Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bangladesh Army: Don't Overstay Your Welcome

In Bangladesh, the question on everybody’s mind is: when will the army return to the barracks, where they belong?
Army Chief General Moeen U Ahmed yesterday said the troops are working to help the government and will go back to their barracks the moment the government asks them to do so.
Translation: we’ll return to the barracks when we damn well please. It’s obvious who wears the pants in this relationship, and it’s not the caretaker government.

Let’s hope the military doesn't overstay its welcome. Sure, Bangladesh is less corrupt and electricity is more abundant, and things are good in general, but the army should remember that times of instability often follow times of prosperity. The Bangladesh Army should avoid Pakistan’s mistake and leave the running of government to civilians.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Shaming China On Burma

The thugs that rule Burma have opened fire on protesting Buddhist monks, who were demanding nothing more than democratic and economic reforms, killing many and injuring scores more. This is nothing new for the military junta, who have ruled through a barrel of a gun for years.

Burma has proven impervious to pressure of any kind to mend its ways, both domestically and internationally; hence they operate with impunity and arrogance and utter disregard for the welfare of its citizens. Burma does so with the tacit support of China, who, according to French journalists André Boucaud and Louis Boucaud,
treat Burma like another province, where human rights plays second fiddle to exploiting Burma’s geography and abundant natural resources.

The main beneficiary of this double game is China, upon whose military and financial support Burma depends. Chinese participation in infrastructure construction has increased the penetration of Chinese products: the construction of major roads from Loije to Bhamo, and from Tengchong to Myitkyina, will improve access to the Irrawaddy river, which will soon be a major waterway for China. This could influence leases in the port of Rangoon. An opposition news agency even suggested that Burma could become China’s 24th province.
Unfortunately, nothing can be done without China’s help (their hold on Burma is that strong). And China’s involvement has been underreported by the media and ignored by much of the world, including the United Nations. The only way to make Burma change its ways, as I see it, is to publicly embarrass China for supporting such a vile regime. Burma recent actions are already making China a little nervous, and given China’s growing profile as an economic and military power, even the tiniest of problems are magnified ten-fold. By merely increasing the volume of protests we should get the desired effect: sending a firm signal to Beijing to do something about Burma.

We can only hope for the desired results.

And what should India’s position be on this issue? Idealistically, India should give support to the protestors and sharply criticize Burma for its undemocratic ways. This would’ve been the Nehurvian way. Realistically, India, with its economy growing at breakneck speed, can do or say little less they want to jeopardize a deal they recently signed with Burma to build a natural gas pipeline.

On the other hand, China is building intelligence and naval bases in Burma, one of a string that will eventually surround India, including the Pakistani port of Gwadar, that are designed to strategically strangle India. So a natural gas pipeline, like the one proposed with Iran (via Pakistan), could, down the road, pose more of a threat than a benefit.

UPDATE: The folks over at Sepia Mutiny have provided the answer: in accordance with its national interests, India will say nothing about Burma except to monitor the situation a little more closely. So realpolitik it is! Nothing morally wrong with protecting one’s national interests, of course, but it’s still a bitter pill to swallow.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mahmoud Looked Like A Fool: That's A Good Thing

This article by Jesse Walker, editor of Reason magazine, gives, in my opinion, the best take on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University, which has the right-wingers in a tizzy. These paragraphs says it best:
But free speech is at issue, because this tempest gets to the heart of a key argument for the open marketplace of ideas: the idea that hearing what other people have to say and confronting their ideas is good, and that doing so makes us not weaker but stronger. "This event has nothing whatsoever to do with any rights of the speaker," Bollinger said as he introduced his guest, "but only with our rights to listen and speak. We do it for ourselves."

That is why the petty tyrant who spoke at Columbia emerged bruised instead of beaming. Because the people who posed questions were free to ask those questions, and because they were free to hear his answers. They had an enormous opportunity, and they made the most of it. Only a coward would see such an opening and fear catastrophe.
If Ahmadinejad’s goal was to score some political points, as many right-wingers are contending, he failed miserably. By the end of the speech, Ahmadinejad only made himself look like a fool. This happens when you espouse idiotic ideas, like the ones Ahmadinejad fervently believes in, and are not use to getting challenged by people or second-guessed by the media.

