High Up

From Above, We
Can See Forever

It’s been said that Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos Dumont died, 80 years ago last July, of a broken heart. An avowed pacifist, he simply couldn’t believe that his lifetime efforts developing a heavier-than-air craft were being used to create the war’s most lethal weapon of the time.
Since it’s International Civil Aviation day, let’s check some photographs, taken from airplane windows, of a few cities dominating the world news cycle. But you’ll see neither mayhem nor excitement about what’s happening on the ground, because they all look peaceful and beautiful from above.
While Damascus remains under siege, people in Gaza Strip and Tel Aviv keep vigil, even as the rhythms of their every day life resume. Egyptians are out in the streets of Cairo, while in Juba, Sudan, another journalist has been killed for criticizing the government.

As for Americans, thousands continue to fight and die in the mountains of Afghanistan, but their sacrifice is hardly ever mentioned in the daily news. It’s much more likely that you’ll be reading about Denver and Seattle and how they’re yet to implode, now that’s legal to smoke marijuana there.
Santos Dumont had no idea how much worse things were going to get before they arguably improved, but maybe that was the idea. Airplanes did become one of the most effective ways for humans to kill other humans, and let’s not get started about drones. They also serve for a variety of great things too, though.

One doesn’t even need to be high to acknowledge and enjoy the fact that airplanes also helped us realize how much closer we’re of each other than our ancestors believe, and how beautiful the world really is, regardless of all stupid and senseless things we do with this knowledge.

Thus, it was probably for the few hundreds of thousands currently flying overhead, traveling from country to country, visiting dear ones or meeting complete strangers, that this day was created in 1996. To mark then 50 years of civil aviation, which undoubtedly brought us a bit closer.
It’s quite possible that Orville and Wilbur Wright also shared some idealism about the future of their invention. We can’t help but reaching a sobering realization though: that the dream of flying is as ancient and immemorial to humans as our will to wage war and conquer.
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As if we’re bound to reenact the myth of Icarus over and over again, we’re still led by the same intoxicating, and ultimately doomed, drive: our desire to soar free and overcome our humanity, and ambition to dominate nature and obliterate our adversaries. In the meantime:
‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. In just a few minutes, we’ll be landing on the International Airport of…’

About Last Night

What We Wish We Hadn’t Heard
During the Last Presidential Debate

The final TV clash between President Obama and his GOP challenger gave us all a bitter taste in the mouth. Left with the arduous task of peddling a mostly fact-free campaign, Republicans may be feeling deflated: their millions have so far failed to guarantee the White House.
Supporters of the president’s reelection, however, may be in an even more unenviable position. Though there’s no question about who’s better equipped to rescue the U.S. economy, the number of ideological concessions he’d to make may prove to be too much to digest.
It’s bad enough that, altogether, the three presidential and the sole vice-presidential debates have not dedicated more than a minute, if at all, for the discussion of issues such as the tragedy of gun street violence, the continuous stream of home foreclosures, real job creation, and the rampant credit card debt forcibly contracted by students in order to finish their education.
There wasn’t mention about why Guantanamo is still open, and those held there without a fair trial, nothing about persecution of white collar crimes committed by Wall Street moguls, the wretched role of money in the campaign, and even the lack of legislative reform, to prevent absurdities like senseless filibustering and the need for a ‘majority’ of 60% plus to approve any bill in Congress.
In fact, those omissions, which also include a mature discussion of climate change, or its linked issue of an energy policy to prevent it, however painful, have been perpetrated without challenge by the multibillion dollar media conglomerates. Their failure to follow up any of them only reinforce the idea that their interests have little to do with the common good for the American people.
However, there’s something that’s giving pause to President Obama’s supporters, highlighted on last night’s debate: the scary coincidence of the candidates’ positions in several key issues. Despite all rhetoric about their different ‘styles,’ in substance, they actually agreed about some startling wrong foreign and domestic policies adopted by the U.S. Continue reading

Battleground Masters

“You’re Welcome But
Can We Crash Here?”

If you’re one of the thousands of veterans returning to the U.S. from Iraq, welcome back. You’ve probably already heard it before, but let’s restate the fact of how grateful we all are for your sacrifice.
Now, there’re a number of facts that can be said about you: you’re coming back from a few tours in Iraq e possibly in Afghanistan too, but you know of many who did not.
You also know of some who did it but with serious physical and psychological wounds; you think you’re fine but perhaps have considered the possibility of seeing someone to help you cope, too. Despite the medals you’ve earned over there, you’re still not sure of what to do with your life from now on; and you’ve already been told at least twice, that there’re no jobs available.
Now, a few things you may not have heard about what’s going on around here, and we must warn you, they may hurt: regardless of what you’ve been told, most people have all but forgotten you were even there.
HOME WHERE YOUR HELMET IS
There’s a record number of Americans living under the poverty line, and the national unemployment levels match those of 70 years ago. Continue reading

