 got murdered, including Saudi Arabia’s Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly killed by his own government.
Like Assange, most of the persecuted is accused of, well, doing their job: uncovering inconvenient facts, cross-referencing them, protecting sources, and reporting about the front lines of the fight between institutional oppression, and those who oppose it.
The arrest, a U.K. gift to the U.S., culminated a truculent campaign to dislodge the Australian activist, and jail him over the 2010 leak of a large but ultimately tame trove of cables exchanged by American officials. Although he may be charged as a hacker, a technicality, the aim is clear: to silence dissent. A shocking difference this time, though, is having the U.S. as leading prosecutor.
To be sure, the British have played a less than dignified role in all this. And so has, arguably, Sweden, set to reopen rape charges against Assange. A shameless, misleading establishment media has also been a factor, as has his own, flawed, moral compass.
Nothing justifies, though, going after a publisher whose revelations showed what a powerful government feels entitled to do, when its people are not looking. The case also produced one conscientious hero, Chelsea Manning, who leaked the cables in the first place, out of justified disgust, and paid dearly with four years of her life in jail. And who’s now jailed again since March.
The ex-Army intelligence officer has refused to be dragged down to a case she’s already paid her dues to, and who Assange all but ignored when she’s was being court-martialed as a traitor. Non-evidence based Americans still go along with that version, but they may be distracted by another major issue the former male Private brought to the fore: her struggle with gender dysphoria.
The borderless persecution of journalists, activists, whistleblowers, accidental reporters, or volunteers for the cause of civil rights through the world, is a solid indication, not that democracy has failed, but that those assigned to protect it are in fact betraying it.
It’s been said so many times to almost turn it into a platitude, but it remains true: no democracy is possible without a free press.
For a while, we were used to reading about the lack of freedom of speech in some totalitarian, faraway country, ruled by tyrants. That is, everything the U.S., at least, had never been. But now, the president himself declared the press an ‘enemy of the people.’
Many Americans too have no sympathy for Assange, as his less than honorable actions against Hillary Clinton may have opened the doors for foreign interference in the 2016 elections. Some now believed, without proof, that he’s been a Putin’s tool all along.
It doesn’t matter: despite the illegality of leaking government secrets, administrations do try to break the law, and it’s usually up to citizens to stop them. That happened in the 1970s, when Daniel Ellsberg published the Pentagon Papers, and exposed the underbelly of the U.S.’s presence in Vietnam. Now another platitude, ‘democracy is not an spectator’s sport,’ proves its purpose.
Democracy is alive, if not too well, in India, even as its six-week-long procedure doesn’t bode well to its credibility. And no one expects a breakthrough in Indonesia either, where its ultra conservative religious council has issued a fatwa against vaccination, and its Sharia Law-abiding Aceh state will likely piously follow. Guess where a new global measles outbreak may strike next.
Just over five million Finnish voters, however, may serve as proxy to Europe’s much needed political change. For so far, Trump-inspired themes of ignorance and obscurantism have gotten the best out of the continent. Electing a progressive cabinet in the northern nation may be just the kind of measured good news we haven’t received about the region’s politics in a very long time.
Which brings us back to a majority of American voters, who may be bracing with dismay to the prospect of another defeat at the polls. So much dog whistling, weaponizing of the us-versus-them rhetoric, and use of code language for racial violence, which mark every president-sponsored rally, along GOP gerrymandering and spineless enabling of his diatribes, have us all worried.
Mostly by the Democrat Party’s apparent inability to capitalize on Nov. midterm elections’ record breaking wins by women and minority candidates, or incorporate their radical mandate for change in the mainstream of the party. It hasn’t encouraged anyone.
It is indeed startling that the party has responded tepidly to vicious, racist attacks leveled at novice House representative Ilhan Omar by the extreme right. Or that it hasn’t fully embraced the Green New Deal, so far the only comprehensive blueprint we’ve got to fight climate change. That only now it’s demanding the president’s tax filings, or may subpoena Robert Mueller to testify.
A lot can be gathered about a nation by the enemies it chooses to chase after. When a country lists as its biggest foes some poor, parentless, immigrant children, and creates the conditions to put them in cages; or when it seeks to intimidate and persecute those whose profession is to ask questions and bring the answers to the public, then it’s clear that this regime’s losing its honorability.
Today, millions of low and medium income Americans are filing their taxes, many set to pay the IRS at least something. But not Amazon and other 59 of the biggest corporations, along a bunch of billionaires, which are due nothing. And, of course, Trump.
Almost as depressing as witnessing power go after whistleblowers, is an apathetic electorate, who believes voting won’t make a difference. It does, though, as long as those who we vote for honor who they represent. Now that we finally saw what a Black Hole looks like, won’t we choose to get out of ours by electing a new leader for the free world? Vote hard and live free. Cheers

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4/08/2019 Israel & the Plastic Quagmire, Colltalers

In the 1960s, it seemed like a good idea: plastic bags to carry stuff. And to pack, ship, roll into a straw, and wrap food and drinks. It was hygienic, versatile, and eternal. A brave new world miracle. Now it’s what it’s stuffing to death the stomachs of whales.
The global right wing wave hijacking democracies, and promoting a populism of oppression, has a major date tomorrow, with the Israeli elections. A win by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu may dash for good the Palestinians’ dream of a homeland.
Reversing the impact of our toxic lifestyle on the environment, and preventing the expansion of authoritarian regimes, are in fact related issues. For it’s unlikely that a government used to annex territories by force, would also protect its people from pollution and climate change. Netanyahu, who’s played masterfully the ‘fear-your-neighbor’ trump card, has no time for such ‘distractions.’
The demise of the long fought-for two-state solution, sabotaged by everyone but the almost two million living in Gaza strip, has opened the doors for an exceptionally bleak time for Israeli-Palestinian relations. If before, peace negotiations stalled on minutia, but were still on, now, bullets aimed at the protesters’ limbs, and the occasional bomb from beyond the walls, are doing the talk.
For a time, a young, urban generation of Israelis, and their stated foes, Iranians, fed up with the fear of terrorism and external aggression, had represented the world’s biggest hope to a less militarized, more commonwealth-like Middle East. That, and the international pressure for peace in the region. After all, citizens of both nations have been equally victimized by the status quo.
Those hopes began to fade by a spectacular string of bad decisions taken in the past 20 years by the U.S. and its allies, starting by the invasion and destruction on false premises of Iraq. Rhetoric by George W. Bush and his war-mongering cabinet have helped usher a new crop of leaders with an authoritarian streak, like Netanyahu, who like others, waited in the wings to seize power.
Not coincidentally, it was around the same time that Turkey’s Recep Erdogan and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad rose to ruling their nations, along the entry into politics of infamous Saudi Arabian crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, just a few years later.
All three represent hurdles to a peaceful solution for the complex socio-political issues in the region. An unlikely defeat by the Likud Party’s chairman could mean a badly needed de-escalation of hostilities, restart of the dialogue between the two sides, and the eventual birth of a new sovereign state. But for now, Israel has the upper hand and is wrong on turning its back to peace.
A word about the recent fake controversy over the Trump administration’s support to Jerusalem, and the misleading charge that those against it are anti-Semites. For it shouldn’t be hard to separate the inalienable right to exist of the Jewish people and State of Israel, from the cruelty of its autocratic regime. To deny it, or pretend it’s beyond reproach, is to back an idea dictators love.
For ‘dear leaders’ everywhere, even those who submit to the electoral game while it favors them, their word is unquestionable. Period. Above all, besides changing hands, Israelis and Palestinians need to recognize their right to mutual, pacific, coexistence.
For some time, we all knew of the dangers of plastic being present in almost everything we touch, use, or dispose of, without a set of regulations to have its producers be part of its recycling. In less than 40 years, plastic reached every corner of the world.
The second dead whale to wash ashore with the stomach stuffed with tons of plastic, though, showed us that the situation is already out of control. Even if the world would stop consuming plastic today, that wouldn’t make any discernible difference to the state of oceans and marine life: after the fish, birds, and entire coral reefs, it’s only natural that whales are now also victims.
Large extensions of the seas have become traps for stray plastics, objects and utensils we’ve tossed with abandon, without much thought about where they’d wind up. At uninhabited islands, faraway shores, and coastlines on both poles, that’s where. And we lack the political will and the technology to effectively remove it from there; even recycling of cities’ garbage is in crisis lately.
The hardest part is that there are no practical alternatives. All too powerful tech goddess still has no mass solution to our crisis. So most likely, we’ll continue tossing single-use plastic forks and knives, bags and cup lids, water bottles, straws and Styrofoam containers, and damned straws, as if there’s no tomorrow, which is probably what will happen if something is not done soon.
It’s a good thing then that it’s National Volunteer Week, your chance to become part of the solution. Social inequality punishes those who least contribute to it, while letting the powerful off the hook. Yes, pollution and climate change affect us all, but those at the bottom get hit the hardest. There must be something we can do against the incoming ‘Plasticalypse.’ Any ideas? Cheers

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4/01/2019 – Climate Is No Fool’s Errand, Colltalers

Floods have taught us yet another practical lesson on climate change: they’ve drowned Mozambicans and Nebraskans this week, with equally destructive, and deadly force. But whereas big offender U.S. denies the evidence, hard hit Africa is busy fighting it.
Speaking of fighting Americans, women have led the charge for change relevant to the poor and our future, even before another rich white male moved in to the White House. But what the Democratic Party wants to find? a new rich white male to beat him.
These two different situations have twin common denominators though: authoritarianism and ignorance, or some combination of the two. And so do three other issues to skim through before we get to them: measles, nukes for Saudis, and Brazil of Bolsonaro.
For several millennia, mankind’s pace was marked by advances, both glacially slow and lightning fast; trouble came mostly from the unknown and unpredictable natural world. Periodically, evolution selected an entire species to be extinct, and haven’t you heard? dinosaurs were thriving 65 million years ago. Now, we find ourselves fighting old and revived, man made, woes. Again.
When conspiracy theorists rage against mass vaccination, they’re re-staging battles waged a century ago. Outbreaks of measles and other infectious diseases are flare-ups of the obscurantism of past ages. Except that they can still kill people. Naturally, such outbreaks fester first in close-knit, reactionary communities, such as the ultra-Orthodox Jewish ones, in N.Y. Rockland County.
Nuclear power, of course, can also kill people, even end civilization. Now put this power in the hands of extraordinarily wealthy authoritarian rulers, and the risk for annihilation of mankind, and global scale destruction, just got multiplied a few times more.
That’s arguably what happened, as the Trump administration has unwisely allowed U.S. companies to sell nuclear technology and know-how to Saudi Arabia’s murderous regime. Despite denials, few have any doubts about what all that will be used for.
And the third issue, related to ignorance and authoritarianism, comes from Brazil. Sunday was the sad 55th anniversary of the military coup that overtook the nation for 20-plus years. But while millions of Brazilians wore black to denounce the date, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, an ex-captain ousted from the Army who routinely praises torturers, wanted to celebrate it.
Even as his plan was shot down by a judge, most Brazilians were livid, and took to the streets for a refresher of that dark time, when many were killed, or disappeared, and a budding democracy was crushed. It may be happening all over again these days.
A parallel could be traced here between Brazil and the U.S. Both had many reasons to investigate and punish those responsible for despicable acts committed in the name of law and order, in Brazil, and war crimes carried out by American forces, in Iraq and elsewhere. But President Barack Obama, and Presidents Luis Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, fell short of doing that.
The Obama’s quote, ‘look forward as opposed to looking backwards,’ didn’t really passed muster, and neither did the findings by the Comissão da Verdade (the National Truth Commission), the Brazilian organ created to investigate crimes of the dictatorship.
Reproaches and expressions of outrage, along truly horrifying stories, abounded. But in the end, no one went to jail. The result of such an omission: U.S. government officials who are allegedly war criminals, and Brazil’s troubling loss of its historic memory.
On Friday, a federal judge threw out Trump’s executive order to reverse Obama-era bans on oil drilling in Arctic’s pristine coasts and outer continental shelf. The decision may have been the sole positive, but no less critical, environmental news of the week.
The floods in Mozambique, caused by Cyclone Idaí, may have killed over 500 people, and recovery of the impoverished nation will take long. Given what happened to Puerto Rico and even Texas, last year, Americans still under water in large swaths of the Midwest, may too suffer more casualties, before any help, funding, and empathy from the administration come to save the day.
When the number of women in the U.S. Congress reached a record of 127, following the November’s midterm elections, it was the culmination of two years of protesting, marches, and mobilization. Since 2016, and not taking anything away from gutsy anti-gun, racial, and gender equality activism, women have become America’s best shot at restoring integrity to its democracy.
Thus it’s near incomprehensible to see that now, just over a year from the presidential elections, the Democratic Party seems unimpressed with the potential of a mother to get elected as the next U.S. president. Instead, they’re apparently thrilled in having an impressive, but no less commonplace, bunch of white, mostly septuagenarian men. Some say that they all fear ‘AOC.’
For under-rock dwellers, the initials stand for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortéz, possibly the most electrifying American politician since Obama. And with even more gusto at demolishing conventional wisdom, and speaking passionately about matters crucial to all.
The Green New Deal, the incomplete, flawed, light on policy proposal, she presented to the House, remains the only available blue print for the colossal work the U.S. will need to undergo right away, if we really want to at least slow down climate change.
That it’s feared, just like her, by Republicans is not a surprise; but that the Democrat leadership has tried to sabotage it, and may have enlisted Machiavellic Mitch McConnell to help derail it, is nothing short of a near-sighted and ultimately stupid strategy.
For it’ll be either the diversity, enthusiasm, and determination of AOC and her diverse colleagues, to lead the agenda for a just and dignified America, or Trump will sail to his second term practically unchallenged. Hate to mention it, but remember Hillary?
Finally, for those stuck in the Mueller Report’s quagmire, there’s just one way for clarity: to release it to the American people, and to have Mueller answer questions on that Capitol Hill’s hot seat. Will Democrats get it right this time? ‘Most def,’ they must.
Self-declared ‘President of Brazil’ actor José de Abreu – his dig at Venezuelan self-declared ‘president,’ and Bolsonaro-supported, Juan Guaidó – promised he’d step down today, and ‘return power’ to the Brazilian people. Whether his April Fools’ Day joke is on us or on incompetent presidents, elected or self-proclaimed, is irrelevant. He’s right to add humor to such a depressing moment.
In the tradition of performers using their talents and levity to question powers that be, Abreu has inserted himself into Brazilian politics – which does have a professional clown in congress – as a comedian whose focus is on the fallacy of those paid to lead the country. Just like comedians in America and everywhere do. With them, we will have the last laugh. Welcome to April.

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3/25/2019 Back to the Drawing Board, Colltalers

After 34 guilty pleas, of President Trump’s top advisers, Russian spies and hackers, ex-FBI director Robert Mueller delivered his much anticipated, but disappointing report. It had an upside, though: for most of Saturday, the president’s twitter feed was silent.
Americans are unsure about what’s next, but four million signatures, and a million people rally, showed that Brits are not: they want a new referendum on the U.K.’s E.U. exit plan, which ironically may kick Brexit, and PM Teresa May, to history’s dustbin.
Before getting to those two headline-grabbing issues, let’s quickly recap a rather depressing meeting between two world leaders of a combined half a billion population. On Sunday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro finally met his maker, er, mentor, in his first U.S. visit. For arguably the majority of those people, it’s was hard to see them two exchanging niceties, let alone hear them.
For in just over three months, Bolsonaro and his three loose-canon politician sons, have found themselves at the center of a whirlpool of humiliating scandals that all but paralyzed the country. Worse: in at least one case, there are strong indications of their involvement with an unsolved murder, that of Rio councilwoman and LGBT activist, Marielle Franco, shot dead a year ago.
While support among the so-called ‘bull, bullet and bible’ caucus in congress – a coalition of big landowners, gun advocates, and wealthy Evangelicals -, remains steady, but not free of frictions, he’s shown surprising poor judgement in sorting out conflicts his kids have sowed with cabinet members. Now, Globo, the country’s biggest media company, has cynically joined his opposition.
In fact, one of the biggest reasons he’s now the president was the campaign, led by the same company, to depose President Dilma Rousseff on bogus arguments, halfway through her second term, in 2016. And the imprisonment of charismatic two-term president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was leading all polls just a few months before the November presidential election.
The comparison with the American president, and his unpredictable kids, is inevitable, but while Trump is a world class liar and illusionist, with seemingly many aces up his sleeve, Bolsonaro has to literally watch his back. His VP is a former general with ample military support – the president was ousted from the Army in the 1970s -, just in case they feel like staging a coup again.
To complicate, Michel Temer, previous president, VP of Rousseff, and shady character in her impeachment, was just sent to jail. A very unpopular politician, married to a women several decades his junior, he was arrested in a bribery probe. But while most Brazilians are ready to forget him, the lackadaisical approach to law that sent him to prison is similar to the one applied to Lula.
Bolsonaro’s dwindling chances of passing his signature legislation, social security reform, have been greeted with some cheers by working Brazilians. For if approved, retirement age will be raised, pensions will have significant cuts, and a large segment of the population either won’t be able to retire, or even before they do, will be already living in conditions below the poverty line.
It isn’t hard to trace the trajectory of a disastrous idea, sold to voters on false premises and lots of bells and whistles, with more than a few touches of xenophobia and unfounded fears of immigrants. It also helps when the country’s economy is in tatters.
But it should have been a giveaway that as soon as the group of political adventurers convinced the majority of the British that the U.K. would be better off out of the European Union, out of self preservation, they all quickly abandoned their own cause.
The wreck of Brexit began pretty much as soon as the votes were counted, and the stunt became a nightmarish reality of doubts, risks, and even universal ridicule. Suddenly, a hard won peace agreement with Northern Ireland was at risk, long-standing trade routines got into disarray, and Britons realized the full extent of their vote: chaos and an unprecedented social economic crisis.
That now the realization that Brexit is also unpractical and will cost more than merely financial burden, and that a majority of citizens are firmly opposing it, shouldn’t be taken as a surprise. Like the U.S. and Brazil, England is in bad need of leadership.
Ever since Mueller was appointed, on May 2017, to probe an unheard of but possible collusion between Trump and Russia, – a non-question that is all but answered -, there was excessive expectation about the impact its results would have on the nation.
As it turned out, and as the president didn’t waste a second to commemorate, the entire process may have already run its course, and indicted all suspects it could. Sure, it’s a record number of White House officials found guilty, and they were all picked by the president himself. But it was not up to the report to connect the dots. That job belongs to congress and the American people.
There are many other investigations currently being waged on Trump and his family’s dealings while in power, specially from the NY Southern District office, Attorneys General throughout the country, the House’s expected subpoena hearings, and more.
But there’s no question the president will capitalize on this anti-climatic end for such an intense affair, and despite all shouting and foul language exchanged in forums and social media, he looks particularly strong right now. Pity a majority who didn’t vote for him, who has since only confirmed their worst fears, and now may be contemplating the unthinkable: a two-term Trump.
Not so fast, say seasoned warriors, wary of yet another defeat for progressives, but who’re not about to give it all up. Rallies are already scheduled to press on the many inconclusive points of the investigation – such as, what? no Trump building meeting? for instance. It’s not just fear of 2020, but a quasi consensus that a Trump reelection will mean the planet will quickly burn to a crisp.
Others say, but Pence, Bolton, Pompeo, and the rest of the appalling assortment of corrupted officials, or just plain incompetent hacks, currently sucking dry the White House’s credibility, will still be in power, regardless of what happens to the tweeter-in-chief. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. We still need proof for what we already know: the president did break the law.
While Bolsonaro in Brazil may be considering the possibility that he too, will be put to pasture behind bars, Trump opponents may not be so lucky. The bottom line is, while the judiciary must do its job, and congress has a big role in assuring that it will, our concerns should be picking a candidate that will beat him in the polls, period. There must be someone like that out there.
But the week was not only about gloom and disappointment, just in time for Sunday supper. Jimmy Carter became the longest-living U.S. president, even before his Oct. 1, 95th birthday. And about that, we are indeed lucky. The 39th president was the only one to have not engaged us in war, and since leaving Washington, has set a high humanistic standard for any retired world leader.
It was also a week when a planned, but outrageous U.S. invasion of Venezuela not only did not happen, but also found an old foe poised to prevent it: Russia, which sent troops to support Maduro. Curious that Russia is the one siding with law and order now.
Animal advocates were happy that Spain’s enacted a ban, although partial, on bullfighting. Not underestimating the cultural value ‘toradas’ had for Spaniards, it’s about time to put to rest old bloody sports, whose reason to be is the suffering and death of animals. Also, if you’ve noticed, Spring has sprung in the Northern Hemisphere. Time for love, flowers and picnics. Enjoy.

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3/18/2019 Trouble Forges New Leaders, Colltalers

A society led by children is not attainable. But kids won’t wait for permission to lead: no action on climate, no life on the planet, they say. Seemingly, we don’t vote on gender or race. Yet, it’s women, people of color, and the young, who’re speaking the truth.
‘Our gun laws will change.’ New Zealand P.M. Jacinda Ardern’s response to the massacre of 50 Muslims by a white supremacist, was most appropriate; Parliament’s should quickly approve her plan. When will Americans see such resolve from their leaders?
It was supposed to be a beautiful Friday, with kids all over the world striking against climate change. They’re showing the kind of determination, which is what this juncture requires, that most adults in positions of power haven’t. Which makes one wonder, that they are either missing crucial brain cells, or have a financial stake invested by ignoring the public clamor. And also lack neurons.
But what makes the biggest difference, both from the part of the kids, and adults with a still functioning brain, is accountability.
Whereas the young is taking upon themselves to act as grownups, and defend a dwindling future they, more than anyone else, are likely to be around to live through, those in charge must be held accountable for sticking their heads in the sand rather than lead.
This is the second major issue, related to survival and assuring a future to everyone, that American kids are taking the initiative. The other is gun control. But despite spending 2018 rallying for change, officials and politicians remain oblivious to the outcry.
The massacre at the Christchurch town mosque somehow merged the two issues and made it painfully clear who’s on the wrong side of history. Surprise, they’re the same. Those not ashamed of expressing racist views, and resorting to violence to back it up, are also defenders of the status quo, unwittingly supporting a privileged, and unrealistic, order of which they’re actually outcasts.
Neighbor Australia had proved that legislation does indeed stop mass killings, and it’d at least, cut drastically the inconceivable daily reality of gun shootings in the U.S., for instance. Since Aussies banned semi-automatic rifles and handguns, in 1996, there hasn’t been any shootings there. They may tweak the law, now, to include new gadgets that assassins use to increase lethal power.
Minister Ardern is showing the kind of mature leadership that we have absolutely lost in many parts of the world. And it’s not that Kiwi current laws are weak, either: there hasn’t been a gun massacre in that country in the past 22 years. We should be so lucky.
People, however, have always ways to show that deep down, we care about the innocent and the vulnerable, being singled out and murdered, either for their ideas or for simply being themselves. It was moving how, despite all the haters, an overwhelming chain of support came from all over the world, for the grieving Muslim families. In the end, it’s love that unites and makes us all better.
Reality is, unfortunately, grimmer. Even when mentioned by name in the online manifest the depraved shooter published while squeezing triggers, Trump refused once again to link the carnage with the wave of hatred and white supremacy inspired by him.
It’s a dark wave wrecking havoc all over the world, an infernal diversion promoting violence against women, colored people, immigrants, sex minorities, and, of course, Islam. Granted, it was always there before, but it’s undeniable that’s getting bigger and worsen faster. Even in places where extreme urban violence is a daily reality, the combo hate speech-guns is fully festering.
Take Brazil, for instance. Last week, two young men entered their former school, shot dead 10 students and staff, and injured others, before killing themselves. It was a rare incident of its kind, but leave it to the right wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, to make things a bit worst. Rather than express remorse for the tragedy, he doubled down on his pro-gun agenda. Doesn’t it sound familiar?
A couple of days later, after a full year of phony investigations, Brazil arrested two ex-cops, and charged them in the murder of councilwoman and LGBT activist Marielle Franco. No one believes they’ve acted on their own, and over the weekend, the press revealed an inconvenient fact: both killers were close to the president and his family, and live within walking distance from them.
The Brazilian media, actively involved in the questionable oust of President Dilma Rousseff, halfway through her second term in 2016, which opened the way for Bolsonaro to get elected two years later, seem to be playing a different angle this time. It’s likely that not even his inner circle realized how fast their claim that they didn’t know who was behind the crime would be debunked.
The silver lining to it all is that, following Mariella’s assassination, four women of color got elected to local office in her native Rio. Like her, they come from shantytowns with a diverse and pluralistic platform, whose top priority is to defeat Bolsonaro in 2022. Or whoever likely backstabbing ex-ally of his will take over, once and if he gets deposed himself. Brazilian can’t wait.
Fatality may have brought together two distinct issues, but necessity may consolidate an alliance of women and kids to change the world. Or, as a pioneer and leader of the kids movement, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, put it, ‘system,’ not just climate, change.
Not coincidentally, the New Green Deal, a far reaching set of proposals to address climate change right away, aiming at protecting the segments of society bound to suffer the most, was introduced in congress by a fresh crop of just elected women.
That the kids are trying to confront naysayers, using that same proposal advocated by the new brand of leadership forged during the Nov. U.S. midterm elections, is just the confirmation that bright, and courageous, minds think, and full-heartedly act, alike.
March sails on, and so do we. Here comes the Spring Equinox (or winter for those below the Equator) which arrives Wednesday, along the year’s first Supermoon. Paraphrasing the old Broadway ditty, Spring will be a little sooner this year. If you don’t know why, have a kid or a progressive woman explain it to you. In either case, you’ll be in the best possible hands of the age. Cheers.

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3/11/2019 Bolsonaro’s Porn Tweet & the Brexit Fiasco, Colltalers

Tomorrow, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May faces another crucial Parliamentary vote on Brexit, the country’s planned exist from the European Union. Chances are, though, she’ll lose again, no deal will be reached, and Britons will enter a bleak two-year limbo.
Thursday it’ll be a year since the still unsolved murder of Rio councilwoman Marielle Franco. She’s likely the most distinguished among the staggering four thousand-plus women killed in Brazil in 2018. But President Bolsonaro is not too concerned about that.
The week starts grim in the aftermath of another fatal crash of a 747 Max 8 Boeing, this time in Ethiopia, and the second downing of such plane in the last six months. And it’ll probably have at least one new scandal involving the U.S. president, just as he files yet another multi-billion request to Congress to build his racist wall. Meanwhile, no resolution is expected to Venezuela’s crisis.
Bolsonaro, whose three-month presidency has been plagued by scandals and charges of corruption and nepotism, has become the first Brazilian president who not just dislikes Carnival, his country’s biggest party and arguably the biggest in the world, but also who tweets a pornographic video – supposedly to show his disgust about the LGBT community. It’s obviously backfired big time.
It’s not unusual for a right wing populist to become a national joke. Some simply can’t take it, unleashing their wrath on the backs of their already oppressed people. But the sense of incompetence surrounding Bolsonaro’s conduction of Brazil’s affairs so far, has all but paralyzed him, and he showed no hint that he understands his blunder (now blamed on one of his sons). Not unusual either.
What has caused anxiety to both his constituency and political allies alike, though, is that he’s been incapable of securing support in Congress for his exclusionary policies – an extremely unfair social security reform, for instance – even from the very segments of society whose help made conditions for his election to high office possible. Thus conspiracy theories now abound about his future.
When Estação Primeira da Mangueira, one of Rio’s oldest samba schools, won this year’s Carnival, it was with a theme recounting Brazil’s violent history from its victims’ perspective: the poor, dispossessed, sexual and racial minorities, championed by Mariella, as she’s known. The fusillade of bullets that murdered her, while neglected by Bolsonaro & co., has triggered a national movement.
It’s centered on the opposition to his proposed pension reform, even as he’s yet to present it for voting. Early reports show that it seeks to raise retirement age, from 60 for men and 55 for women, to both at 65, and how benefits would be calculated. In the government assessment, the reform would reduce retiree incomes to 500 reais to 750 reais a month, from the current 998 reais.
Critics pointed to the unbalance of wreaking havoc on working people’s retirement income, while leaving untouched that of the armed forces, politicians, and members of the judiciary, all of which have just granted themselves generous raises and benefits.
Perhaps the biggest defection of Bolsonaro’s support came from the powerful Brazilian media, chiefly, the Globo organization. They were instrumental drumming up a constitutional crisis in 2014, so to justify deposing president Dilma Rousseff halfway through her second term, and the villainization of two-term ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula, who is serving a lengthy jail sentence.
The president’s supported in Congress by the so-called bullets, beef and bible caucus, big landowners, former and current members of security and law enforcement forces, and wealthy Evangelical clergy, fully engaged in vetting a conservative agenda for Brazil.
Mangueira’s win, and demand for a transparent investigation into the murder of Marielle – believed to be committed by right wing militias, operating with impunity in Rio – plus opposition to the government’s plan to sell, privatize, or liquidate major state assets, may lead to a national mobilization. It also may cause a side effect no one’d like: a dramatic slowdown of the Brazilian economy.
Above all, there’s been an unreported genocide in the streets of Brazil, and it’s victimizing women, the LGBT people, and the poor, green warriors, and activists for indigenous communities. While that’s not new in Brazil, it had been a while since the government was so averse to their plight, and in some cases, openly hostile to their demands. No wonder, Brazilians are so despondent lately.
Compared to that, the U.K.’s imbroglio caused by the 2016 referendum that voted for its exit from the E.U., may sound mild but it’s no less disruptive, and seemingly coming from a similar place (where Trump election may also be associated to): a nationalistic urge to put on breaks onto social liberalism, while contending to cater to an alienated base, that remains ignored and manipulated.
The formula is now a franchise-like wave being sold by its architects (who naturally jumped out of ship as soon as disaster loomed and who have been mostly duplicates of white supremacist Stephen Bannon) to global authoritarian regimes. It’s become a major obstacle to any efforts for reversing climate change, fight income inequality, and rescuing ailing democracies throughout the world.
P.M. May’s expected defeat will cause the issue to fester into a continuous stream of bad news to the British economy, in the near future, as it boosts the same anti-immigrant sentiments and false claims that it costs too much for England to remain in the union, used by Boris Johnson and his minions, when it served their purposes. As it’s been said, they’re gone now but their mess still stinks.
But there are other, more optimistic, reasons to mark March 14: it’s Albert Einstein’s 140th birthday, and also Pi Day (set after its English numerals, 3.14). The father of the general theory of relativity, a spirited humanist and fierce advocate of human rights, once called nationalism ‘an infantile disease,’ ‘the measles of mankind.’ Given what’s above, his words haven’t lost their truth value.
A last shout out to brave Chelsea Manning, arrested again for refusing to answer questions related to WikiLeaks’s 2010 disclosures, for which she was convicted in 2013 and spent seven years in jail. The U.S. Army, rather than probing George W. Bush’s possible war crimes, exposed by her revelations, went after her, instead. We, the American people, should say, enough. Free Chelsea Now!

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3/04/2019 – The No-Deal Maker Loses Again, Colltalers

So the master of the deal has failed again. Another historical summit with North Korean Kim Jong-un got wasted because the U.S. president showed up ill prepared, flanked by two war mongers, and with no clue on how to set in course a safe path for peace.
Right on cue, India and Pakistan, nuke-ready nations, resumed hostilities. The failure was a blow to 70 million Koreans, plus more around the world, but Trump’s most likely focus, and concerns, was on his longtime personal lawyer spilling the beans to Congress.
The best thing about this week then may be a reminder: on Women’s Day this Friday, at least a record seven female candidates will be vowing to unseat the president next year. Maybe the time to have a mother in the White House is now, not as many expected, and still mourn, in Nov. 2016. But even if candidate ‘anyone-but-Trump’ wins, there’ll be a huge bag of broken deals to be fixed.
The thing is, a president doesn’t have to be a diplomat. Trump, specially, could’ve avoided to play such a bull in the china shop, if he’d considered years of talks with North Korea, the role of South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, China’s influence, trust and all other factors that take time and effort to build into a common accord. Instead, he put Max Pompeo and John Bolton in charge.
Both the Sec. of State and the National Security Adviser follow the ideology that places the U.S. atop the world, with all the perks and full autonomy to intervene, invade, bomb, or otherwise threaten any country or organization that they may perceived as an enemy of American financial, military, and business interests. But neither would accept such rights for others, outside their terms.
Such a role, though, only exists in their war-forged, privileged-imbued, self-preserving, and deranged, minds. The world wants the U.S, to lead it to peace and prosperity, not to be its dictator. If these hawks want to pursue their delusions, they should put some skin in the game. As much as they’d love to send Americans to their grave, though, neither would allow their own kin to enlist.
Again, no one needs to wear combat fatigues to know about the potential carnage a U.S. intervention would cause in Venezuela, for instance, or even worse, Iran. Since being named by the president, however, that’s what Pompeo and Bolton have been working on.
Michael Cohen, a lawyer who’s spent years as a Trump fixer, and will start a three-year sentence for doing just that, revealed plenty in his testimony to the House. It was curious, if not disturbing, to see Republicans calling him all but a snitch, as some disclosures about illegal actions he took for his boss, and the president’s own mob-like M.O., match well-known patterns of the underworld.
Now, if any other president had been as much as hinted at having partaken in illicit activities of the level of allegations of colluding with Russians, for one, or paying up prostitutes to keep silent, he’d have stepped down already or would be facing impeachment.
For Trump, however, as comedian Bill Maher put it, ‘it’s just Tuesday.’ None of this gets to his supporters, who either don’t believe it, or have much to gain by ignoring it. That’s why many fear he may get reelected. But this time, it won’t be without warning.
Which brings us back to the Women’s Day, and the relative euphoria that some segments have shown about a few candidates to president. With all due respect to Sen. Bernie Sanders, there’s an even greater majority of voters who want a woman to lead the ticket. And unlike with Hillary Clinton, whose campaign have arguably made crucial mistakes, we’ve got the experience to lead us.
But if women as a political force have been empowered by the opposition to a Trump regime, bent on undermining years of earned reproductive rights, the Democratic Party in particular has a lot of work to do in order to throw undivided support for them. For starters, party and the candidate it’ll choose, must be fully committed to the progressive agenda that Americans voted for last Nov.
A set of basic demands – climate change action; Medicare for all; labor, tax, and immigration reforms, reproductive and minority rights, gun control, affordable education, and a few other issues – must be the core of their campaign, and on everyone’s hearts.
For sure, these are issues that mankind needs to tackle, and in the case of climate change, any remedial, incremental set of actions simply won’t do it. But it’s also because it’s where the U.S. has an obligation to lead the world, as its most powerful economy and biggest polluter. That’s the inspiration other countries need from America, so we’re all in sync, working together to save this planet.
Finally, this year’s March 8 may be marked by Saudi Arabia’s plans to trial, and very likely condemn, a group of women activists, for ‘undermining the security’ of the kingdom. Another murderous regime Trump has praised and may have financial ties with, the Saudis likely set the trials to coincide and in defiance to the date. They must be confronted and held accountable for their actions.
Tomorrow, though, is Fat Tuesday. Parties, parades, and celebrations, are going on all over Latin America, the Caribbean, and of course, New Orleans. Regardless commercial distortions, elite manipulation, and staggering costs, footed mainly by poor people, bless those who prepare the entire year to enjoy Carnival, a time to dress up and party and rejoice for being human. We’re all for it.

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2/24/2019 Help Children Save Their Future, Colltalers

Less than a month since the Trump administration decided to oust Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, the country is in turmoil, clashing with neighbors, and facing civil war. What it’s farther from achieving, though, is the social stability Venezuelans want.
It’s another make-believe threat, to be sustained until or if this week’s North Korea summit produces a sliver of good news the president can boast about. It’ll further deplete the already poor climate change media coverage, the only war we should be fighting.
It’s inspiring to see the young, mostly children, in fact, jumping into the trenches for the climate fight, with the resolve and maturity rarely seen in our leaders. By pushing them hard, the kids are also exposing some pretty vexing realities about the adult world.
When members of the Sunrise Movement, middle and high school children advocating for climate action, visited California’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein, to plead her support for the New Green Deal, which calls for a (U.S.) ‘transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030,’ she all but dismissed them. As their encounter went viral, though, it showed why is so hard to get change in Washington.
Feinstein, one of the stalwart leaderships of Democratic Party’s moderates, is obviously annoyed, along many of her colleagues, by the ‘invasion’ of enthusiasm and bold ideas brought about to Congress by a new crop of politician, mostly women, elected last Nov.
The kids didn’t take long to reply to her paternalistic approach with pointed, science-backed arguments. And even political ones too, as when they correctly noted, when she dismissed the package’s chances of being voted, that to support it is still worth. Like clear-eyed politicians, they’ve lectured her on the importance of preparing appropriate laws for when change becomes reality.
But the good senator doesn’t seem too keen into supporting this new, daring, loud leadership voices, pushing to halt at least some impact from climate change. Perhaps it’d be instructive to ask her own grandchildren, whom she mentioned as if she cares, what do they think about their grandma’s views? Maybe not too adoringly, on hopes. Otherwise, she should be told to get out of the way.
As the party’s current star, the much maligned-by-the-right Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said, ‘small, incremental policy solutions are not enough.’ We’ve all seen what ‘incremental policy’ has done to the planet in the past decade, including its string of hottest years ever. Even if science consensus, that we’ve got only 12 years to reverse this process, is flawed, we’re already in emergency state.
Remember that one? When Trump declared a (made-up) national emergency at the border, and immediately after, spent a few millions of taxpayer money to fly to Florida in time for tee off, even local officials backing him had trouble following the narrative.
Sorry Venezuela, but that’s exactly why the focus is now on you; that tale about a vicious border invasion, happening right now, started losing steam, and another needed to be primed. All to divert attention from the investigation to determine whether the president committed treason, by colluding with a hostile power in exchange for economic gains. For that doesn’t look good either.
The death of four people in the border with Colombia, over the weekend, could be attributed in part to the massive media attack, from American and Brazilian organs, on the Maduro administration. His drive to retain power at any cost notwithstanding, the president is right in calling this an illegal invasion, and to suspect that the ‘humanitarian aid’ is designed to favor the opposition.
The U.S. risks entering another conflict it can’t win, had no business entering, and has no exit plan either. It’s an adventure that soothes the deranged mind of old hawks who never saw a war or conflict they wouldn’t profit from. In common, they – who shall not be named – have despicable pasts as shady operators of destruction and fat defense contracts. And derision for human rights.
Venezuelans should know that this is not about saving democracy or ‘freedom’ to the people. If there was any intention to address that, U.S.-based humanitarian agencies and political officials would be helping bring the parties together, to preserve the state of normality. Political and institutional crisis are never solved by canons and threats, even less with embargoes that starve the people.
Apart from that, it’s unlike that Trump will commit to a Latin American problem like this one, despite posing as if he’s doing it so, because his buddy Putin already put the kibosh on this administration’s plans. Are they headed to a showdown? Tune in next week.
The summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un, that starts Wed in Vietnam, comes then as a welcome relief to the president, who may even score some progress towards a more workable relation between the two countries. But expectations are lower than their first meeting, because Kim, as expected, has done some hedging to protect his hand on nuke autonomy, and Trump, well, he lied.
The term ‘workable’ is probably not on his vocabulary, anyway, but the claim is entirely gratuitous. And almost as fake as the petition to the Swedish Academy to grant him a Nobel. The second such scheme was deemed a fraud and referred to the police.
While the old establishment of the Democratic Party discusses their odds of getting any legislation passed by a GOP-majority Senate, the young people are the ones leading the most remarkable offensive against inaction in climate change. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen who’s been pointing fingers at world leaders, for their lax attitude towards the environment, has set the tone.
Now there’s an even younger American, Alexandria Villasenior, who’s planning the Youth Climate Strike, on March 15. And many others, some older, like Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, an indigenous activist, and the same age, like the survivors of the Parkland shooting.
These kids have the potential to become tomorrow’s leaders, and it’d be an improvement to all of us, but we need to encourage, not chastise them. They don’t need to be taught how complicated it is for a common citizen to be heard by a powerful politician; they’ve experience this at every interaction with condescending adults, hopelessly compromised with maintaining the status quo.
Finally, the AOC’s and Ed Markey’s green proposal is a road map, and not a bad one at that. So it happens to have found resonance with the American people; support to it is obvious because even a 7-year-old can tell that whatever we’re doing is not working.
We’re coming to a point that supporting any costly intervention, any waste of our military resources, or any distracting made up crisis, invented by the president out of self preservation, compromise everybody else’s own preservation. Bring these kids to prime time, help them propagate their message, because they’re defending our survival. If Trump is not interested, well, wait until 2020.
Meanwhile, demand the U.S. to give up of its badly planned intervention in Venezuela, and join, instead, efforts by U.N. agencies, humanitarian and civil rights organizations, and the Venezuelan people, to agree upon a consensual political solution to their woes.
There’s already enough carnage to burn the world a few times over. Entire populations live with the harsh reality of death by bombing. The U.S. has a huge responsibility for this state of affairs, and it’s time the American people demand accountability for what’s being done on their behalf. It’s time well-taught children get the power to veto what’s being done to their future. Cheers.