Columbia President Lee Bollinger got a lot of flack for inviting Ahmadinejad in the first place, but more than made up for it with his fervent attack on Ahmadinejad, including calling him a “cruel and petty dictator.” No, the genius of Bollinger is this: by inviting Ahmadinejad to Columbia, who, like all dictators, like their egos stroked (and often), Bollinger was able to deftly maneuver a rather shrewd and slippery character into the spotlight, forcing him to endure ridicule and a barrage of critical questions about his tyrannical regime. The stunned look on his face was priceless.

Honestly, I don’t know what Ahmadinejad was expecting when he accepted an invitation by Columbia to speak there. A fawning crowd, perhaps? A standing ovation? If he wanted that, he should either go home to Iran or speak at an anti-war rally sponsored by A.N.S.W.E.R.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Internment: History Repeats Itself

Currently, I’m reading Roger Daniels' Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II, a brief history about Japanese internment during World War II, where Japanese immigrants, issei, and their American-born children, nisei, were herded into camps because they were considered security risks by the U.S. government. These risks, so to speak, had no basis in fact, but were grounded in racism and xenophobia.

Though the internment of enemy aliens during wartime can be justified to some extent, it is unconstitutional to forcibly remove U.S. citizens by simple government fiat (the famous Executive Order No. 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt). But this is what the United States exactly did.

And it was easy to do since the Japanese are easily recognizable because they possess certain physical characteristics (with slanted eyes being the most prominent). This and a steady diet of anti-Asian propaganda made the decision easier. On the other hand, Americans of German and Italian descent were basically left alone because they were considered “American,” or white.

If this theme sounds eerily familiar because it’s still happening more than fifty years later, albeit in a different form. After 9/11, a whole new crop of enemy aliens has been targeted: mostly Muslims, many of whom are U.S. citizens. Some have been held in jail without being charged with any crime and held incommunicado without access to their families or lawyers. Some conservative commentators (specifically Michelle Malkin, who wrote an odious book about it) have even suggested that, like the Japanese, Muslims should be put in internment camps—supposedly for their protection!

It’s not surprising, really, that history repeats itself time and time again.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ahmed Rashid: Pakistan's Future Looks Bleak

Recently, Terry Gross, on NPR’s Fresh Air, interviewed Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, who talks about Pakistan and its uncertain future.

According to Rashid, the military is so enmeshed in politics, and its credibility so damaged, that its capacity to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda has been severely compromised. There are large swaths of the border area where the Taliban and al-Qaeda are firmly in control, and are even imposing their will—like they did in Afghanistan—on an already terrorized populace.

Rashid is also critical of the United States and its steadfast support for President Musharraf. Rashid believes that the United States should pressure Musharraf, not coddle him, into relenting on democratic reforms. The United States lost a lot of credibility with its rather meek reaction to the forced exile of Nawaz Sharif after the Supreme Court ruled he could return. This has increased anti-American feelings in Pakistan; long the domain of Islamists but now spreading to moderates and liberals alike.

It’s a great interview and a must listen.

Bush As Hitler: Comparisons Never End

Another one of those detestable letters one reads in foreign newspapers that invariably equate Adolph Hitler to George Bush.
…His hidden agenda behind the Afghan and Iraq invasions (for which sarcastically God Himself had directed him) is to combat Islamists (not terrorism as he claims) and to usurp the Muslim wealth and natural resources.
What violent deeds God has commanded men to do would be too inexhaustible to catalog here. Many claim God speaks to them, but it seems radical Islamists, who have completely convinced themselves of this, believe that God speaks only to them, and them alone, justifying the death cult in which they inhabit and insist on inflicting the world.

