President Trump meets with the leaders of Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirate at the White House on Sept. 15, 2020, to commemorate the signing of the Abraham Accords. Sudan and Morocco joined later in 2020. (Photo: Ken Kurson for The Media Globe)

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One of the more encouraging pieces of news this week is the inauguration of direct flights between Israel and Morocco, undertaken in accordance with the joint declaration that the two nations signed on December 22 of last year as part of the breakthrough Abraham Accords. Morocco World News reported on July 26 that the arrival of two Israir and El Al flights in Marrakech this past weekend was something of a joyous event. Bands specializing in music alluding to folk tales and legends of Morocco turned out to fete the hundreds of tourists and visitors, and the U.S. State Department sent out a positive tweet about the event.

We have heard over and over that the eruption of Covid-19 around the world has shown us all how unprepared we were for the advent of a highly contagious disease. But the real lesson of the past year and a half may be just how precarious are personal liberties in the supposedly free nations of the Western world and how abruptly and arbitrarily officials may revoke those freedoms with little or no statutory basis and without the consent of those who elected them. Nowhere is this lesson more evident than in Australia, where people are enduring restrictions on their movements and activities that make a dystopian fantasy like Orwell’s 1984 seem tame. As the Economist reports in its issue of July 24, the state of Victoria has enacted its fifth lockdown, and the state of South Australia has issued stay-at-home orders, in response to outbreaks and infections. The Economist’s figures indicate that more than half of a population of 25 million people, the population of an entire continent, are now under lockdown. Any honest and balanced account of Australia’s lockdowns ought to mention what has happened in recent days. As BBC News reported early this week, protestors bearing signs with messages like “Emergency SOS Free Australia” have turned out by the thousands in Sydney, and critics of lockdowns have also organized events in Brisbane and Melbourne. New South Wales premier Berejiklian has said protestors should be ashamed, but, as Californians know all too well, it is easy for officials or the governor of a state to denounce people for their unwillingness to live under restrictions from which politicians themselves are often exempt.

As the identities of the last unnamed victims of the catastrophic collapse of a 136-unit condominium tower in Surfside, Florida, on June 24 at last come to light, the reaction to this horrible event focuses on the failures of structural maintenance and upkeep that allowed the disaster to happen. An expose in the New York Times published on June 26 and since updated has outlined in detail how consultant Frank Morabito in a 2018 report analyzed extensive water damage and cracking throughout the complex that should have raised flags immediately about the unsafe conditions prevailing at Champlain Towers South and spurred the building’s management to take action. The Times quotes a statement from Morabito Consulting: “Among other things, our report detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete, which required repairs to ensure the safety of the residents and the public.”

Despite the passage of three years, not only had repairs and renovations not even started, but the building’s residents did not appear to have an inlking that their lives were in danger if they continued to live and sleep in the building. Naval History magazine’s August 2021 issue features an article, “Port Chicago Revisited,” with an almost uncanny relevance to recent developments even though it must have been commissioned and written weeks before the Surfside catastrophe. In this article, U.S. Coast Guard commander Todd Moe rehashes the terrible events of July 17, 1944, when ammunition exploded at the Navy Weapons Station Port Chicago outside San Francisco, killing 320 people and wrecking two merchant ships. The inquiry following that disaster placed the blame on dock personnel, and exempted the officers overseeing them even though the latter were so bent on loading the maximum possible amounts of ammunition onto ships bound for the Pacific theater of operations and for combat against the Japanese that they knowingly disregarded federal laws about the safe and proper procedures for moving and loading ammunition.

 

By Michael Washburn

Michael Washburn is a Brooklyn-based writer and journalist. He is the author of the short story collections Scenes from the Catastrophe (2016), The Uprooted and Other Stories (2018), When We're Grownups (2019), and Stranger, Stranger (2020). Michael's story "Confessions of a Spook" won Causeway Lit's 2018 fiction contest.