Thursday, October 04, 2007

Burma Is Burning

Aung San Suu Kyi
Noble Prize Winner and Legitimate Burmese Prime Minister, Aung San Suu Kyi

Like most places the British formerly conquered, colonized, and eventually retreated from, the country of Burma is extraordinarily fucked up. In 1948, the British empire granted Burma independence. At the time, it was one of the wealthiest countries in the East, rich in natural resources. In 1962, amid economic and political turmoil, the Burmese military, led by Ne Win, seized control of the country in a coup d'├ętat. Rangoon University students staging a peaceful protest against the government were shot down. Such began the military junta government's policy of killing unarmed protesters. That was just one of Ne Win's great accomplishments. Another was changing the denominations of Burmese bills to multiples of 9. He did this, allegedly, because his personal fortune teller told him it would make him live to be 90 (he lived to be 92).

Ne Win's decision destroyed what was left of the Burmese economy. Left with worthless currency, the Burmese people increasingly began to demand democracy. Protests, led by college students and supported by the country's influential monks, spread throughout the country. In 1988, facing a country rife with poverty and simmering in discontent, Ne Win "retired." But just as the Burmese people began to hope for democracy, a new military junta was installed (widely believed to be influenced by Ne Win), under the leadership of General Saw Maung. He crushed the pro-democracy demonstrators, killing more than 3,000 people in what came to be known as the Four Eights Uprising.

Saw Maung continued to lead Burma into isolation from the rest of the world, and continued Ne Win's policy of ruling with an iron fist and itchy trigger finger. He created the State Law and Order Restoration Council (now called the State Peace and Development Council), an Orwellian body dedicated to torturing, killing or imprisoning anyone deemed to be against the dictatorship. He also changed the name of Burma to Myanmar, a change not recognized by the United States and U.K.

In 1990, bowing to international pressure, Myanmar held free elections for the first time in 30 years. The National League For Democracy won nearly 59% of the vote. The military-supported National Unity Party won 21 percent. Refusing to relinquish power, the military junta declared the election invalid, and placed the democracy party's leader (and elected prime minister) Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest. Aung San was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 recognizing her struggle for Burmese civil rights, and spent all of the 1.3 million in prize money to aid the health and education of the Burmese people. She remains confined to her home, under heavy guard and without access to the outside world, to this day.

In 1992, Saw Maung resigned (citing health reasons) and Than Shwe took power. Initially thought to be more liberal, he maintained a hardline against democracy efforts. He's best known for spending three times the country's health budget on his daughter's wedding while the country is starving. Last year, the dictatorship moved its capital from Yangon (formerly Rangoon) to a field in the middle of nowhere. The field is in a region known for being difficult for foreign armies to invade. But the cost of moving all the government facilities and military infrastructure to such a remote region nearly bankrupted the country. As a result, on August 15th, 2007, the military junta doubled the price of fuel (which they control). The increase in price for this basic necessity, along with already inflated prices for other basic goods and services, led to the most recent protests. On August 19, 400 people marched against the government, and were quickly pacified. On September 5, three monks were injured when the government cracked down on a peaceful protest in the town of Pakokku. The monks of Pakokku demanded an apology by September 17, which they did not receive. The next day, tens of thousands of monks marched on Burma's major cities. One rally marched past the house of Aung San, where the picture above was taken.

What happened next was...

The last 50 seconds or so of this video is pretty terrifying. That's when the shots ring out:

They kill journalists in Burma:

BBC on Burma:

CNN reports on Burma's brand of police brutality:

Video here.

Burmese villages are disappearing under mysterious circumstances.

Where have all the monks gone?

Is Burma heading towards genocide? Rambo says so.

[UPDATE 10/11:] It's getting worse every day.

Thanks to the BBC, ol' reliable Wikipedia, Global Voices, and all, the, blogs, from, Burma for informing me about a nation, and a tragedy, we Americans don't get to learn a lot about.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Bono For President

Words from the U2 frontman:

"I’m... a fan of Benjamin Franklin. ...Franklin who wore John Lennon glasses before anybody, before they were cool. Franklin who went electric before Dylan. Franklin who said, ...God grant that not only the love of liberty, but a thorough knowledge of the rights of man may pervade all the nations of the Earth so that a philosopher may set his foot anywhere on its surface and say “this is my country.” Well, in case you hadn’t heard, I am not a philosopher, I am a rock star, though after a few pints, this rock star starts thinking he’s a philosopher.

So, not a philosopher, but let me set my foot here and say to you tonight this is my country. With humility and pride in my own country, let me say America is my country in the sense that anyone who has a stake in liberty has a stake in the United States of America. For all you’ve been through, good and bad, this is my country too. For every time I wince, or gasp or punch the wall, when I read something that galls, there’s another time I’m reminded of your generosity, your resilience, your innovation, your work ethic, your compassion. Although today, today I read in The Economist an article reporting that over 38 percent of Americans support some kind of torture in exceptional circumstances. My country – NO! Your country – tell me no. (Crowd answers back “no”) Thank you.