The rest, about the war being against Muslims and stealing their wealth, has been repeated so often, parroted by every critic, leftist and Islamic alike, that it has become cant. If the war was about Islam and oil wealth, the United States could do no better than to target Saudi Arabia, guardian of Mecca and Medina and home to the largest oil reserves in the world and erstwhile ally. Why waste time with Iraq when Saudi Arabia is pluck for the taking?
He is also responsible for the environmental pollution bringing about drastic and damaging weather and climatic changes the world over, by not agreeing to the initial Kyoto Protocol at the beginning of his presidency.
This writer has gotten it in his head that the cataclysmic climate changes facing the planet is a result of Bush’s obstinacy even though Kyoto was flawed to begin with, and was even rejected by Congress during Clinton’s presidency. And for everybody’s information, China is now the world’s largest polluter, not the United States.
In terms of damage caused to the world, the human society environments and making the world more insecure and dangerous than it was before him , he far surpasses Hitler in his horrific deeds.
Honestly, these endless comparisons to Hitler are so misused it’s losing its desired effect. Bush, for all his faults, didn’t fire the first shot, we have al-Qaeda to thank for that. No. The world was at peace, for the most part, until 9/11.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Does The Military Travel Better?

Writer Robert D. Kaplan, who has traveled all over the world, writes that given the sorry state of economy-class air travel, especially within the United States, flying with the military is a much more pleasant experience—sort of.
You see, military air travel isn’t all that bad.

Given the trend toward dog food and bad wine on economy class, MREs may, on some future morrow, actually constitute an improvement. Indeed, on one Russian military flight I was served sausage, black bread, and vodka. (OK, the pilot was drinking too, and one of the plane’s doors didn’t close properly, but you can’t have everything.)

Retrieving your luggage after each military flight can constitute an intense physical experience, but because you personally put your luggage on the pallet and watch the pallet slide into the back of the C-130, at least you know your luggage is flying with you. The result: People actually check in their luggage, and they don’t try to get away with everything short of surfboards as carry-on. Wouldn’t that be an improvement?
I hate air travel and everything associated with it. For example, I flew to Las Vegas a few weeks ago for training, and had the unfortunate chance of flying with American Airlines. I know the airline business does not pay well, but there’s no reason for employees to be surly, which, of course, they were. It’s not like they actually do anything besides taking and retrieving my luggage from the airplane. After all, I checked-in by myself, printed my own boarding pass, stood in security, boarded the plane, took my seat and minded my own damn business. They gave me my one glass (and only one!) of a liquid of my choice. But not all airlines air equal.

Continental Airlines, which I used to fly to Mexico for vacation, was a breath of fresh air. They are everything American Airlines is not. For one thing, they serve food! I was surprised to be given breakfast, lunch and dinner going to and fro Mexico. And they served drinks not once but twice. But I agree with Kaplan on one thing, though: air travel is steadily getting worse.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Belarus: Where The Soviet Union Still Lives

For those nostalgic for the Soviet Union, a visit to the town of Ranina, in Belarus, should be quite sobering. Belarus is a reminder what the Soviet Union once was: a poster child for socialism, and why it collapsed so spectacularly. It’s leader, Aleksandr Lukashenko, is your garden-variety tinpot dictator with a tendency for megalomania. Naturally, Lukashenko does not inspire confidence from the citizenry.
The civic-mindedness required to, say, pool money to buy some carp to take care of the pond's grass, has not exactly taken root in this environment. The owners spend every spare minute of the summer working on their dachas, but have no enthusiasm for doing anything for the greater good. "It's not that people can't afford it," says a homeowner who gives her name only as Tanya, "it is that people do not believe that if they hand over some money, no matter how small, and no matter how positive the cause, that something will actually come of it." After seven decades of Soviet life and 13 years of Lukashenko, mistrust runs deep.
As we can clearly see, socialism breeds apathy and cynicism. Tax revenue, what little there is, goes straight into the central government's coffers, with none of it coming back to the town. So there's no benefit for the residents of Ranina to do anything but take care of their own needs. It’s a town, in my opinion, in desperate need of incentives.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What System Of Government For Pakistan?

