Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fast Away the Old Year Passes

There have to be a ton of people looking forward to the advent of the new year in the hope it will be better than the one coming to an end. At this time, annually, we reflect on the state of the world and of ourselves and make resolutions to improve things. It seems that every new year starts that way, even the last one.

The peace of the world seems no more assured than it did this time last year. The searches for more 'security' at home and less peace elsewhere, are both up, now, from what they were  365 days ago. The world's 'trouble spots' in Asia are no more tranquil, just the opposite. And new areas of concern in Africa, for instance, have arisen over the course of he year - with war and threats of war, civil and religious strife breaking out in many places.

Christmas was a real 'blast' for some churchgoers,  bombs exploded in the Nigerian town of  Jos and in a Philippine church, and Iraqi Christians celebrated the season in what could be described as a fortified bunker. None of these were totally unexpected,  for religious 'problems'  have arisen in all three areas - and all three are loci of American 'influence'. The first as an 'oil producer' and 'study object' for the US Army's  AfCom, the second as part of the 'great war on terror' which has been going on there for 20 years and the third, which is self-explanatory on both counts.

As far as the 'war zones' go,  Afghanistan will continue in that sad plight at least until 2014, so no happy new years there for a while. Iraq is tranquil - if you don't count an on-going insurrection in the north east , a growing independence movement on the north west and recalcitrant bombers in the central areas. The US army garrison may not be directly involved on a daily basis, but the US Air Force still feels the need to fly as many tactical air missions over Iraq as it was doing while there was a 'real' war on.

Afghanistan  remains bloody as ISAF/NATO enters year 11 of trying to put 'the kibosh' on theTaliban. Military operations are in full swing all across the south, and in those parts of the west,  north and east where the Taliban have either reappeared, or have never gone away. This is accompanied with an even more massive bombing campaign - which is larger now, in terms of bombs dropped,  than the carpetbombing of the Hindu Kush that accompanied the original invasion. Most of this is aimed at destroying 'unoccupied compounds' to deny the Taliban,  or anybody else, winter shelter. Being they're 'unoccupied' means there are no civilian 'collateral damages'. At the same time, all across the country and especially in the 'secure' areas, there are  large scale, covert 'COIN' operations underway. These use US special forces  units, or Afghan SF units - some of dubious origin and purpose and the large number of 'private operatives' in the country. The jail population is presently at its greatest, ever. Even the communists didn't have as many people behind bars. Needless to say, the government remains largely ineffective outside the larger centres, and prisons, of course. The light in the tunnel has yet to appear, other than in perennially optimistic reports from the fighting forces.

Along with the man-made storm of wars, there are also those Mother Nature delivers.

 Christmas this year was marked by crowded transportation hubs notable for the numbers of people travelling, or, rather,  not travelling. Airports across eastern North America and western Europe have been shut my unexpectedly large snowfalls. That snow has also shut down land transportation and clogged cities which otherwise wouldn't have that particular experience. In the southern hemisphere massive rainfalls have flooded large areas of South America and Australia. Early season blizzards in America were so violent that deaths due to exposure were reported and people were stranded for days on closed highways. Many of these occurrences were in the 'of the century' classification. Spring-level flooding is now expected. If Al Gore was right, this can only get worse.

So 2010 rolls on into 2011 without much prospect of anything getting much better and few indicators that things could get much worse. Let's hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

St. Julian the Apostate

Julian Assange has certainly made a name for himself. Had he been equally as financially successful, he might have given the 'facebook kid' a run for Time 's 'Man of the Year' contest. But multi-billion dollarhood, especially the kind you 'promise' to give away when you're done with it, I guess,  trumps the altruism of just keeping people in the know.

Assange has been running a website called Wikileaks for almost 10 years now. Over that time it has featured a number of leaked documents and information on a number of topics, mostly inconsequential, and from a wide range of sources, mostly forgettable. Up until fairly recently, even posts that involved the US government - and there have been some notable ones on CIA operations -  didn't break many 'radar horizons', or at least any the general public heard about.

That all changed last summer when Wikilieaks aired some fairly dated imagery of an 'Apache' helicopter strike in Baghdad. This footage answered the questions asked after a journalist working for US media had been killed there three years ago. The media wanted to know what had happened. The military powers were, understandably, obfuscatory. The Wikilieaks release made it clear why. Even in the best light, the incident couldn't be seen as much other than an indiscriminate and deliberate killing of a number of Iraqi citizens under the most 'cocked-up' of circumstances. Even with that 'embarrassment', the 'fog of war' prevailed and the incident passed from view.

