Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Burmese junta is bad for humans but good for business

The WaPo reports:

"BANGKOK, Sept. 26 -- After nine days of restraint, Burma's military rulers cracked down on protesting Buddhist monks Wednesday, with security forces firing warning shots, shooting tear gas canisters, swinging truncheons and making scores of arrests to suppress anti-government marchers. The violence, despite appeals for negotiations from around the world, suggested that the junta has decided to put an end to what has become Burma's most serious political uprising since 1988, even at the price of more opprobrium from abroad."

Yesterday at the UN White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said "The U.S. is very troubled that the regime would treat the Burmese people this way." [Opprobrium? What opprobrium?]

You don't say? How did the US feel when Unocal and Total contracted out the Burmese Army to protect their precious Yadana gas pipeline project?

Whereas, nowadays we have concerns over private security firms operating outside the box in Iraq, back in 1993 the two oil corporations Unocal and the French company Total contracted out the entire Burmese Army! The Burmese Army rounded up local Burmese and made them work for free to help build the pipeline and in 1996 15 of the Burmese, who were lucky enough to survive their little stint as unwilling Unocal/Total employees, brought a lawsuit against Unocal in Federal Court in California.

The Washington Law College website spells out the particulars:

"The plaintiffs in the Unocal lawsuit are seeking compensation for damages on 18 claims, arguing that SLORC military and intelligence personnel, as agents of Unocal and Total, used illegal force under international law to the direct benefit of the joint venture project. The claims against Unocal include crimes against humanity, forced labor, torture, loss of their homes and property, and rape. The plaintiffs also are seeking injunctive and declaratory relief under U.S. law, including a court order directing Unocal to cease payments to SLORC and to cease participating in the Yadana joint enterprise until the corporation can guarantee that no further human rights abuses will occur on the Yadana pipeline project."

In 2004 Unocal settled with the plaintiffs for an undisclosed amount and said they were sorry for anyone "who may have suffered hardships." It really gets you right there, doesn't it? The sincerity is underwhelming.

Now, as the US urges it's allies in the region that support the Burmese junta to "use whatever tools they think appropriate" to discourage another massacre, news comes of yet another very labor intensive pipeline the Burma Army will be helping out on.

Besides the help the Chinese give to the SLORC, the Indians supply the Army with weapons that they use against their civilians. We're not going to press them too hard, though, because there's a lot of nuclear energy company money riding on that big nuke deal W. signed with the India.

Ah, but but what about the South Koreans, you ask? According to Daewoo International Corporation along with our good friends the Indians are setting up to do another gas pipeline for SLORK called the Shwe Natural Gas Pipeline Project. This time the deal is worth some 3 billion dollars. What's the death of a few monks compared to that?

According to a activist group, The Shwe Gas Movement, trying to stop this pipeline:

"The Indo-South Korean Shwe Gas consortium is currently in a process of surveying the offshore A-1 and A-3 blocks for a final production phase. Unless the project can be stopped now, the construction of platforms, pipelines and a possible Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant near Kyauk Phyu is likely to start in 2008. Meanwhile, the President of Daewoo International, Lee Tae-Yong will in March face South Korean court for his involvement in selling US$133 worth of equipment for an arms factory in Pyay in Burma. The factory is nearing completion and will then start producing weapons to suppress its main enemy, its own people."

Well, alright! What's Condi doing about that?

And what of our good friends the Chinese, who are about to host the Olympics?

Reuters reports:

"Asia expert Derek Mitchell said it was unlikely that China would do anything publicly except perhaps to condemn violence in Myanmar and call for a peaceful resolution of differences.
'They will stick to their non-interference policy,' said Mitchell, a senior fellow for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank. 'This does not rise to any level of criticality for Chinese interests to violate what they see as an inviolable rule given the glass house they live in when it comes to internal disturbances and the ability of a government to put them down,' he added."

If mass slaughter in Darfur doesn't move them, I doubt they're about to do anything about a few monks getting killed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hamid Karzai 'on the nod' at the U.N.

