Tuesday, June 24, 2008

NY Times and Obama: Honeymoon is Over

Well, here's an odd twist I hadn't expected. The NY Times dissed the Obama campaign on the front page of the print edition for two days in a row. On Monday, June 23, it was about corn-based ethanol and Obama's deference to ethanol promoters. The next day, there was a front-pager about Obama's handlers trying to discourage campaign help from American Muslims, saying "we have a very tightly wrapped message." Yeah, I just bet they do.

This is not a sudden bashing session paid for by Hillary or motivated out of concern that coverage in the past had been weighted to open Obama worship. It's simply a recognition by the Times that Obama is a centrist, manufactured product who has some serious shortcomings. He's still a strong candidate. But Obamaniacs have got to stop putting the guy on a pedestal.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Indictments Are In Order

Final confirmation came in a one-two punch over 48 hours: On June 17, a Senate report confirmed that the executive branch had regularly transferred prisoners among various locations so that "illegal combatants" could not be seen by the Red Cross. The next day, Physicians for Human Rights released a lengthy report confirming extensive and systematic physical torture of prisoners at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Kandahar. The report specifically said the torture was too routine and systematic to be the work of bad apples, and called for the appointment of a prosecutor to check on Defense Department and White House behavior. There is no room in this to even be glib or droll. We need to see war-crimes indictments of George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld (and perhaps Robert Gates?)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Plan Colombia, Forward Operating Locations, and a Buncha Other Stuff

Out of nowhere, a Colombian newspaper, Cambio, quoted me on the future of Forward Operating Locations in the context of Plan Colombia. The story involves the ouster from Ecuador of the US FOB at Manta, and its replacement by the German Olano Air Base in Palanquero, Colombia. I've given a couple talks on counterinsurgency policy in Latin America, and did an article five years ago on the rise of Forward Operating Locations and Forward Operating Bases - which since have become a staple in Iraq. But I'll be durned if I know where Cambio picked up these specific quotes!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


A friend suffered from downed trees and frightening moments during the latest wave of tornadoes and high winds to hit the Midwest. We were talking about how, in an era of global warming, the apocalypse can arrive as a series of slow, minor aggravations rather than a big world-shattering boom. Broken social scenes may characterize our slow demise more than mushroom clouds.

Then it suddenly hit me: In an era of instantaneous communications and 24/7 awareness of others via twitters and emails and blogs, global trends and crises of all types are moving in sl0-mo. Francis Fukuyama was half-right in his End of History rant. After the cold war and regional ethnic struggles, there's history all right, but sudden paroxysms of violence or confrontation are rare. When in the 21st century have we seen the times of the French Revolution, or 1848, or 1968, when decades of history take place in a single week? Instead, we have slow crises in Zimbabwe or Thailand or Ukraine or the Czech Republic that take months to unfold. Even when a natural disaster hits China or Burma, results and responses can take weeks when instantaneous responses are virtually required. And, as Michael Klare pointed out in an article on the latest oil wars, consumers were hit with a sudden wham during the 1973 oil embargo, but the arrival of peak-oil pricing comes with the aching inevitability of the frog placed in a pot of water that is slowly brought to boiling point.

One political factor that brings on this slowness is the transparency that results from a real-time global communications network. Dictators used to massacre large groups of people with impunity. Now, even a closed society like Burma can't implement a crackdown on fewer than a dozen people without the world knowing in a matter of hours. Authoritarian leaders are wracked with indecision these days, and that of course if a good thing.

But there may be some kind of natural response that the planet is providing to all the 24-hour party people. As we get to be more hyper-aware of the human universe, we lose sight of very slow natural processes. And our over-attention to the human news around us may increase our pathology. Nature somehow may be giving us oscillatory rhythms around some unknown clock, telling us to slow down, reminding us that no matter how finely and quickly we slice this universe around us, the trends driving human behavior will not suddenly explode or shatter before our eyes. Or maybe this is the natural slowing down experienced just before the tipping point - the last few grains of sand added to the pile arrive with excruciating slowness, before the inevitable high-speed avalanche begins. I sure hope it's the former.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Yo Ho! Rendition on the High Seas, Matey!

Who says CIA proprietary airline pilots have to have all the fun? The Guardian in the UK claimed June 2 that the US Navy, in conjunction with CIA and Special Operations groups, is sponsoring classified rendition missions aboard such ships as USS Ashland, USS Bataan, and USS Peleliu (pictured). Kudos to the human-rights organization Reprieve for deciphering the details of the secret prison ships. Isn't it great how our fine nation can deny human rights on the land, in the sea, and in the air? Granted, no prison camps in space yet, but we're working on the problem.