Rohingya refugees and the “calibrated” approach to letting them die

Rohingya refugees (Christophe Archambault?AFP) May 17 2015

It’s so comforting to know the UN human rights chief is “appalled” at reports Thailand, Indonesia, & Malaysia are pushing immigrants back to sea; that the White House spokesperson ‘expressed concern’ about the refugees, that the US State Department is ‘urging’ countries to work together, & that the US is working with the UN refugee agency to save lives. Because if there’s anything the massive humanitarian crisis in the Andaman Sea needs, it’s more platitudes & hand-wringing–especially of the appalled kind. The Council on Foreign Relations is really worked into a fury over the monumental human rights crimes against the Rohingya in Myanmar & the Andaman Sea. Their man says, albeit with some peeve, Myanmar should “rethink its “racist” plan for the Rohingya.” You can’t talk tougher than that.

The persecution & ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Myanmar has gone on for decades including being stripped of citizenship; religious persecution; forced labor; land confiscations; arbitrary taxation & various forms of extortion; forced eviction & house destruction; restrictions on travel for health & work; restrictions on marriage, education, & trade. Today, 130,000 to 140,000 homeless Rohingya live in refugee camps in Myanmar & thousands more in camps in Bangladesh. The camps in Myanmar are filthy & wretched & infectious diseases are rampant. Residents are not allowed to leave without police escort so they’re more like concentration camps. The NY Times called them “apartheid-like conditions” but they’re really more like Auschwitz.

When then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country in late 2011 & when Obama went there in 2012 & 2014, the ethnic cleansing & flight of Rohingya was in high gear. Media reported “there was much fanfare about the country’s political reforms & apparent road to democracy after decades of oppressive military rule.” There was fanfare, but only if you had your head stuck up your ass because the military still ruled the country without making much effort to camouflage that fact.

The US State Department claims they have a “calibrated” approach to human rights in Myanmar. They like that word; they think they’re being foxy with it. It means the US can maintain some minor sanctions on Myanmar but still do substantial financial business & work out an understanding with the junta so Myanmar can join Thailand & the US in annual military exercises. It’s called talking a good game. Obama calls it “engaging with the country.” And you wonder why so many graduates with international affairs degrees end up as Fox News commentators or driving taxi?

One US State Department official put it so subtly–what they call nuance in apologia: “I don’t think we’re going to see breakthroughs in the short term. Burma was an opening to a breakthrough, and it’s one that we always knew would take years to move from its starting point to its finishing point.” “An opening to a breakthrough.” It could be poetic if it weren’t complete horse manure.

The Australian regime also has a “calibrated” approach. That’s why prime minister Tony Abbott glibly defended turning boats away from sanctuary, as Australia does. When was he released from the criminally insane asylum? He hasn’t even the good sense to talk with “nuance,” the essential tool of diplomacy.

The US claims in the past year it’s sent $109 million in humanitarian assistance for “vulnerable Burmese people, including the Rohingya.” It’s apparent not a dime has gone for that project but given the US track record on promised humanitarian aid, it’s more likely it was actually never sent. Both Obama & Clinton met with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aug San Suu Kyi who spent years under house arrest for opposing the military dictatorship. As a member of parliament now, she remains as mute today as she was in 2012 about the persecution of Rohingya even though she is considered one of the most influential women in the world. But then of course, you wouldn’t ask Obama about peace.

While the Thai navy is pushing refugees further out to sea to die, the Thai government is organizing a regional conference on May 29th to window-dress the crisis. Myanmar is threatening to boycott the meeting if the issue of Rohingya is on the agenda. They don’t have to be there to be condemned or to have sanctions leveled against them. But of course, that won’t happen.

Truth of the matter is, with close up shots like this from journalist boats, we are being offered a front row seat to slow-motion genocide. Journalists are tossing water bottles to the boats; Thai fishermen are passing supplies–but there are no UN vessels in sight. There are no US ships though they could move the 5th Fleet from Bahrain or those warships off the coast of Yemen.

The Thai, Malaysian, & Indonesian regimes are shamed. And so is every other country that could move navies into the Andaman Sea & take the refugees to safety.

Immigration is a human right! Open the borders!

(Photo of Rohingya on ships by Christophe Achambault/AFP)

Women don’t kiss ass anymore; get used to it!

So many times when someone on social media gets testy with me they accuse me of egotism & building a cult. Narcissism & grandstanding in politics get on my nerves too so I make it easy on my accusers & dump their asses. But I’ll tell you what’s really going on. A lot of people, regrettably men & women, want women to speak timorously, want us to hedge our opinions like we’re uncertain, want us to blow hearts & kisses so as not to offend, & apologize all over the place. They want us to be uncertain, cowed, deferential. We’re only allowed to speak in a strong voice if we’re credentialed with advanced degrees.