USA Today reports:

"President Bush said Wednesday that Afghanistan is becoming a safer, more stable country, thanks to the efforts of President Hamid Karzai. 'Mr. President, you have strong friends here,' Bush told Karzai after they met for about an hour at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel here. 'I expect progress and you expect progress and I appreciate the report you have given me today.'"

This is a joke right? Here is just a sample of the news coming out of Afghanistan today from the Afghanistan News Center:

* "Pro-Taliban militants beheaded two men in Pakistan's restive tribal region on the Afghan border on suspicions they were spying for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, intelligence officials said on Wednesday The decapitated bodies of an Afghan refugee and a Pakistan tribesman were found dumped by the road near Miranshah, the main town of the North Waziristan region. Hand-written notes were lying near both bodies, saying they were killed because they were U.S. spies.'Those spying for the Americans will have a similar fate,' ones of the notes said."

* Rosemary Stasek, former mayor of Mountain View Cal., who has lived in Afghanistan for most of the past five years told an audience at Niagra University yesterday: "Sexual abuse [in Afghanistan] is endemic. Domestic violence is endemic. Violence and sexual abuse against women is endemic. So is sexual abuse against girls, if you consider underage marriage sexual abuse. I do."

According to ANW, Stasek added that along with the sexual abuse of young boys the drug trade has led to the building of “monstrous homes they have built in Kabul. They’re called Narco Villas because they’re built with drug money.”

* "Preying on a weak government and rising public concerns about security, the Taliban is enjoying a military resurgence in Afghanistan and is now staging attacks just outside the capital, according to Western diplomats, private security analysts and aid workers. . . 'The Taliban ability to sustain fighting cells north and south of Kabul is an ominous development and a significant lapse in security,' said a recent analysis by NightWatch, an intelligence review written by John McCreary, a former top analyst at the US Defense Intelligence Agency."

* "An acute shortage of food items in Afghanistan and Pakistan have sent prices shooting upwards in both countries. But, while the food crisis in the war-torn country is a result of continuing conflict, north-western Pakistan has been suffering a shortage because of rampant smuggling of edible goods to Afghanistan. 'Re-building of war-ravaged Afghanistan besides affecting the prices of various non-food items has also had adverse effects on the commodity market of the bordering North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) because of massive smuggling,' said Sharafat Ali Mubarak, a leading trader."

Hamid Karzai must have been sampling some of the Horse produced from this year's record crop of poppies when he told Bush: "I don't know if you feel it in the United States but we feel it immensely in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has indeed made progress."

Yes, if by "progress" he means an emmence amount of heroin.

AP reported at the beginning of the month that:

"Afghanistan’s world-leading opium cultivation rose a 'staggering' 60 percent this year, the U.N. anti-drugs chief announced Saturday in urging the government to crack down on big traffickers and remove corrupt officials and police. The record crop yielded 6,100 tons of opium, or enough to make 610 tons of heroin — outstripping the demand of the world’s heroin users by a third, according to U.N. figures."

Now that's what I call progress!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Philly is # 1!

The WaPo reports:

"Violent crime in the United States rose more than previously believed in 2006, continuing the most significant increase in more than a decade, according to an FBI report released yesterday.

. . . In June, the FBI's initial report showed that Philadelphia's 406 murders last year represented a 7.7 percent increase over 2005. Among the top 10 cities, Philadelphia reported the highest violent-crime rate last year, up 5.9 percent." [Inquirer]

It's nice to be number 1 in something, I guess.

The WaPo reports further that the DoJ during the Alberto Gonzales era was really taking the bull by the horns:

"[DoJ spokesperson Brian] Roehrkasse said the Justice Department has introduced or strengthened several anti-crime initiatives this year and is seeking $200 million to help support violent-crime task forces for fiscal 2008.

Gonzales unveiled an anti-crime package in June that would set new minimum sentences, establish stronger penalties for firearms violations. . ."

Yes, enforce the laws on the books already, don't take the guns off the streets, just fill up the prisons with another million Americans with those very effective minimum sentences. That'll work!