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2/18/2019 Profiteering From Misery, Colltalers

‘Breaking: Hurricane LeBron’s 200 mph winds drove the Atlantic to completely submerge long decaying Palm Beach, Fl, Mar-a-Lago Golf Club, once owed by ex-President Trump, who refused to comment. He’s serving a 5-year reduced term at N.Y. Rikers.’
‘Members of the once billionaire family, the Sacklers, start their prison sentences today, after being found guilty of profiting from the U.S.’s deadliest drug crisis: overdoses from the family-owned, Purdue Pharma-produced, OxyContin, an addictive painkiller.’
Sorry to interrupt almost a decade of fact-based discussion on this space, to sneak in a piece of karmic wishful thinking. Not that neither of the fictitious scenarios laid above could ever happen, if justice was to be served. But realistically, neither is likely to.
Those two opening graphs, though, touch some of the most crucial issues of our age, and to present them as fiction may ease the blunt of facing the nightmare they suggest: unbound government corruption, dead of democracy, and impeding global catastrophe.
The investigation into the president’s possible collusion, conspiring with a foreign power in exchange for personal business favors, has affected, when not already sentenced, virtually every one of his inner circle. Except him, who’s still unscathed and in control of the narrative, while even those not yet indicted may be destroying, or saving, self-incriminating records, as we speak, just in case.
By declaring a non-existent, probably unconstitutional, state of national emergency, Trump took another step towards full tyranny mode: ‘my wall or I’ll start a war,’ have been his terms all along. It’s up to adults left in Washington to challenge this act of power grab, hoping as well that the Supreme Court spares us from witnessing it issuing a shamefully-bias ruling on presidential powers.
Trump will have his way, though. Helped by Republicans – a small group of astonishingly rich and amoral ‘democracy slaying’ enablers, fine with standing on the shadow of a would-be dictator -, he’ll keep inflicting misery on immigrants and asylum seekers.
Racism and immigration foes, however, predate Trump, even as he may claim ownership of it. And so does the lack of smart rules regulating manufacturers of high-demanded prescription drugs, their record profits, and unscrupulous marketing strategies. But it’s no wonder that the president hasn’t shown interest on the many black and brown people being shot and killed daily in the U.S., or empathy to the record number of victims of prescription drug addiction. Neither would get him re-elected. Thus, the Sacklers.
The transatlantic dynasty is under scrutiny over the source of much of its wealth: a painkiller first launched in 1996 to treat severe pain, only. But papers filed in court argue that it’s been pushed by members of the feuding clan to become a doctor’s first choice – under spurious backdoor deals – driving up prices and sales, and, we know now, killing more Americans than any other drug.
Just a while ago, the Sacklers were known only as major patrons of the arts, and many a world class museum has named a wing after Raymond and Mortimer, the psychiatrist brothers who founded Purdue Pharma. Both are now diseased, as is Arthur, another brother, uninvolved with OxyContin affair. It’s their numerous descendants who’re being called to accountability in the tragic crisis.
Also important for the record: the drug is just part of the larger, systemic failure of the American medical establishment to deal with pain, addiction, and mental health. Even as many overdoses come from the patient resorting to street heroine, unable to afford or fulfill insurance constrains, it’s the painkiller what first hooks the afflicted, opening the gates to despair and much heavier stuff.
Back at those rosy projections of the beginning. Despite their heavy-handed, and misplaced, optimism, they underline recurrent truths: from now on, for instance, Trump is liable for any climate change-triggered ‘natural’ disaster, due to his criminal inaction, and support to and from industries that are destroying the planet, that is, for choosing his own interests over those of mankind.
And after Martin Shkreli, the ‘pharma bro,’ was found guilty of raising the price of a life-saving drug used by millions, so to boost his fortune and company’s value, it was hard to picture a worst offender coming out of the medical-pharmaceutic industry complex.
Instead of breakthrough cures, however, labs often rather trade on patents, and give us all another bitter pill to swallow. Meet the Sacklers, the family accused of profiting while thousands of Americans died, and a taste to remain unnoticed. Well, no longer.
But neither scenario is likely to come to fruition any time soon. Nor should anyone dictate their own life, conduct and struggle, by whether justice is ever fully realized. What happens to Trump, or the Slackers, is not what counts; getting them out of the way is.
In the end, the Shkrelis, the Trumps, and the Sacklers do win often, or for at least some time, but not always. They’ll beat the rap, because as one of the Characters, in Aristotle’s pupil Theophrastus’s 320 BCE work, a ‘shameless man is the sort who, after short-changing someone, goes back to ask him for a loan.’ If not them, others just like them will try to make a buck out of others’ misery.
80 years ago this Wednesday, the German-American Bund filled NYC’s Madison Square Garden, for a Nazi rally. Eerie pictures and footage of the event, full of antisemitic and pro-white supremacy speeches, are coming back to the national conscience, not just to haunt us, but as a reminder: how ease America now, circa 2019, could go back to 1939. Be vigilant but never violent. Cheers

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2/11/2019 Leader of the Precious Few, Colltalers

‘I’ll never let you down,’ Trump told a roomful of enthusiastic believers at the National Prayer Breakfast (er, club?) last week. It was another cue for the religious right to express approval for a morally broken leader, just because he can help carry their agenda.
Neither he nor them seem interested in the explosion of opioid overdoses throughout the country; the extreme weather created by climate change; or, heaven forbid, this Black History month. They want to outlaw abortion and he, a wall and maybe another war.
In a nutshell, that may characterize the priorities of a special interest group, and a president, who, despite representing a minority of the U.S. population, are highly invested on turning this country into their own image. Needless to say, they’re both bound to fail.
Not just that almost 30% of Americans are not religiously affiliated, or call themselves atheists – known as ‘nones’ -, according to Harris, the Pew Research, and other polls, but also that not even all Republicans are 100% behind the president’s stated priorities.
The estimated 36 million to 55 million nones is already a sizable percentage of the U.S. population, compared to Evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, or Buddhists. In other words, a powerful voting contingent that is increasingly demanding to be heard.
The trend is even more pronounced globally. In 2016, the National Geographic proclaimed, rather exaggeratedly, that nones are already the world’s biggest ‘religious’ group. A closer read however show that we’re not quite there yet, even as new generations, such as millennials, have little use for the concept of an invisible, all-too powerful being. They’d rather thank goodness, not god.
When Trump vowed, at the State of the Union address, to prohibit what he called ‘late-term abortion,’ which is itself a misleading label to an extreme, emergence procedure, far from being routinely prescribed, many had to wonder: what was he talking about?
He was, of course, ignoring the presence of the biggest number of women ever elected to Congress, right in front of his podium, and who are determined, and gaining widespread support, to use their mandate to keep reproductive rights under a woman’s choice.
His audience was not the American people, though, or victims of a pharmaceutical industry going awry for profits, or the black and brown communities being chased, persecuted, and imprisoned around the country: his choir was church leaders, who have pinched their noses and given their votes and money to a thrice married man, proven to be a cheater, and whose word is routinely a lie.
What the president was doing, in what could be considered another stop on his 2020 reelection campaign, was making sure that those who can help him stay at the White House, and write fat checks, are still in his corner. And they gladly respond to him: yes.
Some say that it’s all a sign of his political instincts. There are growing concerns that the now proverbial ‘poor, uneducated whites,’ who went out of their way to elect him, sadly believing he was one of their own, may be having some serious second thoughts.
Although his core supporters, the less than 30% of the voting universe, continue to believe that a wall will automatically stop all immigrants from coming to America, and at the same time, generate the jobs and opportunities they’ve missed out for the past 30 years, others may be experiencing a ‘woke’ moment. That is because the majority is not really better off as they expected to be now.
On the contrary, the economy keeps producing stellar numbers that absolutely don’t reflect the reality on the ground. While the administration brags about jobs, Americans see is a steady flow of non-livable offering positions, with no benefits or labor rights.
The last about the oh so pious religiously bent is the contradiction most seem to profess. When it comes to women making their own choices, send in the guards, curses, and all the weight of intolerance and hate. But childhood poverty and hunger are not of their concern. Even worst is the church’s sinister tradition of sexually abusing children and denying accountability for its acts.
Those women in Congress, led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, just unveiled the Green New Deal, which addresses a series of way more relevant issues than who’s your god, or whether a woman’s choice is anybody else’s business. The focus for resetting our goals for the future, however, is what’s crucial about the proposal: to address climate change, the real biggest crisis of our time.
So the president may, and certainly will, lash out at, and belittle, what moves and motivates the majority of Americans, by creating crisis of his own making to distract and terrorize the nation. But the hypocritical backing he enjoys among clergy and lobbyists, and fading unanimity within his bases, along a collusion probe that may lead to his impeachment, could be too much even for him.
What most Americans really want is a nation that leads the world toward survival, by investing its power into reversing climate change, as it seizes back its image of beacon of freedom and respect to every citizen, regardless of race, politics, beliefs, gender and sex orientation. If it’s up to us, he will let zealots and xenophobes down. Enjoy your Valentine and don’t give up the fight.

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2/04/2019 Beware the Snake Oil Pitch, Colltalers

President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address, in 2009, was about a healthcare proposal that’d cover for at least a few years over 20 million of uninsured Americans, despite fierce opposition. It was also the first time he was called a liar in public.
Tomorrow’s SOTU, however, Trump’s second, is expected to be about at least three debunked lies: that there’s a border invasion; that immigration is our biggest problem; and a national emergency needs to be declared. No one may call him out on that though.
Whether Democrats should, is up to contention. What is not is whether Americans are given the full picture about what it really means to send even more money to turn our borders into war zones, and troops to try to top a foreign government as in Venezuela.
That at this point, in the third year of the Trump administration, we’re cherry picking which of his lies has the most impact on the future shows that these are pretty treacherous times. Whereas Obama was in fact telling the truth, and Obamacare did save lives, the current White House occupant is ready to send more Americans to die abroad, along the most valuable truths about this nation.
Ideals of solidarity among people, of self determination, and specially, the sacred concept of sovereignty, are being gutted by this president. But few see Republicans growing a spine and wrestling their party away from him. Instead, they’ll stand up and applaud.
The word ‘wall’ is also expected to be uttered a few too many times, and so is calls of innocence (the president never wastes a public forum without saying that ‘there’s no collusion’ with Russia). Plus any one out of his 2018 average of 15 daily false claims.
The 35-day, longest shutdown in U.S. history, which wound up costing $11 billion to the economy, ruined the holidays of almost a million public employees, while stiffing thousands of contractors, will also be missing from the teleprompter. Even more unlikely is that the president will take responsibility for the his failed attempt at strong-arming the country into building his frivolous wall.
It was a cruel stunt, that exposed the realities of most Americans, living by their next paycheck, unable to afford health care, or save for retirement, and all but helpless when crisis strikes. And that’s only considering the minority who has a regular, 9 to 5 job.
More meaningful may be Stacey Adams, a rising Democrat star, who will deliver the party’s response – CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra will give the Spanish-language response. Fresh from a contentious defeat to Brian Kemp, who as an ex-Georgia chief elections officer, did what he could to deny thousands their right to vote, Adams surely has what it takes to a big take down.
Some of the consequences of Trump’s shutdown are even more heartbreaking to grasp. The Oglala Lakota people of South Dakota, for instance. Already battered by complex social issues, Native Americans in general, and the Oglala in particular, were badly hit by the lack of a functioning government. Worse: people forget why they’re so relevant to America, in this age of climate change.
Despite all odds stacked against them, such as prejudice and an unfair justice system, they remain dignified and at the forefront of the Standing Rock movement, which seeks to shut down the environmentally-disastrous Dakota Access Pipeline project. But when they and other tribes marched in Washington, D.C., two weeks ago, such protest message, surprise surprise, got lost by the media.
After elderly chief Nathan Phillips was publicly disrespected by an smug-smiling Catholic brat and his peers, there to protest women’s rights, it was the spoiled kids who got interviewed on prime time, not the warriors risking their lives to save the planet.
Another upsetting news slated for tomorrow is the 15th anniversary of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg’s personal monster, from which he’s amassed over $65 billion, that has now a life of its own, and goes around destroying democracies throughout the world.
Like Trump, Brexit, Bolsonaro, Conte, and so many others, we’ve got only ourselves to blame; most of us is among the 2.3 billion worldwide FB users, who carelessly surrendered to it our identifying data, plus some pretty harry intimate secrets, now stored in its servers, in exchange for not feeling disconnected from the world. Increasingly, though, that world is getting far from being real.
But the happiest news marking this busy Feb. 5 is the Chinese New Year of the Pig. To celebrate it there’s no need to be a believer. Besides, people born under the Pig is said to be ‘cheerful, sincere, and brave,’ three characteristics we could all use more today.
It’s time for those still pondering how fast we dove into this swamp of inequality and political dishonesty, to make Obama – but not the Bushes – look like a visionary president, to wake up and grab the bull by its horns. That is, to stand up and point the finger at the president. If Congress and the Supreme Court won’t do it, and the House needs a hand, then it’s up to us, Americans, to do it.
No, we won’t build any wall, or spend another cent on ‘border security;’ we no longer will split up families, or chase immigrants and asylum seekers to death; no, there won’t be any ‘national emergency,’ or invasion of Venezuela for its oil, for that matter.
We have now powerful allies, elected to lead us into a radical change of priorities, one that puts people and their needs first, and asserts our resolve into making America better than it ever was, and yes, the wealthy and corporations will have to pitch in. We won’t hear that tomorrow night, so we must proclaim to the world: Trump doesn’t speak for us, and his days are counted. Cheers

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1/28/2019 Buried By the Mud, Colltalers

The year is still new but the news have surely changed little. 2018 is on track to be history’s fourth hottest, and the Yemen carnage, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and Syria’s hell-for-all but Bashar al-Assad, are still going strong. Talk, as usual, remains cheap.
The Trump-induced government shutdown is on hold for now, though, and so is the U.K.’s mind-boggling Brexit wreck, and that’s probably good. But an environmental tragedy in Brazil, and a coup in Venezuela, will maintain world tensions steadily simmering.
As Russia and China warned the U.S. that an intervention in Venezuela won’t be tolerated, it now also feels like we’re back to Cold War geopolitical games: ‘don’t touch my back and I won’t touch yours.’ Using the same playbook, the ‘triumvirate of bigotry’ (ops), Trump, John Bolton, and Mike Pompeo, is already preparing a fresh conflict to divert focus at home and seize the narrative abroad.
No one expects a numeral change to automatically trigger a new direction to the world. Just as thoughts and prayers won’t make anyone more deserving of some ‘divine grace,’ than those who, without a thought, dive straight into the void to try saving a life.
One thing is understanding that every new day hits the ground running, though, and it’s up to us to turn it into a rewarding spin. Another is to come back from an almost drowning jump into the sea, only to be hit hard by tons of water from a massive wave.
We’re humans and need breathing breaks, or we don’t survive. It’s crucial to be aware of what’s going on around us, but let’s not lose sight of the horizon and its possibilities. Even die-hard pessimists have their moment of clarity, and confidence in the future.
It’s during these rare instants that we realize the amazing people who are now sharing the trenches with us. The U.S.’ youngest representative, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ebullient in her quest for a big change in American politics, is certainly among them. And so is Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist, who’s become a seasoned champion for climate change awareness.
That’s the same arena where the Maldives’ former president, Mohamed Nasheed, has been battling for years. And, on the other side of the age spectrum, there’s also the brilliant linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, speaking truth to power for several decades now.
There are good news about the race to beat Trump in 2020, too: most candidates jumping in are women, empowered by a huge demographics with potential to do way more than breaking the glass ceiling. And there are many scientists, inventors, and even artists, committed to save the planet, or at least to make it more socially just. They’re our allies and inspire us to always do more.
For we do need to do more. A just released Oxfam report, for instance, shows income inequality fast becoming downright obscene: 26 individuals own the same as 3.8 billion people, half the world population; 1% own 82% of all wealth generated in 2018; and every day, the increasing billionaires among us become $2.5 billion richer, while 1.3 billion starves earning less than $1.25 a day.
We have the examples of people doing more than their share to fight these twins scourges of our age, climate change and social inequality, and we’ve got plenty of reasons to act now to save the earth. But there’s much to be done, other than applaud their efforts and call them heroes. We must find ways to do our part, small or big, in this fight. Talk will always be cheap; actions won’t.
That’s our challenge: in the anonymity of our lives, to be as vital as those who do it the world’s stage. The end result benefits us all, but negligence will hurt us first. So much for the dream of an equitable world, if only too few of us will move a muscle towards it.
When Brazil’s Bento Rodrigues dam suffered a catastrophic failure, in 2015, it destroyed the Mariana village and killed 19 people, buried by its toxic mud. But Samarco, the operator, and joint venture of iron ore giant Vale and BHP Billiton, was hardly charged with the crimes, and no executive from any company went to jail. The disaster was then Brazil’s worst, but maybe not for long.
That’s because last Friday, Vale did it again: a dam it operated collapsed in Brumadinho, in the same Minas Gerais state, and with more than 200 missing, it’s likely to beat the Mariana record. Whereas that generated a 2.1 billion cubic feet wave of mud, and 22 cubic feet of iron waste spilled into Rio Doce, the lethal tide this time, while early for estimates, is expected to reach 19 cities.
The disaster closes one of the messiest first-month governments in recent history, even considering Trump’s term so far. Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right populist Brazilians elected to lead them on a quest to end ‘corruption and crime,’ is already up to his neck with just such allegations. That includes his son, also a politician, who’s being connected to a crime organization, and now, this.
The tragedy will split headlines with the other major South American news: the conspiracy to remove from office second-term president Nicolás Maduro, led by the U.S. and with support from Bolsonaro, and other newly-minted dictatorships in the region.
It’d be, of course, an abject attempt at regime change, the kind executed many times before, as in the bloody Chilean 9/11 in 1973, and the Honduras 2009 coup (see, Central American Caravan, Asylum Seekers), both U.S.-led and with staggering human costs.
Here’s to the two ‘cradle of democratic freedom and civil rights,’ Russia and China, at least according to one V. Putin and some Xi Jinping, to do the risky job of scarring the bejesus of American hawks into stopping this madness. And to Brumadinho volunteers, who along fire fighters, are showing up to help. Most of all, here’s to those dedicated to rid the world of authoritarian regimes.
That they all get outlawed, and replaced by a majority rule, who wants peace, a healthy planet, and a socially just civilization to live and prosper. Unlike one of nature’s most beautiful creatures, the Monarch Butterfly, we still have a fighting chance to avoid extinction. Or rather, if we can’t make ourselves worthy enough to live, then good riddance to us too. It’s good to be back. Cheers

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12/10/2018 Salvaging the Wreck of 2016, Colltalers

Brexit, the referendum that’s put the U.K. on the verge of leaving the European Union, and Trump’s election as U.S. president, the two biggest politically disruptive events of 2016, were only possible due to similar, dishonest strategies of those who backed them.
After two years, both may be coming to a head, and many say, not a day too soon. Or rather late, since turmoil they’ve caused has already undermined efforts to counter global climate change. Or the rise of extreme white supremacy. So, yes, good riddance.
Since most ‘architects’ of Brexit have since jumped ship, in coward fashion, no less, British P.M. Theresa May is the one left to push through Parliament the latest, and still unsatisfying, deal with the E.U. She’s bound to fail, according to an almost consensus.
That’d throw her government, and 66 million Brits, in disarray, a fact that’s both lamented, for the human costs involved, and also cherished. That’s by those who woke up June 24, 2016, sure that they’d been sold a bag of rotten goods, with no returns accepted.
Something similar happened the following November in the U.S., and last month, heavy loses by the Republican party may also signal that these now former-losing majorities, from both sides of the pond, may win their due rematches. It won’t be soon enough.
It’s appalling that many of those who fought hard to severe the U.K.’s long-lasting ties to Europe – former London Mayor Boris Johnson, Niger Farage, others, plus a variety of unpopular politicians and ‘strategists,’ – who quit when most needed, to pursue their true ambitions, remain unapologetic about the chaos they sowed. Such lack of empathy reminds Americans of someone they know.
Speaking of whom, here’s a dude who had a terrible few days last week. Reports that the Robert Mueller probe has a strong hold on many of his once trusted operatives, who apparently turned on him by the dozen, have truly riled Trump. Among plenty of denials and false accusations, even a superficial analysis of his body language throughout the crisis show that, yes, it’s been bad, indeed.
As it becomes ever more clear that he did collude with Russians to win the White House, some wonder who he’ll throw under the bus in order to save his skin. As the ex-reality TV star turned Tweeter-in-Chief has never had to face so focused a pressure to tell the truth, members of his cabinet, and many outliers of his inner circle, continue to jump overboard. Just don’t hold your breath.
For even with his possible auctioning of his own kids, to pay for his deeds and let him go back to golf on Americans, the president still has some options. Mostly outrageous, like lying more, or downright immoral, like starting a war, but he’s surely on the case.
The greatest tragedy, though, these undignified leaders, either unfit to lead, or incapable of getting elected even to the local school board, have caused is already indelible: their antics and unbound greed stole the thunder of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Fortunately, even the U.K. and the other 193 signatories have carried on after the U.S.’ exit. But hardly any progress has been accomplished.
On the contrary, climate catastrophe has never ceased to advance. Take the Amazon, for instance, but the forest, not the company. A recent study found that, due to a quirk of legislation, an area larger than Ireland may lose its protected status. Worse, Brazil’s president-elect Jair Bolsonaro plans to open the forest to commercial parties, damn it its indigenous residents or the environment.
The right wing ex-captain who the Army kicked out, is a climate-denier like his American ‘role model,’ and will likely get at least some of his way on this. That mirrors Trump’s plan to open nine million acres to drilling and mining by stripping away protections for the sage grouse. It’s enough to notice the words ‘mining,’ ‘drilling’ and ‘stripping away protections,’ all in the same sentence.
And if you were expecting that the follow up talks to the Paris conference, starting its second week in Poland, will kick start some reaction against climate change any minute now, please take a seat. The gathering hit a wall over the refusal, by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and, oh yes, Russia, to endorse the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s released this past October.
The study details what will happen if average global temperatures rise by 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), which we seem to be on track for, and ways to prevent it to go any higher. All backed up by facts and serious research, which, as we know, stand sharply against Trump, Bolsonaro, and all their minions, doing the biding for fossil-fuel multinational corporations. But we must stop now.
After all, ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside,’ as goes the old Christmas ditty now under fire for its lyrics, and humans will always need warm and comfort to survive. We have no choice but to continue to fight against climate change, or we’re toast. Speaking of which, let’s raise one to the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed 70 years ago today, to assure individual freedom and dignity.
History shows that tyranny and ignorance are no match to the will of enough people saying no. Let’s turn the vicious hounds into barking puppies, for the caravan of mankind has a job to do: to save this Earth. Watch the Christmas Comet and stay alive.

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12/3/2018 The Age of Flawed Presidents, Colltalers

There’s America, the myth. The land of the free, a country built by immigrants, founded on values of equality and justice for all. Even as it has hardly realized in full the dreams on which it was found, this is the America-in-progress that’s still attainable.
Then there’s present day U.S.A., still the world’s richest nation but now also quickly becoming the cradle of inequality. A place where over a hundred million simply gave up and don’t even vote, led by a president who’s a constant source of embarrassment.
Take the G-20 in Argentina, for instance. Another high-level world-leaders meeting, another series of photo-ops displaying Trump as the ugly American at its worst. In just a few hours, he’s managed to insult the host, get cozy with Putin, and brag about a deal.
By now, the 18 nations plus the European Union that make up the bloc are not just acquainted with him, but rather act like enablers to his diatribes. They’re falling under his braggadocio, and won’t confront him even over an universal issue such as climate change.
The former reality TV star turned leader of the free world had at the G20, another less than great moment on camera, adding to an already long list: he walked away from Argentina’s Mauricio Macri, who was left standing, arm still stretched, on the stage. Then, despite denials, he met with the Russian president. And lastly, he boasted about an accord with China that, in fact, changes little.
It’s not that other participants didn’t have their own awkward, and revealing, weak moments. There was Germany’s Angela Merkel, who got plane troubles and arrived in Buenos Aires via commercial flight. And France’s Emmanuel Macron, caught on camera pleading, ‘you never listen to me,’ to suspect murderous Saudi Arabian crown prince Muhammed bin Salman. Truly cringe worthy.
Macron, whose new taxation on gas has ignited violent protests by French union workers, never looked more unfit to the crucial leadership role that may be reserved to France, in case Germany turns into a far-right regime, following Merkel’s announced exit.
After all, he was speaking on an intimate tone with someone who the world’s intelligence community is convinced has ordered the murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate. Someone who Macron must help bring to justice, and deserves not whispers that sound like lovers talk, but the harsh admonition due to a rogue leader in need of reckoning.
As for trade tariffs, and the accord with China that Trump bragged about, it sounds a lot like what we’ve heard when he went to North Korea or met Putin: since there’s no sign of an enforceable piece of paper to prove it, it’s very likely that he’s lying. Again.
Besides, as stated, the president seems clueless about how trade works. All this much ado about tariffs is not only distracting but amounts to a big nothing, since it doesn’t address China’s biggest violation of international laws: intellectual property rights.
That’s the present day U.S., which looks so distant from that American dream, lauded in song and dance. By even conservative figures, America has a higher poverty level than many of the G20 nations, with over 43 million a paycheck away from total destitution. Relatedly, it’s also seventh in literacy rates. It’s the shinning leader, however, in defense spending and people in jail.
From ‘bringing me your poor,’ we’re now the nation that puts immigrant infants in cages, or spray them all with tear gas. Where unarmed black people are routinely shot by the police, often with impunity, and mass shootings have become so frequent to hardly last a day of headlines. More seriously, a country whose president is under suspicion of treason and still lashes at judges and press.
A president who makes past presidents actually look OK, even if they started a greed-driven war, killing thousands of Americans troops and innocent civilians, like George W. Bush, or his dad, George H.W. Bush, whose passing is being mourned by the country.
Americans may be unaware of his role in the Iran-Contra affair, or his sinister actions in Latin America, as director of the CIA. But he was the last war hero president, and a rare one at that: leading a coalition of nations, he actually ended the first Iraq intervention.
In other presidential news, a veteran left wing politician, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, took the oath of office in Mexico. For our troubled neighbors, here’s hoping that this time, they got it right. May the new Presidente usher the bright future Mexicans deserve.
‘Real change never takes place from the top down, or in the living rooms of wealthy campaign contributors. It always occurs from the bottom on up – when tens of millions of people say ‘enough is enough’ and become engaged in the fight for justice.’ That was Senator Bernie Sanders, speaking to activists and progressive leaderships, who gathered over the weekend in Burlington, Vermont.
There’s the land of the free we all dream about, and there’s the hard work that needs to be done to turn it into reality. No president can prevent people from fulfilling their destiny; they either help along, or get out of the way. America’s still a work in progress, and its democracy is under threat. May that turning point be just around the corner, even if grief and disappointment will still abound.
It’ll certainly take passion, and due diligence, and an unflinching love for this Earth. For whatever we’re doing today, it’ll impact our immediate and long-term survival. Being alive, though, is all it takes to make a positive mark. Keep your chin up, compadres.

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11/26/2018 A Question Begs to be Asked, Colltalers

Climate has delivered another sobering alert to mankind, with a new report on its impact on the world’s economic outlook. Regardless that we do anything about it, it reaches a chilling conclusion: some of its dire effects are inexorable and will last long.
It comes just as another U.N. environmental conference starts in a week, at that coal-loving country of Poland. Results may be less than promising but still strong enough to upstage the U.K. signing off from the E.U., and another probe set to reach Mars.
But the question that rarely makes it to the headlines, to be asked the top 0.001% of the population is: why most of you are not fully engaged on the quest for our survival on this planet? On the contrary, by not being part of the solution, even a reduced number of the wealthy and most powerful individuals and organizations, is in fact, aggravating the problem of climate change.
Such slimiest of percentage, made of top political leaders, the U.S. president, multinational corporations, billionaires, and global institutions, owns over 90% of the world’s resources and power. The remainder 99% seems helpless to hold them accountable.
There may be some eluding reason as to why the follow up to the Paris Agreement on climate change is being held in Poland for the second time in five years. But other than by chance, that nation along many others in Europe has been a hot bed for the right wing resurgence spreading out everywhere, and a likely result of a global ‘franchising’ of the Trump’s ‘wreaking havoc’ doctrine.
Not that he has a discernible one. But his racist and divisive rhetoric did unlock the gates of hell, unleashing hordes of previously curbed fascists, who became an unfortunate feature today in any urban center. Their scary rallies and propensity to brutality to prove a supremacist point hasn’t changed since the Nazis ruling days; it’s happening even in once liberal Latin American nations.
It’s growing in Brazil, which has elected a defender of torture (and admirer of Trump), to high office, and it now became part of the Mexican reality too: an anti-immigrant protest in Tijuana may be among the first ever staged south of the border. On Friday, Trump had tweeted about an agreement with Mexico, to keep asylum seekers there, but it may be just another one of his lies too.
While the media may distract itself rebroadcasting a few times that claim, before declaring it false, the administration will be enforcing another of its new rules on immigration: summarily deporting them and their families, if their visa petition is denied.
Although a similar proposal was recently defeated in court, and there’s no logic invoking national security to justify refusing and locking up asylum petitioners, nothing indicates that the nightmarish U.S. immigration policies will be reassessed any time soon.
Speaking of the judiciary, it’s been a welcoming deterrent to Trump’s most outrageous and xenophobic proposals, designed to inflame his support base. And last week, when he insulted a judge who ruled against a decree of his, it was the Supreme Court Chief Justice himself, John Roberts, who offered a rebuff. That should be a given, but we’re holding a measured sense of hope.
The massive 1,600-page U.N. Climate Economy report is yet another confirmation that, 1.) we’re behind the curve when it comes to avoiding climate change; and 2.) even if we unlikely start an immediate, global response to it, we’re already late. The impact is all but inexorable and will last long, affecting national infrastructures, water supplies, natural resources, and human health.
Despite the president’s Thanksgiving tweet the day before, mostly thanking himself, and cynically asking, ‘wherever happened to global warming,’ the report is a sad reminder of how little we’ve accomplished since Paris, and how much we stand to lose if things, such as worldwide temperatures and heavy metal pollutants discharges to the atmosphere, proceed at the current pace.
Not even last week’s devastating California fires, which scientists had warned us, will be our new, year round, climate routine, or the fact that 18 of the previous 19 years were progressively the hottest on record, seem to get through to the president, still ignorantly confusing weather and climate. Evidence may not be enough to convince those whose job depends on not seeing it.
To some who believe the U.S. will present in Poland an arresting proposal addressing climate change, we’ve got an iceberg the size of Manhattan we’re willing to sell, cheaply. In a week that may see the consolidation of U.K.’s arguable move to split up from the E.U., on Friday, there’s also the gathering of the G20 group in Argentina, the first time it’ll be held in South America.
The world’s 17 richest nations, plus the E.U., will likely play second-fiddlers to the over-heated trade disputes of China and the U.S. But, after provoking global turmoil over tariffs without really understanding the issues involved, if anyone thinks that the president will sign a favorable deal, say, over copyright laws, we do need to show you some pictures of gigantic blocs of ice.
The question, though, as to why such powerful people remain unmoved by climate change devastation, requires a Herculean effort to come up with an answer. It’s almost necessary to revisit our own childhood’s innocence and spirit of wonder, to ask, with a straight face and clear-eyed conviction: why aren’t you guys concerned about this? Don’t you want your loved ones to live?
For it’s almost as if some of them really believe that there’s a spaceship to board, out of this burning earth, and if it hasn’t room for the rest of us, so be it. News flash, self-entitled fools: there isn’t neither a craft ready to do that, nor a planet fit to host you.
There is, though, InSight, a NASA probe scheduled to land in Mars today. But there are crucial caveats about this and, at least, the next ten other missions: they’re unmanned; InSight is actually a suitcase-size craft; Mars has no air to breathe. That is, all the money in the world won’t save anyone from extreme climate. Period. But perhaps there’s an one-way ticket for you-know-who
In the end, the easiest answer would be ‘pure greed,’ and a twisted sense that’s even possible to spend a million dollars a day for the rest of their golden years. It’s the same mix of delusion and con-artistry that once drove someone to sell the Brooklyn Bridge.
Journalists and interviewers of all stripes, though, should never give up on asking powers that be, until one of them answers it.
A final note to mark the passing of two movie making mavericks, the director Nickolas Roeg, and the magician/actor Ricky Jay. Masters of the art of make believe, their works enhanced and made our own experience on this lonely island of life all the more worthwhile. May they rest in peace, while we think about Yemen, and how can we all make this a better world. Cheers

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11/19/2018 The Burning Season Is On, Colltalers

There are some fair assumptions we may now make about the catastrophic wild fires in California: they came to stay; they’ll get worse; they are, indeed, direct result of climate change. Oh, and that we’re behind the curve and still unprepared to control them.
Apart from that, last week’s headlines belonged to two other man-made disasters, whose impact we’re beginning to grasp, even if not that startled by either of them: proof that Facebook is politically biased (shock!); and that Brexit won’t work (double shock!).
Unlike what some accused The Beatles of once pretending to be, Facebook is now more popular than that famous Dec. birthday boy. So the NYTimes exposé about how the mammoth social media concern was, all along, concerned only about maintaining its sheer dominance, never mind Russia’s attacks on the U.S. 2016 elections and democracy, came as a surprise to absolutely no one.
It’s been said, hackers did not have to hack voting machines, even as they may’ve tried, or even bribe too many Trump associates. They simply used the system. But Mark Zuckerberg’s repeated appearances and lies, to congressional committees composed mainly of either Internet-challenged or downright dimwitted politicians, have all but confirmed his total lack of a moral compass.
His unbound greed, and the sophomoric culture of highly specialized spoiled brats he inspired, has been for far too long out of reach of any accountability. He built a corporation more powerful than many nations, and it needs to be regulated just like any other is, or should. Thankfully, the U.S. elections held two weeks ago raised new hopes for change. More about that in a minute.
As for Brexit, and the political imbroglio it represented to the U.K., again, few can say they didn’t see it coming. The whole idea of leaving the European Union was sold on false pretenses, by the same snake oil mentality that took over the White House on a delusion of making the U.S. as big as it never was. As reality sets in, here and there, more are realizing that they’ve been had.
Europe needs what’s left of democracy the U.K. has to offer, as the British depend of staying with the union in order to survive. The flawed dream of a continental coalition of peaceful and democratic nations, not belligerent dictatorships disguised as such, is still worth dreaming and fighting for. Unfortunately, as in other global issues lately, the world can’t count on the U.S. for clarity.
Speaking of new hopes in the horizon, there are grandiose takeaways from the midterm elections, and others not so much, as votes are still being counted, and we’re more than a month for the new term to start. The score, though, was still pretty mixed up.
Over a hundred million votes were cast, a record, but less than 50% of eligible voters showed up at the polls, a disappointment. Women led the charge, electing record numbers to Congress. A few significative ‘firsts,’ in gender, sexual orientation, race and religion, were also of note. On the Republican side, though, only one woman made the cut, among a crowd of angry white men.
Despite GOP-driven gerrymandering, rampant vote suppression, and obscene amounts of corporate cash, Democrats did retake the House, several governorships, and many local contests, which was expected. But Florida, Georgia, and Texas once again held on to conservative candidates, and this election also proved a sad point: vote numbers no longer determine the final outcome.
Now, please explain that to those who voted for the first time. Youth and Latino engagement was arguably the most encouraging sign that change may still be possible, giving that they’re in the vanguard of crucial issues, such as gun control and immigration.
But these ‘new’ demographics may still have a ways to go among Democrats; the party’s leadership has all but orphaned them all.
In fact, a fight for the soul of the party – and who’s going to hold the House gavel – has already erupted. Hardly a bigwig showed up at rallies for women’s rights, gun regulation, wage increases, and race equality, in the past two years. But they’ve been quick to assert command of the Democratic agenda, or ‘status quo maintenance.’ And that’s a mistake; after all, we’ve voted for change.
The fires that may’ve taken over a thousand Californian souls must be addressed by the new blood elected to do just that. Enough of backroom politics; let the Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘diversity armada’ lead the fight that the majority assigned them to fight.
For despite the brutality of climate change and the undeniable impact it’s already having on the planet as a whole, none but one of all green initiatives proposed nationally were approved. So a lot of us are still not getting it and some probably won’t ever.
Again, we can’t wait for them. An overall theme about these elections, despite their shortcomings, heartbreaking losses, and the bitter aftertaste they left, was change. Millions of voters made it clear that they prefer fresh, non-white, young leaders, not the old guard, making decisions affecting them. So, here’s to those crusty Democrats: get on with the program, or get out of the way.
‘You can despise Wikileaks and everything it stands for. You can think (Julian) Assange is an evil spirit reanimated by Putin himself. But you can’t support the prosecution of a publisher for publishing without narrowing the basic rights every newspaper relies on.’ That was Edward Snowden’s twitter on the Dept. of Justice’s possible plan to prosecute Assange, on charges unknown.
It was a honorable gesture for someone who, like him, has sacrificed personal freedom for an ideal of government transparency, even as unlike Snowden, has displayed questionable morals himself. No matter; this being open season on blacks, immigrants, the poor, and other ‘minorities,’ it is a higher priority to fight for a free, non-corporate press, and for government accountability.
A note to mourn the passing of Brazilian writer Aldyr Garcia Schlee, who in 1953, won a designing contest to create Brazil’s legendary yellow jerseys uniform, worn by the soccer national team. He was 18 then and had lived all his life at the border with Uruguay, the team he in fact supported. When he passed last Friday, at 83, Brazil beat Uruguay in London, 1X0. R. I. P., Aldyr.
Perfect matters to take on this Thanksgiving week, but that comes with an important caveat: we’re living in troubled times, and it’s been hard to regain control over our own narrative, as citizens and earthlings. So at Thursday’s dinner table, don’t mention any of the above issues, or pick fights with those who miraculously are still sticking with you. Make this a day you won’t regret.