10-Year Blood Stain

The Jail That’s Made
the U.S. Forget Itself

The most shameful remnant of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the detention camp at the Guantánamo Bay’s Naval Station, reaches its 10-year anniversary today, as brutally misguided and utterly unconstitutional as ever.
Now that the U.S officially ended its disastrous military adventure in Iraq, the 171 prisoners still being held there, including the 89 already cleared of any charges, remain the single most eloquent, and tragic, discrepancy between the thrilling Senator from Illinois who promised to close it, and the way more conservative President Barack Obama, now running for reelection.
Worse, his deeply embarrassing failure to enforce the rule of law for allegedly enemy combatants, as an example before the world and the judgement of history, has now officially spilled over to Americans too.
At the dawn of the year, the president signed one of the most authoritarian pieces of legislation ever signed by the U.S. government, with threatens with indefinite detention and with no access to the Continue reading

Combat Pets

Soldier Dogs With Same
Traumas as U.S. Troops

We breed them. We treat them as equals, as gods or slaves. We love and we fear them. And we’ve been eating them for ages.
Since we’ve been around, we’ve done with animals as we damn well pleased. Including being killed in our wars, often instead of us.
Elephants, horses and dogs. Dolphins, sea lions and pigeons. Primates and pigs. Even cats and bats have died in wars or in weapon labs.
Now, like the canary in the mine, dogs are sounding the alarm. Some of those deployed in combat are suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
DAMAGED HOUNDS
It’s a disturbing, if predictable, consequence of their loyalty to the military. And more so than with the troops, these warriors may have been psychologically hurt for life.
Counseling therapy, of course, won’t work with them. In fact, in many cases, treatment is a guess work, at best, and to expect a full Continue reading

Active Duty

We Owe Them Much
More Than a Parade

Their sacrifice will never be repaid. Their blood will never be recovered. Their lives will never be restored.
We may fill the air with our grandiose words, and bring our families to show support, and cover our cities with flags. Nothing will ever compare with what these people did for us.
We could all have gone, but they were the ones who actually went. We could all have fired but they were the ones who took the bullets. We could have matched their intent but never their courage.
While we safely slept and dreamed, they we’re standing in the rain of gun powder. While we were putting our kids to bed, they were sorting the bodies of fallen comrades.
So many of them have been here for years, but we never told them Continue reading

War of the Flies

Never Mind Homework Helpers.
Robots Are Being Primed for War

Perhaps the contemporary crop of war strategists grew up watching one too many times Terminator movies. Perhaps it was just unavoidable. Because, at least by its iconography, war is beginning to resemble more and more those cyborg pictures you used to see not long ago a dime a dozen at your local multiplex.
Gone are the Jacksons’ future that was supposed to be, with its friendly rolling maids and servants, doing house chores and helping little Timmy with his homework. A boring and bourgeois future that, frankly, no one will ever miss.
Still, the alternative is not quite as realistic and if your toaster one day becomes a transformer and chases you around the house, well, consider yourself warned. We bet you never read Continue reading

Eye on the Year

RECORDS BROKEN &
VERY LITTLE CHANGE

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The Earth Shook & Burn But
The World Only Moved Sideways
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A year of extremes but no breakthroughs. Records of the wrong kind (U.S.’s longest armed conflict in Afghanistan and worst environmental disaster ever, highest temperature indexes in several regions of the world, increased infection diseases mortality rates in the Caribbean and Africa, and staggering drug trafficking casualties in Latin America) plagued the world, with the additional bonus of a certified freak: a snowstorm in the middle of the Australian summer.
But there was no progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks; no curbs on Iranian and North Korean authoritarian antics or scary nuclear ambitions; no meaningful proposals to solve political impasses in the Ivory Coast, Sudan, Rwanda, Nigeria or Zimbabwe.
Disturbing tactics did get deployed, though, by the world’s superpowers but with the only intention of curbing whistle blowers and freedom of information acts such as WikiLeaks. It gave civil rights activists of every stripe a chilling pause to see Continue reading

Difficult Conversations – Special Edition

Earthquake, Oil Spill &
Dangerous War Secrets

____________

A Short List of What Have Kept Us Awake in 2010,

and What We May Need to Awake From in the New Year.