This is when feminism meets Godzilla & our tormentors learn the meaning of the block button–social media’s special kind of hell.

Child immigration damns neoliberal immigration policy

Infant immigrant in Med Sea (Sascha Jonack:German Armed Forces) May 16 2015

This infant was rescued with his/her mother in the Mediterranean by a German frigate. (There was no explanation for why a German warship was in the Mediterranean.) Originally, I was going to do a post on the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children immigrants on every international route; on the thousands of children in US foster care because of massive deportations under the Obama regime; of the wrenching trauma for children left behind when parents leave for work.

The frightened little face of this baby renders words unnecessary & shows up the barbarism of neoliberal immigration policy.

May he/she have a blessed life.

Immigration is a human right! Open the borders to every man, woman, & child. No human being is illegal.

(Photo by Sascha Jonack/German Armed Forces)

Kangaroo court justice in Egypt

Mohamed Morsi (Reuters) May 16 2015

A Cairo criminal court today issued a preliminary death sentence for former president Mohamed Morsi, deposed by the military in 2013 after massive protests against his rule. It’s a preliminary ruling because the court is legally bound to send the case to the grand mufti for consultative review. According to the checks & balances in a kangaroo court, the grand mufti’s opinion is not binding on the court since he’s not a rubber stamp operation & has disagreed with the death sentence in hundreds of cases.

Morsi is already serving a 20-year sentence for ordering the arrest & torture of protesters while in power in 2012. Who could disagree with that verdict? Except that it was handed down by a judiciary which has faithfully served military dictatorship for decades.

Media isn’t particularly good at coherent narrative but there appear to be two cases going on in the courtroom simultaneously–just to make sure we understand the kangaroo character of justice here. One part of this case is called the “Hamas Espionage case” & includes 20 imprisoned defendants, including Morsi & other members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), as well as 16 others who fled the country. There’s a litany of charges against them including spying for Hamas, colluding with Hezbollah & Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, & smuggling foreign agents into Egypt to destabilize the country. The court handed down preliminary death sentences to 16 of them but did not include Morsi.

The other case which got Morsi & 100 other defendants the death sentence is his alleged role in the Wadi el-Natrun prison break during the 2011 revolution against Hosni Mubarak. The prison, north of Cairo, was used to jail MB activists, including Morsi, under the regime of Mubarak. An earlier court concluded that Hamas & Hezbollah colluded with the MB to orchestrate a jailbreak. Morsi was among the 20,000 who escaped. The prosecution accused them of vandalizing & setting fire to prison buildings, murder of prison guards, attempted murder, looting prison weapon depots, & releasing prisoners from Hamas, Hezbollah, the MB, assorted “jihadists,” & ordinary criminals. The mind reels before such legal horse manure.

Morsi may or may not face a public hanging since he dutifully served the same masters as the the Mubarak & Sisi juntas. He was no rebel or champion of the oppressed but a violent opponent of the Egyptian uprising. They reduce their options for future minions & useful stooges if they execute him. What these show trials are all about is not getting Mohamed Morsi but targeting the Muslim Brotherhood & destroying every vestige of popular resistance.

It doesn’t matter how reactionary or violent the role of the MB during Morsi’s tenure. When the military junta re-took power in July 2013 & ousted Morsi, they turned on the MB who had exhausted their role in reversing the revolution. The Sisi regime used violent assaults on the MB as a scapegoat to destroy the Egyptian uprising. You can detest the role of the MB but you cannot in justice stand mute while the regime goes after them hammer & tongs, assaulting them, shooting them down, arresting & torturing them, declaring them a terrorist organization. The defense of the MB today is the defense of the Egyptian revolution.

One thing that’s quite evident in this trial is how linked the Palestinian struggle is to the Egyptian revolution. When the kangaroo court made Hamas a centerpiece in the trial it is because solidarity between Palestinians & Egyptians is the very heart of social transformation in the Middle East.

Our fullest solidarity with the MB under attack & our strongest condemnation of this kangaroo travesty.

(Photo of Morsi in the docket from Reuters)

Forbes magazine: our own little slice of satire

Sweatshop game (2)

Who needs Charlie Hebdo when you’ve got Forbes? The magazine, which is partially owned by Bono from U2, has an entire stable of trained seals who bark on cue in defense of sweatshops & child labor & against the BDS movement, accusing it of bullying celebrities.