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11/12/2018 No Time to Call it a Day, Colltalers

Gun massacres and wild fires have taken over the headlines, with another batch of dozens of preventable deaths to their account. As these tragedies turn into daily events, they may have already become normalized. Have we lost the will to produce change?
For haven’t we just had a major election? Weren’t these and other issues supposed to have been addressed last Tuesday? Let’s check on the priorities listed here last week, and see whether voters’ choices reflected how concerned we really are about them.
Starting by last Newsletter’s title, we did get an almost great turnout. The best of midterm elections since 1966, with 47% of able to vote electors casting a ballot. Wow, some would say. As for us, though, let’s face it: we’ve got to climb over that 50% hump.
We know, there’s been rampant voter suppression, extreme GOP gerrymandering, hate speech, raw lies, unbound spending and spineless sycophancy, by a party whose members’ top priority is to please the leader. Or be publicly scorned by him, if they lose.
Down the Florida way, it’s 2000 all over again, and Republican bigwigs are landing in droves so recounts of hanging chads may drag long enough for the Supreme Court to be called on and close shop. With few revisions, that old script will be applied again.
Now the issues. We picked climate change, immigration and asylum rights, healthcare, women’s choice, racial and sexual rights, gun control, wage and labor reform, voting rights, plus whatever pet projects you may have, as this nation’s most obvious woes.
Along their enthusiasm, most Democratic and independent new comers have won on commitment to fight climate change and support wind and solar power projects. Pity we still can’t get a majority in such an obvious bad-for-everyone-but-big-oil issue.
The retaking of the House by the Democrats means more than a mere hard-fought comeback, for it’s a game we’re still losing: 1×2. But it was a score all the same and we’ve still got some time. Representatives will have subpoena power to call on hearings, challenge presidential nominations, veto draconian immigration and asylum rulings, and even begin impeachment proceedings.
That doesn’t mean that they will, not without public pressure. Anticipating that, the president has already kicked the bucket ahead of everybody else: in the smoke of firing his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he just claimed new powers to refuse asylum, trying to single-handedly dismount a century of international accords over the issue of refugees. He can’t possibly succeed, now can he?
More than 100 female candidates elected is a record, as it was the number of votes and donations to pro-reproductive rights made by women. Yes, Alabama and West Virginia have passed harsh anti-abortion laws, in preparation for a likely Supreme’s re-staging of Roe v Wade. Still, most Americans voted to protect women’s right to choose, and expand Obamacare and Medicaid.
There were other great wins in these elections, represented by many ‘firsts.’ Stacey Adams continues to fight to confirm that she’s a first among firsts, as governor of Georgia while black and female. Colorado’s first gay governor Jared Polis; NY’s Alexandra Ocasio-Castro, the youngest woman to be elected to Congress; as the first Muslims, MI’s Rashida Tlaib and MN’s Ilhan Omar. The two native Americans and a Somali refugee added to a courageous display of diversity and resilience by female candidates.
But the demographics most blatantly disenfranchised, that of blacks and people of color, didn’t fare so well, despite electing 17 African-American women. Right now, a would-be landmark, that of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum becoming Florida’s first black governor, beating Trump-fave Ron DeSantis, has still to grind through the state’s flawed and partisan recount machine.
It was in Florida too, that no gun-control proposal, lead or not by the teen survivors of the massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high-school, on Valentine’s Day, could get any love from voters. Despite lethal shootings in the days preceding and even that Tuesday, once again, we let down those kids. They, who had to grow up fast and act as adults, still can’t get our full support.
Overall, workers and labor staged gains, with $15 minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, and union support boosting many a victory. But it was the 1.4 million Florida felons, regaining rights to vote, and the majority of proposals against voter suppression being soundly approved, what may bring the change we need. Not now, though: our electoral system remains in mortal danger.
Putting this way, it looks like we’ve gained more than lost, towards protecting democracy and individual rights. But unlike the U.S. president, few are about to ‘celebrate.’ People, not politicians, did win the House; but the Senate was an embarrassment.
Yesterday marked Armistice Day’s 100th Anniversary, when nations finally ended WWI, supposedly, the ‘war to end all wars.’
As expected, the president pulled out a cruel stunt, choosing not to visit graves of American soldiers buried at the Aisle Marne cemetery in France, despite being in Paris, and blaming it all on the weather. It was an insult so close to Veterans Day, that’s no wonder they’ve voted in mass against him Nov. 6. And a big screw-you to global diplomacy. The turnout should’ve been bigger.
The sobering pictures of Paradise, California, all burned down to a crisp, is the haunting prospect, and so far the most damaging injury, that Trump has already inflicted upon Americans and the world. His denial to take any action against climate change, and gun control for that matter, has had only one result: more than the three dozen-plus who died this week stand to be killed too.
The regularity that massacres and climate-driven fires and floods occupy the headlines has done little to awaken us. A growing number of casualties, victims of these two man-made scourges, still lacks votes and power, to finally stop the butchery. Many worked very hard to get us to this point; this is no time to be self-congratulatory or rest our case. We’re still here, let’s keep at it.

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11/05/2018 We Need a Record Turnout, Colltalers

Climate change, immigration and asylum rights, healthcare, women’s choice, racial and sexual rights, gun control, wage and labor reform, voting rights, plus your own picks. By now, most Americans should have this down. Now let’s go voting them on Tuesday.
Before anything, billions around the world believe we’ll do the right thing. Sharing values of solidarity, independence of mind, and compassion, they’ll stand with us when we say no. And the suddenly global-relevant U.S. midterm elections can deliver just that.
The diminished importance implied on the title has nothing on the reality of these massive election, though. All 435 House seats are technically up for grabs, along 35 of the 100 Senate seats, 39 governorships, and an onslaught of measures and initiatives – pot expanding legalization, freedom of religion, and animal rights, among them – to be decided by federal, state or local communities.
Not everyone will agree with the above list of ‘issues for distracted voters,’ but they’re still among the most immediate. And unlike other times, let’s vote on ideas and on individuals, too; words count, but only people can be held accountable for invoking them.
Also, it’s no wonder that a record-breaking election in the U.S., of any kind, could have a global impact. In fact, people are already holding their breath in some places: for the results, and also for the toxic air. They need us to recommit to the Paris Agreement.
The world expects us to re-embrace universal principles of immigration and the inalienable rights for asylum from hardship. Which is largely caused by our own attacking forces, and sent by those who, make no mistake, will vote too on Nov. 6. Not on anything remotely related to our list, though. As in the past, they’ll show up, because they’re minority. And us, the majority, usually don’t.
The universality of these American elections is that it can point to a new direction to improve the world. They may disable the gears leading us to intolerance, and put on focus billions of people. Most of whom will never even have a path to such a change.
The old saying, those who send us to war for profit are not fit to lead, may not even exist. But it’s certainly been quoted in as many tongues as the soldiers killed by serving them. The military mind only invokes History when it has survived it. No aggrandizing combat rhyme, though, has the resonance, heard from time immemorial and always uttered by the majority of, we want peace.
We could go down on that list, finding commonality with each cause pulsating within different cultures and places. And let’s say it again: those are issues to vote on these ballots. Not on ballots of the Madagascar presidential election, for instance, no offense.
There’s no option for impeaching the president, by the way. Or voting for Supreme Court Justices, or the cabinet, either. That’s because the great con of leadership by corruption is to lure us with charades. If or when they call us out, it’s for fighting the ‘other.’
Now that it seems clear that this vote does have consequences beyond the U.S. borders, and considering the multilingual readership of this Newsletter, let’s ask the world to hold on for a moment. Let’s go over some specifics, and make sure all Americans are also clear of what they want and need to do. That is, again, let’s repeat it over, assuming with all our heart that we will show up to vote.
This is an open vote for an organization that’s failing at its most basic definition: to defend democratic values and, at this point, the U.S. Constitution. And yes, the Democratic Party is the only party around, warts and all; the GOP is now a cult, following its leader, and if someone is not seeing this, is either for invested interest on not seeing it, or for being unaware that they need help.
But we simply can’t ignore the stark reality facing American voters today, and Democrats, not Republicans, are the ones signing up to change it. Try finding any issue on that list that’s less important than a new hostile front in Latin America, for one. Or fighting Iran over our dishonest partners. (Didn’t know it? It’s by design: they do their ‘best’ work hidden from us.) Not this time, though.
Note that the fight for some of those rights are not even being led by Democrats, but by teenagers and a bunch of young candidates. Fresh voices, not ‘independents,’ or greens, much less the ‘undecided’ at this time, are showing us the way; let’s not play around.
Also, yes, there are many other matters, but a mandate will only be built out of a resounding voting count. Only a record-breaking turnout will grant powers of change, or rather, subpoena, to bring this administration to fully accountability. Yes, let’s end ICE, appeal the Citizens United, and protect the 14th Amendment. Let’s prevent ‘Robbers Corp.’ of owning shares on our Constitution.
Above all, let’s restore hope to the world. Wrongs can and will be righted, bad leaders may be kicked out of office; there’s no place for hate or corporate interests as far as the human experience is concerned. A regime that wants to crush Yemenis, Palestinians, Syrians, Venezuelans, Iranians, Cubans or Nigerians, will never have our support. We won’t stand for any regime that kills people.
Let’s rejoin the world to reverse climate changes that can wipe us all; let’s reaffirm our stand for racial and class equality, for the individual sovereignty of choosing how one wants to live this life. Let’s retake the honorable narrative of the American people.
Today, the U.K. remembers Guy Fawkes’ arrest, 413 years ago. His eerie effigy’s been adopted by the Anonymous hack group, and other resistance forces. Perhaps fittingly, history was less kind to his motives than to the myth he created. But let’s party tonight.
So here’s a final point on perspective: in 2016, Trump got elected by losing the popular vote and winning the Electoral College. Now, that popular vote needs to beat the record. Can we do it? It’s one picture to track estimates and stats, and another, to choose by content. What will really make the difference is not just to win, but vote out all authoritarians, supremacists, corporate hacks, sycophants, hypocrites, and spineless candidates. Let us fry them all on a record turnout and make ourselves a better November.

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10/29/2018 Hate Won’t Tear Us Apart, Colltalers

A series of deadly nightmares has visited Americans once again in the past days. And some have progressed exactly as the script of racial violence and hate President Trump has been reciting at his rallies. Will he honorably own them? Don’t hold your breath.
Meanwhile, surprising no one, Brazil’s bid farewell to its young democracy yesterday. A sound majority put Jair Bolsonaro, an ex-army captain, in charge of leading it back to the past, with carte blanche to turn this lively nation into a gun-happy backwater.
The cold-blooded execution of two black people in Kentucky, and the horrific mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue: the two sinister bookends to the arrest in Florida of yet another home-grown terrorist, who’d sent explosive packages to top Democrats.
Three perpetrators, all anti-Semites and ardent president supporters, with devilish intent: to silence his critics, intimidate the press, and target a racial minority. Whether these tragedies will impact the Nov. 6 elections is unclear. But progressive forces can’t wait for the Democratic Party to lead: Americans must call them for what they really are: hate rhetoric turned into action.
These loyal fools with a lot in common felt empowered to do the president’s bidding. They may have acted alone but rather than isolated, they’ve responded to a call, repeated by Trump on Twitter and at his public speeches. They felt encouraged to wage holy war against fellow Americans, who dare to disagree with the moral downward spiral the U.S. has taken since 2016.
The man and woman shot to death while being black at a grocery store, the 11 members of the Tree of Life Congregation, killed while being Jewish, and the 14 prominent leaders and politicians who could have been assassinated along an unknown number of circumstantial victims, compose a terrifying portrait of life in America, circa 2018. Race and social liberalism are in mortal risk.
It’s also stomach churning to see once again guns, including an assault rifle, used for racial violence. They were present at the temple massacre and at the store shooting, while the bomb-maker fanatic has demonstrated another level of rage and obsession.
Failing to link White House’s hate speech and the violence of the supremacist movement it has inspired all but equals condoning the barbarism of our current state of affairs. It also misjudges the potential for even more horror and loss of political autonomy.
Naturally, republicans and conservatives have jumped to the administration’s aid. They’ll shameful attempt to minimize the attacks, and quickly switch to their hypocritical ‘thoughts and prayers’ default mode for dealing with national grief at crisis time.
As for those who can’t quite believe the disturbingly warped reality hateful words often lead to, a check on history books is most advisable. For rage and death get easily loosened up when the national discourse is polarized into the ‘us versus them’ quagmire. Tyrants often take advantage of ancient ethnic and tribal conflicts to seize and consolidate power, and we’re way passed the time to be shocked, shocked by how come this is actually happening in America. Such mode of domination, prone to displays of bloody ‘loyalty’ by deranged bottom feeders and sycophants, has happened many times before. It’s also a exports-ready model.
Which brings us once more to Brazil, before we too close the book and subscribe to the lowest form of self-sabotaging adopted out of despair: follow the most basic denominator at the root of all hatred, and exploit it to the service of a powerful elite at the top; maybe some scraps will fall your way. For it’ll be a long, dark night for Brazilians who would never betray their principles.
In the end, the thousands who took the streets of Brazil and other countries in recent weeks, led by women, artists, LGBT, black and indigenous communities, plus countless manifestos and letters of support signed by notable political leaders, intellectuals, creators, civil organizations, worker unions, societies and many others, were not enough, or too late, to prevent Bolsonaro win.
It was also evident how the ‘Trump template’ can be successfully applied to other nations and, in the case of Brazil, its architect himself, ultra nationalist Steve Bannon, was an adviser and the most notorious endorser of the captain’s political inklings.
Now that another candidate got elected by spitting out a toxic mix of radicalism and intolerance, of misogyny and prejudice, the formula is officially approved as a format to turn democracies, old and strong, young and vulnerable, into Big Brother regimes.
Soon, someone like Bolsonaro and Trump, both prone to invoke faith and religion, even without being part of either, or law and order, despite having never served, or being kicked out in disgrace from the army, is bound to rise and rule using their playbook.
A predictable escalation of incidents involving racial and religious hatred notwithstanding, these are but symptoms of a much more disturbing trend: the revival of a global Fascism, this time irradiating from the core of the world’s most powerful nation.
More than hoping against hope that this is but a momentary lapse of reason, despite its immediately devastating consequences on global civil rights and individual freedom, there’s now a concrete new reason as for why the Nov. 6 elections in the U.S. are so important: they’re an opportunity to show we’re still determined to put a stop on the GOP’s, and global right-wing’s, power grab.
If, for that, we’ll need to connect the dots and link the recent tragedies to the fascistic rhetoric coming out of the White House, so be it. The president must be finally held accountable to so much division he’s sown in our midst, and for his profound betrayal of American values of tolerance and inclusion. Supporting tyrants is definitely not the example that it’s our duty to give the world.
As it’s evident in Brazil and elsewhere, it’s no longer credible to expect that the 30+% fans of discriminatory regimes will regain their lost mind any time soon. And we definitely count with the decent, good people who always choose the way that’ll promote and support the most people, specially the vulnerable. What’s crucial to conquer is that middle, grey ground, of the ‘undecided.’
There lives, and let’s here be blunt, a spineless class of people, pretending not to have a clue about what’s at stake, who at the first threat to their safe position, run and seek shelter in the shadow of the powerful. As a Jewish scientist once said, the world is dangerous not by those who do evil, but those who do nothing. Einstein witnessed the tragic consequences of such foolishness.
History is repeating itself again, to paraphrase yet another Jew. But even when Marx called the second time around a farce, no one was laughing. It’s easy to forget, or be ignorant about, the historical record. In the meantime, they’re winning and shouldn’t. We must not stand pat, and let their beheading games begin. Let’s fight and never go back to that dark past. Happy Halloween.

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10/22/2018 Choices We’re Born to Make, Colltalers

We may be approaching the most pivotal U.S. election of our times, as you may’ve heard. Americans of all ages, notably women, Latinos, and first-time voters, are putting on a remarkable effort to get people to vote. Except, of course, the Democratic Party.
Just as party minions dream of a blue wave, hopes for even a House turnaround got fairly dim. And it’s no wonder: some of the most crucial issues at stake, gun violence, reproductive rights, wages and the climate, have all had little if any Democrat support.
So, last week when an Eugene, Oregon, judge let a climate change lawsuit against the federal government to proceed, staging a rare win against the administration-revived fossil fuel industry, cheers and optimism were in order. Specially for the 21 children and young adults, and their progressive supporters, who for three years, have been pursuing the suit. Absent: elected Democrats.
They’re still missed as the ‘new’ Supreme Court and its Chief Justice John Roberts, halted it before giving it an expected hearing, on Oct. 29. In the move, perceived as a nod to the administration’s merit less objections, some see a sign of bad things to come.
Also, orphan of support from the party that should be leading every single progressive issue of our times, is Newsweek reporter Jeffrey Stein, who since Jan. wages a legal battle for transparency in the Trump administration’s vetting of the president’s closest advisers. He’s suing multiple federal agencies over the opaque and ultimately flawed approval process of 15 Trump’s nominees.
That’s a record the president won’t boast about: average turnover within the most senior level of White House members – a group he once called the best and the brightest, or something to that effect, probably stolen from somewhere else – is an unprecedented 83%. Of this undesirable bunch, Steve Bannon is likely the busiest: he’s now engaging in destroying democracy in Brazil too.
It’s inexplicable that the Democratic Party is not the least engaged in these two, and many other issues affecting life for millions of Americans. The Dems were seen last week, but agreeing to confirm 15 more lifetime ‘Republican’ judges picked by Trump.
Meanwhile, teenagers who cannot yet vote have been out all year, in the trenches, fighting for gun controls – over 2,200 teens killed so far this year – without a single high honcho Democratic leader at hand. (Kudos for Senator Bernie Sanders, who as an independent, stood by those children playing adults and being treated as, well, children). That doesn’t bode well for November.
The same about the women’s resistance movement, pretty much on its own defending Roe v Wade and other basic achievements of health care for everyone. A bunch of new, and outraged, faces at the rallies, but no recognizable Democrat leader on sight. No wonder, again, Brett Kavanaugh and dozens of judges faced little scrutiny, and lots of bad theater, getting to national courts.
Like the newest justice, this but conservative wave will be ruling for years to come on issues they’ve shown, or at least did not prove, any specific qualifications, apart from having friends in high places. That includes a useful hand from the Senate minority.
They may argue they’ve been busy fighting the White House’s attempts to dismantle the Robert Muller investigation into the president and his all but proven collusion with Russia. But even taken at face value, this claim doesn’t pass muster. Where are the pointed speeches, blunt interviews, thunderous denunciation of administration efforts to insulate Trump? ‘Angry mob?’ Hardly.
On the contrary: with recent reports of Russian official hackers most likely interfering again with the American electoral system, with potential to alter its results, where can one check a Democrat-driven list of committees, hearings, town hall talks and news conferences calling out the GOP on that and other issues? When will the American people feel they’re not on their own again?
Instead, Democrats are playing Trump’s Twitter game of bait and switch. Every week, they get dragged on by his distracting drivel, played out at full blast by the media, while the Republican Party quietly disenfranchise another thousand of registered voters, here and there, under the cover of their cheerleader role. Why can’t Democrats play similar role for everybody else?
It may be senseless to attribute the multiplication of incidents of open racism and xenophobia, some violent and all senseless, to Trump or Bannon alone. But they both are certainly accountable for them, as blacks, immigrants, the LGBT community and others have been facing a string of acts of intolerance against them, in pluralist – elitist? – places like Manhattan, New York, NY.
Speaking of Brazil, whoever comes on top on Sunday’s presidential election is already a winner in a land of losers, no offense to hard working, idealistic Brazilians. If, as polls indicate, ultra-right Jair Bolsonaro wins, Trump and that reactionary agenda gets endorsed globally. A massive majority will lose, though, and so will all hopes for the country’s fledgling democracy to survive.
If, contrary to surveys, Workers’ Party candidate, Fernando Haddad, wins, it’s not just the political and religious right that stand to play the losers themselves. Also, people who can’t come to terms with what the party, known as PT, has done to remain in power. For many, it was enough to compromise ideals of the left, and put a damper in Brazil’s years of world projection under it.
Voting is compulsory and take places on Sundays in Brazil, so expect a higher turnout than what we’re used to in the U.S. 147 millions, out of 209 million Brazilians, are eligible to vote, and a single majority of 51% of votes will dictate the winner.
Even losing, however, the PT has already, or is back at having, the most congressmen: eight of 81 Senators and 56 out of 513 Representatives. Such place atop the food chain is cheered or jeered by supporters and detractors alike, but makes the party the most powerful player in the country’s politics, despite having its leader, two-term ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in jail.
A last word about the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the disturbing stream of news and revelations associated with it. Above all, how someone as rich and drunk with power like Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has the gall to blatantly lie to the world that he had no part on it. It’s painful to admit but only a bigger liar like the U.S. president to buy it.
The youth of America, the global women’s movement, and the immense array of activists and networks pushing back against this stench of murderous racism and ideological intolerance threatening to choke the air we all breathe, have showed us all the way.
Brazilians, please don’t make the same mistake as many Americans made, conflating Hillary Clinton and Trump as being one and the same. Like the deluded, history will judge you harshly. Reality has more than proved how the world would be now a totally different place had the U.S. majority prevailed in 2016. Next Sunday, vote for democracy, #ELENUNCA. Let’s roll.

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10/15/2018 Only the News Fit to Print, Colltalers

A journalist was murdered by rulers of his own country. A toddler, separated from relatives by immigration, showed up in court alone. A torture apologist got to lead the presidential race of the world’s fifth-largest nation. These were breaking news last week.
And yet, in the U.S., news was the 10-minute rant-and-praise the president performed at the White House by a mentally unsound superstar. That’s the absolutely unintended truth hidden in Trump’s, and every would-be dictator’s, motto: ‘the press is the enemy.’
It is not, of course, and besides all it means for a healthy democracy, the most consequential role of a free press is to present facts as they actually are, and reality as it unfolds. That requires courage, expedience and trust that the reader doesn’t need help sorting out the content. And yet, if a news organization is driven by ratings and not by its constitutional duty to inform, we’re in trouble.
There are many ways a democracy can and will be undermined: corrupt leaders, an oblivious electorate, massive amounts of money in politics, and most of us are very much used to all three. But a free press restores accountability and transparency, and lends legitimacy to any government. Along the well-informed citizens it serves, it’s a formidable deterrent to abuses of power.
That’s why the likely assassination of Saudi Arabia’s Jamal Kashoggi, a journalist long targeted by the royal family ruling his country, is so disturbing, besides being cruel. He was last seen on Oct. 2, caught by surveillance cameras, walking into the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. Turkey, itself often accused of repressing its press, has released ghastly details about his supposed murder.
Saudi Arabia is a brutal dictatorship, whose oil-generated power and wealth has caused terrible consequences to Middle East stability. But what matters is that its Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, is also ‘best friends’ and partner in crime with Trump. With the president’s help, the Saudis have been conducting a heart-shattering strangling of Yemen, an ethnic cleansing that’s already killed 50,000 civilians – a grim average of 130 children a day – and caused the biggest modern outbreak of cholera.
The U.S. has been supplying weapons, air power, logistics and, helped by its media, total block of free journalistic coverage.
None of the major American broadcast corporations has reporters on the ground there, or dedicates more than a few soundbites per week to this carnage. All so U.S. weapon makers can keep up the $350 billion, 10-year sales contract Trump signed in May.
Another omission by these entertainment concerns that call themselves news organizations is exactly that: among the president’s high-level meetings, including with North Korean Kim Jong-un and Russian Vladimir Putin – both downright embarrassing and unproductive – this is the one when he actually signed an accord. No wonder his reaction to the murder has been tepid, at best.
If confirmed, Kashoggi’s death will add to that of Bulgarian Viktoria Marinova, a few days later, and Slovakian Jan Kuciak, in February, already part of the 43 journalists killed so far in 2018. Obviously there can be no free press if they’re killing journalists.
Helen is an asylum seeker from Honduras, who was detained by the U.S. Border Patrol a few months ago. She’s vivacious and, like all refugees, scared and crippled by her situation. She’s also five and has been alone ever since being forcefully separated from her grandmother and some relatives. As such, she was taken to court to ‘argue’ her case before a judge. That can’t be right.
For a while, she was also part of the 13,000+ immigrant children, the majority of which is being ‘stored’ in a Texas desert tent city. Of them, over 1,200 were yanked from their parents and guardians, and some even risk never to set eyes on them again.
The Trump administration is normalizing a dangerous concept: children, including babies, representing their parents, whose absence was caused by the administration itself. Worst: this absurdity is deemed unfit for a media headline, or in-depth reporting.
World affairs coverage receives similar treatment, and news about Latin American politics, for instance, only spikes when our ‘great leader’ is praised by a supporter, or, for ratings sake, there are events fitting the narrative, such as violence or corruption.
Case in point, Brazil and the likelihood that another politico aligned with Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, gets elected president. Despite a national campaign and massive rallies to denounce and oppose Bolsonaro’s racism and misogyny, he still leads in the polls.
That is as unbelievable as learning that high-paid, well-educated white American women are among Trump enablers. For much of the support for this captain, kicked out of the Army in the 1980s on terrorism charges, comes from his praise of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil with an iron fist between 1964 and 1985. Accordingly, he picked a general for #2 in his ticket.
Much worst, however, is what history shows, if it gets a replay: the coup in Brazil inaugurated one of the worst periods for the continent, with other dictatorships following suit, and thousands murdered, tortured, or ‘desaparecidos’ in the process. With the U.S. still is an interested part, if Brazil’s leads a revival of that dark time it may spell misery to now close to a billion people.
Even though, help by the U.S. to the juntas that ruled over Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and others was more ostensible than today, it may’ve been now endowed with a powerful fan. T.B.D on Oct. 28, just over a week of the U.S. midterm elections.
A common denominator in both countries is the press’ role in the rise of both Trump and Bolsonaro. If omission is the American media’s capital sin, in Brazil is the wall-to-wall, highly biased coverage of the country’s politics. Just a few news organizations, owned by wealthy families, religious and corporate groups, they’ve been decisive in manipulating public opinion and outcomes.
That leads to the disheartening thought that, all things considered, it may be virtually impossible to stop this right wing revival any time soon. That is, unless people in both countries regain control of their own narrative, and withdraw support not just to radical leaders bent on crushing dissent but also of media corporations following their own agendas. And there’s a way to do that.
Show up and vote for candidates committed to freedom rights, with a track record for telling the truth, and caring about climate change, for starters. Brazilians and Americans may not deserve their leaders, but are responsible for electing them. Otherwise, it’ll be more of the same: murdered journalists and orphaned immigrant toddlers, trapped by an unjust system. #ELENUNCA.

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10/01/2018 Time For the Other Half Rule, Colltalers

There are an estimated 2.5 million homeless children living in the streets of America today. Many once belonged to the thousands of families with no place to crash. They may be joined by millions of immigrant kids and babies born each year out of teen moms.
And yet, the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court may add even more, given the two main tasks he was assigned to handle as a Justice. To scratch Roe v Wade, arguably the biggest deterrent against child pregnancy, may be the first one of them.
The other, of course, is to help pardon in the near or far future a possibly indicted, or impeached, president. The GOP and Co. have decided that only an accused rapist and ill-tempered drunk is fit to tackle such dirty work and, by the looks of it, he’s fully up to it.
We can’t say that his being all but shoved down the throat of the American people, to rule on matters great and small of their lives, was a rude awakening about the limitations of the power of protesting and moral indignation. That old gang of angry, rich, white misogynistic men, has shown once and again what they’re mainly after: more power. And now, to look good to the president too.
That they did it, assuring that another one of their very own got endowed with the powers of the country’s highest court to fulfill their agenda. Which includes keeping a tight grip on women’s reproductive organs and insulating Trump from any crime probes.
But for millions of women, rattled by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s courageous and heart-breaking public testimony about her worst private moment, the Kavanaugh confirmation was indeed a nauseating theater of horrors, capped by a big sucker punch in the gut.
The sight of a sprawling tent city growing in some isolated patch of America may not be easily associated with that staged drama broadcast from Capitol Hill though. But such a Draconian approach to immigration is a defining component of the Trump regime.
Morality and reason are certainly not. Because ultimately, how can anyone defend a set of policies designed to outlaw abortions, while at the same time, demonizing welfare programs and building yet more jails to lock up those the system deems unworthy?
There’s no moral, or constitutional basis for that matter, in reversing over a century of chaotic but generally effective immigration laws, which have made the U.S. the world’s most powerful nation, its biggest economy, and most sought after workforce. And there’s no sense in conditioning personal choice by religion dictates, while spending billions on keeping people in jail. Or poverty.
The risk that regular Americans seeking addressing of wrongs by a Supreme now stocked with judges as flawed as Kavanaugh is that they simply won’t be heard. Just like what happened to Dr. Ford, their pleas for justice won’t even register on their radar.
The world saw someone ill-fit to hold such a crucial job, as he wouldn’t take responsibility or even acknowledge past mistakes, and lied and became belligerent at any hint of evidence used to confront him. Which, to be sure, was in short supply at these hearings. On top of that, for a future justice to invoke by name an ex-president he tried to impeach is, well, highly inappropriate and partisan.
Seeing migrant children boarding unmarked buses, from shelters in Kansas, New York, and other sites, to newly built tent cities in remote Texas lands, is itself bone chilling. It’s so un-American as to remind us of similar refugee camps near war zones around the world. But there’s no war in the U.S. for them to be evacuated from, just a fight against allowing hate to dictate immigration policy.
Now, if you’re wondering like millions, whether there’s a point of rupture, of when the ‘enough is enough’ motto takes hold, we’ve got good and bad news to you. The good in all of that is that, yes, there is: it’s scheduled to Nov. 6, and it may change everything.
The bad news, however, is that only 40% of U.S. eligible voters is expected to show up at the polls. Gerrymandering, new voting restrictions, general apathy towards politics, and above all, a lot of money, the truth is, we may not make it. And that does ruin it.
It’s been a few gut-wrenching weeks in America, and fewer seem determined not to let the bad, the ugly, and the despicable get too comfortably numb in power. But there’s also been plenty of reasons for half of the population to be very angry indeed. The ‘Women for Trump’ notwithstanding, the demographics that marked its resistance to the new regime from day one may be up to do it again.
It’s an imprecise exercise to gauge the depth and breadth of the new women’s lib in the world, and the U.S. election may just offer new arguments either way. It’s also been a challenge to harness the power of 3.250 million constituents into a common, actionable agenda for change. But just about now, the world could do well electing to power a new generation of progressive, female leaders.
While we angst over the fate of Democracy in the nation that for a century has been more closely linked to it, in Brazil as expected, a Nazi sympathizer, Jair #ELENÃO Bolsonaro, and a nameplate for former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Fernando Haddad, won the presidential election’s first round. They head to a run off that may turn alright as long as the pro-Trump side is defeated.
Because, we hate to point that out, his side is undoubtedly winning these days. Not the victory we’d rally for, that of human dignity, spirit of tolerance, and compassion towards those fleeing tyranny. No, winning they are in what they’re really good at: power consolidation. On that path, chips are falling just into their ‘right’ places, and it won’t take long to infamy to come together.
But if millions of women have suffered the worst trauma that there is, having their bodies invaded by violence and subjugation, and have survived, and thrived into accomplished human beings, bent into doing the right thing, by the power and resilience of all Indigenous Peoples in the world, we’ll survive and thrive too. This time, 60% or more of voters must be at the polls saying Enough.

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10/01/2018 Egomaniacs Hate Laughter, Colltalers

If there’s one thing dictators-to-be hate more than losing is humor. That was on display again the past week: the U.S. president hadn’t even finished the first of the many lies of his address to the United Nations’ General Assembly, when it erupted in laughter.
It was a moment for every American to cringe of shame, but it was also quite revealing. It expressed the contempt the world reserves to Donald Trump, and why sometimes to giggle out loud is such a powerful antidote to a blatant, self-aggrandizing lie.
As it’s been said, what it’s actually surprising (or rather obvious) is why it doesn’t happen more often. Instead of pseudo-serious impartiality, the media should treat the president’s belligerent half-trues for what they mostly are: (dangerous and unfunny) jokes.
Comedians knew it all along. In 2013, talk show host Bill Maher wrote a bit about the then real-estate mogul as an orangutan’s son, and won a $5 million lawsuit by the one person in the entire nation to take it seriously enough to sue him. And who’s lost, as usual.
Tyrants, and would-be ones, dislike those who make fun of their idiosyncrasies or downright bad taste, because it exposes them for what they really are: pretenders, untrustworthy leaders on their insatiable thirst for power, damn whoever may be hurt by it.
Indignation, outrage, even getting down to exchanging insults with a bully, rarely moves them. On the contrary, they feed off pain of others, and there’s nothing that flatters them more than calling them ‘terrible.’ But under that armor of invincibility, hides an insecure, bruised ego, that may withstand a heavy artillery of criticism and rancor, but falters at even a minor antagonizing quip.
Not that it’s easy, and it’s no wonder why comedians can be so effective catching the king without clothes. For there are many things that may come to mind of people who are hurting, before they think of a clever wisecrack to throw at a tan-obsessed despot.
Making fun of the powerful is not safe either. For to mere exercising such a citizen right takes guts and some luck too. One may get away with it in a democratic society, or spend a lifetime in prison in an authoritarian regime. So far, Americans are still lucky.
That could easily change if suddenly dawns on Trump that what actually happened at the U.N. was an embarrassment no other U.S. president had to endure at such a global stage. Again, luckily so far, he hasn’t been able to connect the dots. Not yet anyway.
‘In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,’ would be just another self-serving fib that Americans have unfortunately become way too used to expect from the mischiefer-in-chief. Except that this time, leaders of hundreds of nations had a chance to knock it back. But someone must have paid attention.
For it may have some influence on what happened next in the week, nothing less than one of the most riveting of America’s life in recent memory: Prof. Christine Blasey Ford’s gut-wrenching testimony to Senate, about the attempt rape she suffered in her teens.
When the rapist to be, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, – finger-picked by the president to help the court pardon him later, if he ever gets indicted or impeached – took the stand and, guess what, lied too, he was just impersonating his main sponsor.
Whenever pressed on his lies, even if it rarely happens, the president puts into motion an old, but effective, tactics: counter argue angrily and, rather than substantiate his defense with facts, add a few new senseless twists, along with plenty of finger pointing.
It’s worked fine with the American media, and with the Republican Party’s elderly elite of privileged rich white man. That both have invested interests is a given; way harder is to alienate Americans from what the world is really thinking about their nation.
Whether the FBI will take this opportunity to fire back at all humiliations and belittlement that the Trump administration has been throwing at it, with a thorough probe of Kavanaugh’s likely past of debauchery is up to discussion. But, within the law, it should.
What really happened in these less than two years was a depressing process of downgrading of the U.S.’ status in the world, the best part of it: that of a nation founded on ideals of tolerance and freedom. Even if that never translated into concrete reality to so many, they could easily be invoked as a reason for reassessment and re-calibration. And that’s exactly what’s still at mortal risk.
Prof. Ford’s bravery and courage, even as it was relegated to a she said, he said news story in the following days, will definitely outlast all attempts at diminishing or lowering them to Kavanaugh’s, and Lindsey Graham’s for that matter, phony indignation.
Millions of women had a painful time being reminded of their own traumatic experiences, and why they were shut down by a patriarchy-modeled society that has no place anywhere in the world today. But they’ll connect the dots and, one hopes, help restore a badly needed balance of power in Congress a month from now. And, of course, may the angry judge never make it through this.
Trump has been able to divert sex scandals, evidence of collusion, and suspicions of malfeasance in office, in ways that no other president could. Nothing proved effective against his lies. But not now, as American women realized that the nominee is clearly set to overturn Roe v Wade and reverse their reproductive rights. Humor may irritate him, but women can actually bring him down.
They may rise like Brazilian women did, against a would-be Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, who’s running for president. Bolsonazi, as he’s been called since praising Hitler, and the only torturer ever identified for crimes during the 1960s military dictatorship, had his front-runner position seriously challenged in the past weeks, just a few days to Sunday elections. #ELENÃO #ELENUNCA
If they succeed, it may be a lesson to the world, and the U.S. in particular. Heaven knows we need that, and by the rallies, strikes, discussions and support to Prof. Ford, the same can happen here in America. We may also need a #NOTHIM #NEVERHIM, or even a #NOBEERFORHIM, for laughing out loud. With the extra plus of being able to recycle it in time for the 2020 elections.