Today as you pin this great honor on me, I ask you – I implore you as an Irish man who has seen some of these things close up, I ask you to remember you do not have to become a monster to defeat a monster. Your America is better than that. Your America is the one where Neil Armstrong takes a walk on the Moon because he can. Your America is the one where so many Irish people discovered their value. Your America is the one where a brave military fought and died for freedom in places like Omaha Beach, and in the Pacific, where president number 41 here – a true World War II war hero served. Your America gave Europe the Marshall Plan. Your America gave the world the Peace Corps, JFK, RFK, MLK, the Special Olympics, Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen – the bard and the boss – Steve Jobs, local hero Will Smith, the meditations of Mark Rothko, the poetics of Allen Ginsberg, Edward R. Murrow, Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Mary J. Blige, Frank Gehry, of thee I sing, all of thee.

Hey, these are the reasons I’m a fan of America – and one more. America is not just a country. It’s an idea, isn’t it? It’s a great and powerful idea. The idea that all men are created equal. That “we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These are great lyrics, Mr. Jefferson. Great opening riff. The Declaration of Independence has a great closing line too – “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” Well the men who made that, the men who signed that pledge, had a lot to lose by signing - like their lives. So what then about you and me? What are we ready to pledge? What are we ready to pledge ourselves to? Anything? Anything at all?

What about this idea of liberty? Not liberty for its own sake, but liberty for some larger end – not just freedom from oppression, but freedom of expression and worship. Freedom from want, and freedom from fear because when you are trapped by poverty, you are not free. When trade laws prevent you from selling the food you grow, you are not free. When you are dying of a mosquito bite for lack of a bed net, you are not free. When you are hungry in a world of plenty, you are not free. And when you are a monk in Burma this very week, barred from entering a temple because of your gospel of peace, it is an affront to the thug regime, well then none of us are truly free.

My other country, America, I know you’ll not stand for that. So, look I’m not going to stand here, a rock star who just stepped off a private plane, and tell you to put your lives on the line for people you’ve never met or your fortunes – I haven’t. But our sacred honor might just be at stake here. That and a whole lot else. So what, then, are we willing to pledge? How about our science, your technology, your creativity... America has so many great answers to offer. We can’t fix all the world’s problems. But the ones we can, we must.

Watch it here: Bono accepts the Liberty Medal.

To donate to the ONE campaign, visit

Thanks to Will at Clicked for finding this one.
P.S. He also found this video, which is hilarious. Iceland Pulls Out Of Iraq.
Welcome To America

Captain UnAmerica
America's Bold New Image

All signs point to Mildred Gonzales being a U.S. citizen. Her mother is a U.S. citizen. Her child is a U.S. citizen. Her husband is a U.S. citizen--and a petty officer second class with the U.S. Navy, about to be deployed to Iraq for the third time. But according to Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, Mildred is a communist terrorist with acid for blood, and needs to go.

"What you're talking about is amnesty for illegal immigrants who have a relative in the armed forces, and that's just outrageous," he said. "What we're talking about here is letting lawbreakers get away with their actions just because they have a relative in the military. ... There's no justification for that kind of policy."

The government may be on Krikorians side. According to CNN, in June, a judge granted her a one-year extension to stay in the U.S. If she doesn't gain citizenship before by June 8, 2008, she will have 60 days to leave the country or be deported.

Why isn't Mildred a citizen? She and her mother were granted political asylum because they were war refugees from Guatemala. Her mother applied for citizenship and included her daughter in the application. But Mildred got married before the application went through. Therefore, she was no longer eligible to have her citizenship applied for by her mother.

"I understand the laws have to be followed and guidelines and a system must be maintained, but on the other token, there are times when the situation is just out of their reach," Mildred's husband, Eduardo told CNN.

"I like being in uniform and serving my country, but if she goes back I'm going to have to give it all up and just get out and take care of my son and get a job," he said. "Defending the country that's trying to kick my family out is a thought that always runs through my mind."

Mildred, added, "We didn't come here to break the law. We just want to feel safe and have a home just like everybody else."

Over Krikorian's dead body. His organization has a lot in common with another organization that uses a three letter acronym: the KKK.

But don't take my word for it. This is what Krikorian has to say about immigrants:

"Immigrant communities act as the sea within which, as Mao might have said, terrorists can swim like fish."

"...the president's "willing worker/willing employer" immigration extravaganza is morally wrong - it would change the very nature of our society for the worse, creating whole occupations deemed to be unfit for respectable Americans, for which little brown people have to be imported from abroad."

Ah, those wacky Republicans. Supporting our troops... unless they're not white.

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