The next incident was the release of a number of after-action reports from US military units in Iraq.  Once again the microcosmic view of the war put the lie to any claims of  humanity in action. It was announced that Wikileaks had acquired a substantial database of such information and would be releasing it.

There followed another dose of 'sitreps' from Afghanistan that were no more positive than the previous round from Iraq. Another posting of further Iraqi 'sitreps' led to more embarassing revelations for the US  and the 'forces of democracy' at work. For one thing the unreleased information that as many as 50 000 of Iraqi civilians had been killed, than had been admitted by the military.  By now Assange was well into the public spotlight, as media sources in Britain, the US and Germany had undertaken to organize the flood of information. At this time the US started making noises about the 'dangers' of these leaks and the consequences for those involved.

In fairly short order a US Army soldier, Bradley Manning, was arrested and jailed for his alleged role in the leak. He was 'outed' by a chat line correspondent with whom he is supposed to have confided his misdeeds. No official charges have been laid against Manning, but he remains in solitary confinement in the hands of the US Marine Corps.

It was the further promise of the publication of a mass of diplomatic 'cables' that put Assange well outside the pale of US opinion. Residing temporarily in Sweden,  the expat Australian and now 'world-citizen', was highlighted in a number of media appearances and interviews. He claims his secretiveness is essential to his security. He is reputed to use no communications or devices that could be traced to place him. He lives like a third world dictator-on-the-run,  staying with friends and supporters and moving frequently, as well, apparently, as mooching on a 'royal scale'.

It was the mooching, perhaps, that led him into a new dimension of trouble. For when, we are told, he mooched accomodation with his female 'point person' in  Stockholm, and, later, train fare from another 'fan', the 'giving' progressed to that of a more intimate nature and finished with his being charged with rape, sexual assault and a number of  other 'personal' crimes.

He denies any wrong-doing, of course, but that hasn't stopped an Interpol arrest warrant and his incarceration, pending deportation, in Britain, for 10 days or so. He is currently  under house arrest pending further judicial action.

That there will be judicial action of some kind seems apparent, for he is 'bete noir' in a number of countries. He has been decried a 'traitor' in Australia, America and Great Britain. Calls for his execution/assassination have been mede by some people in high places. The Vice President of the United States wants him declared a 'terrorist'. That latter, no doubt, so the 'special' judicial processes, used to 'combat terror', might be used to 'shut him up'. The US would dearly love to have him a guest in Guantanamo. Although it's every bit as likely that any court in the US would convict him of, virtually, anything.

So Wikileaks are being blamed for a plethora of 'problems'. But in actuality the 'problems' exist independent of Wikileaks,  it's just that now they're 'out in the open'.  For if US diplomatic and other staff have negative considerations of foreign leaders they are willing to report to head office, those considerations remain founded in some substance, or not. If there is a 'problem' reported by Americans, placed to report them, Wikileaks only demonstrates what sort of things are reported. The 'problem' still exists, or existed.  Wikileaks didn't make these reports up. Publishing them could, would, or should have happened eventually. That somebody 'looks' bad, now, is no more caused by a leak, than it was when they were 'in action'  If they 'look' bad it's because they were bad, the same would be true with 'good' as a descriptor. That there are more bad stories than good ones may be a fact of life, but none of the good ones are being released, either. One would think that, if they existed, they would be, if only to counterract Wikileaks.

The latest American effort is to charge Assange with collusion or conspiracy to 'help' Brad Manning 'steal' those secret e-documents. Maybe that's why he hasn't been charged with any wrong-doing, yet. Assange's willingness to publish being seen as the greater 'crime' than appropriating the information in the first place. Brad Manning would have to 'testify' that Assange held his hand while he downloaded those files. If it meant a fixed sentence in a civilian jail as opposed to indeterminate solitary confinement in a Navy brig, I would. But even all this 'counter-conspiracy' smacks of more of the same 'badness' that's embarassing America now. It's just more fodder for Wikileaks.

Perhaps the most telling thing is that these threats to Assange are arising as Wikileaks prepares a tranche of banking memoranda. Who knows if the 'great banking collapse' of double ought nine actually transpired as it was reported, or if that, too, was another example of the screenwriters' art.

He's no angel, but the world needs more Assanges. He comes off  a lot more honest than the 'good guys'.