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9/24/2018 A Clear and Present Danger, Colltalers

Living in troubled times means accepting whether things go or not our way. Roll with the punches, some say. For a nation, it also means that a stroke of luck may undo ages of hard work towards peace and prosperity. Or not. The coming U.S. elections pose just that kind of predicament.
It’ll be preceded by other important polls around the world, and if they share but one commonality is that they’re all have a referendum-quality about them: either voters will ratify this global wave of conservatism, racial hatred and increased wars, or they’re about to unravel it for good.
America’s democracy, universally perceived as a beacon for inclusion and tolerance, is being challenged like it never has, and it risks becoming a mere misleading label for a spectacularly powerful authoritarian regime. This is no hyperbole: fundamental principles and institutions, such as the Congress, the Supreme Court, and its free press, are under a coordinated attack against which they all have surprisingly few defenses.
Of the three, the first to have faltered has been the legislative, already under siege by the power of money, special corporate interests, and lack of morals by so many political leaders. Many already count the Senate out, and are focusing efforts only for a change in the House leadership.
For those not too familiar with U.S. politics, that may not sound so urgent. After all, what’s perceived as ‘America’ abroad is mostly its history and present-day foreign policies. But beyond the fact that this is not an issue restricted only to Americans, it’s not a partisan one either. What still calls itself as the Republican Party has been hijacked by a fascist ideology, pursued with such zeal to envy even Nazi Germany of the 40s.
And that definitely affects not just those who traditionally seek the generous umbrella of the American Dream, fleeing persecution and tyranny at home and finding protection as a proud immigrant. It impacts also how other nations deal with immigrants and refugees knocking on their doors. Suddenly, those whose lives were destroyed by unfathomable wars lost even the sympathy from the nations that caused their Diasporas.
That’s a change that, had it happened in the WWII aftermath, for instance, it’d have made impossible the increased opportunities and the earnest drive for peace among nations that came after the canons went silent. It’s exactly that spirit which allowed the world to catch its breath, even if ever so briefly, that may face premature oblivion. It’s been said before, but it’s remains true: the Nov. elections may be the strike we all fear.
For the U.S. Constitution, for all its foresight and defense of individual freedom of expression and ‘pursuit of happiness,’ is still just a piece of paper. People make it relevant or obsolete. When they make it count, everyone benefits, but when it stands on its own, it’s a mere shopping list.
Part of this urgency is due to the fact that Americans usually fail to do what so many world citizens long to be able to: show up and vote. Consider the 2016 presidential election, when 58% of eligible voters went to the polls. The number is impressive in American terms, but most democracies have larger proportional turnouts. And given the built-in hindrance of an outdated Electoral College hindrance, it was not enough.
The result of that shortcoming is all too evident today: the Trump administration has been extremely methodic dismantling basic fundaments that made American society progressive, such as the power to dissent, of being informed by the media, of respect for women’s reproductive rights, of science education being taught freely, of labor and racial rights, of leading the world fighting climate change, the list is long and sad.
But what feels like a long time is actually less than two years, and if it’s true that things did not take such a radical turn overnight, or on the day after the elections, it’s also true that we still have a chance to reverse the tide and make a clear statement towards simple principles of dignity.
We mentioned that this is not a partisan issue for two main reasons: it’s not an invention of the Democratic Party to pursue an agenda focused on individual guarantees of freedom of expression and religion, of encouraging activism by all segments of society, of condemning all sources of hate among races and religions, and so many others issues. These are basic conditions for inclusion, tolerance, and harmony in society.
The extreme-right minority that hijacked the GOP is not interested in any of these issues. Their goal is clear: sow division, boost xenophobia and zealotry among citizens, create barriers, all the while telling them all that the press is their enemy, not the unfair legislation they’ve just passed. Its current leadership abandoned all semblance of being the least concerned about blowing up the federal budget by favoring the rich.
The hypocrisy Republicans have displayed, by holding an empty Supreme Court seat that President Obama had the right to fulfill, and then trying to rush down our throats a suspect rapist nominee that seems to be part of a plan B to pardon the president in case it’s needed, is beyond appalling. It’s downright criminal. These individuals, who now control Senate and House, have no shame or respect for their poor constituents.
They’re in for increasing their own bottom line and that this is happening in America is the stuff many around the world have nightmares about.
Who’ll stand for them against tyranny, they wonder, even if they’re counting on an idea of justice rather than on an actual army of defenders coming to their rescue. For America as a lighthouse for justice seekers, more than an optimistic view of reality, it’s an ideal worth pursuing.
As for this weekly newsletter, in case you’re wondering, it’s a piece of my mind labored and agonized over, that it’s rarely produced without a soul-searching process, sprinkled with bouts of self-doubt. And even if no one has asked it, it is an attempt to offer something reasonably fresh to our not too many readers around the world to meditate upon, in the following week. That being said, I must say, I’m unsure I can keep it up.
In other words, just like democracy is not a spectator sport, as it’s being said so often, mine is just an opinion, as valid and relevant as the reaction it may provoke. And stands on equal footing to all other seven and half million minds who also have one, but whose majority may not have the same opportunity to express it as I have. Yes, I do take it seriously, but I wonder if it’s really contributing to progress or more chaos.
Living in these times means a lot of different things to different people. Progressive values, compassion, acceptance, though, is what bring us together. We all wish to contribute and be part of the conversation toward solutions to crucial issues of our age, but it’s hard to always have the clarity and gumption to be effective. What makes it worthwhile is to think that you, the reader, share the same urge to act. For that, count on us.

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9/17/2018 For a New Brazil & U.S., Colltalers

To a considerable number of Brazilians and Americans, the past two years have been a cavalcade of back steps and heart breaking discouragement. But in a few weeks, they’ll all have a shot at disavowing and stopping this disastrous era, or gladly reaffirming it.
At stake, it’s whether the twin time bombs set by the Aug. 2016 coup that ousted Brazil’s one-and-a-half term president Dilma Rousseff, and the following Nov. election of popular-vote loser Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, can still be safely disarmed.
Millions, who feel as if living in a bizarro version of democracy, will go to the polls with a clear goal in mind: change. From South to North America, they’ll face off a loud pack of blind drones, assigned to shoot down any threat to the reining premeditated chaos.
Whatever the outcome, it’s bound to stir the sour continental soup of exceptions. While Brazil may push Latin America further into its conservative downward spin, the U.S.’ reenacting of Europe’s worst traits may wind up dragging down its hard-won stability.
Altogether, about a billion-plus may taste the bitterness of authoritarianism shoved down their throats, whether liking it or not.
Their fight to safeguard choice, civil rights, and the dignity of individual freedom, may be decided by what happens in the next couple of months. Casting a vote has seldom been so crucial to keep democracy’s heart beating and racing forward at full clip.
The Trump administration’s assault on common decency was eerily previewed across the pond through the lies ushering the Brexit adventure. It was the same appalling manipulation and deceit that the U.S. president used to collude with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
As for Brazil, a similar coalition of upper classes and their enabling corrupted politicians, supported the media-legislative coup that ousted its first female president. Dissatisfied with consistent failings at the polls, and threatened by a rising new sense of citizenship and sovereignty, they manufactured a populist reaction to cover up their unforgivable rupture of the rule of the law.
A win by conservatives in both cases will prevent any changes in the status quo in years to come. The Brazilian election may lend the coup’s architects a patina of legitimacy, and the U.S. midterm elections may move the goalposts simply too far for a reversal.
Also common to these nations is the ascendancy of fake news as a key to unlock people’s worst fears, and the despicable use of social networks to incite intolerance. It’s always instructive to remember that there was little hacking of the 2016 electoral process compared with an exhaustive use of legit social media tools to simulate ideological conflicts and elect compromised candidates.
Brazil’s presidential campaign was marked by frantic right wing efforts to prevent former two-term president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to run. But despite a faulty prosecution process and jail sentence that followed it, Lula was still leading just a week ago. Pragmatism prevailed, however, and their Worker’s Party picked a relatively novice ex-São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad to run.
Adding a dose of sinister drama, the now front runner Jair Bolsonaro was stabbed a week ago at a supporters’ rally. But not to worry: the former Army Captain, an avowed enemy of the LGBT community, progressives and the poor, is in no danger of dying.
That sets the peculiar situation of having two front runners absent from the campaign trail on its last days. As the people’s favorite languishes behind bars, a nameplate running on his place, the landowners and religious right’s champion barks from a hospital bed.
The other candidates lose relevance by the day. That is, apart from their likely usefulness diverting either a return to a state of legality in Brazil, or supporting the current intense two-year selloff of state assets and dismounting of its constitutional institutions.
As Oct. 7 approaches, Brazilians’ shattered dreams of greatness and descent to global oblivion may get an extension or reprieve. It’s up to them to pick the path of redemption: vote with the oppressed, the dispossessed and those who’re always at the bottom.
As for the U.S., the Trump administration sowed hatred and disarray through the media, as it consolidated control over Congress and the Supreme Court. But if the latter is lost, the former has an opening: the House is still up for grabs. Democrats may win Nov. 6 by embracing its new progressives, but will surely be crushed ignoring them and believing Americans are dumb and distracted.
Speaking of fighting to regain relevance, the United Nations General Assembly gathers tomorrow in New York, and issues such as climate change and epidemic threats will be dutifully discussed. But in the next couple of weeks it’ll do well only if it seizes the momentum to reclaim a role in defense of Democracy in its truly sense: of protecting the individual’s right and freedom to dissent.
An electoral system that produces votes that don’t count, curtails access to polls, or benefits those already in power over people’s will cannot be called democracy. It’s only renaming a vicious cycle of tyrannic oppression, under the guise of representation. The U.N. has a job only it can perform: to bring countries together. And to assure people’s self-determination is on its charter. Cheers

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9/10/2018 Losing Elephants & Compassion, Colltalers

We may be running out of Earth’s resources to provide to everyone’s survival, but we’re still far from totally lacking them. What’s in short supply, however, is compassion to channel help where it’s most needed, and power to prevent the haves from having more.
A flawed metaphor to invoke may be the quest for saving the elephants, those gentle giants we’re slaughtering to extinction for their tusks. Because just alluding to their proverbial good memory, and how fast they may be forgotten, is almost too much to bear.
The textbook example to such a social quagmire is, of course, the U.S., the richest country in the world. Despite its wealth, and recent employment reports, it continues to see a rising contingent of the destitute and the homeless to rival developing economies.
By reversing protective environmental policies, and opening public land to oil exploration, the Trump administration is making sure natural resources will be fast depleted. And worst, proceeds will be diverted to tax-deferred corporations that’ll rather reward shareholders than create wealth to the country as a whole. The economy that ran us to the ground once is about to do it (us) again.
As for that imprecise metaphor involving elephants, it kept its currency this past month. On Aug. 12, a day dedicated to awareness about them, their global population was tallied at about 800,000, and preservation efforts were dutifully praised. But the estimated average of 100 killings a day in Africa was confirmed on cue last Tuesday, when 90 were slaughtered for their tusks in Botswana.
It was a gruesome massacre, done with customary brutality, and predictable frequency. Poachers, however, who get the blunt of public disgust about the murdering of these and other beautiful creatures, are but just a visible end of a multimillion dollar trade.
Low-paid and poorly-trained park rangers are never a match to the high-level precision and lethal capacity of raider teams that are robbing the world of a future with elephants. And like the so-called war on drugs, consumers play a big part on this awful market.
In Earth’s estimated 4.5 billion years, we’re newcomers: just a couple of hundred thousand years as Sapiens. Some fish species are younger than us, just as many others are being or have been extinct since we’ve been around. Elephants may soon join the latter.
There’s not much difference between the compassion needed to prevent the disappearance of animals who took millions of years to evolve, and the empathy necessary to understand why thousands of working people in this country also happen to be homeless.
It seems that is not misery enough that there are now about 14 million people with no job prospects. For the lucky ones who do may have multiple, non-benefit providing, minimum-wage jobs but not a place of their own for them and their families to crash. It’s revolting that they are also ‘forbidden’ to fall ill, and that the fate of poor Americans seem to be of no concern to the president.
That some still kill animals for a living, while others rot in the streets like garbage, holding on to nothing but their dignity, can’t be solely blamed on natural resources depletion. It’s not only the planet that’s drying up; we’re tightening up our hearts real good too.
Widening income disparity and a system that privileges the wealthy and the powerful have always stood between us and our own humanity, just as man-made climate change and greed-driven environmental policies are perfect foils for those in the business of blame. But make no mistake: it’s the silence of decent people that assassinates justice, more so than those who may benefit from it.
Speaking of things that can wipe us all out, the renewed threat of a nuclear holocaust is the one that may turn all these concerns into literally dust. But for all the egotistical would-be tyrants jockeying for or occupying high offices throughout the world, there are many who choose to do something about it. Consider the ‘Disarm Trident: Savannah to Kings Bay Peace Walk,’ for instance.
A little over 20 peacemakers from around the U.S. have just reached the midpoint of an 11-day, 110-mile march that calls to abolish all nuclear weapons. It’s small, almost Quixotic in its idealism, but please take a walk those who think it’s about nothing.
Even as there are things we can all agree are unacceptable, – obscene wealth, extreme poverty, hunger, homelessness, lack of rule of law or democracy, environmental destruction or nuclear annihilation — we’re passed the unanimity-and-uniformity of action era.
Thus it’s in these sort of irritants, the small marches, the calls to action, the rallies around local causes, that the resistance, if there’s one, may be able to flourish. Don’t dismiss neither those trying small steps nor the ones going for the big leaps; they all count a lot.
Rosh Hashanah, the 5778th Jewish New Year celebration, gets the week started today, followed by the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks tomorrow. Avoiding the ecstasy and agony cliche, let’s just give in a little for the rituals, both glad and grievous, that help make sense of our lives and that of our fellow humans. Yes, we may fight for the elephants, and be solitary with the poor, always.
But we also need to be merry and dance to life joys, when we can, and remember with sadness those who perished so tragically. For it’s our ability to share and partake such disparate emotions what will give us strength to fend off injustice and cruelty. Cheers.

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9/03/2018 A Trade’s Shameful Legacy, Colltalers

The Age of Discovery, one the greatest moments of Western civilization, is arguably when Earth finally shrank to its real size, and the courage to brave new worlds became Europe’s manifest destiny. It’s also the age that triggered large scale slavery from Africa.
The Transatlantic Slave Trade, chartered 500 hundred years ago by Spain’s King Charles I, plundered Africa and, for the next three centuries, turned up to 12 million of its citizens into slaves to white Europeans and Americans. It was history’s biggest scourge.
Aug. 28 sad milestone may have passed unnoticed, but signs that at its racial core, it’s a still bleeding and festering wound, are all over the world these days. White supremacism is on the rise, and so is violence and oppression against blacks and people of color.
All progress mankind’s experienced since, from advances in the navigation arts, to medical and scientific breakthroughs, including the achievements of the Enlightenment Era, hasn’t been enough for us to evolve from that heart wrenching event. It ripped apart an entire continent, and spread out through the world like a disease: the despicable idea that one race has precedence over all others.
Despite all our ever growing understanding of the wonders of the human body and mind, we still act like our primitive ancestors when it comes to race: an assumed divine connection is all that’s needed for granting us the immoral authority to split the world according to skin color. And no other society did it with more cruelty and consistency than ours, possibly even in terms of length.
Rich nations still dispose of their vanquished peoples as if they’re properties, and a white self-attributed privilege still drives us to resist any kind of racial and class equality. As dominance is inseparable from economic power, it’s clear which social segment is fighting to hold on to an illegitimate control over all others, helped by the same forces that not long ago supported outright slavery.
It was at full display in Germany the past week, and as far as news of the day are concerned, such fascism-inspired rallies are scary in but many levels. Obviously, because of those six million people exterminated during WW2, which the German soul has taken long to come to terms with. (And for a while, it did admirably). But also for modern day Germany being a bastion to democracy.
Few were expecting to consider this, but after such a imperfect but promising dream of the European Union, under the Germans’ civilized leadership, we may be watching democracy die even in countries where it has been the strongest and most successful.
The U.S., for instance. Under just two years of Trump administration, the regime that America proved the world that it could turn it into the richest and most powerful nation, while also being egalitarian, if only on ideal, may have its days already numbered.
In fact, many Americans see the coming Nov. elections poised to become a watershed moment, when an authoritarian regime may get the unified congress it needs to self-perpetuation, snatching away people’s right to choose. To others, we’re already there.
And the most disturbing consequence, if that’s really the case, is that most who may now rally for a brand of ‘strong’ government, even if not quite democratic, may be the first to pay the price to yet another tyrant adventure, this time speaking perfectly English.
Just a quick glance at history, recent and ancient, show that what’s going on in the world today is hardly new. Once and again, dark forces successfully channeled racial hatred into a manufactured, self-defeating civil unrest, gladly capitalized by dictatorships.
Economists and anthropologists may vow by their pseudo-apolitical or racially-tinged view of our society since the slave trade era, and point to how we’re indeed living longer, and healthier, and relatively happier, despite the now nearly eight billion of us around.
Income and cultural gaps, though, remain increasing by the year. And so is the exhausting of the planet’s natural resources, and the depletion of survivable environmental conditions, and a growing sense that the Utopian view that we’re all citizens of the world has not taken root, specially among those being forced out of their land and cultural identity. Theirs, indeed, is the cruelest share.
Our present geopolitical reality was in part settled when ships the Portuguese first, in late 1400s, then the Spanish, Dutch, English and the French, sent out to conquer the world. They and the nations that benefitted from it, like the U.S., harvested humans and resources, regardless of geographical distances, and grew the opulent empires whose remnants still rule over racial and class lines.
But even if the king’s charter of Aug. 18, 1518, has tilted the world into a place where those who have more than enough, have also the power to accumulate even more, and take even the little that the majority never actually had, we’re under no obligation to follow suit. It’ll take a firm grasp on history and moral responsibility, though, to re-balance the world and re-empower its citizens.
In some cases, the minimum that may be accomplished towards this goal is to vote them out. Elections in Russian, Sweden, Czech Republic, Sweden, and specially in the U.S. and Brazil, may give their citizens a chance, if not the last, to make their voices heard.
For if advocates of hatred and racial inequality, of the wealthiest’s privilege over everyone else’s, along a reactionary move to save fossil-fueled economies prevail, even our best efforts to fight the slave trade’s tragic legacy won’t exempt us from responsibility.
Speaking of which, it’s fair to once more denounce the genocide Saudi Arabia is inflicting upon Yemen, with the crucial help of the U.S. It’s unconscionable that an American-aided air strike that killed a dozen children is hardly mentioned on the media, which helps conceal the obscene nature of what the Saudis are doing. And worst, how despicable it makes us all to be as a consequence.
At the start of a new month, however, we need to reaffirm our commitment to make this a better world, however little we may feel we can contribute to it. Even that we mourn the end of the NY Village Voice, legendary weekly paper that for 63 years gave space to the critical counter-punch to authoritarianism. We grieve over the dead of yet another true press vehicle. But we’ll still carry on.

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8/27/2018 The Prisoner & a Prison Strike, Colltalers

People in seven U.S. states have just started a 19-day strike for liberty and social justice. Through hunger strikes and specific acts of civil disobedience, the organizers hope to trigger a national, ample movement focused on reforming and redefining the America’s prison system.
In case you’re wondering, you’ve read it right: the call or freedom is being led by incarcerated Americans, representing some 2.4 million inmates, or the biggest contingent of jailed people in the world. China and India, each four times the U.S. population, don’t come even close.
This staggering fact, though, is the one thing that can’t be added to the portfolio of horrors the Trump administration has already amassed in less than two years. It only fits neatly the president’s relentless agenda of singling out and vilifying every non-white citizens of this country.
A few other disturbing figures: although less than 13% of the U.S. population is African-American, nearly 38% of inmates are black. Of our current 350 million, 17% is considered Latino, or Hispanic. Behind bars, however, the percentage rises to 32% or almost third of all inmates.
The largest strike in U.S. history will last three weeks, to focus on issues such as slavery, access to rehab programs and lengthy sentences. Yes, slavery. To risk their lives fighting record-breaking wildfires of this summer, for instance, inmates in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Texas were paid nothing. In California and other states, they were paid up to $1 a hour, or some other, less undignified amount.
What follows, and perhaps this whole post, has no use to those who believe that the word dignity doesn’t belong in a same sentence as crime and punishment. But one measure of compassion and pragmatism of any society is its ability to provide redemption to its fallen citizens.
Not everyone can be included, and it’s yet to be invented a model utopia that doesn’t need police, and rules, and penalties for those who cause harm to others. That being said, we may be already living in a police state, specially for people of color, when one can be detained for being it. Millions of black Americans know society unduly fears them, and they may wound up getting shot by the police. Or going to jail.
A high percentage of the inmate population is composed of so-called drug offenders: people who either for socio-conditions, or lack of education, or disease and addiction, failed too quickly to the Reagan-era ‘three strikes law.’ Some were still in their teens when the key to their freedom was tossed. From that point on, it doesn’t really matter if they grew up to potentially be exemplary citizens or hard criminals.
Society doesn’t seem to have room for none them. Odds of a black, poor, and former convict person to get a decent job are practically nil. In many ways, the worst choice is the only one available: to remain in prison and being fed a toxic diet of soul-crushing experiences. And die.
Naturally, there are all kinds of people behind bars in any prison around the world. In most cases, if circumstances leading to such a terrible fate were predictable, there wouldn’t be any overcrowded jail anywhere. But getting into trouble is an integral part of the human experience.
One thing that seems more or less predictable about the U.S. inmate population, though, is that wealthy jailbirds are the rarest kind. And so are white collar professionals, even when convicted, real estate moguls, politicians, and, yes, Catholic priests and other ‘spiritual’ leaders.
Unlike what we hear around, not everyone claims to be innocent. But there are a significant proportion of those who actually are, either for bad counseling, botched police investigations, forged evidence, faulty technology, falsehoods, or systemic over-reliance on witness accounts.
A despicable cause for so many people we lock up, however, is the booming business of prison as commercial enterprises. The GEO Group and the Corrections Corp of America, giant concerns that own most U.S. private jails, their shareholders and investors, plus the politicians they maintain, make billions on the back of the poor behind bars. But the overall conditions of the prison system remain close to disgusting.
Sexual abuse continues to be rampant; and so is physical violence and ingrained under-prepared personnel looking after the prisoners. Not unlike what happens to the small percentage-wise contingent of veterans, most Americans remain oblivious to the fate of those locked away.
Politically motivated judges is a reality most present in the world of justice and criminal penalties, one that sells itself as impartial but that it’s far from it, to the class, and race, of the prosecution agents and the prosecuted, to extra judicial considerations of prejudice and zealotry.
Again, that we don’t see class diversity behind bars, is by design, specially when there are balance sheet goals to be met and shareholder interests to protect. To their eyes, and society’s, when people are sent to jail they are expected to be deprived first of their humanity. They’re defined by the nature of their crime, and taken as inventory and production means, for their ability to generate returns in the stock market.
This strike started Aug. 21, marking the date Black Panther Party’s George Jackson was shot to death by guards, and ends on the anniversary of the Attica uprising, that left 40 people dead, both 47 years ago. Not to be dismissive, it’s unlike to change much, but even if raises a little awareness, among us and the rest of society, about the life that almost 10% of Americans are living right now, it’s a worth goal pursuing.
It’s been an eventful couple of days, what with the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ Hey Jude, their ode to empathy and encouragement, and the passing of playwriter Neil Simon. But then John McCain signed off and unlashed an onslaught of public grief, acknowledgement, and lots of grand standing. It’ll dominate for weeks the national news cycle, along the hypocrisy and political expedience that’s sure to follow.
Arguably the most famous American POV, McCain’s own five-year martyrdom in the infamous ‘hotel Hanoi’ prison, and subsequent run as Senator, give him credentials of a true American hero. Even when being wrong as a congressman, on issues concerning equality and justice, his personal integrity was never in question. And he can’t be blamed for giving a president under suspicion a badly needed diversion.
Let’s hope that the serious crimes Trump is implicated on, from self-enrichment while in office, to treason by colluding with a foreign power, morally despicable behavior, and incompetence dealing with the nation affairs, won’t remain ‘below the fold’ for long. As McCain’s example suggests, one may fail to act effectively upon one’s own moral convictions, but should never lack or give up on them. Rest in Peace, John.

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8/20/2018 No Country for Indecent Leaders, Colltalers

Americans, who still abide by some of the ideals and aspirations of the Founding Fathers, seem a bit out of luck lately. For as the current U.S. president has sponsored and ridden on a disturbing anti-democratic backlash wave, the rest of the world is no place for solace either.
Some even decry the fact that, unlike U.S past leaders, Trump is not even in the same league as Putin, Xi Jinping, and Bin Salman. The rulers of Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia are the present-day versions of the Big Brother, Dearest Leaders holding the world by its strings.
So much for the malodorous jingoism of ‘making America great again.’ The U.S. may be finally downgraded from its top dog geopolitical spot not by humanistic concerns or its morally abhorrent foreign policies, but for the president’s pure incompetence at being, well, president.
It’s not clear whether his toddler-like tantrums, inability to grasp basic concepts of government, or mean-spirited Twitter and diatribes, will ever move down the needle of his supporting basis. But to Americans who still think for themselves, and the world, this cat is out of the bag.
Domestically, the country is thrown into such a death spiral of racism, social inequality, human rights violations, and a dismantling of environmental standards so extreme, that if it doesn’t drive record numbers of protesting votes at the November polls, then nothing else will.
But it’s been Trump’s displays of immaturity and lack of statesman skills at the world stage what’s really relegated the U.S. to second-fiddle position in global affairs. Hadn’t been by the feared firepower of our weaponry, his embarrassing meetings with E.U. and NATO leaders, and specially, North Korean Kim Jong Un and Putin, would’ve already deemed us as irrelevant as just another oversized banana republic.
Even among the weariest of Cold War remnants, there’s an almost universal consensus that Russia is indeed messing around with American politics, has control over the president, and is deeply invested in keeping him at the White House. Which means that if his base remains oblivious to his wrecking havoc of their own social welfare, and shows up in mass to vote, Trump’s Republican Party will stay on in power.
If that happens, even if the Robert Muller probe reveals irrefutable proof of his treason and colluding with a foreign power to harm the U.S., or proverbially, footage of Trump actually shooting someone on 6th Ave surfaces, America will turn into a totalitarian regime, bar none.
But all bets are off if most Americans have their say, and back it up with the power of their vote for keeping the U.S. the functional democracy that’s been for almost 300 years. Time may be running out, and there’s much to be done yet, but we must remain hopeful.
For, as mentioned before, don’t expect the Saudis sanguinary royalty to come to rescue what they may consider a distraction: human rights. Even more if it’s about the U.S., official weapons and logistics-provider of their ongoing obliteration of Yemen. On the contrary, the crown prince will be glad to restore Saudi Arabia, and its environmental-destroying oil economy, back to the dominant role it played in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, China is doing what it’s always done and still does it best for millennia: subtly, influencing the world by the power of his trade tradition. The world’s largest economy since maybe not coincidentally Trump got elected, it has the edge to defeat and humiliate the U.S. if the president insists on a trade war he understands nothing about. It’ll win on the sheer power of its size, pragmatism and single-mind drive.
It’s hard to be encouraged by what’s happening with nations formally under the Soviet Union bloc. Take Turkey, for instance. The country that’s border with three worlds, and religions, and at least as many cultures, rather than protecting its gift for coexistence in harmony, has instead become Erodgan’s own shooting gallery. Like the Trump administration, is going after press and opposition with a dictator’s gusto.
Not far behind, are the ‘inspiring’ cases of Hungary’s Orbán, Poland’s Kaczynski, and Ukraine’s Kremlin-handpicked Poroshenko. They’re re-enacters of a depiction of democracy, a game of appearances where coups and non-stop reelection campaigns play out with the regularly they’ve always been, but mostly sans tanks on the streets. Again, free press and political opposition are vilified as ‘enemies of the people.’
Can’t look too wishful to Asia and the Middle East either, for more reasons than the already saturated corollary of miseries plaguing those regions for centuries. But Israeli P.M. Netanyahu is on a class of his own, and not only because of his unrestricted support by some of America’s most politically conservative segments. He makes the grade by his particularly cruel and tragic repression of the Palestinians.
As baffling as it’s always been to wonder how such a well-educated urban demographics was so completely fooled into believing that the eventual annexation of Gaza and oust of every Arab from Israel is good for them, or even feasible, it’s their leader that blows anyone’s mind.
His relatively unchallenged grip on power, sway over the country’s life, and thoroughly drive to enforce a belligerent and self-preserving agenda verges on obsession. As the world witness the Palestine chocking to death inside a sealed bubble, he no longer bothers to even offering a rationale to such a travesty of the very founding of the State of Israel. And he is, of course, a staunch Trump supporter.
We have lost count of all the strongmen the president has officially praised halfway through his term, and the bloody-soaked Duterte of the Philippines is but a confirmation nudge of his sympathies for rulers who use democracy as a front for a discretionary and corrupt regime.
The would-bes are all over, in Europe and South America, but it’s time to list those on this side of the fence. And the hard-to-swallow reality is, none stands out so far, which makes anyone even more despondent about the future. Perhaps the strongest figure to stand up to this extreme rightwing wave of regression is Germany’s Angela Merkel, one of the longest standing democratic leaders still at full power.
And the fact is, despite her undoubtedly correct stances on civil rights, refugees, and the environment, she’s far from being a galvanizing, crowd-arresting figure. For all her firm assertions of democratic values, few could pinpoint any shinning example of her talents as a leader.
Below her but still on the same corner are Canada’s Trudeau and France’s Macron, both as young and good looking as politically mediocre.
By now, most of the excitement of having a Canadian member of the country’s political royalty as a leader has gone the way of the Sinixt people. His insistence on pipelines and a fossil-fueled economy, along his disregard for native tribes, disavow his rosy campaign promises.
And then we have the loyal, utterly democratic push from Scandinavian countries, all 30 million people of them. Thanks but we need more.
Thus, just like the century-old struggles for labor and voting rights, and renewed 1960s battles for women, racial, and sexual rights, all of which by the way, are being seriously challenged, is again up to Americans to rise and carry on the torch of tolerance and political equality. And make no mistake: this is what Putin, Salman, and Jinping, already expect, even though none of them would be caught dead admitting it.
It’s been said, this current crop of world leaders is actively engaged in turning back the clock on democratic representation, dialing down the urgency of the climate change fight, and determined to crush dissent. This is not about conspiracy but measured reality gathered by the level of control they exercise over the world, and how wide is the gap between the powerful, the wealthy, and corporations, and everyone else.
Sometimes, it takes a moment of national grief over a beloved artist to remind us why tyrants fear so much values of compassion and humanity, which lead some of us to lives of true relevance. Last week when the great Aretha Franklin left us, we suddenly realized once again how much better a place she left us. Honoring her means keeping those values at arm’s length . Rest assured, Aretha, we’ll keep at it.

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8/13/2018 Never Normalize Racism, Colltalers

The firing of Steve Bannon from his White House job was arguably the only upside to the Charlottesville, VA, despicable white supremacist rally of a year ago. A small consolation indeed, as, one, he’d already done enough, and two, racism in America grew exponentially since.
By being held again in DC, yesterday, the hate event where Heather Heyer, a white civil rights activist, was killed by a Nazi sympathizer, is now also indelible from the Trump presidency’s legacy, and for once again normalizing racial extremism in the U.S. We’re all worst off for it.
It consolidates and aggravates some grim figures about the black experience in this country, and it’s helping to institutionalize racial hatred relations in ways that wouldn’t be possible, or acceptable, even during the worst moments of the civil rights movements of the 1960s.
In little over a year, the Trump administration embracing of the white loss of privilege cause, whose anger still fuels his own rallies, has led to a dramatic rise of racial confrontation and violence. From shameful acts of terrorism perpetrated by seemingly reasonable Americans, a string of ‘calling-the-cops-on-people-being-black,’ to incidents of downright raw prejudice against every person of color, we’re living in dark times.
The president, however, not being capable of starting anything on his own, merely exacerbates this nation’s character flaws, and feeds off from the widespread intolerance his self-entitled attitude sows around. What’s a familiar, and utterly disturbing, sight to blacks, Latinos, and Holocaust survivors, all well acquainted with the harbingers of terrible things to come, remains all but ignored by most Americans, though.
Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police, according to Mapping Police Violence Website. And at least as many to be incarcerated for minor offenses, despite being less than 13% percent of the population. But the majority of non-supremacist whites don’t really think that’s a problem, even if 90% of those killings won’t lead to indictment, suspension or firing of officers. That’s a big problem.
The origins of the superiority complex shared by bigots, Nazis, proponents of violent ‘solutions,’ and assorted garden variety fascists, dates, of course, from slavery. There prior to the independence, it led two of the brightest architects of the American ideal to be at odds over the issue.
John Adams never owned slaves and even when opposing legislation to a total ban, expressed moral outrage about it. Being white, though, he couldn’t help it but assigning a lesser civic weight to the scourge of slavery, preferring to focus on its economic and political implications.
Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, another Founding Father credited to the humanistic tilt of the U.S. Constitution, owned upwards of 600 human beings and even fathered children with a slave, Sally Hemings. Such a huge breach of his otherwise unquestionable integrity lives on.
Unwittingly, he may’ve established precedence to that contradiction, that Americans share a history of liberalism and freedom of expression, that has been largely denied, or severely restricted, to blacks. This separate but equal approach has become now, unequal and barely together.
The past year saw also an increase of xenophobia and hostility towards non-white immigrants, specially Latinos and Muslims, from draconian laws and enforcement by the White House, down to common citizens acting as if their position as American-born and mostly Christian was ever at risk. That’s naturally by design: while directing their dislike to foreigners, they fail to see they’re being played by their dear leader.
It’s in fact startling how come Trump supporters in the lower echelons of society haven’t yet become cognizant to a simple reality: the only major piece of legislation that the president managed to pass was the estimated $3 trillion ($7 trillion over a decade) tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations. And that, ultimately, will cost their own understated reliance on government programs, as well as healthcare and education.
Unlike what they’d rather swear by, it’s their own demographics, not some vilified immigrant group, that uses public assistance the most. Studies show that those who come to this country, either running away from certain death, or to have a better life, contribute more taxes and use less the system than under-educated (or ultra rich) Americans born here. That’s not fault of their own; failure to realize it, though, is.
The president’s numerous shortcomings, however, haven’t prevented him from bragging about things he did not do, or taking credit for what others did. His ‘signature project,’ the wall at the Mexican border, is every day a bit less of a reality and more a signal of failure, and the steady pace of growth of the economy is, in reality, a feat of President Obama’s economic team. But Trump does own the racial hate issue.
He recently doubled down on his deplorable statement, a year ago, about that so-called Unite the Right rally, and some ‘very fine people’ on both sides. And even as he tweeted condemning racism, he did not specifically condem white supremacist deadly force, and is likely to say something terrible again today. For as long as 30% of Americans support him, he’s also unlikely to retreat from this or other divisive stances.
Speaking of Nazis, celebrated clothing brand Hugo Boss is rarely mentioned in the same sentence as white supremacy. But its founder was a proud Nazi party member and started what’s now a highly profitable suit making business as a manufacturer of German armed force uniforms.
And speaking of Boss, here are excerpts of ‘New No’s,’ by Hong-Kong-born American artist Paul Chan, 2014 Hugo Boss Prize winner: ‘No to racists No to fascists No to taxes funding racists and fascists No mercy for rapists No pity for bigots… No hope without rage No rage without teeth… No anti-Semitic anything No Islamophobic anything No progress without others… No means no No means no.’ Steady now. Cheers

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8/06/2018 What Comes After the Fire, Colltalers

Have we crossed the line? As the catastrophic realities of climate change become a global routine, a new class of man-made enemy emerges to disrupt efforts to save the planet: the sense of hopelessness. Have we already reached a point where any effort is to be rendered pointless?
Even seasoned environment warriors, who decades ago quit doubting about What Ifs, and focused on the Whens, are now pondering: isn’t time to direct resources to what’s still salvageable, or have not yet been attacked? Even more troublesome, who will we pick as winners?
The thought that complicates the matter is, of course, the wave of authoritarianism washing over world politics. Although most tyrants have invested interests in ignoring global warming, what if there’s a switch and it becomes another weaponized flag of xenophobia and exclusion?
Ever since rampant global warming has been observed, and properly diagnosed by the international scientific community, there’s always been a component of dread built-in in most potential solutions. Beyond a healthy pragmatic attitude, there was the all too common human fear that we were making too many assumptions about a positive outcome from our efforts, or that new technologies would come again to our rescue.
Many thought that when scientists and activists endorsed the Paris Agreement, they were doing so solely on its implied expectations that it could reverse climate change. In fact, what was remarkable was that 195 nations in the world could actually agree on something. As it turned out, they could but their ability to hold their side of the bargain hung on everybody else’s. And we all knew that it’d take a very long time.
Thus what if we lost the momentum, and such realization is taking a toll on our commitment to carry on because, clearly, not all is yet lost? Don’t sweat, nobody is saying that this is a necessary justification to feel despondent about our meager results, despite such a huge effort.
But if anything, the fight to re-balance the planet and keep it livable for at least a few generations has shown us that the obstacles are not just some powerful bad guys doing exceedingly bad things, and dragging us all into an inevitable whirlpool of escalating deadly extreme weather.
There are realistic thresholds that once crossed, make entire chains of interconnected efforts virtually moot. The aftermath of wild fires frying large swaths of California, Europe and Asia, for instance, will irreversibly change those badly depleted ecosystems of the regions affected. And that may eventually hamper human survivability there for years to come. It’s no longer about how to kill the fires but what do after them.
The same about powerful hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. Once the winds die down, or the waters recede, reconstruction may not be an option anymore. Speaking of rising waters, the need to address the new kind of refugees, those fleeing the weather, is already urgent and non negotiable. Besides wars, a traditional scourge for ousting people from their own land, add now raging waters washing away whole villages.
Questions are getting harder to answer. But few wouldn’t have at least an educated guess to offer as for what’s going to happen to the poor and native communities, and entire impoverished nations, if we can’t take our eyes of the burning forests and neighborhoods, and think about what’s next. It’ll surely be complicated, but people still need to seize the power to decide what to do about it. Otherwise, powers that be will.
When Al Gore introduced a simplified picture of what was to become the biggest issue of our time, in his Inconvenient Truth doc, he was understandably mercilessly mocked and vilified as presenting a slightly-leftist white-man approach to a global problem involving all races.
Because climate change, and that’s a fair criticism of an otherwise pretty decent intro to it, is indeed about race and class and money.
Now, picture the racial element economically subtracted from any self-determining role, and get at least part of the poor convinced that this is not their fight, and it becomes clear what’s really driving rising global temperatures causing increasing devastation all around: yes, our old foes, greed and unbound ambition, and the interest of markets and corporations in preserving a convenient status quo. But you knew that.
We’re passed the age of fighting deniers; at least in the U.S., they’ve got to positions of power already and no longer bother using the phony ‘unproven’ argument to justify ignoring the causes of global warming. They’re now blatantly saying what they meant all along: we don’t care.
But even if the Trump administration hadn’t quit the Paris Agreement and wasn’t now in fact leading the world back into restoring the status of fossil fuels as a driver of economic growth – which it ceased to be at least a decade ago – in some tragic ways, we did indeed cross the line.
We obviously stood a better chance of cutting down emissions with the agreement, specially in what it had as its best unintended outcome: countries coming together for a solution to a global problem. But even as some are still at it, that momentum too has unfortunately passed.
The coordinated, and increasingly costly, efforts necessary to restore areas devastated by wild fires, hurricanes, and floods will require long-time goals and they may never achieve a state of completely recovery. Massive relocation, likely to be heavily contested, will be needed, even without involving cross-border refugees. And political and economic adjustments will too inevitably alter demographics and geography.
However, just like the president’s infantile tweets distract us from tracking the profound transfer of wealthy to the rich of America he’s actually promoting, it is climate change’s potential for civilization-ending that we should be concerned the most about. It’ll take some heavy-duty planning to defend against it, even considering the extensive and immediately destructive collateral effects it is bringing down upon us.
73 years ago today, when the U.S. detonated an atomic bomb in Hiroshima, and three days after, another over Nagasaki, mankind was only awakening to a new terrifying reality of life on earth: we then had the potential to actually explode it out of existence. It’s appropriate to associate both threats to our survival on this planet, because they share an undeniable truth: they too are products of our own endless folly.
About 120 thousand Japanese perished during the attack that effectively ended WW2. Since then, countless others have fought hard to avoid a WW3, from which we’ve never been too far from starting, ever since we’ve adopted nuclear technology for solving military conflicts.
But everything that even the most optimist climatologists had expected to hit us but only by the mid century, is literally blowing on our faces now. And it has exponentially increased faster in the past two decades than at any time in 800,000 years. Again, that’s being upbeat about it.
It was only due to the advocacy of early survivors of the nuclear age, and peaceniks and honest scientists, that there hasn’t been yet another nuclear detonation of the magnitude that destroyed the two Japanese cities. That is, even as now we have the nukes to raze entire countries, it was the kind of resistance forces often demoted by the establishment media, and discredited by economic interests, that saved us from doom.
It’ll be the same kind of courage and persistence, embodied by the pacifist movement, what may prevent climate change from leading the world astray. But at this point, we’re clearly on the losing end, and need to regroup to decide what to save and how. More than ever, we need to empower new leaderships committed to those goals. By voting, by new laws, by any means necessary. That, or it’s just burn, baby, burn.