In researching something in Forbes, I happened across the 2012 review of an iPad game available at the app store. It appeared to be sarcasm, which was surprising from the dull minds over at Forbes, but it’s indistinguishable from the sweatshop paeans written by Nicholas Kristof, Paul Krugman, & Jeffrey Sachs, so maybe not.

The game is named Sweatshop & the gamer is put in the role of a sweatshop owner “in an unnamed poor country, making bags, trainers, & other fripperies for relatively rich westerners.”

One game figure is Boy “representing the workers, & making communistic demands for water breaks, toilets & the like” & another is Boss “representing the urge to wring every possible cent of profit from every worker” & who advocated the torture of employees “for the fun of it.”

There are different kinds of workers represented in the game–from children, “who are slow but cheap” to robots which are faster & more efficient than humans but “also bleed less after industrial accidents.”

Don’t be too sure it’s sarcasm. We know from when the owner Steve Forbes ran for president in 1996 & 2000 that he’s a complete dunce & dour to boot–a classic case of privilege makes you stupid. The bon mot is not one of his gifts. The verbal blunder is more his style. Wit is beyond his grasp–unless you count putting your foot in your mouth.

Overall, the reviewer said Sweatshop was a fun game which didn’t “wear its message too heavily.” One doesn’t know whether to be creeped out or just aghast at the cynicism. Or both.

(Photo is cover of Sweatshop)

Sign petition to support cultural boycott of Israel

The BDS committee is asking Brazilian musicians Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil to cancel their July 28th performance in Tel Aviv–the one year anniversary of Israel’s Operation Ethnic Cleansing in Gaza.

In 1968, Veloso & Gil, two of Brazil’s biggest pop stars, were arrested by the military dictatorship. They spent a few months in prison & several more months under house arrest. The junta wanted them to leave the country so let them play a concert in 1969 to raise the money. They went into exile in London for the next three years.

Their music has always been associated with struggles for freedom, justice, & equality–which is precisely why Israel wants them to perform. Veloso & Gil aren’t schleps like Robbie Williams but people of character. That puts the forces of justice in a political tug-of-war with the forces of apartheid for the education of Veloso & Gil as with Lauryn Hill, Roger Waters, Snoop Dogg, Carlos Santana, Coldplay, Lenny Kravitz, & Elvis Costello who all withdrew from gigs in Israel in respect for the boycott.

Please sign & share this petition to support the cultural boycott of Israel:

Join Palestinian and Brazilian organisations in calling on Veloso and Gil to cancel their Israel concert:…

Tabloids caught lying again

Do you know how to tell the tabloid is lying that Yoko Ono had an intimate affair with Hillary Clinton? Because they claim Ono met Clinton at several anti-Vietnam War protests in NYC. Rest assured, neither ever marched with the plebeians.

And that’s enough celebrity gossip for one day. Make it a year.

The left should stop chattering and do something

Rohingya:food from water (Christopher Archambault:AFP) May 15 2015

There’s been a lot of chatter on the left for a long time about the need for a united party to counterpose to neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism. And indeed that is a crying need. But before you talk about a party you ought to talk about working together to address the miseries all around us created by neoliberalism. If you can’t work harmoniously for justice, what the hell is the point of a group where you’ll be at each other’s throats over doctrinal differences?

The wars, Palestine, women’s rights, sweatshops, child labor, civil rights, civil liberties, the immigration crises everywhere on this planet are issues where unity can be forged in action. But most of the left is nowhere to be seen & lord knows, there’s enough of them selling newspapers. What the hell are they doing? Where are they concentrating their political energies?

No one who lives in the US should be riding a high-horse but still the question emerges, “Why haven’t left groups in Europe been organizing protests in defense of immigrants in the Mediterranean? We know there are immense political movements in Southeast Asia. Where are they in response to the crisis in the Andaman Sea? Are protests just not being reported anywhere? Are human rights groups, like too many in the US, all tied up in foundation hush-money?

This photo is Rohingya immigrants scrounging for food in the sea after Thai helicopters dropped parcels. The ones in the water are passing food supplies to those on board, including many small children. The UN & other human rights agencies haven’t sent rescue boats–& mind you, the UN has a military it can deploy if need be; & it has resources. Their hand-wringing is not a worthy response to this massive catastrophe. The left should be responding to all this–not twiddling with irrelevancies & factional disputes.

One of the operational mantras of capitalism is “find a need & fill it.” That’s pretty much what human smugglers are doing & they’re being chastised for it. Well there’s a much more pressing political need in immigration that needs to be filled & that is building international solidarity: picket lines, rallies, teach-ins, & speak-outs to educate on the human right of immigration & why “an injury to one is an injury to all” is the iron law of social transformation.