________

THE TOPS
1) July 26, December 19. The biggest story of the year, the two-punch WikiLeaks revelations about our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the startlingly dispirited diplomacy used to achieve them, had all the limitations of an attack led by drones: all fire, no eyesight.
What was far more revealing was the swift counter punch by the U.S. and its allies in reaction to them. Within days, a case of free speech was turned into a terrorist witch-hunt of the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, the Interpol was brought in and a personal misdeed in Sweden was quickly rolled in for good measure.
The effort to punish the messenger was enough to temporarily derail the essence of the allegations, force Assange to fight expatriation and jail term threats, and land Pvt Bradley Manning, his supposedly source, into an insalubrious location Continue reading

Read My Leaks

Classified Data Exposes
a Senseless Afghan War

A trove of classified military documents about the war in Afghanistan, leaked to three major global newspapers over the weekend, is renewing questions about the validity of that conflict, while shedding a new light on some of the reasons for its overextended duration and the staggering human toll it’s exacting.

With the six-year secret reports the Wikileaks Website obtained without disclosing how and made available to the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel, a much darker picture of that war effort began to emerge. Since the three newspapers Continue reading

Better Late…

The World Prepares to
Celebrate End of WWI

Ok, you can breathe freely now.
After 92 years, and almost 40 million lives lost, World War I will be officially over Sunday. Once Germany pays up the last $94 million installment of war reparations imposed by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, champagne and cake will be served and thank you notes sent to all involved. Or rather, to their surviving kin.
It could’ve happened much earlier, of course, if it hadn’t been for that nagging Adolf’s objections over the merit of the Allies’ monetary demands. His successful bid to Germany’s Chancellery four years later was built in great part on Continue reading

Out on Bail

WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange
Walks Free, With Conditions

JUST IN: The High Court in London granted bail on Thursday to Julian Assange, the founder of the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks, while he fights extradition to Sweden on a warrant connected with alleged sex offenses.

About $370 thousand. That’s how much money was posted by a group of supporters for WikiLeaks’s founder Julian Assange’s release in London. City of Westminster Magistrates Court Judge Howard Riddle ordered him to come back to court on Jan. 11 and, until then, to reside at Ellingham Hall, a Georgian mansion in Bungay, eastern England.
He must spend every night there, wear electronic tags and stay under curfew from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. He’s also to report daily to the police from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Additionally, while waiting for a possible extradition to Sweden for questioning on the rape allegations case moved against him by two women, his passport will be held and he’s not permitted to travel abroad. The Swedish government said it would appeal against Assange’s release, but one of this lawyers said he probably would not be released until Wednesday morning.
WE SAY
Despite technically unrelated to the charges of sexual assault, by which Assange’s faces possible jail time in Sweden, most Continue reading

Why Bring the U.S. Troops Home and Soon

Do You Know

Where Our Troops Are?

What was supposed to be a series, somehow became a static, or rather, a stunted realization: counting the days and weeks makes it all even more painful. So we’ll leave at that, with the few reasons we had in the beginning of 2011 to bring the U.S. troops home once and for all.  In the end, now more than ever, the American people have understood that we need them here, while most are still alive and ready to contribute in our own nation building. At the end of the year, those in Iraq will return. Let’s hope those in Afghanistan and everywhere else on earth are also on their way home. As John Lennon once said, war is over if you want it. And now, the majority really want it. Please feel free to come up with your own reasons why that is so.

1) 1448 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan as of 1/6/11.

2) Our troops are still in badly need for state of the art battle tolls, while American taxpayers have funded at least $3 billion in ill-conceived projects.

3) Suicide bombings became a way of life, even without the support of the general population. Eight innocent civilians died today and if anything, the tragedy just fuels anti-American sentiments.

4) Because Iraq and Afghanistan are the two countries with the most grievances against the U.S.,  and with all that’s happening in Egypt, it won’t be long before fingers will be pointed yet again to us.

5) More than 230,000 American women have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan so far and at least 120 have died doing so. But despite this fact, returning female veterans face unemployment, hunger, homelessness and physical and mental traumas sustained during their service.

6) 11 UN workers have just been killed in Afghanistan, two of them beheaded, and although blame should be place at the doorstep of that nut pastor in Florida, who burned some Korans but less than ten people pay attention to in the U.S. these days, such killings are still a terrible way to lose a child.

7) Taliban is still determine to revenge bin-Laden’s death and strikes over the weekend have killed four and injured at least 29 in ‘stable’ Herat, following the assassination of a police chief and a bombing that hurt a NATO.

8) An airstrike that killed 14 people — all women and children — and wounded six in the volatile southwest Helmand province, last week, despite being a NATO’s mistake, will be surely blamed on the U.S. and paid for with American lives.

9) Use of improvised explosive devices (IED) is causing a surge in double amputees among the troops, with injuries often so close to soldiers’ hips that it is difficult to fit prosthetic legs. Young men who lose their genitals in such explosions became severely depressed and unable to function within the context of relationship.

10) In the end, it may be the war’s price tag the determining factor to end the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan. The $113 billion it’s spending this year, plus the $107 billion it aims to spend in 2012, may become the tipping point to turn the tide towards a complete troop withdrawal.