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7/30/2018 The Canaries We Rely Upon, Colltalers

A free and critical press is essential to democracy. So it’s a bad sign when the few mega-corporations owning the media landscape are heavily invested in the ‘entertainment value’ of the news, while local papers fold. And it’s worst when the president call it an ‘enemy of the people’. ‘
A too-big-to-tell-the-truth news also produces its own complying audience, happy to follow somebody else’s fabulous life, and unmoved by the way society treats its vulnerable: the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the children. It’s no surprise journalists are also being killed in troves.
That may not be what Americans thought they’ve signed up for but it’s happening here and in many other democracies around the world. The process of turning the business of making people aware of what affects their lives is being taken over by an ‘investment banking’ mentality.
It hasn’t happened overnight, though. The practice of owning newspapers to intimidate governments and support discretionary policies had already been brilliantly portrayed in Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane, a send up of powerful 1920s media mogul Randolph Hearst.
But even Hearst couldn’t possibly dream of having the power of influence of his modern incarnation, Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch. A raider who founded a global empire by acquiring traditional news vehicles and turning them into profitable, ultra-conservative information mammoths, his own magnum opus, Fox News, has created a fake reality from where it’s actually running the U.S. via its most ardent fan.
Predictably, there are now many companies vying for positioning themselves to the right of Fox. And with plenty of financial muscle to break some legs as needed to achieve it. The estimated $4 billion acquisition of Fairfax Media, Australia’s oldest newspaper company, by ‘tabloid and ratings TV-culture’ Nine Entertainment, as Guardian’s Andrew Jaspan puts it, fits right in this context. Other Murdochs will surely come.
Speaking of tabloids, have you heard of Tronc? Last week, the particularly atrociously named company, a reformatting of Chicago’s Tribute Publishing formed to cash in on the Internet beyond the news, executed one the ugliest acts against a vital, albeit far from its former glory, paper, the New York Daily News. In an one-minute meeting, it fired half of its editorial staff, some who’d been with the rag for decades.
‘Ford to City: Drop Dead,’ its Oct. 1975 headline, will remain as the apex of a legacy of presenting the news as a punch in the stomach. But it was also an accurate way of informing its readers something they could all relate too: New York was broke but the president didn’t care.
The Sinclair Broadcast Group is another organization jockeying to that sweet far right spot from oh so liberal Fox. It owns hundreds of radio stations and wants to acquire Tribute Media from Tronc, which it’d make it another monster concern to carve away chunks of the ‘free press’ that Founding Father Thomas Jefferson thought crucial for a credible democracy. Thing is, not even free as a concept is the same today.
And that’s because, although these corporations are indeed free, which means, they’re obscenely wealthy to do as they please, they are hardly about being critical, or opposing an unjust status quo. One thing Jefferson is still on the money, though is: presidents have no right to ban the press based solely on their dislike of what the papers publish. And the media is a concession from taxpayers, not the other way around.
Which brings up Latin America and how it became such a brutal place for independent press, and journalists, to survive. Take Brazil, for instance. It’s now widely known that Globo, the country’s biggest media company, was behind or contributed to both the 1964 military coup, that installed a 2-decade plus dictatorship in power, and the legislative coup that deposed two-term President Dilma Rousseff 50 years later.
And Mexico sits just behind Syria and Iraq as the most deadly place for a reporter, who’s a higher chance of being killed than that of a cop. For speaking the truth to power, to become a journalist is a dangerous enterprise nowadays. But not if one works for Fox News, of course.
Reports put out by organizations such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists are increasingly grim. In 2017, 18 professionals were killed; 34 have already had the same fate in 2018. That without mentioning media-related workers, an also endangered profession, or those who are imprisoned (262 in 2017, including in the U.S.) or have literally dodged many bullets shot to silence them.
None of these were working for pro-government companies, which makes them a kind of voluntary canaries, risking their lives to show that the air is toxic to everyone else, or that the ruler is naked and shameless. To honor their sacrifice is to challenge any nation that dares calling itself a democracy while hunting down the opposition when no one is looking. Or just for looking. In any event, we must bear witness.
Considering that, it’s hard to say what’s worse; a president who ostensibly turn the dogs, and his supporters, on an inconvenient press, as Trump has done, or a populace seemingly oblivious to serious threats against free speech and the right to criticize the government.
It’s the same moral contempt that some flaunt on social networks: offering excuses for the inexcusable and a rationale for the despicable. Why the government should hold immigrant children in cages, while deporting their unaware and misinformed parents is a common thread. But there are still independent and critical news outlets, in the U.S. and everywhere where heat waves and climate change are fully reported.
The Nation, and DemocracyNow come to mind, as well as Link and Free Speech TV, along a myriad of small outlets that still profess the courageous art of investigative reporting and survive solely on citizens support. It’s up to us to reclaim the right stated in the first article of the U.S. Constitution, about the universal freedom of expression. Otherwise, some big corporation will, or already has. Here comes hot August.

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7/23/2018 The Age of ‘Lock Them Up,’ Colltalers

In the White House-sponsored nauseating tour back on time, we’re hitting all the ‘right’ stops. That’s one way of giving some context to this renewed urge for mass incarcerating people under the assumption of culpability. A clear historical parallel is the 1942 Japanese internments.
In still less than two years, the administration has implemented a radical agenda of racial oppression and xenophobia towards immigrants, while taking steps to further push the Supreme Court into a subservient role. And that’s not mentioning the Christmas tax cuts for the rich.
To say that every cruel error of judgment and knuckled-headed executive order are somehow unintentional or lack equivalence in American history makes no sense. Not just there’s a method to this brutal cavalcade towards fascism, but also plenty of half-forgotten past examples.
What may be arguably new is how little pushback what Nobel laureate Paul Krugman calls the Republican war on the poor is getting from the Democratic establishment and party leaders in Congress. And that, of course, the Supreme hasn’t had such a heavy partisan run since, well, ever. If it’s up to these institutions, it’s getting worst before getting any better. But it’s still up to the American people to say ‘Stop!’
Again, we’re not getting into corporate complicity to the status quo, because it’s obvious they’re being benefited from it; or the boot-licking support from a now dominant media, which often dictates policy; or how devastating the attack on civil rights and the environment has been.
We’re just taking the issue of imprisonment, not out of criminal behavior, but for those who have become inconvenient for the enforcement of a white supremacist narrative. That means annihilating a considerable core of the American experience, by going after every person of color.
It’s a vicious irony that the country that has already more prisoners than any other nation on earth, is now building temporary facilities to hold yet even more people. And it’s no surprise that they, as the current prison population, are mostly poor, black and brown, and/or immigrant.
The hysteria against ‘aliens’ only reached this kind of fevered pitch during WW2. The suspicion that ordinary Americans, who happened to be of Japanese ‘ancestry,’ would hold the same Kamikaze zeal of the Hitler-ally Japan’s empire, and stage attacks in the U.S. soil was, of course, never more than a paranoid idea concocted by a stunned military establishment after the Pearl Harbor attack. But for three years it was law.
Up to 120 thousand Japanese-Americans were detained in camps, and it took 46 years for the U.S. to issue them a formal apology, along $20K to each surviving victim. It was lame but happened, even that many were already dead, and others were hurt by the experience.
Lesson not learned, apparently. The massive imprisonment of Muslims following 911, some tortured and even killed with little or no proof of their involvement, may be still years from an apology and compensation. At least as long as their torturers remain unpunished and powerful.
Some may invoke the horrific images of abuse of Abu Ghairb prisoners, which surfaced by chance in 2003 and exposed our morally wrong strategy for catching terrorists, and the secret black sites around the world that the U.S. used for torture out of reach of international law and American courts. In all cases, including Guantanamo, and its majority of innocent already released, no actionable intel came from and of it.
On the contrary, at least some of those found not guilty now hold an understandable grudge against the U.S., as those still held on in Cuba may. It’s the price to pay for enforcing such a tragic policy that also goes against everything America has stood for, even if mostly as an ideal.
So it’s fair to link that dark past and recent history with what’s going on now, when people knocking at the border, seeking shelter from the rot and injustice that, often, were sowed in their countries by U.S. intervention, are instead being treated like criminals without any rights.
The parallel may be also extended, if not to German concentration camps in the war, then to the Gestapo-like tactics of arrest and summary deportation of people who only want to live and pay taxes in this country; those already contributing for years; and even legal residents too. Considering family split ups, lost or caged infants, and poor conditions of the facilities so many are being held on, how can this be right?
The great tragedy that many Americans are still not aware that’s taking place right here and right now, goes beyond the potential destruction of representative democracy, independent judiciary and media, and increased global hostility towards the U.S. Because it also normalizes evil and turns us all into associates of a regime of terror. And for the last time, let’s not even get here into the issue of the Russian interference.
For just taking what’s already all around us is enough to compose a terrible picture of America, circa 2018. As shown, this descent into a racist and discretionary society, where courts merely rubber-stamp the will of the executive, unfortunately has legs throughout our history.
Even worst, it has visited other modern nations, and has a number of predictable outcomes, none of which we’re exempted of or safe from.
One has a feeling that this is but an experiment, to test how far it can get without effective reproach from society. And it’s a way to carve yet more room for more to come. Sounds paranoid? Maybe, but only if tomorrow while reading the paper, the thought won’t occur to you too.
Unlike other times, Americans are for the most part mobilized. At least a large percentage of voters, some who rarely vote before, are willing to give it a shot, so to help reversing the process. It’s unquestionable that many overlapping movements are putting on a fight to prevent a rise of a totalitarian rule in America. But more is needed, or rather, don’t believe the hype that either others are on to it or it really doesn’t matter.
To defend the right to an unbiased Supreme Court, to uphold international conventions against torture and political imprisonment, to support an independent media, and to stand for guarantees of equality to everyone, regardless of race, color, nationality, credo, and personal choices, is more than the least we can do for ourselves. It’s what entitles us, and not tyrants and morally corrupt leaders, to be Americans. Cheers.

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7/16/2018 The Lead of the Irish, Colltalers

In two months, Ireland has taken a leadership position on two crucial, global issues: women’s reproductive rights and climate change. Both decisions were reached by its democracy doing what’s supposed to: to represent the will of the majority. Startling, that’s relative these days.
Both themes acquired urgency lately, as the Trump administration seems bent on fulfilling an extreme right wing agenda. Short of popular opposition, Americans may soon lose the right to decide what’s best for their own bodies, or even protest against our reliance on fossil fuels.
The president, by the way, was in full evil clown mode on his latest mini European tour, and few were laughing. In a chaotic series of visits, he chastised our NATO allies for not spending more killing people, that is, buying American weaponry, and humiliated U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, while finding kind words for her political enemy, Boris Johnson, and of course, Vladimir Putin, who he’ll meet next. Prepare.
But despite massive protests and becoming once again a joke on the European media, Trump accomplished what many are still to realize: it’s all part of a plan. With his goofs, he turned the coverage onto himself, while pushing forward his own interests, and that of the defense firms.
Through apparently incoherent public statements, he managed to throw mud on the issue of immigration in Europe, avoiding questions about his own approach to the matter – children in cages, anyone? His staged nonsense also serves him well for manipulating media coverage, just like any certified reality star, and snake oil salesman, would know how to do it: every one of his asides and diatribes was faithfully broadcast.
What the Irish showed the world, though, is that we must keep our eye on the prize, and not get so distracted by what now should be all too familiar to anyone. The president will lie and deceive and do what he can to retain the narrative; it’s up to the people to impose their own.
In May, a referendum showed that the majority in Ireland favors the removal of a constitutional anti-abortion clause. That may open the way to legislation granting women what’s theirs by nature: control over reproductive issues, and rights to a full and religious-free health care. For such a strongly Catholic-influenced country, the popular move towards a more secular law is considerable. Will Northern Ireland be next?
Then last Thursday, the Irish Parliament voted to fully divest all public funds from fossil fuel companies, in what’s a first for any nation. Many others may as well take the cue and follow suit. It’s about time too. It’s becoming a tragic routine to mark every month and year hotter than the one before, and to observe rising and more violent disruptions caused by the impact of record-breaking, man-made climate change.
Speaking of May, it was the third warmest on record, according to the European Copernicus Climate Change Service, and 401st consecutive month above the 20th century average, according to NASA and NOAA. Perhaps we’d be seeing more encouraging numbers if the Trump administration, instead of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, had been even more active, leading the world to fight global warming.
Even without being completely aware of the changes, we’re becoming progressively more acquainted with harsher hurricane seasons in the U.S., for instance, or more powerful monsoon seasons in Asia, as the episode of the soccer boys, rescued from a Thai cave, briefly exposed.
It’s terrifyingly frequent now to see a gigantic iceberg cut lose from a glacier to threaten a fishing community, as it’s happening in Greenland’s Innaarsuit village. And that even as a 4-mile rock it is but a fraction of the size of similar ice breakups in the Arctic and specially Antarctica.
While the U.S. president was doing the bid for the industrial defense complex, whose about $1 trillion budget is more than the spending of the next 13 countries combined, he said no word about the solar industry growth, for one. Only in 2016, it generated over $150 billion in economic activity, that is, well-paid jobs and new markets. And it did that without wrecking the environment or killing a single person.
Trump’s actions have already had negative consequences, putting pressure on world leaders who up to recently were committed to new, non-pollutant energy-generating technologies. Case in point: Canada’s Justin Trudeau, whose taxpayer-funded $4.5 billion nationalization of the Kinder Morgan pipelines is being called a betrayal to his platform’s commitments. So much for his family bona fides and movie star looks.
That’s because the aging pipeline complex, which runs highly pollutant tar sands through largely Native American lands, has been plagued by leaks and malfunctions for years and represent a negligible gain to the economy, compared to potentially catastrophic coast to coast risks.
If the president succeeds, helped by unscrupulous U.S. senators, to nominate yet another ultra-conservative justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, which seems all but sure, he will set conditions to do away with the 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling that legalized abortion in America.
If not just contraception, but regular gynecologic and general healthcare clinics that cater to impoverished women are already reduced down to a few dozen in the whole country, denying assistance to millions of families, just picture a world when they simply won’t exist.
We can’t help it but also see on this the decisive reason why a Hillary Clinton’s presidency would’ve been not just different than Trump’s, but also better. The reminder is not gratuitous: the Democratic Party looks as though it wants to curb, not encourage fresh, progressive voices, and the example of Clinton’s failed campaign, despite having a hugely superior argument to win, should never be overlooked.
Americans and the rest of the world have to stop paying too much attention to the outbursts of a TV-made star, because they’re shining objects designed to draw attention of fools and paid-for acolytes. Taking the bait of, ‘on my, he walked ahead of the Queen,’ or ‘the E.U. is a foe,’ which he declared in Scotland, means that we’re missing the real purpose of his entire trip. Or his coming meeting with Putin.
In fact, given how little was concrete and how much was for show on his meeting with Kim Jong un, the expectations for what can be achieved from his personal forays in foreign policy remain low. Perhaps in time, even his constituency will realize that these trips are costly, and give the world a renewed, and embarrassing, view of our dear leader: a crass sales pitchman for what America has of worst.
Welcome to a new era of irrelevance of the U.S. government in most matters but the science of making a profit killing people, here and abroad. Any change in the current global perception of America as a fading leader, that nevertheless bullies others into doing as they’re told, won’t come from the White House, not anytime soon. It’ll come from ordinary Americans like you and I, who have had enough.

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7/09/2018 Choose to Remember, Colltalers

How crucial it is for a nation to confront its painful past? Here are two contrasting approaches: Chile sent nine soldiers to jail for murdering a singer, in a 1973 military coup; Brazil was censured by a human rights group for not protecting a journalist killed in 1975 by the dictatorship.
The issue is relevant to the U.S. too, as an upsurge of racial intolerance and religious prejudice threatens to turn back the clock on civil rights. As the Trump administration goes after made-up enemies, it’s also encouraging the biggest terrorist threat to the U.S. today: angry white men.
The same demographics concocted a horrific past in America, when hanging people of color was considered public entertainment. The hurt and open wounds of that time still resonate now, and before Trump, we were but in the early stages of a process of healing and redressing it.
No other president has been so lenient to displays of blatant racial violence by neo Nazis, or named at least one assumed white supremacist, Steve Bannon, to his cabinet. And his rallies have become festering, malodorous focal points for hordes of unhinged racists to congregate.
Trump and his enablers may regret the support they lend these groups, as they’re bound to become an out of control danger to everyone. But that we’re even allowing a comeback of an ideology with a proven track of cruelty and destruction, is beyond baffling, it’s egregious.
History provides centuries of examples of what happens when a leader creates villains to be demonized out of the demographics they don’t like, while giving a pass to ideologies whose point is to prioritize a select group of individuals, under any excuse, and go after everyone else.
Take the horrific wave of military dictatorship that swept Latin America in the 1960s. It took over two decades to send it back to the hellhole where it came from. Thousands were persecuted, tortured, killed, in the name of an order that turned out to be corrupted, vile and mostly to favor one group over others. Once incompetent generals grabbed throats and humanity of millions of people, it took years to kick them out.
That’s the first 911 era, of the military cup that deposed Chilean President Salvador Allende, and assassinated singer and songwriter Victor Jara. It took long but justice is coming for him. His popularity didn’t save his life, but his songs are an integral part of his country’s history.
Not so Vladimir Herzog, the journalist who went to a São Paulo police precinct, only to be tortured and killed. Although the Dilma Rousseff-led Truth Commission, which probed the military rule, among other attributions, demolished the official version of ‘suicide’ as cause of death, it did not lead to court orders. Instead, and risking being unfair here, after compiling a file, it merely named a street after Herzog.
The aftermath of the tragic ‘junta era,’ when democratic representation was restored, gave rise to those two conflicting strategies about how to tackle and learn from the past. Some, like Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina, have taken steps to document what happened, shedding light on the faces and identities of those victimized by the regimes. And entrusted the judiciary to seek accountability and punishment for the guilty.
Others, like Brazil, chose a restrained approach, one of yes, finding and identifying victims – they’re far behind on that – but also of pardoning perpetrators. Thus an entire generation of criminals, torturers, immoral law enforcement officials, and members of the middle and upper classes, never faced a day in court or jail, or had to at least apologize for their deeds. Unlike their victims, they remorselessly walked free.
So it’s no surprise that many of them, and their political spawn, are back to, and influent again, in public life in Brazil. That may explain in part why the country’s young democracy fell so quickly a prey to the old politics of deception and impunity most Brazilians actually despise.
Sticking to the comparison, both Chile and Brazil had first female presidents, who’d been tortured by the military, elected twice in landslides in the 2000s. But Michelle finished her terms and the Chilean democracy continues to mature. Rousseff wasn’t so lucky: she was ousted by a parliamentary slash media coup, and Brazil’s current state is that of a hostile political turmoil. It’ll choose a new leader in October though.
That’s why judicial probes into causes, and protagonists, of such a despicable era were vital: they restore at least some faith on democratic institutions. And that’s why tyrants hate, fear and undermine them. Speaking of which, those murderous regimes were propped up by the U.S.
Under a dubious, Cold War paranoia-infused assumption – fear of ‘losing’ the region to the Soviet Union – anything was justified to prevent it, including supporting blood-thirsty dictators. As many know, the fallout of these disastrous policies also caused people to run and emigrate.
We mentioned torture, and it’s instructive to look again at the post-911 era, when the so-called war on terror was launched. For a few years, and mostly unbeknownst to the American people, the fetid business of torture was at full blast, lashing at the bodies of thousands of suspects.
17 years later, some perpetrators are still in power, and in the White House, no less. It’s a disturbing reality seeing government officials being rewarded by participating in illegal acts with opportunities to do further harm. For more of the pattern, see L America, Dictatorship et al.
Americans too are heading to the polls this year, and ‘what ifs’ abound. Many an election have halted a catastrophic chain of events on its tracks, killing its momentum, and triggering long fought-for changes. But we’re already behind, and likely not done repeating history yet.
A record turnout in November just may beat the odds, as long as all are fully represented equally, with a few lucky change of hearts to boot. Democracies, either 20 or over 200 years old, depend on whom they represent, and are failures when lacking quorum. A lot is riding on the upcoming elections, and Brazilians and Americans need to vote like they mean and halt the momentum now, or bitterly regret it more later.
We’re thrilled about the rescue of those 12 boys and their soccer coach in Thailand. Here’s to a successful completion of such harrowing task.
We’re also rooting for Adul Sam-On, who became the group’s semi spokesman as the only one who speaks English. Adul is one of about half million registered ‘stateless’ people born on Myanmar’s rebel Wa State. Yes, an undocumented alien is once again serving the community.
That’s intrinsic to the immigration experience, adding an edge of self-sacrifice to the proceedings. Isn’t it also part of being human? Evolution have reasons why we may not be here tomorrow, and a lot is on our own account; haters and supremacists however have none. We resist.

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7/02/2018 A Word Brings Us Together, Colltalers

Red flags are being raised about the future of American democracy, and a word with powerful resonance in society has retaken the center of the national conversation: moral. The resistance to the Trump regime’s cavalcade to absolute power has found a unifying core to fight for.
Alarms sounded with the Supreme Court’s latest of its many June decisions, rendering useless any notions of non-partisanship of justices. And to refocus on morality, rather than simply arguing, forges a new alliance to fight the administration’s push towards an authoritarian rule.
The U.S. is in turmoil, and over the weekend thousands protested the draconian, and heartbreaking, conditions imposed to immigrants and to those who come seeking shelter from oppression and injustice. Much of it, triggered by America’s own undue interference in their nations.
‘Families belong together’ is the overall theme against an artificially created, demagogically motivated, and now deeply disrupting, ‘crisis of immigration.’ So it happens that inflow of immigrants, with the Mexican border serving as an entry point, was at historical low numbers.
In fact, net immigration from Mexico had become negative, right before the 2016 election, after years of decline, and arrests by Border Patrol were at a 46-year low, according to the Pew Research Center and the independent National Immigration Forum. The data also showed that what was happening was actually the opposite, with a net outflow of illegal, undocumented workers from America moving back to Mexico.
But that many Trump supporters were sold a bag of rotten goods, and bought into a lie, hasn’t been breaking news for a while; it’s become the unfortunate normal. What’s astonishing is that such falsehood triggered enforcement of failed laws and xenophobic attitudes, that culminated in the utter cruelty of yanking children from their parents, and treating them as criminal prisoners, with little hope of one day reunite them all.
So that the American people seem to be awakening in these past two years to the power of taking the streets and protest should be welcomed and supported. Marching, however, has limited impact in the era of digital distraction and can easily lose focus and fall into collective fatigue.
It’s in the realm of ideas, then, that much of long range views for change and redressing can be worked into a seasoned confluence of goals and action. For sure, in an election year, things do coalesce into what are the most efficient tools to be used so to keep the momentum going.
But that urgency has to have a core of permanence too, one to endure beyond the poll results, to still offer practical solutions to the future.
In June, the Supreme Court issued rules on a variety of themes that directly affect the lives of millions of Americans. But unlike what the Founding Fathers had in store for the organ, that of presiding above the nitty-gritty of day to day attrition, and assuring the integrity of the Constitution, what the present corp of justices is prescribing to the nation is a sour bill of decisions that do a great disservice to democracy.
It ruled in favor of a baker, who refused to bake a cake to a gay couple; it upheld Ohio’s discretionary program to purge voters; it took swipes at the disgraceful gerrymandering, without actually disavowing it; it ruled on online sales, but it has refused to actually defend the Internet.
Worst, it blocked a California law requiring pregnancy centers to provide info about abortion; it endorsed Trump’s racist ban on Muslin travelers; and it told government workers that they don’t have to pay fees to unions they choose not to join, in another blow to organized labor.
For an institution that virtually opened the gates to money in politics, declaring corporations ‘people,’ these and other recent decisions don’t encourage voters, sex minorities, Internet users, underprivileged women, church and state separation, and pretty much every worker.
The court also lost any claim to represent a moral force in American society. That’s now in the people’s hands. As it’s been mentioned in moot discussions about ‘civility,’ which by now is a code to disarm the fight for social justice, Hitler acted within the law. A quasi hyperbole, the argument is also a reminder that law and order are there to protect people, not to pick winners, and go after the powerless and vulnerable.
‘There’s nothing radical about moral clarity in 2018,’ said Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old who defeated a Democratic powerhouse in a primary. We need to ‘stand up, fight for a moral breakthrough,’ said the Rev. William Barber, a leader of the Poor People’s Campaign. And as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘I criticize America because I love her. I want her to stand as a moral example to the world.’
We resist this undignified walk towards defacing American values from their substance with the power of morality, of doing the right thing, of setting a higher standard of dignity and compassion. Not because the Constitution says we must, but because there’s no other way to exist.
We may be supported by the solidarity of other people around the world, also fighting for social justice and the right to inclusion. We may be encouraged by the example of the immigrants themselves, and their struggle to defend the integrity of their families. We may be even helped by Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a leftist with a mandate to usher a new era of morality south of the U.S. border.
But above all, we need to get on board and be counted, so that the less than 30% of the population don’t get to set how 200 million Americans really feel about women’s reproductive rights, voting rights, of not being discriminated on race, religion, or political orientation, freedom of choice, and sovereignty of personal sex decisions. A leader with no moral compass is just a bully with a big gun, and we won’t be intimidated.
This July will be hot, not just the temperature, which may again beat the all time record in the northern hemisphere, but hot as molten lava with the political environment. Hotter than the fireworks on the Fourth, that scare the bejesus of our beloved pets. Piping hot with the fire of moral authority. Civility is essential in social relations but it’s being used as a numbing weapon. Liars must be called liars to their lying face.
The crass, rude, demeaning, violent vocabulary Trump brought to the White House won’t be shut down by being polite and asking for please. It’s no match, however to the incendiary will of doing what’s right, decent, whole. Let’s be absolute passionate about our convictions. Cheers

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6/25/2018 Cruel Humans & a Kind Gorilla, Colltalers

A puzzling issue about the Trump administration is its steady support by some 30% of Americans. Among them, yes, the uneducated, left out of the so called American Dream ring strong. But what’s with his approval by professional women? and what about organized religion?
The week was yet another sample of savage chaos disguised as policy, with reports of detained immigrant children who may never see their parents again matched by an executive order that doesn’t solve the problem but was sold as such. And then there was the passing of Koko.
The 46-year old female gorilla, who’d learned sign language and thousands of English words, became a symbol of the movement to recognize animal rights. In the process, she proved what was already empirically known: that they not only think but have a complex emotional life.
We’ll get back to that but first let’s wonder for a while what makes a large contingent of independent, highly educated and successful women support a bully who even before being elected was a known sexual predator, caught on tape saying terrible things, to get into office partially with their vote? Unlike the now proverbial typical Trump supporter, white, poor, underachiever, and angry, they did have a choice in 2016.
Even more startling, albeit arguably easier to contextualize, is the large church-going crowd of Christians, who should be raving mad about the un-Christian policies the president has enforced, the company he seeks, his mean-spirited public persona and, of course, personal history.
We’re not getting on the merit of religious denominations, leaving that debate to those who really believe that there differences, or even sense among the god fearing. But it’s disturbing to watch religious leaders, whose flocks reach into the millions, so quiet about the administration’s absolute lack of charitable spirit towards the poor, immigrants, and people of color – and that, obviously, not mentioning sex minorities.
Wouldn’t be that a basic, fundamental, non-negotiable condition to be considered a follower of Jesus Christ, to be kind with the dispossessed, equal with the oppressed, loving to one another? After all, isn’t that what the man himself preached, and got killed for, all those years ago?
We’re not talking about the monsters who call themselves preachers and ostensibly demand that their followers pitch in to fund the costs of their newest personal jets, or blockwide mansions – usually closed to shelter natural disaster victims as it happened – for those are beyond redemption. Their psychopathic reasoning should be grounds for at least close scrutiny from authorities, if not the full rigors of the law.
What we’re seeing, though, is regular, yes, law-abiding citizens, who claimed to know their scriptures and follow the teachings of the good book to a fault, being completely oblivious to the fate of millions of fellow Americans. And worst, volunteering to offer ways to justify them.
Perhaps is no coincidence, given the example of hatred towards dissent, the free press, former ally nations, and foreigners in general, coming from the White House, the rise of calls to police, based on racism and xenophobia. And business denying doing what they’re established for, that is, business, in the name of a fascist code, which encourages name naming and intervention into the lives of others, just out of suspicion.
No wonder so many see signs of pre-Nazi Germany, or Italy during WWII, when citizens would be abducted by security forces and taken, to be never seen again. And the fear of being singled out for refusing to go along with the crowd or criticizing the president or government.
The president’s lies are a case in itself, as day after day since even before he got elected, he’s been lying to the American people, lying about the real purpose of his acts and actions, or lack thereof, in office. As it was in the case of tax cuts he orchestrated with the help of Republicans in Congress, that represented a multibillion-dollar savings package to the very rich and corporations, and a big hole in the budget.
And yet, he insisted then and ever, that it’d benefit working families. And some actually believe it! Excuse me for that redundant exclamation point, but it’s hard to express the significance of lying to such a level, since it really hurts, and in some cases, it kills people, as a consequence.
Instead of more Rev. William Barbers and others, who are leading the Poor People’s Campaign, ‘a national call for a moral revival’ in America, we see more apologists to the discretionary, and downright un-American, policies pursued by the administration. Again, let’s not even mention dictators and tyrants who, instead of the underprivileged of this country, always receive a word of sympathy from the president. Any moment now, we should expect a tweet or two praising Turkish President Recep Erdogan, for his latest election ‘victory.’ Just like Trump was all praise to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and noticeably vague about the accord they’ve signed. Was it also a lie? I’m shocked.
Humanity, of the highest level, empathy, heartbreaking grief, and unvarnished love, of the kind no one will ever expect from the president, his family and cabinet, most GOP officials, and a large percentage of mankind, was aplenty during the meaningful life of Hanabiko ‘Koko.’
When she blissful died in her sleep at her Santa Cruz Mountains home, in California, she ended a generous collaboration that helped us better understand her species and, along with it, our own. Born in the San Francisco Zoo, she may be instrumental for finally end all animal captivity for entertainment and profit. Taught the use of language, she quickly learned to convey not just verbal but emotional cues as well.
For beyond her intellectual prowess, what she went through in life, and how she pull it through, was a gift of knowledge and insight into her species, and us. I remember when it was reported that, heartbroken for losing a baby, she adopted a kitten. And when she too die, Koko wept.
She was sad for the loss of a lifetime companion when she met comedian Robin Williams and the resulting tape of the two together is, in his own words, ‘mind altering.’ When told of his unexpected death, she was reported in deep grieving, just like pretty much the rest of the world.
Now, it’s our turn to feel personally hurt by her loss as we somehow rely upon and depend on the existence of loved ones, even when not in direct contact with them. When we see or learn they’re no longer with us in this lonely world, a part of us also departs. We used to call that being human but it’s obvious such feelings are not our monopoly. But Koko learning language was not without criticism and controversy.
After all, scientific research into animals has been used mostly to harm them, to gain insights to better control them. Also there’s the pull of anthropomorphism, to see the world as a mere reflection of us, and disregard the complexities, and utter differences of animals and humans.
Through it all, however, Koko’s life and those who handled and cared for her did much more good than harm, and will benefit the welfare of irrational (?) beings. In fact, an entire new vocabulary will need to be invented so not to confuse what they are and do, with our own species.
It’s being a month to be proud of the difference, of inclusion and acceptance of what we are, as with the LGBQ community-inspired spirit of tolerance and love. What we’ve learned with Koko is the same of what’s being reminded on Pride Month in the U.S. Despite the Trump brand of indifference toward human suffering, we’re still committed into getting better, as persons, people and nations. R.I.P. Koko, we’ve heard you.

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6/18/2018 No Time to Stand Silent, Colltalers

Once again, the Trump administration is being universally shamed. But this time, its brutal policy of separating immigrant children from their parents, and worst, invoking the Bible to justify it, is enough to make even the most autocratic leader to look as compassionate as a nun.
That brings us to the World Cup in Russia and its awkward media coverage in this country. With Team USA out, it’s been hard to show Russians as fun, sports-loving people as they are, while casting President Putin as a long shadow over the U.S. president and politics.
The quadrennial soccer tournament that mobilizes over a billion people around the world, is in itself, a force to be reckoned with. For ages, tyrannic rulers and politicians of all stripes have taken advantage of its appeal. Futból, as every sports, often serves well political regimes.
Mussolini may have had a hand in Italy’s 1934 win, and possibly four years later, when it repeated the feat in next door France. Even the Brazilian squad that enchanted the world in 1970 was forcibly ‘adopted’ by generals of the military dictatorship that ruled the country. And corruption-ridden FIFA, the sport’s governing body, is still at it, as shown by how it granted the cup’s next edition to the cruel Qatar regime.
These are such dark times, though, that even a best case of sports as metaphor to the power of equality over prejudice is half forgotten today: When black American runner Jesse Owens won the 1936 Berlin Games totally humiliated Hitler, the Nazis and their white supremacy credo.
To be fair, there’s been a backlash of sorts, not to the game itself, which is ever improving, both athletically and commercially. It does need both to compete with other giant U.S. sport franchises. But it’s exactly this intersection of power and money that’s cut down part of its popular appeal. Speaking of Italy, which has also not qualified, and soccer-crazy Brazil, this cooling effect is all but palpable. Cue in the media, then.
In Italy, a perennial candidate to win, political turmoil may be affecting, perhaps not coincidentally, ratings for the games which are reaching new lows. With that, as the host nation is not expected to go all the way, record five-times winners Brazilians are likely to watch as their tormentor Germany equals their record. No wonder media giant Globo, crucial government partner, is airing promos non stop, to little effect.
Brazil, shattered by a process of dismantling of its young democracy, is reflecting an unusual apathy towards the Seleção, the national team, once a source of pride that, much to Brazilian disappointment, suffered a historic, and most embarrassing, loss to Germany. It happened when the country was hosting its second ever cup, and may have been too much to bear. But underlying this feeling of defeat there’s a deeper grief.
As it turned out, that dismantling it’s been orchestrated by the same political forces that had spent a generation being consistently beaten in the polls. In just a couple of years, a specially inane political elite drove the 6th world economy to a reentry into the U.N. Map of Hunger.
Only the Trump administration’s take on immigration, though, to make citing Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and under-dictatorship Brazil, seem within an appropriate context. Worst, how it’s being discussed in America today arguably gives such link an even stronger taint.
The president, however, is only following through on his campaign promises, and we can’t say we haven’t been warned. Trump was elected on one of the most xenophobic and prejudice-suffused presidential platform towards immigrants ever articulated by a U.S. candidate.
From the get go, for what appears to have been a long time but it’s actually just a couple of years back, he’s been ostensibly fueling some of the worst sentiments toward foreigners, people of color, sex minorities, and above – or below – all and everybody else, the country’s poor.
And yet, either for political expediency, or hostility to Hillary Clinton, he’s sailed through unscathed, and up to today, hasn’t been effectively confronted by the political elites. Real opposition to this administration has come directly by those it’s invested in hurting. If anyone believes in a Democratic comeback win in November, without supporting these oppressed segments right now, there’s a bridge we’d like to sell them.
Just Friday, despite the disturbing revelation that, between April and May, nearly 2,000 immigrant children have been separated from their parents, Trump made clear that no policy will be changed. That is, if he can’t find funding for his nonsense ideas of border enforcement.
Such conservative figure, if traced back to 2017, puts the number of children who’re in jail in America in hundreds of thousands, a record we should all be ashamed of willingly or unwittingly, sharing. It places us along some of the most cruel regimes in world, at any time in history.
What makes it even more somber such reality is that, unlike most countries, the U.S. was founded on an ideal of equanimity, expressed on the letter of a constitution like no other. The bloody destruction of native peoples notwithstanding, beyond a moral choice, it’s a commitment made to the world, of which it became a leader, to welcome aliens as its own sons and daughters and let them build a nation for everyone.
But where are the opposition politicians, if not for a few? Where are the constitutionalist activists raising voices? Where are the advocates of third parties, always at hand during tight presidential contests? They’re certainly not joining in with the Poor People’s Campaign, harassed and arrested every week. Not with students survivors of school massacres, and not at women’s marches and labor rallies. And they hope to win?
The immoral and unjustified policy of using kids as political leverage will only be stopped by concerning parents, engaged educators, human rights defenders, victims of racial and sex discrimination, the young and any American who won’t stand for this travesty against what we are.
History judges harshly those who keep silent and unmoved by injustice and oppression. As for the World Cup, we’ve been infected long ago, I’m afraid, and no level of political dissatisfaction will keep us from getting up and insanely screaming Gooooooall. Welcome Mr. Heat. Ciao

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6/11/2018 Hope Is a Heavy Load to Carry, Colltalers

Tomorrow, two men whose word is worth less than their underwear, will meet to define our future. It won’t probably work due to many petty and major issues, but that’s not even what the world fears the most: worst is if these overgrown toddlers show their dislike for each other.
For if either U.S. President Trump or the North Korean leader Kim Jong-on storm out of the negotiation table, their fragile ego unforgivably wounded, there won’t be any adult left to disarm the nuclear threat. We’ll be back to the lethal phase of watching them exchanging insults.
What makes this such a delicate issue is Kim, who’s be been ahead of Trump at every turn, growing frustrated that his efforts towards détente are not being taken seriously. And the American growing bored, an integral part of his volatile temper. In both cases, we’d be toasted.
Even though peace prospects in the peninsula must be credited to South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, in fairness, his counterpart did his homework and took steps to back up his intentions. Trump, though, used public abuse as a way out of committing to the talks, and may have only come back to it due to one factor: his delusional desire of receiving the Nobel Prize, which would be dead in the water if there were no meeting.
For even as these two peas in a pod make up to an admirable cliche, Koreans have an immediate survival interest at stake in tomorrow’s event. Americans, however, don’t seem to have it at all clear what even a single nuclear strike means to a civilization-ending world war.
We’ve just had a sobering sample of Donald’s self-attributed ‘powers’ of negotiation, during the gathering of the G-7 group, the allies that are traditionally the sole reason U.S. leadership in the world has been so incontestable. Without them, we’re a deranged bully in need of a stop. A photo of the meeting went viral last week, encapsulating the current global perception of our president: a round of obviously concerned world leaders, headed by Germany’s Angela Merkel, seems to pressure a seated, arm-crossed Trump, whose expression of childish defiance is so familiar to every parent. It’s a cartoonish but no less dangerous depiction, that’s painfully embarrassing America before the world.
He’s not just arrived late to the annual meeting, but also advanced the unpopular case for Russia’s admission into the select group, refused to sign the final agreement, and left without participating in climate change discussions. Now, if this isn’t someone we should be sending to meet a belligerent dictator on the former Japanese P.O.W. camp Island of Sentosa, off the coast of Singapore, then our knees are on a twist.
Of course, we should all support and root for the success of this meeting, risks of world tensions taking a turn to the worst notwithstanding.
A long tradition of pacifying hostile countries, even only for the sake of rescuing their populace from misery and international isolation, has indeed been based on the world’s ability to bring them on to negotiations, not by isolating even further or sanctioning them to death.
The thing to keep in mind, though, is that not only the U.S. delegation lacks any relevant and experienced diplomatic member, but instead includes two open advocates for intervention in North Korea: National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The very essence of negotiation, sort of Diplomacy 101, is that it needs to start with ideas and possibilities to keep venues of communication open and flowing, and the foundation for that to happen is a certain level of trust that the other part is equally invested in finding solutions.
Talks need clear parameters and mutual understanding of what’s at stake, not conversation-killers such as pre-conditions and ultimatums. The disturbing fact is that Kim has long prepared for this meeting while Trump has actually boasted that he did none of that, and seem to lack any grasp of what it’s expected from it. As Koreans rally behind it, Americans and the president are not even in the same page about it.
Also, in a long and depression digression about why it’s been so hard to be hopeful about this meeting, is that the Trump administration has been consistently going back in most agreements this country has signed in the past, from the Iran nuclear agreement, to the Paris Climate Change accord, to current flare ups with Canada and NATO country members. How can that attitude inspire Kim to sign anything with us?
Thus if one has to pray, then go ahead and pray. If you have to believe, by all means, believe it. We can’t be picky about the kind of support needed for this meeting to open a new era. But let’s not lower our guard: the sooner these two step aside and let a bi-national team of obscure professionals to take over the negotiations for peace in the Korean Peninsula, the safe we will all be. Knock on wood. No, seriously.
This world has been, however, particularly harsh to a class of humans whose dignity, hard-earned compassion, and critical views make them such an inspiration to everyone else. We’ve lost another one last week: Anthony Bourdain, a NYC chef who transcended the confines of his profession to become a world class thinker and defender of equality in all its forms. He’ll be sorely missed. For him, let’s make this all work.