If the left can’t get together & work on that, they’re not much use at all. And the certainty is, when they’re eighty, they’ll be even more tiresome than they are now.

(Photo by Christopher Archambault/AFP/Getty Images)

Peruvian farmers protest open-pit copper mine that will destroy their region

Peru farmers ( Martin Mejia:AP ) May 15 2015

News reports accompanying this photo are quite sketchy but it only took a few sentences to set off all kinds of red alerts. These are farmers in Cocachacra, Peru battling with riot police defending the $1.4 billion Tia Maria open-pit copper mine project. The farmers, along with environmentalists, claim the mining operation will contaminate their fields, groundwater sources, & crops. Thousands of people in several cities in the region have actively opposed the project for years. Of course, you don’t know most of that information from the sketchy reports.

If you’ve been following the history of multinational mining projects in Peru, you know the government has fast-tracked environmental studies minimizing potential contamination precisely to attract more foreign investment. The plunder will mostly be taken out of the country but not without enriching the local oligarchs & their minions in the regime. One of the red alerts in the articles is that the Tia Maria mine is owned by Southern Peru Copper Corp. based in Arizona, & a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico.

The name Grupo Mexico might ring a bell because just last August in Cananea in the state of Sonora, Mexico (about 40 miles from the US border with Arizona), a mining spill considered the worst environmental disaster in Mexico’s history happened at the Buenavista del Cobre copper mine. The mine is owned by Grupo Mexico which runs its operations on the neoliberal business model of scorched earth.

In that mining spill, eleven million gallons (42 thousand cubic meters) of sulphuric acid, arsenic, cadmium, copper, chrome, & mercury were spilled into two rivers, contaminating the water supply for several municipalities (including the downstream capital city of Hermosillo with one million people); destroying the local ecology along the river & the livelihood of thousands of farmers; making the area uninhabitable for local flora, fauna, wildlife & for birds on a major north-south migration route.

The farmers & environmentalists aren’t talking through their hats. There is an entire history of open-pit copper mining just in the US which has left thousands of acres in Arizona, Montana, & Utah not just vast eyesores but have done massive environmental damage to fish & wildlife, water & air contamination, & created health & public safety problems for hundreds of thousands.

Peru, whose economy is warped by neoliberalism, depends on mining for 62 percent of its export earnings because it has bent over backwards with incentives to multinationals. Investment in mining last year based on those incentives amounted to $8.6 billion according to official figures. The country is now the world’s number three copper & number five gold producer. And you can bet your sweet boopie the oligarchs are raking in the dough for closing their eyes to environmental catastrophe. Short-range profiteering is one of the fatal flaws of the neoliberal business model.

The Peruvian elite is not going to let farmers & environmentalists scare off their gravy train with these protests & they have used considerable violence against them. Several farmers have already been killed. And that puts those farmers on the front lines (or rather one of the front lines) of the environmental struggles against neoliberal devastation of the planet.

Our fullest solidarity with their struggle.

(Photo by Martin Mejia/AP)

Commemorating the historic betrayal of the Camp David Accords in 1978

Speaking at a press conference from Camp David yesterday, Obama praised the Camp David Accords signed in 1978 between then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat & Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin & brokered by US president Jimmy Carter–that born-again champion of the oppressed (yeah right!). According to Obama, the great master of deceit, the Accords were intended to bring peace between Israel & Palestinians.

Sadat & Begin both won the Nobel Peace Prize that year for this monumental betrayal not just of the Palestinians but of the Egyptian people. As a result of the Camp David Accords, the Egyptian regime turned its back on the Palestinians & allied with Israel. In reward for that betrayal, Egypt was armed to the teeth by the US Pentagon to defend Israel & against any movement for democracy within Egypt. We see the continuing results of that relationship in the military dictatorship & the reversal of the Egyptian uprising.

On Nakba Day 2015, we should acknowledge that justice for Palestinians & a democratic secular state where Jews & Palestinians can live in harmony will not derive from negotiations with the US. When the Oslo Accords (again brokered by the US) were signed in 1993, those who opposed them as the terms of Palestinian surrender were excoriated as fools. The Oslo Accords were “the best the Palestinians could do,” we were told. And that is absolutely irrefutable if you rely for justice on negotiations with the neoliberal forces who see Palestinians as an obstacle to plundering & controlling the Middle East.

Intifada, Palestinian political power is the way forward–not negotiations with war criminals. Palestinians can speak for themselves. BDS is vital to the process of strengthening Intifada & discrediting the role of US & European negotiators who are there for no other reason than to undermine Palestinian self-determination & prevent a democratic secular state from bringing peace & justice for all.

Long live Intifada! Take it international by building the economic & cultural boycott of Israel!