Ennui on the air: Letter to NPR's All Things Considered

Dear ATC-

Regarding Robert Krulwich's piece on yawning:

I would say many of us these days can find enough to yawn about just listening to your broadcast without the benefit of audio of college students faining sleepiness. Listening to uninteresting people blab on interminably about their "philosophies" and "core values" in This I Believe and the relentlessly boring and always irrelevant commentary of the fossilized remains of Daniel Shorr provides me with the perfect background noise for a nice nap in the afternoon. I always keep my ear out for hard news, yet my slumber is happily rarely interrupted by any of that.

Not enough Ahmadinejad, too much fear.

Eric Trager, a Ph.D. student in political science at the University of Pennsylvania, writes in the Inquirer today that the U.S. is losing the battle of public opinion with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad's "strategy" of manipulating our leaders into doing what he wants is "brilliant." His gambit to lay a wreath at Ground Zero made Mayor Bloomberg look like a dolt, and as for his speaking engagement at Columbia university . . .

"If the predictable protests forced the cancellation of his talk, Ahmadinejad could declare that his freedom of speech was quashed, vilifying the Jewish groups inevitably at the core of these protests while questioning the true extent of American civil liberties. When permitted to speak, Ahmadinejad ensured that he would return to Iran after having engaged faculty and students at one of the nation's top universities. Ahmadinejad 2, Americans 0."

Trager writes: "He understands the American public far better than our leaders understand the Islamic publics to which he is appealing. Therein lies his true danger."

Yes, the true danger of Ahmadinejad. . . after all:

"His government is supplying weapons that are killing American troops in Iraq. He recently sponsored a conference denying the Holocaust. He has called for Israel's destruction, and is openly pursuing nuclear capabilities."

The U.S. says Iran is supplying weapons to their Shiite brethren in Iraq (who include the government we're propping up) but there is, as of yet, no actual proof that their government of Iran or Ahmadinejad personally is behind any of it.

If you'll recall, the US made a big show of displaying all the "evidence" they had about this lethal activity but prevented reporters from disclosing who was giving them the briefing, didn't allow pictures and didn't provide any documentation. At the time, in fact, even General Peter Pace said the mere presence of Iranian made weapons, "Does not translate that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this." [Boston Globe]

Truth 1, pro-Israel/anti-Iranian hype 0.

Trager has some good points to make:

'The Bush administration - and future administrations - will have to confront Iranian successes in public diplomacy," he says, which is true, but then he follows that up by contending that these PR successes "have made Shiite Ahmadinejad a beloved figure among Sunni masses throughout the Middle East" - - which is nonsense.

Besides the fact that Hassan Nurallah is way more popular than Ahmadinejad, most of his popularity has more to do with his standing up to the United States, which continues to support Sunni autocrats throughout the region and -- oh yeah -- invaded a Muslim country and, along the way, managed to alienate the entire Islamic world by doing things like opening up Gitmo and humiliating Iraqis in their thousands at Abu Ghraib.

With a bully like George W. Bush strutting around the Middle East telling insurgents to "bring it on," even the dumbest dictator in the world could make himself popular by thunbing his nose at the big bully in the neighborhood.

As Michael Slackman recently pointed in his analysis of Ahmadinejad in the NYT:

"In demonizing Mr. Ahmadinejad, the West has served him well, elevating his status at home and in the region at a time when he is increasingly isolated politically because of his go-it-alone style and ineffective economic policies, according to Iranian politicians, officials and political experts. "

In point of fact, all this grousing about Ahmadinejad is pretty much beside the point when it comes to our policies regarding Iraq and Iran. Like an Iranian political scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal for Slackman's pieces said: "The United States pays too much attention to Ahmadinejad. He is not that consequential.”

But he's really good for stoking up fear of another Holocaust and raising money for AIPAC.

As Eric Trager says, Let's put "Amadinejad's denial of the Holocaust in its appropriate context: As Iran pursues nuclear weapons, its denial of one genocide might beget another."

Right, Iran is going to nuke Israel if they ever get a nuke. And Israel will nuke Iramn from the air, sea and land. And the US will Nuke them from the air, sea and land. Smart plan.

I say let's have Ahmadinejad have a weekly show in the US and let him spew all he wants. The more we see of this guy the less afraid we should be.
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