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6/04/2018 After the Kids, They’ll Come for Us, Colltalers

1,475 children, held at the U.S. Southwest border last year, and forcibly split up from their families, are now unaccounted for. The admission, by a Human Health Services official, sums up the chaotic patchwork of immigration laws, and the Administration’s turn to draconian policies.
In other 2017-related news, at least 4,645 Puerto Ricans, not ‘only’ 64 as the president boasted, have died in consequence of Hurricane Maria. That’s 2.5 times the number of victims of 2005 Hurricane Katrina, George W. Bush’s second catastrophic blunder, after the invasion of Iraq.
For some time, many authorities in the American Caribbean state have been claiming that the official death toll from Maria had been grossly under counted. The Harvard University study released last week shows that they were not just right, but the grim figure may actually increase.
That’s a lot of people to die, or be ‘misplaced,’ due to extreme incompetence and lack of empathy. But as it was with Bush, don’t expect Trump to express remorse. Rather, just as Iraq still burns after all these years, the mostly at dark Puerto Rico will hurt for a long time, unfortunately.
As this administration continues to paint hard-working immigrants, undocumented or not, as mostly criminals and not part of what made this country so powerful, we all stand to lose character and perspective of what it means to be American. All we know, however, is that it’s not it.
While a comprehensive legislation is badly needed, no one would bet that the president and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions have any grasp on the enormity of the immigration issue. Meanwhile, given ICE’s Gestapo-like tactics, those kids may be better off rather missing for now.
After all, even U.S.-born children have been targets of the current White House’s wrath, and we don’t mean only the Dreamers, daughters and sons of immigrants. It may sound like a generalization but non-whites are under a renewed attack in America, and the resurgence of white supremacy, and open hatred towards people of color, have proven that even two centuries of struggle for equality can be easily come undone.
The reality TV personality, who got elected on a platform of divisionism and cult of personality, and whose popularity is actually up among supporters, has an effective strategy to remain in power: demonize the vulnerable, shame the critical press, rile up the base, lie, lie, and lie.
Above all, Trump has shown an uncanny ability to remain the center of the conversation, while taking us all for a ride. With help from a compliant media, and a circle of clueless billionaires, in just a year and a half in office, he has sucked up all the air of American democracy.
While it chokes, our institutions, Congress, judiciary, useful think tanks and paid pundits, all take upon themselves to normalize and offer tweaks and asides to his cascade of malignant diatribes. As the nation around him rots, he goes on permanent tour, rallying the converted.
Besides, of course, the threat that this noxious equation will monopolize this very newsletter. But even risking redundancy, it’s crucial to keep on hammering back the president’s nonsense, which means, any debate about what’s appropriate to call it is just a colossal waste of time. We’re way beyond the ‘falsehood’ or ‘untruth’ stage: call it lies, lies, and lies, repeat it whenever needed, and let’s get on demanding the truth.
In 2014, two brutal kidnappings shocked the world: in April, 256 girls from Chinok, Nigeria, were taken by the terrorist Boko Haram group, and most have never returned; and in September, 43 boys were likely killed, in Iguala, Mexico, by the Guerreros Unidos criminal gang.
Both were cases when large groups of school children were used as tragic tools by a murderous organization. The girls, it was later learned, were forced into sexual slavery by the Islamic group, and even the fraction that made it back is traumatized for life. And the boys were marking the anniversary of a previous mass killing of students and civilians by Mexican military and police, the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre.
Nothing as sinister may have happened to kids the HHS considers it’s lost track of. Most likely, they were victims of a truculent bureaucracy, that abides by an insensitive set of rules, not by principles this country was founded upon. Inaction about the thousands of American students being relentlessly shot and killed in these same past four years, though, are indeed at par with what has happened in Nigeria and Mexico.
For as long as we deny access to shelter and food and education for desperate children, fleeing persecution, abuse, and U.S.-sponsored wars in their own countries, locking them up instead in poorly-run facilities at the border, we’re no better than those heartless assassins. We’re even worst than them if we also stand pat and allow American kids to be routinely murdered in their own classrooms in such staggering numbers.
‘In due course, each generation makes its own accounting to its children,’ said once Robert Kennedy, who 50 years ago this Wednesday was assassinated on his way to possibly become the U.S. president. Instead, he followed the heartbreaking path of his elder brother, President JFK.
Bob Kennedy may have been many things to different people, not all of them necessarily progressive in perspective. But at the time of his death, roughly two months after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s, he represented all the compassion towards the poor and the dispossessed Americans the Democratic Party could then offer, possibly more. That includes being one of the few politicians supporting student protests.
It’s unbelievably sad that, in many ways, America compares unfavorably with itself half a century later. It’s not just that there’s a sociopath sitting on Pennsylvania Ave today, but many of the struggles Americans were engaged and fighting for then still remain unfulfilled at best.
The U.S. is now many times as rich and powerful, and its population is not just twice as large, as way more diversified and integrated. And yet, some 40 million were thrown at the bottom of the social scale, with some barely surviving, with no access to education and health care. Is that the accounting we’d like to report to our own children, right now or when they grow up to take over the world we’ve prepared for them?
‘This is not America,’ as the old David Bowie song goes. Or it is, but most of us haven’t yet received the memo to pack and leave. It’ll come, if it’s up to the administration, and the calls are already raging all over the country for anyone who don’t ‘look’ white, er, American enough.
There’s one citadel to be conquered, though, for those who want another path to this country: the Nov. 6 midterm elections. The first step is relatively simple: show up and vote them all out. Disrupt the process the best way democracy allows it: by voting. And help others do it too.
This electoral cycle is already in motion, so if you’re not in it, you’re already slightly behind, but there’s still time. Take the streets and populate the polls to fight for the real great America, of inclusion, social equality, racial justice, of empathy and of the power of peace. Cheers

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5/28/2018 It’s OK to Grieve Over America, Colltalers

Today, millions in the U.S. are marking or doing things related to Memorial Day. They’ll be traveling, barbecuing, watching parades, or simply watching with family and friends, the official celebrations on TV. A minority will also remember close relatives they’ve lost to wars.
Not to knock such a somber date, but Americans could use less pomp and more outrage about what the day conveys. More so now that they’re led by a belligerent administration. For there’s not much cheering at Veterans affairs, or compassion towards refugees all these wars produce.
In fact, despite the mournful and touching tone of news coverage about this day, which it’s been marked since the late 1800s, the contingent of former armed force members are ever more associated with untreated mental illness, homelessness, and general, brutal apathy from society.
The hypocrisy of sending troops with abandon, supposedly to fight for American interests in far away lands, and then coolly welcoming them back, often damaged for life, is beyond appalling. A fact that over 100 ex armed forces serving in Congress now seem incapable to reverse.
In other words, it’s in the nature of being a soldier to serve the country no matter what. But it’s also OK to question the motives of presidents and politicians, who lied about the purpose of ordering them to die or get wounded abroad, while enriching themselves and their closed ones.
There are now 1,4 million American troops stationed around the world, mostly in harm’s way, fighting for something most of us can’t quite define what. In Afghanistan, for instance, they may not be killed as often as high-schoolers in this country, but they still die in battle, either physically, or mentally. Then, when they’re shipped back, not yet in a body bag, all they’ve got, if ever, are those who knew them before.
They return hardly recognizable, though. And soon realized how society rather than having their back, has its back to them. Horrors they’ve experienced while there are never mentioned by the media. Today won’t be different; just like school shootings, there’s never a ‘right time’ to discuss causes and what to do to stop both the killings and the indifference. It becomes more revolting whenever the drums of war sound.
For they’re about thunder and macho displays that people who usually have never served can muster, with no word about the tragedy and devastating consequences any war causes, the human toll, the destruction of entire societies, the returning troves of empty shell humans.
More than ever now, with the ban on refugees from ‘those’ countries, almost always, places where we’ve wreaked havoc and deployed massive amounts of explosive in the name of democracy. Again, our longest war so far, Afghanistan, comes to mind. According to the Amnesty, 4.5 million Afghans live as outcasts in Iraq and Pakistan, but the U.S., along the European Union and Turkey, won’t take them.
In 2016, when President Obama was still resisting sending more troops, even without slowing down bombing by drone and other air tactics, there were almost 40 million homeless veterans in America. That it’s unlikely to be mentioned on any patriotic speech throughout the day.
That such an incomprehensibly large number of ‘heroes,’ who have no shelter or hope of ever being reintegrated into society, ceased to shock the American people long ago, is a clear demo of our level of empathy. Almost as despicable as the general omission by the media, of what’s going on right now with the troops abroad. It’s obvious that something went very wrong with our notion of having an army to protect us.
The 3pm ‘Moment of National Remembrance,’ while expected to be observed by many, won’t increase awareness by those enjoying hotdogs and beers, of ex-combatants who’ll go hungry today. But it should, if only as a symbol. For there’re many reasons to spoil the festive spirit.
But state and local governments will follow the administration, and prioritize public displays of patriotism, flags and fireworks, to celebrate the might of America. As for actually welcoming back those who served, or those who lost everything due to our actions, not so much. It’s an outrage that a soccer superstar like Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as not-for-profit charities, have contributed more to Syrian kids than the U.S.
Then again, this is the home base of 13 out of the 20 most profitable weapon making companies in the world, whose profits are expected to reach $40 billion this year alone. It’s also a time when the Supreme Court just ruled against the workers’ ability to organize themselves, and Congress just rolled back bank restrictions that reset the clock to 2008, when bankers almost led the global financial system to bankruptcy.
Thank goodness, then, that despite the president’s spectacular failure to secure a meeting with the North Korea leader, one he didn’t help to set up and yet stood to profit from it, Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in did meet and continue working for peace. Speaking of which, the first Colombian presidential elections since the 2016 agreement that pacified the country, is likely heading for a runoff.
Life goes on, the world’s not getting any better, and all that. Americans can correctly tell why this day matters, but it’d be naive that it’d bring relief to the 0,5% of the population actually involved with the wars we fight. Elected officials don’t even feel the need to comfort them on a day like this, it seems, by bringing forth legislation to address chronic VA troubles, for instance, or promote a more powerful GI Bill.
Still, no one should be able to avert their eyes from the reality of Vet homelessness, or that the average American can’t even afford a $500 emergency. That a third have no money to buy food, shelter, or healthcare, which for a family now costs $28k, about half of a median income accessible to only 40% of the population. And that we don’t read about this every day of the year, so to never forget what we really are.
Memorial Day risks being turned into the Day of the Dead. The unregistered, uncounted, unaccounted for, 40 millions who beg for change and fight their vicious demons alone on the streets. The ignored, unemployable, often undocumented people who once made America great.
They’re likely to be overlooked today and every day that’ll be, while there’s talk about starting yet another war we won’t be able to get out of. One that will certainly bring up more grief and resentment and tragedy, all intrinsic to today. But we will remember every bit of it, even if without celebrating it much. Sad the country that honors cardboard idols, while letting its heroes to rot in the streets. Peace be praised.

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5/20/2018 What We Rather Call Ourselves, Colltalers

A nation is not the sum of its citizens but an ideal they choose to live by. The so-called American Dream can’t be bound by the exactitude of facts, or acquiescence of history, for it’s often at odds with them. But as an ideal, it still has the power to convey a reality worth fighting for.
The thought has a renewed relevance today. As civility and personal responsibility values seem to be losing battles in several fronts, there’s a push for a new social contract. And a focal point is a campaign Dr. Martin Luther King Jr set in motion when he was murdered in the 1960s.
The May 14, 1968, Poor People’s march in Washington, jump-started a month-long movement seeking redressing of social inequalities, and became part of the struggle for Civil Rights of the era and beyond. Dr. King’s tragic assassination only added urgency to the movement.
Then as now, choosing the poor as a marker had, if anything, a crucial advantage: to accurately gauge the state of social justice by focusing on those whose very existence depend on it. There were between 40 and 60 million living below poverty line during that decade, when the U.S. population was still 200 million. Now, extreme poverty has actually increased, to 62 million Americans facing such dire predicaments.
Efforts to reset national priorities are the foundation of the current Poor’s Campaign, as led by Pastor William J. Barber and Liz Theoharis, while advocating for living-wage laws, education, end to mass incarceration, single-payer healthcare system, and right to vote guarantees.
What really seeks to inspire, though, is for another take on morality and values of solidarity and equal opportunity for all, badly missing in our national conversation. And by consequence, to re-invite the world to look up to America again as the land where everyone is welcome.
Recent developments have seriously confronted what we actually believe is going on with the world, and what role is left to this country, its still most powerful beacon. There’s been an inexcusable disconnect between seven billion people and the remaining obscenely wealthier minority, including this particularly empathy-depleted crop of global leaders we’ve elected. And we do have a responsibility to address that.
Just as the aspiration to social mobility, and the conviction that anyone has a shot at greatness, which are baked onto the U.S. Constitution, no longer belong solely to Americans, so is this nation’s need to reckon with its resorting to global strife and carnage to advance its interests. In other words, first, it’s necessary to fix our own moral compass, so to be trusted again as a legitimate partner in resetting that of the world’s.
Heaven knows how civilization, circa 2018, is mourning the bitter demise of a code of honor among nations, of fulfilling duties and paying off debts, of being fair and acting with sportsmanship even, before threatening others with annihilation because they fail to come clean.
That responsibility extends to the Middle East, to our misguided approach to the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis: to Syria, where no more American bullets should be shot; to mankind’s expectations over our agreements with Iran and North Korea; to our part in reversing climate change causes. And that’s not even mentioning the unnecessary presence of the U.S. military in practically every corner of the planet.
It’s time to come to terms with the fact that America has gone from shining knight of democracy and human rights to its dysfunctional and scary nemesis. And that Americans either rise up to restore and defend democratic values to their original power, or risk losing them for good.
But there was an unquestionable piece of good news last week: the U.S. Senate restored net neutrality by overturning the FCC’s industry-dictated and, irony-free titled, Restoring Internet Freedom Order rule, which would create paid-for-privileged access lanes to the Internet.
After such an ultra-rare backbone display by congressmen, a final decision rests now with the House of Representatives, yet another spineless body of legislators which however may swing to the favor of a massive majority who wants the Web free and accessible to all. If they call in and put on pressure on their elected officials, that is. For all good wishes, even if neutrality wins for now, other attacks should be expected.
In about five to six months, major elections in several countries may determine whether the current global turn to authoritarianism and ultra-right wing policies will get a renewed endorsement or a rebuff from voters. In the U.S., the House itself may change party leadership.
But a measure of caution may be in order even for those naturally negative-inclined. That’s because what it’s at stake stands far beyond the scope of the polls, and what may be decided has potential to throw away all efforts to rescue the world from its dive towards self-destruction.
However, it’s also the moment to give up on claiming that hackers ate our homework already. Yes, there may be again some foreign rigging by you-know-who, but hacking will be the least of it. For Facebook, for instance, which was instrumental to disrupt the 2016 elections, is unlike to change its business model, all 29 million rule-breaking hate speech, violence and terrorist posts it says it deleted notwithstanding.
Money in politics was there much before Russia or anyone else broke into American institutions’ servers. Anti-immigrant policies or illegal religious interference in politics, the targeting of racial minorities by law enforcement, or bias against the poor, were all already factors in American life, decades before a dishonest, misogynistic reality show character got elected to high office. Remember personal responsibility?
We blame the dispossessed, the undocumented, the health-challenged for not doing their part, when they are, and cut a slack to professional women who ‘couldn’t bring themselves’ to endorse Hillary Clinton, and voted for Trump, or the dangerous sexually repressed moralists, that call themselves god fearing, but support a sexual predator with money. And yet, the former are the ones committed to an inclusive America.
Above all, we keep failing our children, letting them be slaughtered every other week in their own classrooms. U.S. schools are now more lethal than the Afghan battlefields, but instead of talking about guns, we only come together to argue over bathrooms, bibles and abortion.
As we head to Memorial Day, possibly the very last the most famous American POW, Senator John McCain, will ever see, we must lend a strong hand to the Poor People’s initiative, and start getting those we know committed to vote in November. Scandals, lies, corruption, shame, it’s all gone too far already. The world needs America to rebuild its moral authority. To friends in Hawaii, keep a close watch on the Kilauea.

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5/13/2018 Forgetting May Tear Us Apart, Colltalers

As the U.S. threatens to invade yet another country, a caravan of migrants lawfully requests entry into America. They haven’t forgotten our history, unlike the president. But while the amnesia is not yet total, we’re still in mortal danger when those at the top have clearly embraced it.
It’s disturbing that we’ve forgotten what lies led us to Iraq in 2003, or what happened in 1953 or 1980 in Iran. It’s alarming that Nazis now parade in Georgia, Germany, and France, or that some beg the military to come back in Brazil. For we lose ourselves when our memory’s lost.
When the White House scraped the nuclear deal that had been keeping Iranian hard-liners under a tight leach, it let lose a new nightmare on a region with no shortage of them: the Middle East. On cue, Iran and Israel engaged in vicious battles, over an already war-ravaged Syria.
Immigrants in the U.S. are now the ones cognizant to its history, not the modern Gestapo-like brutal forces in charge of crushing them. But if we can’t remember, we’re blind to allegations of treason, sex scandals and corruption, and hear only the thunder of official war mongering.
Instead of immigration, the ‘threat to the American way of life by foreign nations’ is what’s likely to be the favorite narrative to members of this under-suspicion administration, and gladly endorsed by what President Eisenhower prophetically called the military-industry complex.
It’s a familiar ‘tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,’ but not without meaning, as Shakespeare would’ve had it. Rather, the scarier part is that the U.S. is once again having us heading back to the brink of a nuclear holocaust, North Korea’s astonishing turnaround notwithstanding.
We all know who the idiot telling the story is, but Trump’s war cabinet is about to be rebuilt with three of the most notorious hawks of recent history, all christened this week by what many considered a war criminal, former Bush’s VP, Dick Cheney: John Bolton, national security advisor, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State to be, and Gina Haskell, who may replace him as head of the CIA. What could possibly go wrong?
There’s a common, truly anti-American thread linking these four unfortunately powerful figures: they’re all openly advocates of torture, and if that is now half-considered acceptable is because they and others have worked tirelessly for the past three decades to make it look like it.
With the push to make us all a nation of memory-challenged zombies, vulnerable to accept official history rewrites, few realized that no, the U.S. was never a torture endorser, not in the books anyway, and up to very recently, was a signer of every world treaty designed to ban it.
A neo-Nazi ‘SS Festival’ was held last month in Germany, about the same time when another was confronted in Newnan, GA. The ultra-right clashed with May Day labor organizers in France, and in Brazil, revelations about the role of generals in the murdering of opposition activists, during the 1964-85 military dictatorship, elicited praise on social media, almost as much as widespread condemnation and demand for justice.
To many, the fact that the use of torture by Brazilian and American armies, is experiencing such an unrestrained resurgence, is because both countries refused to prosecute its agents to the full extent of the law. Not for lack of evidence, just a likely misguided attempt to ‘move on.’
While the Lula administration and its Worker’s Party preferred to adopt a conciliatory tone when revisiting Brazil’s dark past, President Obama was said to favor a ‘looking forward’ view, when it came to war crime allegations. The issue’s now back, however, biting our behinds.
One last aside about a relevant aspect of this post, before it’s time for us to, well, move on and get back to our own tortuous business of living. Assumptions about what constitutes the essence of a nation, or how far or close are its democratic ideals from the unforgiven display of its history, may be either discussed at length or briefly. Let it be clear that the former is as impractical as the latter, chosen here, unsatisfying.
Speaking of ideals, the ‘Give me (…) your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ is now an intrinsic part of what America represents to the world. The partial quote of Emma Lazarus’ poem, celebrating the Statue of Liberty, sets to words a uniquely trait of the U.S. Constitution: the ‘all men are created equal’ principle, which made possible its unheralded success for over two centuries. A nation built by and for immigrants.
Thus, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ latest stance about immigration, full of draconian threats of prosecution and the split up of families, not only betrays the cruelty of his boss’s character but it’s downright unlawful. The majority of Americans has at least an ancestor who’s once knocked on our borders, running from persecution and seeking asylum protection. And by Lady Liberty, has rightfully found shelter here.
This Migrant Caravan arrived at the border with Mexico on April 29. Its currently 150-plus asylum seekers are a fraction of what was, at one point, 1,200 Central Americans. To say, as Vice President Mike Pence did, that it’s designed to break U.S.’s ‘sovereign laws,’ is a lame attempt to mischaracterize the very principles that made possible that people, like Pence’s own Irish grandfather, to immigrate, live and thrive here.
With the prevailing atmosphere, they may languish for months, awaiting permission to enter, and many won’t even receive it. Here’s hoping they won’t be forgotten too, like the ideals that have formed this nation seem to have been, lately. For we need them as much as they need us.
Whatever happens, though, they’ve already shown how to deal with one of Trump’s dearest ideas: the wall. As immigrants are known for their resilience to overcome obstacles, they’ve already won their first challenge: faced with that huge border fence, they simply climbed it. Cheers.

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5/07/2018 Demand the Impossible (Again), Colltalers

It’s May, again, and if it wasn’t for our brain’s obsession with patterns, it’d would be just like the previous 49. But May 1968 was nothing like the ones before it, so it still resonates half a century later. Was it really a revolutionary year, at least for the West, or just our mind tricking us?
‘History repeats itself,’ said Karl Marx, born 200 years ago last Saturday, but the second time around is as a farce. Still, we’re taking these odds, regardless any inherent Apophenia, because times may be ripe for the kind of change that that month in the Sixties seemed to promise.
In reality, the causes for the explosive events led by students that took place in France, had little to do with other mass movements elsewhere in Europe, or the U.S. that year, except for a familiar denominator: people taking to the streets and demanding to be heard by powers that be.
The Paris rallies brought together pupils, unions and political parties for education and social reforms, but did not change much the French status quo. The bloody clashes with police did force a government reshuffling: president Charles de Gaulle replaced long time prime minister, George Pompidou. It didn’t last, though, as Pompidou replaced de Gaulle the following year, and remained in office until his death, in 1974.
The former Czechoslovakia was also on fire around that time, with reforms promoted by its leader, Alexander Dubcek in what became known as the Prague Spring. But the experiment and optimism it generated were crushed when Warsaw Pact tanks and troops occupied the country.
Protests against Soviet control were also neutralized in Poland and Yugoslavia, just as resistance against U.S.-backed Latin American military dictatorships, rose in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and many others. But it all contributed to an atmosphere of resettling and new possibilities. Granted, more was happening in Asia, Africa and around the world that didn’t get reported then and it’s almost forgotten now.
In the U.S., the year was marked by protests against the Vietnam war, and as it’s wont to be in America, the gun assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Repercussion of these sinister highlights of 1968 far outweighs all else that happened then in this country.
So it was, in fact, a year stuffed with small and large developments, whose imprint on our collective conscientiousness has yet to be fully understood. Still, the tendency to group it and label it as a ‘special’ time may have more to do with our cognitive bias than with an objective observation of natural phenomena. Which, in any case, may not always be scientifically sound, as it’s often riddled with undue assumptions.
The point is that May 2018, despite being so pleasantly symmetric to the same month 50 years ago, is a completely different time and world. It could as well be taking place in another planet too, as most of the living were not born then, and life itself is arguably more intense now.
For starters, we have more than doubled the 3.5 billion who were alive in that era, and even as science and technology have experienced a quantum leap, natural resources are much less abundant now. We breathe a more polluted air, suffer through a harsher climate, and haven’t solved even the most basic quests to our survival as a species. Instead, war and widespread mass killing have grown to a state of permanence.
Fear was a by-product of the Cold War, but in retrospective, it was also an effective tool to manage the threat of a nuclear war. What’s scarier today is the fact that it’s unclear whether people are afraid enough of nukes, so to pressure and prevent world leaders from ever resort to them.
There was nothing in the Sixties like the power of a free Internet, or the sophistication of social networks, to link the world and connect human knowledge, so to make us all one. At the same time, these are the very constructs which are threatening to irrevocably drive us apart.
While youth is still a condition to rebel and challenge old structures, and students are reawakening to their potential for leading the charge, it remains to be seen whether they can overcome a scarcity of humanistic values, or a deeper appreciation of what it means to be a revolutionary in times of need such as these. One hopes that the young seek inspiration from hope and optimism, and not from a place of revenge and hate.
They won’t count with the power of organized labor now, and in the U.S. case, neither with the two major political parties, which have all but anything to do with mass movements. Also, the revolution, if any, won’t be televised by mainstream media or reported by the few papers left.
Instead of what was known then as counterculture, or the myriad of alternative publications, weekly tabloids, and independent sources of information – the Dadzibao in China, for instance – all we have now is the Web, being assailed as we speak by corporations seeking to own it.
While in thesis, the power of computers to link the world and make information available to almost anyone, is many times bigger than a sketchy network of isolated groups can deliver, even if unified by a common goal, once they manage to pull the plug on it, all that is gone.
Still, just as it’s no longer practical to hold mass rallies against every war the U.S. and its allies are currently involved, let’s not underestimate the multiple ways citizens have to grasp reality, circa May 2018, and the power of awareness as a lever for radical transformation. Cynicism and mendacity may puncture daily our faith, but it’s not yet time to quit or stop believing on what’s possible when we dare to give it a damn.
‘Let’s be realistic; demand the impossible,’ sprayed on the walls of Paris in 1968, was often part of inflamed speeches by a seminal figure of that time, student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a.k.a. Danny le Rouge. But the call for action belonged to Ernesto Che Guevara, another anti-hero, of whom a romantic view of his life and fight did not resist the reassessment of the history, naturally, as told by its perennial victors.
Halfway through the year, and the world is as disheartening as ever, and ever more distant from the idealism that permeated the 1960s. As an absolute lack of dignity takes hold of the U.S. presidency, there’s a global, equally shameful wave following suit. Perhaps fittingly, this May marks also the sad bankruptcy filing by Gibson, the maker of the legendary guitar used by some of the greatest musicians of the century.
May the mourning for the end of many beloved dreams segue into another way of calling for peace and justice, on this earth and in our time. We’re still signed on with those committed to leave this world better than we’ve found it. That’s not impossible. But are you with us? Cheers

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4/30/2018 Laboring for Peace, Justice & Land, Colltalers

A handshake, and years of work, was what it took for North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in to finally meet and talk about peace. It also capped a week when the first Lynching Memorial was opened, and thousands of Brazilian natives rallied for land rights.
A common thread led it to what’s happening in Gaza and Israel. All four developments share the agony of race relations, circa 2018, and how urgent it is to repurpose them. Above all, it was a week when news about the U.S. president were demoted to the lowly second paragraph.
Trump, of course, ruminated and self-incriminated once again, and this time it may all stick. But the president stood completely pat while historic events mobilized billions. When history comes into such focus, news about the death of truth can sound like being grossly misstated.
A memorial museum to the over 4,000 victims of lynchings in America opened in Montgomery, Alabama, where almost 300 blacks, slaves, and women, were hanged for racists’ public entertainment. More will be added about those 1870-1950 years of the nation’s darkest times.
As weighty as such monument may be, it’s a crucial step to right a tragic wrong. Immorally, lynchings were normalized for two full centuries, ever since the original kill: the theft of entire villages to enslave them, thousands of miles away from home. That’s when all of it started.
For much less time Palestinians have been shouting to the world, and getting always out-shined by Syria, or Iraq or Afghanistan, about their land and misery. But their plight paralyzes and scares Israelis, who seem to have all but forgotten, or lost faith, in the two-state solution.
Or rather, they’ve been manipulated by the right-wing political elite dictating the nation’s current policies, as many have denounced before. Israel seems to be mirroring the U.S.’s toxic civil environment. Since Palestinians began weekly Friday protests, Israeli forces have killed 37 unarmed Palestinians, including two journalists. Just like in this country, victims vary and are many, while perpetrators are always the same.
Over 2,000 of one of the most oppressed Brazilians, indigenous natives, showed up in Brasilia, last Thursday. They are trying to reverse a sad, but well-known trend: the rollback of their rights to land bitterly earned with the 1988 Constitution. They’ve got a formidable enemy.
The ‘rural caucus’ is one of Brazil’s two major political forces supporting the current regime. Big landowners, they control all businesses involving land in Brazil. To them, indigenous stand on their way to profit. The other force, the ‘Evangélicos,’ supports a candidate to Michel Temer’s succession, who said not long ago, that if elected, Indians won’t earn propriety rights to not even a ‘centimeter’ more of land.
Seventy indigenous peoples and their defenders were killed over land clashes in Brazil, last year, even as deforestation rates retreated. What links blacks, Palestinians, and Brazilian natives, is racial injustice, due reparation, and owning the title to the land of one’s ancestors.
Variations of these themes are present in the patient work done to get the two Koreas to talk about denuclearization. While the world took a breath of relief, reunification may’ve gotten Koreans very hopeful again. Trump naturally wanted to seize the moment and claim ownership of the gesture. But he was overcome not just by the enormity of the events themselves, but by the ever deeper hole he’s been digging himself in.
Worst: it was the sole issue when his desire to be attached to it coincided with that of everybody else. By his first derogatory Kim comments, though, he’d disqualified himself. Another geopolitical gaffe when he’ll sit with Kim will further curtail the scope of his presidency. Trump’s newly-gained irrelevance, however, poses an added concern about this administration: what will occupy the president’s volatile disposition?
He continues to generate headlines and drive media revenues with his incoherent interviews, even to his worried allies at Fox and Friends. That, plus the increasingly bizarre tweets, will never equate with being leader of the most powerful nation. Who, in the context of these four transcendental events, had no discernible contribution to, and actually has consistently stood on the wrong side of every one of them.
The American black legacy, the struggle for a Palestinian state, and Brazil’s centuries-long eradication of its natives, are part of a perennial fight for social justice and racial equality by citizens the world over. Their implications are as profound now as they were 50 years ago, in the turmoil of May 68. We’re still safer when we talk, not with the trillions of dollars the U.S. military complex spends using the same excuse.
While May Day in the U.S. is far from what it means globally, it’s still a date originated by the struggle of American workers. Perhaps the time is ripe to seized it back to them to demand a new, fairer, contract between labor and capital. And to celebrate the worth of laboring for peace that Koreans just taught us. The same spirit is needed to restore dignity to the U.S., the Middle East and the world. Welcome Spring.

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4/23/2018 Disrupting the Dictators’ Ball, Colltalers

Last week was again dominated by acts, whims, and tweets of a selected, if not unbearable, group of strong rulers, so used to suck out the air of the headlines. Life, never bound by their theatrics, has had a hard time earning a moment of our crowded attention spans these days.
Kim Jong-un talked about nukes? Breaking news. Cuba’s Castro dynasty exiting the world stage? Stop the presses. The president’s lawyer is about to spill the beans? Tells us all about it. But not long ago, not all news were driven by megalomaniacs in power. Allow us, if you would.
Yes, the cruel North Korea ruler saying that he’ll halt the country’s nuclear program is important. If the tiny island that challenged the West is changing hands at the helm, there are global repercussions. And the fact that the U.S. president has been caught again lying to the American people, is definitely worth debating. But we should be weary about two things. One is about the absolutely low credibility of these leaders.
For all those not yet buried, if something is on an all-time supply shortage is what elected, and not so much, politicians have been saying and its gargantuan gap from reality. Even for professionals sharper at deception than magicians, a few records must’ve been broken as of lately.
And yet, even as many seem to have somehow stretched their tolerance to falsehood, that isn’t the visual media’s emphasis when it pretends to inform us about the news. Consequences for being untrue are rarely linked to the liars and although that in itself should be news, it often isn’t.
Something else makes every relatively thinking creature to take pause about ‘facts’ being dictated by a group of individuals usually at odds with them: the power of a leader comes from representation; if he or she speaks out of sync with their constituency, either by ignorance, omission, or, oh, yes, because they did not actually elect them, then what’s being said remains in the fouled realm of their self-aggrandizing.
And then we’re back to the beginning. Either self-centered or self-appointed, or both, autocrats favor the version which assures their survival and preservation. That, regardless if the preservation of truth itself, and survival of its defenders, far from assured, is actually under attack.
It’s been half a century from 1968’s turmoil, violence, but also transformation and attempts to change directions of the world, as the rest of the 1960s came to be known for. As the decade spread out to the next, we hit a moment of pause with the global oil crisis of the 1970s. Similar in implications to the survival of our species as the dawn of the nuclear era had been, there was an awakening of sorts, looking back at it all.
Suddenly, research into new sources of energy got off the ground, and as oil corporations secretly investigated the impact of climate change on their business, as we now know, there was a sense that mankind either evolves or disappears. And some positive things did come out of it.
Talks about a new, unified Europe, redirecting centuries of war, for instance, and by the mid-decade, the election of the arguably last truly peaceful U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, signaled that we could, indeed, reset the clock towards global harmony. It was perhaps inspired by this dream that the Cold War all but imploded, nuclear treaties were resigned, and Latin America, ever so slowly, began its return to democracy.
We could add others elements, such as the Man on the Moon, a benign consequence of the vicious arms race of the 1960s that actually gained more relevance than its somber origins, if only for a second. But cynics and contrarians would argue, with some reason, that that’s cosmetics. Indeed, such somewhat overly optimistic view brushes over wars, massacres, famine, and all the other monsters we cultivate with pride from time immemorial. Still, that pause we’ve mentioned involved millions of people and hundreds of years of history to get to a particular point. And for better or worst, what’s happening now is a direct consequence of that given moment. The difference? tyrants were not getting elected.
Cut to now, and there’s not just a resurgence of a political extreme right jockeying for elective positions, and often winning them, but also a disturbing amnesia about history, as far as the Holocaust, military dictatorships, and the Gilded Age are concerned. Let alone, the state of permanent war the world has been living under for at least 30 years, and the obscene, and ever increasing, gap between haves and have-nots.
So for now the news to be dictated by the Kims, the Putins, the Trumps, and the Erdogans, along so many minor, and no less toxic, despots, is not just tragic, but also an insult to the many who dreamt, and died and got assassinated, in the name of a different and more equanimous Earth. Thus, the little reason to celebrate the April 22, this year, even though people around the world got out to reaffirm their commitment.
For what no authoritarian voice possesses is the sound of awoken crowds fighting to regain control over their own narrative. Women and men, workers and visionaries, teachers and students, they will always count more that the raging, self-servicing homilies of mediocre leaders.
They can only sow ‘fear and mistrust between’ men, their rule being ‘uniformity, which is the perversion of equality,’ as the philosopher Hanna Arendt wrote. Let’s fight for the individual, and vow to choose a different future. Let’s reset our priorities and have faith – as Carter named his 32nd book – which is independent of religion. After all, 518 years ago yesterday, Brazil was discovered, so all is possible. Cheers

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4/16/2018 The Expediency of Tomahawks, Colltalers

It’s easier to bomb than to talk. The Trump administration has tried hard to get to this point, when headlines are about hitting another country. It’s already got North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran, on its crosshairs, but Syria has had the best excuse, so it got struck twice. More to come?
Very likely, indeed. Even that bombing changes nothing, only kills more people, at both times, timing was most convenient. But the strikes we’d rather support are those by teachers. For what they demand, from West Virginia to Arizona, will improve our life without killing anyone.
To this president, who dodged the draft and never had to fire a bullet to save a soul, war is always a handy diversion. Whenever lies, sex and incompetence threaten to derail his week, talk about bombing someone does the trick, playing the compliant media as Nero did with his lyre.
But alas, there are things that even Trump can’t be solely blamed for, even as he’d gladly take credit for them. For war, as a highly profitable business that it is, has always opportunities for all, from the aggressor to the invaded, except of course, the unarmed people on the ground.
It keeps the weapon industries solvent, the multi-billion defense contractor market well oiled, and Pentagon hawks and militaristic zealots quite happy. War is never about saving people, proving a point, or righting some perceived wrongs; it’s a self-feeding engine despots and tyrants can’t live without. Few see it that way but how can a massive loss of innocent lives be justified by some ephemeral ideal of justice?
Both times, the justification to strike Syria has been the alleged use of chemical weapons, with what’s called the ‘international community’ blaming both the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its Russian support for the attack. Pictures of victims, many children, are indeed devastating.
It wasn’t enough in the 1980s however for the U.S. to bomb the Saddam Hussein regime, which used it several times against Kurds, Iranian forces, and his own people, if intel of the time is to be trusted. The reason was pragmatic albeit not less inexcusable: he was then a U.S. ally.
Of course, the U.S. is not alone applying that kind of ‘measured’ hypocrisy as a foreign policy tool. Specially now, when there seems to be hardly one to speak of. Atrocities committed by allies are ‘strategic mistakes,’ while those by alleged enemies must be relentless pursued.
Bomb strikes and their next related step, troops on the ground, are rarely about protecting those caught in the crossfire. Assad’s biggest miscalculation has been not to foresee that Syria would become a playground for geopolitical war games between Russia and the U.S., Iran and Kurd factions, along a myriad of resistance groups of varying nationalities, credos and ethnic origins. Plus mercenaries and contractors.
As for solution, who says there has to be one, pre-made and customized to local conditions? One of the reasons that such efforts are always doomed is that there’s this perception that a general solution has to be concocted first and then tweaked to be applied to any particular crisis.
If the U.S., France and the U.K., the three coalition forces that struck Syria over the weekend, or any other party involved were even remotely interested in a solution, a massive rescue operation and refugee program would’ve been already in place. Otherwise, it’s just about weapons.
There are only few of Trump’s inicial cabinet left at the White House now. Most of the incompetent, or ill-intentioned, billionaires are gone, replaced by war mongers who, like the president, never saw a war they didn’t like, but never went to one themselves, or had anyone related to them killed by one either. Torture-deniers John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, once vetted by Congress, have surely their work cut out for them.
It’s also no coincidence that social policies and respect to civilian lives are issues that all three nations involved in the recent bombing are being challenged by their own citizens. Americans, the British and the French have taken to the streets in mass, to protest their governments.
So let’s not buy into the fallacy that bombing will right wrongs and defend the innocent. On the contrary, rockets only reaffirm the failure of sending armies to save lives: even as their destroy war factories, which can easily be rebuilt, they’re bound to inflict even more casualties.
But it’s better to strike than to starve, if you’ve chosen to teach for a living in this country. What else is left to do, if after your 8-hour shift, you still need some odd job to supplement your income, and split it between your family and your pupils’ school supplies and snack food.
It’s not that you’re counting on billionaire Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to come to the rescue anytime soon. She’s busy selling vouchers. But the good news is, teachers are once again teaching us all two big, but forgotten lessons: that there’s strength in numbers and unions work.
In fact, given that the so-called gig economy – where no one has a contract, vacation days, or health coverage – has been happily embraced by corporations, the renewed appreciation for the power of unions, possibly retrofit to meet these more demanding times, is more than welcome.
After all, it’s evident that what built America into the most powerful nation in the world was an organized workforce and a predictable but dynamic market for a wide range of skills, not the benevolence of wealthy people. And that health and education used to be affordable to all.
What successful strikes staged in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, and the recently called off walkout in Oklahoma, have accomplished was not so much income increases to teachers’ wages and pensions, for that was truly modest, but was how they were supported by everyone.
That’s significant considering that these states have clearly believed on promises made by Republicans and the now president, that have not produced any quantifiable improvement to their lives. Or that of those who care for their children. Someone did their math homework well.
Besides offering them our unrestricted support, we can hope that a union revival catches fire and irradiates to the national conversation. Just don’t count much on Democrats to join in the current, not just yet anyway. As with the fight for gun control, led by high school survivors of school shootings, or the struggle to raise minimum wages, or even to prevent Trump from escalating the war in Syria, they’re all but missing.
In fact, it’s still startling that they have scored a number of meaningful wins in local races, and in some of the same states, as we head to the November elections. Mostly, and with rare but honorable exceptions, we see them joining in but for tax cuts to the wealthy, or rolling back bank regulations. The 800-pound donkey in the middle of the room is that they’re rarely seen at the podium of these big mass movements.
Better sooner than sorry could be a useful memo that someone should write them. Meanwhile, we must prevent, yes, Trump from escalating this and any war, and we may be on our own on that. The media’s already sold on the idea, and him, well, just think about Robert Mueller.
Speaking of students and walkouts, Friday is the somber 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, which left 12 students and a teacher dead, and forever scared this nation. The National School Walkout, and some 2,000 events around the country, will mark the date. Media and politicians may be quick to move on, but let’s keep on fighting to end gun violence. We still need to learn this lesson. Cheers

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4/09/2018 Lula’s Hit & the Tip of the Faceberg, Colltalers

‘Lack of authority and indiscipline seeded and fertilized’ all segments of society, without sparing ‘the exemplary stronghold of order’ and perennial guarantor of institutions: ‘the armed forces.’ So read the ominous Good Friday editorial of March 27, 1964, on Jornal do Brasil.
Five days later, the same paper would greet the military coup that installed a 21-year dictatorship in Brazil as the dawn of ‘true legality’ in the country. After a little over a century, Brazil is again having a cruel April, with Saturday’s prison of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
More on that in a moment, but let’s get to the newest save face tactics Mark Zuckerberg’s hopes will delete the onslaught of bad news that engulfed Facebook. For starters, it admitted that data of 50 million users was compromised when it struck a deal with Cambridge Analytica. But only after Christopher Wylie, who worked for the poll firm hired by the Trump administration, and claims to have designed the tools used help him get elected, became a whistleblower. FB then revised up that initial figure to a whopping 87 million personal files actually exposed.
Now, the Zuck himself said that ‘most’ of its more than two billion users should ‘assume’ that information about them is out there, being diced and sliced and sold and resold. And just like that, as it happened in the past, he’s tried quickly move on with the usual excuses. That might be no longer an option, as TechCrunch just found out about a gem of villainy, worthy a cartoonish laughter, enjoyed only by FB executives.
Unlike anyone else, they can retrieve their messages from anybody’s boxes, even years after sending them. We won’t be getting on the implications of that here, but for those willing to do just that, words like Orwellian and privilege may be used by the handful. Moving on.
The preppy CEO, who declined to testify to a U.K. parliamentary committee investigating fake news, and spared everyone there from laying eyes on his chino+T-shirt combo, couldn’t avoid going to Capitol Hill this week. Zuckerberg appears before two senate committees, tomorrow and Wednesday, one at the House of Representatives. Given U.S. lawmakers proverbial cluelessness, don’t hold your breath for much, though.
Few expect him to be grilled by someone knowledgeable enough on the intricacies of FB’s technical innards, or bring about change to its practices, just like even less are now crying about the chunk of company’s market value the latest woes have taken off it. It’ll regain it soon.
The relatively new reality of having billions of people voluntarily placing personal data for the world to see is Facebook’s biggest asset, in any case. No regulations would make people stop doing such a stupid thing. But effective privacy rules may, as long as they’re designed by consumer protection groups and not the industry itself. Short of plugging oneself out of the system, though, progress will be necessarily slow.
Lula’s two terms, and to a lesser extent, his successor Dilma Rousseff’s one and a half, represented an unprecedented moment for Brazil. Up to her impeachment, when her ability to govern was restricted by political pressures orchestrated by segments of congress, media, and middle class, the country’s was sailing on positive economic news, record surpluses and growth, low unemployment, and truly unique, global respect.
Readers of this space know where our heart stands on this issue, but these are facts. Social programs had lifted at least 30 million Brazilians from extreme poverty straight to the workforce, inclusion initiatives and investments in education and public health had placed this nation of 200 million – even as being size-equivalent to territorial U.S. – into a long-dreamed position of continental leadership and new world player.
Lula and his Workers’ Party, the PT, however, left important gaps on their all-encompassing style of government. One was oversight, which caused the party’s biggest scandal, the Mensalão. The other was grooming and promoting news leaders from its lower echelons. One mined the population’s confidence on the party’s ability to police itself. And the other placed its whole legacy on Lula’s charism and political vision.
When thousands saw its most popular president, and the only one coming from the working class, being arrested, it was clear that Brazil’s most successful experiment in government had come to an end. For all the cheering, Lula’s prison removes him from October’s presidential election, after having led it from the earliest opinion polls, and most likely his name off the voting bill, potentially burying his aspirations.
But there’s something even more dangerous for the young Brazilian democracy, even more so than the arguable maneuver to oust Rousseff, and now the dubious process that judged, sentenced, and sent Lula to prison in record time. The large segment of Brazilians oblivious to the not so subtle rupture of Brazil’s hard-earned respect to the independence of powers, judicial due process, and, ultimately, the rule of law.
It’s been depressing to witness the regimental gymnastics that Supreme Court members, along leaderships at both houses of congress, resorted to in order to find a way to condem Lula. Many of them, from Rousseff’s vice who succeeded her, Michel Temer, down to equally corruption-ridden opposition politicians, along with the worst kind of biased and downright classist media coverage, are still dictating Brazil’s politics.
Again, it’s disturbing watching Brazilians who looked like they were around on that long-ago April Fool’s Day, parading their own kids with posters for a return of the dictatorship. It’s disheartening to realize how Brazil’s embraced the fact-free argument, and the threat of violence as a tool to make a point. And it’s sad to see all the vitriolic hatred directed at someone the world identifies as the most important Brazilian alive.
On the other side, it’s touching seeing the old, the young, and the still economically active vowing, in tears, to resist the push of authoritarian rule. In mass, they’ve escorted Lula towards the Federal Police HQ, mourning as if a member of their own family had been unjustly arrested.
Whether the will of the majority of Brazilians will prevail may depend on them standing strong against corruption, yes, but that of conniving powers seeking to perpetuate themselves above the law. That is broken every time someone is jailed without proof as it just happened to Lula. Praising the Supreme for ‘not bending over’ by denying the former president’s judicial appeals, the Brazilian media repeated last week what it had done when the military deposed president elected João Goulart: they’ve quickly endorsed the legal rupture and justified the new regime. Then, a succession of generals broke the spirit and the finances of Brazil; now a string of incompetent rulers profusely enrich themselves.
Brazilians and FB users are alike, hooked into a supra-reality, too committed to glance at it from the outside. We’re all actively giving away our most precious possessions, privacy, individuality, citizen dignity, for the illusion that the world will right itself under our watch. It won’t.
‘Prison and place and reverberation Of thunder of spring over distant mountains He who was living is now dead We who were living are now dying,’ mused T.S.Eliot (120-years-old this September) in his 1922 poem, The Waste Land. He disliked April, as should Brazil, which may now be down, back into its cyclical, spiral well. We’re not afraid by the ‘handful of dust,’ though. For there’s only way out: up. Força, Brasil.

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4/02/2018 That’s How Democracy Dies, Colltalers

Hyperbole kills the power of a sentence. So used to say an old teacher. But when Noam Chomsky, renowned linguist, scientist, and engaging thinker, said last April that the American Republican Party is ‘the most dangerous organization in human history,’ well, it grants examination.
This is relevant as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross plans to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Decennial Census. In the context of the GOP’s steady stream of antidemocratic policies, last week’s announcement is indeed dangerous to our electoral system of representation.
It’s also sent scores of Americans on a fiery search for ‘WTH is the Census,’ according to Google. Some were not even expecting their lives to be affected by the answer. For the constitutionally-mandated biennial counting of residents has deep implications to how the U.S. is run.
The number of Representative seats in Congress, billions in federal funds allocation to communities nationwide, decisions related to health care, education, employment and many more, are all determined by how many people live here or there. And as services and resources are used by anyone living or even visiting any particular place, planning must include everybody, not just legal citizens. See where we’re going?
If one considers the three arguably most important developments affecting the way people vote in recent years – the Supreme Court’s rulings equating funding with free speech, known as Citizen United ruling, and its hacking of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, letting southern states to again change laws without federal approval; and widespread gerrymandering, they all made it harder for poor voters to exercise their rights.
By allowing unlimited so-called dark money into campaigns, the court unwittingly switched politics’ main priority, from representing people to get to public office by way of fundraising. As a result, the elected literally owes more to sponsors and lobbyists than to his or her voters.
The same way, when in 2013, Chief John Roberts declared, straight-faced, that ‘blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare,’ he was endorsing the return of old racist practices of some states that historically made voting by racial and class minorities more difficult.
And finally, the undignified art of redrawing legislative maps, so to turn traditionally diversified districts into one-party areas, although not necessarily a Republican invention, is one that truly benefits the party. That’s because minorities have leaned Democratic since the 1960s.
Before going any further, let’s be clear that two of these deleterious developments in American democracy, circa the 2000s, benefit both parties. Thus, Washington’s current crop of extremely wealthy, extremely unresponsive politicians, unaware that many plan to vote them out.
But as a consequence of these three distortions of the democratic process, the income gap has exploded, while social mobility became all but fiction. The less than 1% of Americans who have become obscenely wealthy in this century, make some 30% living in extreme poverty look like citizens of the poorest nations in the world, not the richest and most powerful. Planned cuts in social programs will make it all worst.
The introduction of the citizenship question into a questionnaire designed to determined administrative and representation policies is likely to scare the huge contingent of undocumented residents. Already facing the administration’s Gestapo-like enforcement of draconian rules, harassment, and summary deportations, most will simply not respond, or recede further into hiding, which is exactly Ross’ intended effect.
As for the Commerce Secretary, he’s one of the billionaires who’s shown no remorse taking advantage of Trump’s tax cuts and discretionary policies, and now steps to the front line of the administration’s campaign to criminalize immigration. But the plan will hurt all Americans, regardless of legal status. After all, any cuts in healthcare, education, and/or public services available, will affect those who depend on them.
Professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chomsky is no stranger to controversy, but not for this statement of his made a year ago. After all, the GOP has been relentless dismantling long-term social policies, undermining support from allies, and isolating the U.S. on issues crucial to the planet’s survival, such as climate change and the need to preserve and enforce nuclear peace agreements.
It’s up to discussion whether the Democrats can retake from Republicans one of the two Congressional houses in November. Many point to the fact that the mobilization that has rocked the U.S. lately happened regardless, and in some cases, despite the party’s inaction. Cue the emergent youth for gun control, and a revitalized women’s movement, both addressing issues the Democratic leadership’s been all but M.I.A.
But it shouldn’t be hard to characterize the ‘former’ party of Abraham Lincoln as now the champion of the rich and the powerful, in the light, for instance, of the recent tax cuts to high-incomers and corporations. Given that, the biggest foe of Democrats may actual be themselves.
When Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, 50 years ago this Wednesday, there were so much to be done about not only the racial issue in this country, but also about civil rights for all Americans. Even as some would say, they didn’t murder the ideal, only the man, it’s clear now that the man is still badly needed. And so are others different or just like him, also assassinated by a coward’s bullets.
When the unarmed 22-year-old Stephon Clark was shot eight times on his back in Sacramento, March 18, he reenacted, as involuntarily thousands and thousands have since that sad day in 1968, the endless massacre of young black men in America, a tragedy Dr. King couldn’t foresee in its brutality, senselessness, and body count. So, if you’re mourning with fellow Americans for this new loss, a gentle warning.
April 4 will hold the dutifully remembrance, reflection, and emotional rhetoric due to any irreparable death of a fearless leader. But be ready also for the hypocrisy, the attempts at cash in on his death, and the likely appropriation of Dr. King’s sacrifice. And make sure the assassin’s credo, but not his name, is mentioned as well. For white supremacy and racial hatred is still alive and bloody today as they were then.
Yes, we need reconciliation, we need to get along, and we need to pursue common goals of peace and prosperity. But we won’t achieve any of that without confronting the monsters the last presidential election awoke to shameless relevance once again. We can’t forget and we can’t give up, for, as in the famous I Have Dream speech, ‘it would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.’ Free at last.

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3/26/2018 Life Will Find Its Way, Colltalers

Fear has many cheerleaders, and the newly U.S. National Security Advisor-designate John Bolton is one of its most strident. After many tries, he may finally lend a key position in the administration, and a cautious word for it could be, be afraid, be very afraid. But not by much.
His nomination by Trump may have been last week’s worst news, in an endless string of bad-news weeks, but it’s tempered by other equally unsettling stories. Consider Facebook: it was disclosed that it played a part in the nauseating result of the 2016 election. Surprise, surprise.
Also, in this all around disturbing time in an America we’re being asked to get used to, there was another home-grown terrorist, who’d been killing black people by sending them bomb-packed parcels. The white Christian supremacist left a chilling confession on video and blew himself up, but the Austin police still calls him, ‘a challenged young man.’ Thank goodness, then, that in the end, the kids saved the week.
Hundred of thousands of Americans took the streets Saturday in the March For Our Lives, following the lead of what one expects to be a new crop of young, highly politically engaged, American kids, forged in the horror of surviving another gun massacre at their high school.
Unlike what happened too many times before, and even some more ever since, the Parkland, Florida, students picked this as an issue to sink their teeth on, or die trying: to ban assault weapons and pass sensible gun regulations. And they got started by a beautiful, multi-city, March.
But let’s get back to fear, first, since there’s always plenty of it every time the Trump administration makes a move. This time, it may’ve topped itself by naming Bolton, whose middle name seems to be ‘Hawkish,’ and the last, ‘War Monger.’ But his nomination shouldn’t be taken as unexpected. After all, here’s George W.’s Ambassador to the U.N. who wrote a hostile book on the institution while still on duty there.
He’s also unapologetic about the lies that led the U.S. to invade (and still remain in) Iraq, oblivious to the thousands of American and Iraqi lives lost in the adventure, and favors bombing Iran, the biggest beneficiary of that American tragic error, and North Korea. Any questions?
In other words, he’s your typical dangerous lout, who vociferates against the ‘enemies’ of America, preaches a unilateral credo of obedience to its interests, and is an all-together colossal bore. Like his boss, however, he never served the military when he’d a chance, and neither sent a kid of his to any of the paranoid consequences of his rants. In some ways, he reminds some of another world class thug: Stephen Bannon.
That may be a good thing, if you hold on to your gagging for a sec. Bolton, like Bannon, is a divisor. As such, he feeds on division and strife. But just as often, their ambition trips them up. There’s one point when they try to subdivide the indivisible, and wind up clashing with the bigger rotten fish who hired them. That’s when they, like Bannon, get their behinds bounced, and that’s what we hope it’ll happen to Bolton.
Speaking of Bannon, he was the founder, along billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer, of the now infamous Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm hired by Trump in 2016. Using a proprietary algorithm, it gained access to the personal data of 50 million Facebook users.
It’s now clear that it was the other leg to kick the doors of the White House, along Russian hackers. The thing that’s really vexing about them, though, is that, while both shady and unethical, these enterprises did not essentially break any law; they simply used Facebook as they could.
Let’s break this down a bit. The social network with over a billion users has become an all too powerful factor in our lives, and not for too Kosher a reason. It’s a for-profit business and will do anything to increase its earnings, finding loopholes, and likely sticking its paws in the pot when no one is watching. But the fact is, we, the users, grant it permission, and alleging ignorance is never a good strategy to save face.
The #deleteFacebook campaign has a point, as do claims to regulate it and make it much more accountable of things done with its system. The main quagmire to facebookers, though, is how to be judicious and thorough and make the hard choice of either live with or without it. For to quit it means what many now regard as unacceptable: missing out on what the remainder billion is doing, or be forgotten by them.
That’s an illusion, of course, but so are movies and games, and most are not prepared to quit them either. What Analytica did, like all those phantom Russian groups, was to bundle our ‘likes’ into weapons of manipulation, to have us act as they intended, without even realizing it. The bottom line was, it not just made us all look like dopes, it also helped one to get elected U.S. president. Blame them but it’s our fault.
That’s the end result of having our virtual lives, constructed with such care and embellishments, exposed to millions of strangers with ulterior motifs. That being said, it doesn’t mean that one of the most deceiving public figures of our time, Mark Zuckerberg, is exempted of any guilt.
‘They are not victims. They’re accomplices. Businesses that make money by collecting and selling detailed records of private lives were once plainly described as surveillance companies,’ tweeted NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, now exiled in Russia. He is, of course, right.
Readers of this newsletter are aware of our bias toward Snowden, and how diametrically he stands in opposition to Zuckerberg. Born within a year of each other, they’ve both succeeded on their ways. But while one still pretends to be a 12-year-old, playing with his toys, the other is still paying an enormous price for following his conscience. Facebook’s damage is unlikely to be punished as Snowden’s flaws have been.
That’s why to witness such a display of conviction, moral compass, and passion, as shown by the teenage survivors of the Parkland carnage, fell as refreshing as a new dawn after a storm should. It’ll take resilience, education, resourcefulness for it to grow stronger as we wish. But above all, it’ll take our support to translate it into change. If America overcomes its obsession with guns, it will indeed feel like a new dawn.
‘Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet,’ said Stephen Hawking. That’s wise in more ways than one: Heavenly Palace, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1, is expected to plunge into Earth between Friday and April 3. Keep your sights up and don’t give up.

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3/19/2018 To Starve & Die in Brazil, Colltalers

The brutal execution-style murder of Brazil’s councilwoman Marielle Franco, Wednesday night in Rio, may have triggered what close to two years of President Michel Temer’s string of corruption scandals and slashes to social, health, and education programs hadn’t: social unrest.
It may be about time. After proudly leaving the U.N. World Hunger Map, in 2014, and overtaking the U.K. as the sixth-largest economy, Brazil retreated into a constitutional downward spiral, since it installed Temer in power two years later, in what’s largely viewed as a coup.
The last time Brazilians took the streets to mass protest, they wound up serving interests of an alliance of right-wing politicians, powerful media organs, and segments of the middle class, that orchestrated President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment halfway into her second term.
But when thousands showed up to mourn Marielle, as she was known, in Rio and other cities, the mood was different. In grief, Brazilians are again demanding human rights, justice, and freedom, just as they’d done in the 1980s to finally dislodge from power the military dictatorship.
They’ve got plenty reasons to do so. Yet, while there’s much soul searching and vicious arguments about what actually brought the country to such a paralyzing standstill, there are few areas of disagreement about what needs to be fixed: opportunity, the rule of law, a more accountable class of politicians, a clear path to regain control over the future, and others, are all often mentioned as common denominators.
But the endless chain of financial malfeasance by members of Temer’s cabinet, a judiciary that’s not just utterly partisan, but has resisted any effort to review its bill of privileges, plus the multi year, multi-headed political aim at dismantling PT, the Workers’ Party, of its legacy, has hardly left space for thinking about solutions. In the middle of the national room, of course, sits the giant shade of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The two-time former president seems now bound to prison, after a relentless campaign against his perceived misconducts all but ruined his reputation as the man who had at last put Brazil on another map, that of influential nations of the world. In fact, under his presidency, over 30 million Brazilians were lifted from deep poverty, and some social programs he implemented became world standards for their efficiency.
But as he and his party gained global stature, inspiring Latin America’s left-leaning populist reforms of the early 2000s, the political establishment they successively beat at the polls, waged a behind-the-curtains war to articulate a resistance and its comeback to power.
Even the most die hard critic of Lula, Rousseff, and PT’s social programs, such as racial quotes in higher education, for instance, can’t deny that for a while, Brazil seemed unbeatable. Ironically, the last straw may have been the discovery of huge off coast oil reserves, with potential to fund an explosive economic boom, even if not immediately extracted. State-run Petrobrás by then was one of the world’s biggest concerns.
That, and the future, was of course put on hold when vice-president Temer took office, and its fractured coalition began to jockey for more power. He immediately enforced a 20-year freeze in social and education investments, ducked and neutralized several mini-coups and probes by his former allies, and perfected his maneuvers-in-the-dark style of getting his way. Brazil however has suffered under his administration.
Even though he’s so far failed to pass an overreaching set of social security reforms, that unfairly target long-term workers’ pensions, he’s still acting in tandem with his allies, calling the need to send Lula to prison an absolutely priority, and now, even running for president in October.
He has no chance, according to analysts. Lula still appears as the front-runner in any poll conducted so far, and even losing all appeals to run behind bars, if necessary, he could still beat ex-army captain and ultra right wing candidate, Jair Bolsonaro. Who, by the way, hasn’t said anything about de assassination of Mariella. Considering his skills at hate rhetoric, however, her supporters may think that’s all for the best.
It’s becoming evident that the black and LGBT activist and sociologist councilwoman, born in Rio’s disenfranchised Maré neighborhood, has been targeted for her political advocacy against police brutality towards the poor. Last week’s Temer-ordered military intervention in Rio’s favelas, a move largely perceived as to boost Bolsonaro’s profile, has also placed activists such as Mariella in the crosshairs of violent agents.
She got elected to the council in 2016, for PSoL, Socialism and Liberty Party, mainly to fight Rio’s widespread violence that unfortunately caught up with her. Just a day before her killing, she’d deplored on Twitter the fatal shooting of a black youth exiting a local church.
Surveillance cameras show that, after leaving a meeting, her car had been closely followed for several blocks by two other vehicles. Witness testified that a car lined up to hers and shot 13 times, killing her and the driver, and injuring her assistant. The bullets have since been traced to a lot sold to Brasília Federal Police in 2006, the same lot linked to São Paulo’s biggest civilian massacre in 2015, and other crimes in Rio.
While some compare the magnitude of Marielle’s murder to that of Chico Mendes, the union leader and environmentalist shot dead 30 years ago in the Amazon, her death has other implications too. Although little known outside Rio, Marielle is now the most known face of a new class of politicians Brazilians all but had lost hope of seeing emerging. And suddenly they seemed determined that others, unlike her, survive.
The country definitely needs them. In the past two years, unemployment has run rampant, about 4.5 million have been ejected from social programs, some of the biggest companies that used to support the economy are losing market share, or being liquidated by the government, and staples of economic activity, such as domestic consumption and social mobility are under severe stress. And then, there’s rising hunger.
None of these issues seems to worry the political elite, and many fear that, as the big media moves in to co-opt Marielle’s tragedy, the system will produce a culprit party, conveniently insulated from those who may have ordered the hit. And life will move on as it does. We hope not.
Brazil has the equal potential of becoming the world champion in killing environmental activists, social reformists, race and sexual minorities advocates, and anyone who’d stand for civil rights and freedom, as it has of fulfilling its destiny as a benevolent, and alternative, world leader.
‘Not much health, lots of ants: these are the woes of Brazil.’ The flawed translation (‘Pouca saúde, muita saúva: os males do Brasil são’) for a Mário de Andrade’s Macunaíma quote, a celebrated book published in 1928, may still have some mileage. After all, there’s new appreciation for that kind of large ant as a source of protein, given food unpredictability and the state of public health in South America’s largest nation.
Let’s keep our expectations in check, but without dismissing what’s happening in Brazil just yet. Like Marielle, who at 38, came to age at the turn of the millennium, many Brazilians have experienced what feels like living in a promising country, ready to take on the world with grace.
There’s hope that they, and by example, their kids too, will feel empowered by the worldwide response to her tragic murder and begin to build that great country of dreams already. We’re 1000% behind them and the American youth, set to lead Saturday’s March to End Gun Violence (taking it from the hugely influential 2017 Women’s March). In the U.S. and Brazil, it’s time for the voice and power of the young. March.

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3/12/2018 The Deal & Youth Vote We Need, Colltalers

Sometimes it’s not just people’s omission what helps incompetent leaders; luck and chance play a part too. North Korean Kim Jong-un’s stunning offer to sit with the American president, last week’s biggest news, made the world understandably thrilled about it. And weary.
Donald Trump had little to do with it but, as the Russian probe heats up, he’ll be sure to take credit and capitalize on it. But even as we can’t seem to write three sentences without mentioning him, today’s post is about something way more transcendent: youth voting in America.
Let’s get the likely theme of the coming weeks out of the way first, though. Thanks to South Korean president Moon Jae-in, there’s a concrete chance both madmen will meet in May, and for goodness sake, move the nuclear holocaust dial down a bit. Or up. It’s truly unpredictable.
But given rising global tensions, and the nonchalantly way those two have been talking about annihilating each other, never mind millions of people, with a civilization-ending chain reaction soon to follow after, this surely looks like good news. That is, if you-know-who doesn’t walk back on his words, as it happened countless times. Other restrictions apply. Avoid holding your breath. Proceed with caution. Call your mom.
No U.S. president has ever accepted that sort of meeting, for it requires a master class in strategy, and a minimum of trust between players. Considering ‘Art of Deal’ Trump’s appalling record at listening to counseling, or negotiating with nations, corporations, and even factions of his own government, there are justifiable fears that the whole thing may go awry. And rush the entire world to a no-way-back quagmire.
But, hey, let’s be optimistic, and keep an open mind about it. Because it’s so crazy that it might work. To get it right, though, it’ll take a lot of pressure from peaceful and progressive segments of society, plus a hefty dose of global support. Above all, let’s not let it all up to those two.
Which brings us to youth voting, and what can be done to usher it to its deserving place in American politics. Time is ripe to rearrange the equation of power among the electorate, and voting by the young is an overlooked demographics often relegated to polls’ absence columns.
It’s likely that it will remain there for November elections, along with the increasing odds for them to operate real change in the current state of electoral representation in this country. What with unbound money in the campaign, gerrymandering, artificial hurdles placed for voters, and, yes, the Russians, plus the Democrats, the Republicans, the Kochs, do we have to go on? Odds are really stacked against our democracy.
But two new factors grant reasons for some upbeat forward thinking: women, and what happened in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 massacre at that Parkland, Florida, high school. We’re aware of how formidable a force for change the women’s movement have become in American politics. But when teen survivors of the shooting irrupted the national conversation with a fresh thunder of grief, we all paid attention too.
Collectively, they managed more than confronting corrupt politicians, in bed with the National Rifle Association, as one’d wish the media and elected officials would do but don’t. They actually were directly responsible for some changes in Florida’s gun laws, mild but unthinkable up to that sad Valentine’s Day. And proved that they can be passionate, honest, and articulate in their demands. If only they could also vote.
For they’re in average two years short of voting age, but, according to some studies, would be more likely to vote now than later, when busy getting into college. That could be fixed. And indeed, it must. For despite what pop-psychology preaches, ‘that’ part of their brains, called ‘cold cognition,’ is fully formed and ready to make the right decisions. We desperately need that righteousness on our political system. Now.
There were 72 million under-18 people in the U.S. in 2010, Census data show. There’s no reason to think numbers have varied much since. So there’s roughly 22% of the American population out there, still short of the right to exercise choice about their own future, like every citizen.
OK, not all would vote, if given a choice. Neither all votes are well thought out and help progressive change. And finally, educational tools necessary to make informed decisions at the polls are out of reach for most public schools and teachers, already starved out of resources.
Being that as it may, it can’t hurt to lower voting age to 16, as many countries already do. About 24 million voters, between 18 and 29 years old, voted in 2016, and the majority favored Hillary Clinton for president. Being blunt, can the Democratic Party really afford to lose them?
Speaking of which, what a monumental disappointment the opposition party has been lately. Democrats have been staggeringly indifferent even to the few issues galvanizing Americans now, such as gun control, Net Neutrality, and consumer and labor rights, while fully engaged at undermining progressive candidates in local primaries, and voting to relax bank restrictions, put in place after the financial collapse of 2008.
Just months from their best shot at regaining the House from the GOP, one wishes a survivor teenager or two would point the finger at their expensive noises, and tell them like it is. Apart Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders – who’s not even a party member – and a few others, no one seems willing, or has the clout, to do so. Besides Republicans, something else needs to be crushed coming Nov.: the Democrat leadership.
There are many obstacles for our current electoral model to be effective in promoting a periodic, health switch of direction for the country, as the Founding Fathers envisioned. Including some of their own making, such as the Electoral College, even if appropriated for their times.
The increased disenfranchising of black voters, for instance, the orchestrated campaign on social media by a foreign power interested in demoralizing the U.S. (and, it must be said, also using tactics this country use often against others), even the fact that Election Day is on a work day rather than a weekend or holiday, have all diminished the number of votes cast, and the faith Americans place on the system.
Voters could use the Internet too, as long as the Election Board would use security standards banks routinely apply to protect themselves. And allowing voting by controversial segments of the population, such as inmates, long-time legal residents, and others, could also be discussed, so to make our democracy more representative. But the clearest, most powerful arguments could be made to lowering the voting age to 16.
It’s a revolution whose time may be up, to counterattack so many traps anti-democratic forces have been piling up on the right of voters. Specially if the worst happens and those two megalomaniac leaders get into each others’ case. Above all, we need the teenagers’ enthusiasm, conviction, and determination of speaking from their own heart, something most politicians lack. It’ll be daylight much later today. Enjoy it.

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3/05/2018 Minors Marrying, Major Mistake, Colltalers

A beautiful bride in a white dress warmly greeted by relatives and friends. A groom wearing his best attire, leaning on his trusted cane. A few moments and they’re declared husband and wife. That could be a template for millions of wedding descriptions, except for one crucial detail.
The 13-year-old grasps her doll with one hand, and her 63-year-old uncle, now husband, with the other. A scene like that happens every two seconds around the world, says the Human Rights Watch. In Florida, 2,000 minors got married since 2013, including a 13-year-old girl.
You read it right. Not in Pakistan, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or elsewhere in Asia and Africa, where the practice may be common, but in the U.S., where over 200,000 kids got married between 2000 and 2015, according to a Frontline report. By the way, on the land Americans fight their longest war, Afghan law against marriage of minors is stricter than in Florida. Still powerful voices are against a ban on the practice.
Just last Thursday, the state’s House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has a record of being instrumental in passing any legislation, but now is struggling to get any action on gun laws, said he won’t support a child marriage ban. ‘The state shouldn’t tell high school sweethearts they shouldn’t get married,’ he said of a place where an average 20% of its population lacks basic literacy skills, as per Dept. of Education data.
He’s far from being alone. In Kentucky, where more than 10,000 children got married from 2000 to 2015 – the country’s third-highest rate – a bill that would make it illegal for girls under 17 to marry, or force any 17-year-old to get permission from a judge to tie the knot, has stalled.
As it turns out, a ‘family values’ group put pressure on the legislator. The bill, SB 48, is not dead yet but this is a state that already lets even younger children marry if the girl is pregnant, for instance, as it’s often the case, or whenever a boy impregnates a woman, regardless of age.
It’s beyond mind-boggling: it’s downright perverse, considering everything we know about what’s surrounding child marriage, such as sexual abuse, incest, poverty, and illiteracy, among others. Obviously, State Senator Julie Raque Adams, the bill’s sponsor, has all our support.
Bills like that and even more rigorous are urgently needed nationwide, but don’t count on the president – ‘I’d marry her but, oops, she’s my daughter.’ – for support. After all, he campaigned for (and typically, left out to dry afterwards) the infamous Roy Moore, the defeated Alabama senate candidate, accused of being a pedophile who molested a 14-year-old, and pursed at least eight other teenagers while a district attorney.
That resounding loss, or the shame of having his criminal conduct publicly exposed, however, haven’t prevented Moore from disgusting us once more: he’s now set up a Legal Defense Fund to ask for donations to help him fight those same accusers. And possibly run again. Aargh. Because people like him are, disgracefully, many and in positions of power, we still must hold on to our best values of humanity and decency. That means a renewed vigilance over our own conduct and that of those we support or elect to office. Because they can make a big difference.
‘States parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse (…)’
Article 19 of the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child is clear about how children should be regarded on this matter. Thus the document also serves as an indictment, not just to the Corcorans or Trumps or Moores, but to everyone else too, including you and me. ‘The world is a dangerous place to live not because the people who’re evil, but for those who don’t do anything about it,’ as Einstein once said.
The Convention, a development of the 1924 five-point Declaration of the Rights of the Child, was adopted internationally in 1989. The U.S. is a signatory since 1995, but Congress is still to ratify it. In case you’re wondering when that will happen, that’s a cause to sink your teeth on.
Naturally, any discussion about child marriage, at least in the U.S., has to mention Polygamy which Mormonism, or the LDS Church, fought tooth and nail to preserve until, well, it ran out of teeth and officially stopped endorsing it in 1890. It’s illegal now, but Utah’s still well known for its tolerance to groups that don’t see anything wrong with a man having the right to several wives, even when taken while still children.
To the Catholic Church, sex abuse is still an open sore, strong enough to trip even Pope Francis, of whom so many expect so much. While in Chile, the man who over a billion people consider infallible, emphatically denied on camera he knew that Bishop Juan Barros had actively covered up years of child sexual abuse by a priest, only to be contradicted by evidence compiled by AP, that he did indeed know all about it.
The thousands of proven cases of child assault by Catholic priests, and so few convictions, keep showing us that this cancer is ingrained and widespread, and that most institutions can’t be trusted to do our job for us, not even, or even more so, the self-attributed guardians of faith and morality. In fact, victims, children or otherwise, usually report that when they sought redress from their religious leaders, they got chastised.
In a country already facing so many challenges, it seems unfair to remind everyone that that’s not it. That beyond banning military weapons sales, raising the minimum wage, providing healthcare and free education for all, letting the Dreamers be and enacting sensible immigration policy, there’s also the child marriage issue to address. Yesterday. Or the day before. But that’s what it’ll take to assure a better tomorrow.
To protect our youth, prevent that 13-year-old from ever suffering the ravages of sexual trauma, and curb the Moores and all like them, is the least we can do. It’s non-negotiable or we may as well paraphrase Einstein and assume we’re the ones to make this an unworthy world.
It feels dirty, just by talking about such a resonant issue. But it’s not about a high moral horse that we fight for it, or our collective soul; it’s for our most vulnerable, at the trenches of this war, who need to be shielded and rescued to safety. We’re her doll; she grasps it so tightly because she trusts us, as she should. If it’s not about honoring this trust, we may as well forget about the future. Cheers and congrats on your Oscar.

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2/26/2018 he Jig’s Up For the Gig Economy, Colltalers

‘The ideal system to work when and how much you want.’ ‘An exciting way for applying your skills and getting paid for assignments either done at home or on the go.’ ‘Choose flexibility and earn extra income without having to wear a suit or follow somebody’s else schedule.’
Over 20 million Americans are slowly waking up for what this cheery fluff really is: a new packaging for an over a century-old bag of rotten goods. Stripped of its bells and whistles, the gig economy stands by the same cliches it used to evoke: haves and have-nots forever and a day.
There are some who trace the start of this new opulence to the 1970s global oil crisis. Even as it marked the end of the cycle of cheap fossil fuel, it was also the moment banks and finance corporations went from being normative institutions to outsized tools for enrichment. As their autonomy and power matched if not topped that of the government, there was no wasting time to pay for some nice deregulation to go with it.
With what money, you ask? Easy: branding social programs and the welfare system, pillars and guarantors of the American Dream for over four decades, wasteful ‘entitlements’ of a ‘nanny state,’ while outlawing organized labor’s bargaining power as a rancid ‘communist’ leftover.
The relentless drive to dismantle unions, helped by an actor-poster boy for private interests sitting in the White House, ushered the new era of low-paid contractors: hired to disarm strikes, they wore the badge of a New (bad) Deal. For them, no wage or salaries; earn when work only.
Not everyone enjoyed the greatest era of American prosperity, though. The services and the food industry, in particular, were kept on the same regime they were at the beginning of the 20th century. And with it, the bizarre system of paying restaurant servers with customer tips.
The custom of tipping for tasks performed comes, apparently, from feudal times in Europe, which nowadays pay normal wages to its food workers. Even more curious, tipping had fierce opposition from Americans when it was introduced. The NY Times reports that there was an Anti-Tipping Society of America, in 1904, with over 100,000 members. And that most labor unions were against tipping. But that didn’t last.
To this day, U.S. restaurant owners pay servers minimum wage or so, and it’s up to workers to make up in tips what may amount to a less-than-decent salary. Now some employers are vouching for the end of tipping, but after past false starts, we’ll hold celebrating it till it happens.
As the unique brand of excellence, expected from American service workers, was born out of the brutal realities of singing-for-your-supper concept, tipping may be hard to kill. It surprises no one that such a brute way to make a living supports that other, no less conservative, NRA.
It’s also of note that, unless management at your favorite eatery clearly informs you that it’s raised its servers’ salaries, so tipping is optional, in the U.S. you should continue to do so no matter what. As with every other issue benefiting workers, no member of the Republican Party is on record supporting replacing the tipping system for paying decent working wages. Again, have we mentioned the NRA’s political leanings?
Most will go on camera to defend the better known NRA, though, despite survivors of the Parkland massacre staring straight at them. And will come up with the most absurd, if not downright dangerous, theories to solve the gun violence problem in America, like the president did.
If they can ignore fresh innocent blood spilled in their own district, and go on supporting on camera assault weapons in the hand of teens, it’s not hard to guess their position on minimum wage, universal healthcare, or college fees. Or Airbnbs, bartering, Uber-ing or freelancing .
We’ve been going backwards, getting fast to a new Gilded Age, if we’re not already there. Workers have no collective bargaining power, or even basic job stability; Wall Street manages retirement savings as slush funds; Supreme Court-supported Citizens United is alive and well.
We could be getting to the year before the 1929 stock market crash, and the Great Depression that followed, before a new set of more just laws and rules are enacted. Obviously, it got harder with the election of a corporate snake oil salesman for the highest office of the land.
Hope may be on the way, though, and from the most unsuspecting, albeit vulnerable, source: fast-food workers’ push to raise the minimum has in fact produced results. Just as consumers, usually oh so fatigued to lift their behinds and get their own damned water already, may be on it too. Experience shows that, when it comes to social change, employers rarely lead the charge. But the overworked who do needs a hand.
One final word about that other American form of exploitation-riddled labor practice, the sanctified institution of calling for a delivery. And worse, tipping poorly the likely undocumented bicycle guy coming in from rain or snow, with your warm meal. Some even think that tipping an extra dollar will make up the gargantuan gap between the have-everything or almost, and the below-poverty-line not owner of anything.
Next time you catch someone, usually the proprietor of some fancy app, who’s made a couple of millions based on an airy concept of better exploiting workers, and dare to call it ‘disruption,’ give them a piece of your mind. Calmly, prove to them their idea is not new. That usually mines their confidence, and expose the fraud they’re about to convince the incautious that they should buy next. Either that or walk away.
Having such an unpalatable fare may spoil the appetite of surely deserving hard-working pillars of society such as yourself, and we’re very sorry to remind you once again that, yes, there’s always something we can do. Seen those teens screaming in the face of NRA honchos? they are leading the America back to greatness, if we’ll ever grasp what that really means. If they ducked automatic bullets to do it, so can we.
Speaking of which, they’ve set up a national march this March, part of an ongoing reminder to never go back to the normality, which in the streets of America means a shooter with an AR-15, chasing our children to death. Make sure you say enough of that too, just as you may try cutting down on the delivery gig this week, or tip an extra Hamilton, if you may. Stay with the Dreamers and those fighting for a better day.

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2/19/2018 Land of Fire & End of Water, Colltalers

Words lose currency. For instance, fatality, as in ‘something determined by fate,’ an accident. It certainly can’t be used for the slaughter of school children in Parkland, Florida. Or for the water about to run out in Cape Town, South Africa. Someone, quick, go tell it to the media.
Because both last week’s carnage, caused by a disturbed kid with an assault rifle, or the ecological disaster expected to hit a major world city in May, were expected and thoroughly predicted. Not by seers or mystics, but by the logical progression of facts. Both could’ve been avoided.
That may sound callous if it wasn’t for the bottomless callousness displayed once again by the president and congressmen. Predictably, while many were AWOL, they all rehashed old misleading National Rifle Association boilerplates, which is fitting since they’re all sponsored by it.
Something’s different this time around, though; the surviving children themselves. Eloquent and articulated, many quickly seized the moment to rebuff Trump on national TV, and indict elected politicians for profiteering from their tragedy. Suddenly, they were the adults in the room.
To expect that the normalization of school shooting can be reversed is a political matter, and the ascendancy of a new segment, that of high school students engaged in resetting the conversation about guns in this country, is more than merely welcome, it’s crucially overdue.
This is, after all, the demographics closest to affect change in a very short run. As they approach the age of voting, their eruption into what the administration was hoping to be just another sedate, and meaningless coverage of yet another mass shooting, may have raised some flags among the powers that be. One hopes that this moment endures and we live to see at least part of this new generation at the polling stations.
February is not through yet and there has already been eight school shootings in the U.S. The one in Parkland is by far the deadliest, but even trying to classify a massacre by its number of deaths only, or including the wounded, or the class of weaponry used, has the same numbing effect of stats in a PowerPoint presentation: it dehumanizes those involved, which also may include other victims, those not hit by bullets.
And the consequence is always what’s been so far: after the incredibly cynical ‘thoughts and prayers’ platitude, everything goes back to what it was, without leading to any new law or change in regulations. That’s probably why some brought up what happened during the Vietnam War.
In the middle 1960s, the U.S. civil rights movement had incorporated protests against the war into its mass rallies. But what may have changed hearts and minds about the conflict’s legitimacy was its TV coverage. When evening news programs began showing the faces, and at times, destroyed bodies, of middle American kids, it brought to the living room of their parents’ home the raw brutally inherent to any war.
It helped change the tide, and sped up the end of the conflict, way before Pentagon hawks thought they were through with it – experience shows that they are never through, anyway. That’s also why media coverage is so sanitized nowadays: it was changed, so not to ruin their fun.
A similar reasoning is guiding those proposing showing the bodies, or at least the body bags, of victims of mass shootings. The many issues that it’d would raise, including the implications of exposing dead children’s bodies to an unscrupulous media, must be carefully weighted. But if it wakes up Americans to what a high-powered bullet does to a body, and unmask the NRA and its hypocrites, it may be worth considering.
Then there’s the so-called Day Zero, when taps will run dry less than three months from now for half a million people living in an African coastal city. While factors causing it, some local, some global, but none unexpected, are known, consequences are only now being studied.
Climate change is by far, the biggest culprit. But before you hear another anemic argument, designed to misinform and confuse the issue, it’s instructive to know that rising sea levels, catastrophic as they’ve been elsewhere, are not directly related to what’s going on in Cape Town.
As in the case of Mexico City, São Paulo (metro pop. +21 million each), and Melbourne (3.8 million), they all depend on rainwater to exist.
Latin America, as Africa, has also a recurrent, aggravating factor: poor infrastructure. Unlike Los Angeles, which despite its complicated water supply system and periodic droughts, may not have its Day Zero anytime soon, as it’s home to some of the richest people in the U.S.
It’s estimated that about two billion people already spend an average of six hours daily, walking to and back from the nearest water source, just to fulfill basic needs. But while the developing world continues to struggle to incorporate this human right into a normal survival routine, Western societies waste expensive potable water for a variety of non-essential needs. Everybody’s food, however, depends on it.
It’s likely that in the near future, control, management, and distribution of water will potentially require more resources than what’s now applied to secure fuel and energy sources. But desalinization, for instance, removing salt from seawater, remains a feasible but complex and expensive technology. Governments will go to great lengths to protect their access to water, but little can be done if it doesn’t rain, for one.
Or the water table is contaminated and improper for human consumption, caused by fracking. To extract natural gas from the shale at great depths, it uses huge amounts of water mixed with heavy chemicals, which pollute and render entire regions useless for agriculture.
A heartbreaking bloodbath involving school-age children, one of an already staggering series, and the prospect of large city running out of water, perhaps just the first of many more to come, have another factor in common, besides rushing the word fatality to its obsolescence.
These are both far reaching issues that nevertheless allow us to have a role in it. Nothing prevents anyone from engaging in the national fight to control and/or ban high-powered guns for citizen use, as there’s no justification for a military-grade weapon to be sold to a civilian.
And absolutely anyone can save and treat water as the precious resource it really is. That can, or rather, must be done in the privacy of your own home, no speeches required. Save potable water for the sake of the billions who need to labor so hard just to have a cup of it per day. Granted, these are no easy but worthy issues, for they test our will to nudge society to do the right thing. Happy Year of the Dog.

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2/12/2018 Teaching the Kids Well, Colltalers

Explaining the Great Swindle of 2016, and how Americans fell so easy to the Con of Trump, is now a full-time job for those in the business of the ‘yes, but.’ Sure, there were the Russians, the hackers, money in the campaign, a corporate-serving media and an uninformed electorate.
But adding it all up and more hasn’t been enough to provide a definitive set of actionable answers many seek. A few psychiatrists threw the mental card on the table – is the president really fit? Yet others brought up an intriguing theory that offers fresh insights: bad parenting.
Pointing to flaws in the way kids are raised in this country, it traces a correlation between political apathy and either overprotective parental interference, or full neglect. All helped by a mostly uncritical educational system, and demands of a gadget-driven social media culture.
Before going further on this venue, though, it’s worth mentioning that this is no theory. Not yet, anyway. Like the punditry of the Trump administration by prominent psychiatrists, invoking parenting to explain matters of government is no serious academic research, and books and studies in the matter are yet to be published. Apart from several articles, there hasn’t been any scientific endorsement of this approach.
Neither there are sociological papers on the matter and, as far as it’s known, no academic institution has promoted research on such subject. Which doesn’t mean it’s not worth delving into it or that one day, it won’t branch out as a scientific theory. Let’s hear it from the moms, then.
Several books about raising kids, written by Americans living in mostly contemporary European countries, focus on their radically different approach to parenting. The works often sound like indictments to values we hold high, and end on a similar note: we’re spoiling our children, preventing them from experiencing life as it happens, and imbuing them with false notions of safety and ultra-rigid moralistic attitudes.
To jump to the conclusion that all this ‘helicoptering,’ and puzzlingly almost irresponsible, culture of raising insulated kids is what has eroded our collective common sense, or that it boosted racism, class struggle, and political alienation, is a stretch. But when the president himself is accused of sex misconduct by 20 women, and has publicly defended wife-beaters and white supremacists, any theory is worth taking a look.
Thus one mother was shocked to witness a kid being beaten by another on a Swiss schoolyard, with no intervention from officials, another was startled at a scheduled parent-free sleepover at her four-year-old’s German school, and a third couldn’t accept that in France, she could not drive her child to school. To them, such nonchalance toward violence, or underage public nudity, granted calling child protection services.
Except that they were not in the U.S. And considering Americans who had children unjustly removed from home, due to an unfounded, and anonymous, call to the ACS, only to see them thrown into a deeply flawed foster care system, we should all be glad that it wasn’t an option.
So, for the most part, they all survived, and adapted, and their children thrived, arguably better for experiencing living overseas, all brutal cultural differences notwithstanding. At the very least, they’ve got a valuable insight on why the current generation of American kids seems so uninterested in taking active, flesh-and-blood part of social themes relevant to their era, while struggling with issues of isolation and fear.
It’d be easy to judge on prejudice, and sanctimoniously, conclude that, in the light of street violence, pedophilia, and countless other dangers the young faces everyday in America, is the Europeans who need to wise up and catch up with the new realities. But then Trump happened.
Suddenly, the nation that used to hold its leaders, at least while in public office, to a supposedly higher standard of behavior and correctness, demanding its presidents to be sworn-in with a hand on a bible, decides that it doesn’t count any longer with the 45. All (moral) bets are off.
And for almost two years now, that’s all we’ve been doing: giving breaks to the bully-in-chief, publishing his every fart of a thought as if breaking news, and allaying his disturbing, and terrifyingly dangerous, threats to the press, other nations, and the entire world’s survival.
It’s not new in history that proud nations and powerful empires have fell prey to more determined, albeit smaller, conquering armies. Pretty much every indigenous, native peoples in Asia, Africa and the Americas, were relatively easily vanquished by invaders often with a fraction in numbers, scientific grasp and even spiritual enlightenment. It’s a puzzle anthropologists are still to understand about the Discovery Era.
But just a couple of years back, an American president with no clear mental brilliance other than that of a snake oil salesman, who’d brag that he could kill a man on 5th Ave and still manage the votes to get elected – lying and subtracting some of the real factors that lifted him to office – would be unthinkable. Let alone someone who may have been helped by a foreign power, and got richer while at it. And yet, he is.
What was lacking with so many Americans and prevented them from putting up a bigger fight against such a huge threat to a political regime, that although far from an ideal Democracy, has still been instrumental for a U.S.’s rise to world leadership for over a century and counting?
Was it something that can be traced back to schoolyards and playgrounds carefully designed to prevent bodily harm, and a generation raised on preventive measures to avoid conflict, and skills taught to divert violence and cruelty? Why then this is also a nation that simply won’t even report daily gun massacres of innocents, and despite its economic might, has a rising poverty level comparable to the developing world?
Why a country of children being forced by parents to share their most precious toys with strangers, still votes for an individualist, whose inheritance of wealth and lack of empathy to the less fortunate should disqualify him from even attempting to run for office? And why in the birthplace of Women’s Lib and the #metoo movement, the president is still favored by a large swatch of white, urban, professional women?
Would it be our rush to shield our young from the unpleasantness of sharing the world with strangers what’s making them to altogether shut it off? Is that why they’re so addicted to tiny screens broadcasting a glamorous reality they increasingly deem themselves unfit to belong to?
Is that the same principle that breeds anti-abortion zealots with no interest in applying for social service, so to make the option they hate so much someone else has chosen, less appealing? Is it the same oven baking notions of tolerance-zero to moral flaws, as long as they’re not of a certain race, class, and gender? Is it there where the war on drug addiction gets its funding, while the drug addicted get their early graves?
And yet, there’s the yes, but. Yes, we need to investigate all reasons behind this catastrophic perfect storm of electing an incompetent to lead the world. But we also need to let our children play and be children on their own for a change. Even if the busybody next door may report us.
If there’s something that can be applied to both is the power of repetition. We teach our kids to brush their teeth as many times as necessary, so they will brush their teeth as needed. Why not hammer the administration, over and over, with the few, but crucial issues, that are relevant?
Mr. President, you’re lying. Mr. President, let’s talk about those charges against you. Mr. President, why are you promoting policies that are proved to be harmful to the environment and the future? Mr. President, Mr. President, Mr. President: shut the hell off now and listen to us.
Repeat, repeat again, don’t let the conversation change, don’t get distracted; tell them again what’s important, just like you’d do it with your own children. They will lie, and may even become skillful liars. But they need to know the difference. And that they don’t fool you or anyone.
For those thinking about the difference, one is set for tomorrow, at midnight: party people may decide to extend Carnival or Mardi Gras beyond Fat Tuesday, while the devout start their 40-day penance. Whether just having fun, or getting set to feel guilty, we still have kids to raise and a country to run. Let’s make sure the former are ready to make the latter a better one. Let’s set the best example. Cheers.

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2/02/2018 About That Gorilla, Colltalers

The first reminder – and if anything, this is a but a reminder – is that, once it starts, ending it is unlikely. No such thing as a warning either: we’ll lose count by the second shot. Also, while it won’t drag on as climate change, once the first nuke strike lands, so will all others.
It’s crucial that this generation gets the gist of it, and fast, for some are working to normalize it on our minds. Even ‘extreme rhetoric’ pales compared to reality, and talk about ‘tactical weapons’ is a deranged lie. So, again: a nuclear war may leave survivors but no survivable life.
Let’s get down to the nasty of it, for a moment. It’ll be unpleasant, and many may’ve already averted their eyes while hearing once more about the gory details of a nuclear hit. Get acquainted with them, though; they’re handy if coming across some sweet folks still needing convincing. Many movies did inform us about what may happen, but only a handful are realistic enough to show it without a sugar-coating happy ending.
First, they’ll take Manhattan. For before 9/11, few would bet that terror would punish America by picking its most open, liberal, and diverse city. But when New York got hit, the pain inflicted was but a small payback to millions living in hellish war zones they blame on the U.S.
Scientists at the Center for Social Complexity at George Mason U. have run some pretty dire computer simulations of a blast to the Big Apple. And found that a bomb with half the power of the one that razed Hiroshima, for instance, would instantly level downtown Manhattan. That likelihood is corroborated by Nukemap, an interactive map using Google API, created by Stevens Institute of Technology historian of science Alex Wellerstein. Besides creating a 1.09 square km radius fireball, a 150kt H-bomb, would instantly kill some 386.000 people.
Plus, given that about 10 million people, including tourists, move in and out of the island at any given time, another 600.000 or more would be injured. Obviously it gets immediately worse. An air blast would cause most residential buildings to collapse, destroying parts of midtown, Brooklyn and east New Jersey. Mortality in following weeks, due to spread out radiation, is expected to be from 50 to 90% of anyone around.
It comes without mentioning that such a catastrophe would, at least momentarily, overwhelm city and state’s health and emergency systems. Even though this is New York, massive amounts of concrete of its back-to-back tall buildings, now collapsed, would take months to remove, as any earthquake victim would know. Massive exodus, people futilely trying to outrun the radiation, would also call for military intervention.
The U.S.’ financial brain would inevitably freeze, and that’s not a problem exclusive to the wealthy safely monitoring it all from a distance.
And not to forget: while most would be busy helping others, or dying, the nation’s nuke warheads response strike would be already on the air.
But what if it’d be the other way around: a demented Trump-ordered first strike. For starters, it’d get executed faster than many believe that controls in place, to avoid just such a cataclysmic conflict, would be able to stall it. And undoubtedly, the bombs would indeed be bigger.
Although estimates about casualties in the Korean Peninsula are not as easily available as those that’d occur in the U.S., it’s possible to guess that, from the 76 million Koreans living in both sides, between 5 to 10% could be killed by an American uncalled for strike. Tragedy doesn’t pick sides; they’re too close to avoid sharing the same fate. Following the progression described above, you may imagine what’d be next.
An important component of both doomed scenarios, one that’s usually left out because of its unpredictability, is the likely ‘unintended’ results of a strike. Assuming that, out of phony piousness, hits would be directed primarily at each other’s arsenal, they’d also cause the obvious multiplying of the destruction. Pundits may say what they will, but raging fires would naturally spread and ignite anything in their path.
Lastly, one hopes, are the other implications of a nuclear conflict. It hasn’t even started and many nations are deep at work deciding what kind of role they’d play. Russia, as you probably guessed, won’t be idle, and recent troubling reports talk about some ‘doomsday torpedo’ (their lack of imagination extends even to fake scenarios), designed to ‘wipe out U.S. coastal cities.’ But as alarmist as the report is, its intention is clear.
Putin is a realist, but modesty is not among his personal assets; he won’t want to be forgotten when whatever global horror plays itself out.
Like Russia, another country that soils the pants of Pentagon hawks for years is Pakistan. Recent intel has determined that in the last decade, it’s increased its nuclear arsenal. Remember: the U.S. is waging its longest war right next door, and its other border is with nuke-ready India.
Enough said. None of this is new, but neither are the 70-year-old warnings that a nuclear war will produce no winners, only the end of the civilization, and the wreck of the planet for the next hundreds of years. It’s a force that’s still beyond humans’ current abilities and wisdom.
One final word, which would be totally redundant in wiser times, about the so-called survivalists, or preppies: what kind of world are you getting prepared for? Kings of the wasteland, unlike what they show in the movies, your savings and resources won’t be enough, energy won’t be an option, and untreated disease and radiation mean an even more horrible death than that of those who did not survive the first impact.
Now, with your considerable resources, and will to live, wouldn’t it be much more intelligent and rational to employ them to help reverse the tide? How much life has been already wasted in this unattainable future? How many loved ones you’ve lost to pursuit such silly endeavor?
There are many bombs either ticking or already going off in this complicated world. They’re somehow interconnected, and solutions to halt climate change will also imply addressing inequality and global hunger, and at least some of our thirst for profit and domination. It’s not naive to foresee a point when wealth accumulation ceases to be achievable as there’s a limited and dwindling pool of untapped resources to exploit.
But without counting on the also dwindling human sense of perspective and transcendence, there’s an urgent need to raise our voices, if not to call out for reason, then to appeal to the most primitive of our instincts: survival. We won’t last, it’s as simple as that. And no bunker will be large enough, powerful enough, exclusive enough to assure those responsible to light up the doomsday to avoid getting hit by it too.
It’s one planet, a single boat in an inhospitable ocean. If it sinks, we all drown, and considering the options, those who’d go first would be the relatively ‘lucky’ ones. But if enough adults rise to take the matchbox away from grown-up children, we may stand a chance. That it’d also save billions of yet unborn children, who may built a better, and equally beautiful world, is our responsibility. There’s still time. Peace.

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1/29/2018 A Year to Vote, a Year to Hope, Colltalers

To those searching for signs that 2018 may reset the world to a new path, democracy seems a somewhat unreliable choice at the moment. In fact, the power of voting, arguably the cleanest way for giving people ownership over their destiny, has taken a severe beating as of lately.
But considering that by the year’s end, over 800 million people around the globe will have new leaders, the electoral venue can’t be discarded as irrelevant just yet. Even more so as Russia, Mexico, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Brazil are among the world’s 10 most populous countries.
So it is that in our age, there’s ever more hurdles challenging the will of the people, with a resulting disenfranchising of the exercise of voting as a tool for change. It was never a secret that the Greek ideal of political representation as a step stone for a free society always looked better on, well, papyrus. And two thousand years haven’t quite perfected democracy’s structural imbalance between theory and practice.
The obscene costs of electing a representative, corruption, gerrymandering, legislative maneuvering, now Facebook and social media, all prevent polling from fulfilling its essential role: bridging classes and promoting an unified vision of government by a majoritarian consensus.
It may sound like a Pollyanna wishful thinking, that citizens would recharge their role as primary influencers of their nation’s direction. And much if not all is lost, when and if the allegiance of those elected is to financial patronage by corporations, rather than to their constituency.
But taking an overreaching, if a bit sketchy, view has the merit of highlighting what tends to be obscured by too much focus on the minutia of regional and partisan issues. And the first thing that stands out is the sheer power of numbers that will be converging to these national polls.
There’s hardly anyone wondering about the outcome of Russia’s elections in March, for instance, but a lot is at stake in Mexico and Brazil: one, for its entanglement with the U.S. and its immigration-intolerant president. And the other because Brazilians have yet to make up their minds about exactly how and why they went from the sixth world economy back to the heap of hungry countries in less than four years.
As for the other half, represented by nukes-armed Pakistan, and poverty-laden Bangladesh, geopolitics may be fuel to light up a catastrophic bonfire in Southeast Asia. Not that it should happen. And few expect even moderate social changes after their respective July, October polls.
Something else is common about those four countries, all poised to choose leaders this year: unlike other times, the Trump administration’s isolationist policies, along its supporters’ dangerous ignorance about foreign issues, may be akin to signaling segments traditionally critical of U.S.’s powerful interference in their internal affairs, an added incentive to an increase in open hostility and hatred to all things American.
As it goes, the list of actions the administration has taken in just a year are all but aggravating factors in this equation, from radically restricting immigration from those nations, to supporting Israel’s claim over Jerusalem, besides so many other poorly advised initiatives.
Both Asia and Latin America have also other major elections going on this year: Afghanistan and Iraq, no less both American theaters of war through this century; Colombia and Venezuela; and let’s not forget, Africa’s Zimbabwe. One of the Trump-coined ‘shit-holes,’ it’s scheduled (without guaranteeing it) a potentially explosive September vote, its first since Robert Mugabe stepped down after 37 years in power.
Again, it’s not the result of each of these individual polls, along with the U.S.’s own legislative vote in November, what may precipitate a change of waters in world geopolitics; it’s the critical mass represented by the staggering number of ballots to be cast that it is of note here.
This is but a selective pick over elections, to be held in the next 12 months elsewhere in the world, including Europe. But we’re focusing on those that involve politically or socially er challenged countries, all enmeshed with the vagaries of defense contractors and power ambitions.
A lot of campaigning (read, money) will be spent and waged, massive numbers of people will be engaged in political discussion, as three of the most populous continents on Earth will be directly affected by, yes, democracy. Call it as one may, it may still hold a few twists of its own in store, before it’s relegated to a decorative role, as many wish. For the common world citizen, however, it may be a golden moment.
The more attention is converged to this now considered old-fashioned way of switching nationwide political gears, the more chances the power of an educated electorate is enhanced. Notwithstanding those who like to call pretty much any political conflict as ‘polarizing,’ it’s exactly this kind of civic involvement what precludes resorting to weapons to solve power divisions. With the added plus that it’s supposed to be free.
As we’re all painfully aware, according to the Atomic Scientists Bulletin, after 70 years, we’re now only two minutes from nuclear doomsday. Thus heeding to ways that may divert and repurpose the entire debate over the fate of the planet as a whole is worth most of every effort.
It’s been an already hard 2018, but if one may, hopeful signs are still everywhere, even as we face unprecedented alerts about climate change and the environment. So, coming Wednesday some may look up at the sky, for news of another order, and a mostly symbolic phenomenon: a total Super Blood Blue Moon eclipse will happen for the first time in 150 years. Since you won’t be here next time, you may as well enjoy it.

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12/18/2017 The Year of Lying Shamelessly, Colltalers

Among other things, December is list-obsessed time. From the best-of kind to those who’ve left us, from what’ve done to what we’ve chosen. Although it’s all relative and depends of whose point of view is considered, some years do seem to take more away from us than others.
Of all that’s been lost in 2017, a new found strength has pushed back the overall dragging forces: the #metoo movement, a Women’s Lib for the new millennium. Through the year, it’s been consistent, fearless and on issue. Once more, women are to inspire society to do better again.
That’s certainly what we need at a time when lists will likely focus, even if critically, on Trump and his swampy White House. But the issues women have finally managed to top everyone’s concerns – sexual harassment, abuse of power, too much leeway for corrupted men – will require a great deal of soul searching and sacrifice from everyone. Specially men, who’d do best if they’d shut up and listen for a change.
This year’s inventory of losses can be a depressing reminder of how much work is needed for us to regain some sense of accountability as a nation, of justice as society, and dignity as individuals. An immoral president is bound to reveal the rot of America in ways we’d rather ignore.
If any hope is to be held for 2018, it’ll rely on willingness to face our worst traits with unblinking eyes and an unflinching stare. No longer home of the brave and the land of the free, if anything, Trump and the courage of women have exposed our shameful underbelly in ways we’ve tried hard to avoid. We can’t boast our honorable system or open opportunities for all, if we don’t have the guts to change our ways.
For not all that’s lost can’t be recovered, just as not everything we won should be celebrated. With due respect to those used to having things unfairly taken away from them, to sort through and figure out why we’ve lost what we did may be a needed step for us to get it all back.
We’ve all had a particularly flawed year in America, circa 2017. And if one takes only 1600 Pennsylvania Ave as a reference, then nepotism, for instance, is now a dead word; diplomacy is a slur; and sexual harassment is a way to be voted into office. Never mind that the majority of Americans don’t believe in this upside world; truth was under attack all year, and those risking their lives to defend it were branded traitors.
While hate words and empty promises were part of the president’s arsenal of diatribes, more than ever people were disregarded, shut down, or suffered the blunt of the state’s apparatus originally designed to prosecute criminals. In fact, many were charged with exactly the same things Trump is working overtime to hide, but while he’s so far avoided any consequence of his public acts, others sit in jail, unnoticed, as we speak,
So let’s run an imperfect, incomplete, and by heavens, far from straight set list of what we’ve got short of, in the past 12 months. And, without ducking responsibility for our part in falling for this Grand Theft scheme, we vow not to relent on our demands for their safe return.
We need to prepare and be ready to when people wake up to what was chipped off from their meager incomes; to what’s now charged when it was supposed to be their right to have; and to what they were promised as a fair reward for their unwavering allegiance. For it won’t pretty.
Those currently in power have lied to us through their teeth, and continued to do so even when caught red handed. No apology will suffice, or penalty be harsh enough for these con men. Thieves of the temple will get no mercy if it’s proven they’ve sold everyone a bag of rotten goods.
The inauguration set the themes that would percolate through this year in purgatory. For before the president could repeat his lie about the crowd’s size – which he did often afterwards – the massive Women’s March made a stronger statement about what Americans are really about.
It’s not about size, it said, but about decency, democratic values, inclusion. You may insist on your fantasy world, where you are king and everybody else is there to serve you, it seemed to state, but you don’t fool us: we’re here, we outnumber you, and we won’t let you define us.
Soon after, a mostly anonymous judiciary force pushed back at the president’s various attempts to ban people and to criminalize immigration, against 200 years of U.S. history. He may got his way, though, and it was everybody’s loss. Take this one down for us to take it back in 2018.
Speaking of immigrants, even though they’ve illegally persecuted and kicked out in arguably record numbers, it’s been admirable how humble and honorable their leadership has been in the process. Immigrants truly represent what’s best about America, not the president. And yet, it’s another item in our inventory that we must keep on top of the list of things to regain very soon, one among many to make us great again.
Since the election, we’ve also lost a certain demographics of white women, who couldn’t stand Hillary Clinton and chose to elect a confessed sex abuser. We’re still to welcome them back. But another demographics the Clinton campaign misread seems to be fully back on, to the betterment of everyone. For the defeat of the Alabama’s pedophile judge wouldn’t have happened hadn’t been for the record black vote.
Mostly from, you’ve guessed, black women, who not just showed up in troves, but also taught us a lesson on overcoming hurdles placed by Republicans to prevent the minority vote. And that in a state notorious for its white supremacist leanings and rampant racial discrimination.
Apparently we’re losing the Supreme Court for good. Clever backstage handlers of the new regime have been doing a mostly uncontested job at clearing the bleachers to make room to the well-heeled to argue their cases for yet more privilege. That one will take time, we’re afraid.
We also lost, at least in the first round, the battle of keeping access to the Internet free and democratic. But here is a fitting word of cautious optimism: activist groups, some Attorneys General, states and even some media providers have vowed to challenge in court the Federal Communications Commission’s vote of two – versus a citizen’s large majority – to hand control over the Web to a handful of big corporations.
Also, Europe and the rest of the world are just now realizing that most content they get on their end is generated and produced in the U.S., no bragging about. Thus some help may be on the way for users, even if it means receiving more foreign content on our desktops. Bring it on.
Then what turned out to be the biggest theme of the year, one that has had immediate global impact and deservedly so: sex abuse of women by powerful men, starting from the top, the president himself. We must strongly support their claims before any ‘moving on’ on this issue.
For that’s what’s been a widespread, and tone deaf, response from even those considered ‘enlightened males.’ Again, not just to celebrities and well-intentioned men, wanting to pitch in, but also to new Senator Doug Jones and all others who should know better: shut the hell up.
This is a moment that every man, no matter where they stand on the food chain, has to look inwards for ways to relate to an undeniable truth: women are, and have been way before John Lennon’s appropriation of the term, the ‘N’ of the world, the slave of the slaves, and now as they finally got our attention, it’s up to them to say when our typically male ‘formula to a resolution so to move on’ input is needed. Shush, please.
Few can say we come to this end feeling refreshed and ready to a new start. But it is what it is: even butterflies have their moment of ugliness. There are always more reasons to give up than excuses to push forward. Being alive is also about choosing the bigger boat.
If it all sounds like platitudes, or the musings of someone privileged enough to have an outlet to vent, here are two more self-indulgent, first-world reasons we hold next year as a beacon: the end of the Internet as we know it will also kick our channel off the air. And despite all irrational hope, our team lost the world championship game. So, for now, we’re shutting up with still some left in the tank. Happy Holidays.

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12/11/2017 Foxes Protect Their Earth, Colltalers

A tax reform to better the welfare of those who pass it. Spons
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oring a nominee who’ll heed to his supporters’ demands. The redesigning of vote districts to increase odds of electing agreeable candidates. That is, the old fashioned feathering of one’s own nest taken to a novel level.
While people are entitled to defend their own interests, living in a democratic society implies that common causes often take precedence over individual needs. And ideally, we elect governments so to arbitrate and find balance over conflicting extremes. Except when they don’t.
The staggering number of special-interest decisions the U.S. president has taken reveals a disturbing reality: as more Americans get caught in the fallout of the administration’s unfair policies, many are realizing that our current head of state has in fact little regard to the state he heads.
Two months from his first year in office and the U.S. finds itself in an unprecedented position in the world: a gigantic, dangerous pariah, at odds with most civilized nations, allies or not, and pretty much every treat, agreement, and global convention that kept the state of the planet relatively predictable. Even as that was never an ideal condition to be, at least, a commonly accepted reality goes a long way toward stability.
From the get-go, Trump’s inflammatory stance about, well, everything but white supremacists and Russian affairs, has placed the U.S. in the cross hairs of North Korea, and the Muslim world, while antagonizing women, Latinos, the scientific and gay communities, should we go on?
His latest disastrous foray into foreign policy practically lit up a new set of explosive kegs in the Middle East, when supporting the claims of Israel’s ultra-right to rule Jerusalem as its own. Like other decisions of his, this one also shows an absolute lack of reflection and due debate.
Granted, the approval of a massive set of tax cuts to corporations and the very wealthy preceded him, as it’s been an old Republican Party aspiration, and just spelling this out in words is, in itself, bizarre. But as soon as it became clear he and his family would reap generous profits from it, his push for it was decisive. The matter is not over yet, but there’s a chance that, once passed, the GOP may have little use for him.
But before wishful thinking about a possible impeachment, or a criminal process that could unseat him, Trump has already made a signature of his White House term to sabotage and wipe out every piece of environmental legislation, almost always to benefit the fossil-fuel industries.
That such stance goes so against everything we now know about climate change, pollution, powerful interests hurting the little guy, and downright isolation from the civilized world, is indeed stupefying. And given the gloomy consequences of his all-out support to notorious polluters, whatever happens to him, personally, becomes beside the point. Future generations, starting with the next, will be footing this bill.
Beyond the president’s evident poor judgment, and lack of expert advising when making decisions that will affect millions and the planet, there’s also their complete lack of sync with the reality shared by the rest of the world. That flawed quality was at full display last week.
Just as we were all assaulted by end-of-world raging fires in California, and the brutality of a viral video of a polar bear, starving to death on an Arctic’s iceless patch of land, a direct consequence of climate change, the Lout-in-Chief signs on a radical reduction of two federal parks.
With the stabbing of his pen, he cut down 85% of Bears Ears national monument, and half of Grand Staircase-Escalante, both in Utah, to, you guessed, allow oil and gas drilling, mining, and logging, and the likely destruction of estimated thousands of Native American sacred sites.
Some two million acres of pristine land will be lost, exactly to those industries responsible for much of our age’s dire state of the global environment. Something else too, perhaps worse: the decision looks like a welcome sign for developers to come and feast on federal land.
Going back to perennial optimists, who envision impeachment as a way to halt the cascade of bad executive decisions, it’s always instructive to mention the #metoo movement. Now, that’s a way more reasonable outcome to expect, or rather, hope, for this unworthy administration.
The movement that has turned tables on sexual abusers in Congress and in high positions, forcing some to step down and be accountable for their actions, has a crucial box to check next: setting up public hearings for each of the 16 women accusing the president of sexual misdeeds.
They will need our help to accomplish such a difficult task, but there isn’t any doubt as for who’ll benefit from it: Americans of all genders.
Before that happens, though, we may endure the sad spectacle of electing to the Senate a president and GOP-supported sex predator and pedophile, according to yet another group of women. Tomorrow’s Alabama Special Election may become another shameful day in America.
And on Thursday, all going according to a plan conceived in the bowels of hell and execrated by the majority, the FCC will hand control of the worldwide Internet to a handful of media corporations. Or maybe the commission will postpone its decision for when no one is looking.
Finally, to our readers around the world, whose patience is running thin for our insistence on covering the U.S. and its deranged leader so often, leaving other important world affairs aside, one paltry, but solid, justification: the guy’s finger is of the trigger of a nuclear holocaust.
This is not about breaking news, but someone whose demeanor shows little restrain and lots of anger, does make the world alarmingly unsafe.
Foxes protect their fox-earth, or burrow, just as alike minds tend to stick together. The difference is that we choose our allies based on their character and compassion; the powerful pick the ones who’ll serve them, round up the hens, and bring them diet Cokes. By the way, this is one instance when using an animal as a metaphor doesn’t do it justice: no fox would ever be as conniving as such wretched human beings.
Some may dismiss our angst by stating the obvious: that’s what happens when the lamb vote on a wolf as their leader. But that’s not how we comfort those we care about. Instead, we work to unmask the pretender and undo the charade. A country, race, or civilization are not made up only of the good and the virtuous, or about us vs them. Ideals may be pure but it’s time to get dirty to save us from this Dark Age. So chin up.

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12/4/2017 Our World Is for Sale, Colltalers

The recent push by the world’s richest 1% to consolidate its power, despite already owning half of all global resources, is not only scary and morally despicable. It also poises a serious challenge to the rest of us: have we got what it takes to push it back or it’s really game over for us?
For it’s a global game, alright. It’s not just the U.S. Republicans’ recent tax overhaul, one of the greatest transfers of wealth in modern times, but it’s also elites in Brazil, Honduras, France, Germany, and elsewhere, that are saying, hey, we’re entitled to more and we’re taking it.
That the mega rich could count on congressional enablers to do their bidding has been always a given. But it’s puzzling that they’ve chosen the cover of the night, like robbers, to pass a measure which is certain to enrich not just them, but an administration already fully engaged in helping its own cause. The bewilderment is, of course, rhetorical; the end result is that those at the top believe they won’t be challenged.
Are they right? Is the American people sufficiently aware of what just happened on Capitol Hill, and prepared to put up a fight against it? The plan seems tilted toward corporations and the wealthy, according to estimates by Congress’ own bipartisan Join Committee on Taxation, with token concessions to middle and low income, already set to expire in a few years? So, neither get too discouraged nor hold your breath.
A note on the few assumptions implied above: most of the text of the bill was kept under wraps, and undemocratically prevented from being discussed publicly. But a few points did get scrutinize by reputed economists, such as Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, scholar institutions, and others. And three of them do prove the overall assumptions: the plan favors top earners, guts Medicare, and explodes the federal budget.
It’ll raise taxes in families earning $10,000 to $75,000 over a decade, according to the JCT. It’ll cut $25 billion from Medicare in fiscal 2018, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. And it adds $1 trillion to the budget over a decade, NYTimes economists found.
But as mentioned, it’s a global drive by the super rich, and it’s been enforced across the board, and borders, by governments and enablers. Take Brazil, for instance, where unelected, and unpopular leader, Michel Temer is pushing for an outrageous social security and labor laws reform, with little opposition, while ducking a number of attempts to hold him account