Another one of those letters that is critical of the United States. Nothing out of the ordinary, but there were some paragraphs I had a quibble with.
The Americans should be able to recognise the fact. Afghans have never had a representative government and if the 9/11 attack was planned and organised by the controlling group in Afghanistan, the civilian population was decidedly not responsible. Yet it is largely the civilian population which is being killed in he ‘war on terror’. In some parts of the world such killing is called genocide.
The fact of the matter is, Afghanistan did have a government, of sorts, which was controlled by the Taliban, and was recognized by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. Yes, it was a dictatorship, but it was a government, nonetheless. As for the killing of civilians, they are, in all honesty, unintentional and unfortunate circumstances of war. The death of civilians in Afghanistan is not genocide as the author contends. It does not even fit the legal definition. Genocide is the systemic annihilation of a people. This is not the case in Afghanistan, not even by a long shot. If blame is to be laid at anybody’s feet, it should be those militants who use civilians as human shields and cannon fodder.
America is displaying the same hyperbolic curve of social and material development which reaches a peak and then declines. It has made big advancement in many respects but has lost its way in many others. Its way of dealing with 9/11 has belied its own lofty principles of integrity, law and justice. It has reverted to its Wild West dictum, shoot first, ask questions later.
This is a typical stereotypical view of American foreign policy, replete with the standard cowboy reference. Setting aside the foolishness of invading Iraq, for the moment, the decision to go into Afghanistan and hunt down Al-Qaeda was not done on a whim. There was credible intelligence the Taliban was not only giving sanctuary and support to Al-Qaeda, but much of the 9/11 planning was conducted there. Attacking these Al-Qaeda bases was not only logical, but the right thing to do. Even Democrats and Republicans agree on this view.
American voters have realised that all is not well at the top, they have already voted for the change, but, their democracy is not the best of role models at this point, funding rules the roost and the reverse gear is missing.
There is nothing wrong with the system, as I see it. I think it works perfectly fine. The Democrats won control of both houses of Congress on the promise they will end the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and bring the troops home. That they have not done so is a political failure on their part, not a flaw in the system. Regardless, President Bush and Republicans have gotten the signal, loudly and clearly, that they better shape up, or suffer further consequences.
I would invite the attention of all Pakistanis to see how important it is to have the ability to stop and change direction, once it is established that we are on the wrong track. The people who made America the greatest power are helpless in their efforts to change course, so Pakistanis must learn from it and if ever given the opportunity, they must devise a constitution and system which creates checks and balances to re-direct the government’s course of action if it strays, it has strayed in the past and no doubt it will in future.
What Mr. Mahmood is advocating is mob rule—in another word, anarchy! The American system is designed to thwart an expansionist executive, while a parliamentary system often suborns it. Whatever it flaws, the American system of government is the best, in my opinion.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Organic Foods: Not Necessary?

Interesting post on Hit & Run that debunks many of the claims touted by the organic food movement, which is getting increasingly popular in the United States and Europe. This popularity is mostly due to the movement’s alarmist rhetoric, including unsubstantiated attacks on genetically modified crops, without which we could not feed much of the world.

Personally, I never bought into the whole organic food culture. I find it to be a fetish, of sorts—a trendy thing to do. I was raised on mass-produced fruits and vegetables, and I continue to consume them to this day without the ill effects the organic food movement cites.

As the post attests: organic food farming is not only inefficient, but ineffective, detrimental to the environment, expensive, and no healthier or nutritious than crops grown through modern methods.

It’s interesting to note how Thomas Malthus would view organic food farming given the current size of the world’s population (and getting ever larger). Malthus was a product of the 18th century and viewed the world through its prism, especially agriculture, which was not only laborious but very inefficient. He was right to think, then, that there was no way to sustain a growing population utilizing such methods. I think he would think the same of the organic food movement.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Road To Martial Law?

In a redux, of sorts, Imran Khan has been expelled from Karachi, courtesy of the MQM-led government in Sindh:

Agencies add: In Islamabad, Imran Khan said it was his right to visit any part of the country.

“It is a total violation of my fundamental rights guaranteed in the constitution,” he said after leading a demonstration in the capital against the visit of US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.

Imagine. A politician, or a judge, cannot travel freely in his or her own country! They cannot even hold a protest or a public event of any kind without being harassed by the powers that be. Add to this, the flouting of Supreme Court decisions, and the steady erosion of civil rights, how soon before martial law is declared in Pakistan?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bhutto Negotiates Back Into Power

While Nawaz Sharif is left twisting in the wind after he was ceremoniously kicked out of Pakistan, his rival, Benazir Bhutto, is busy negotiating with President Musharraf on some odd power-sharing arrangement that would make her prime minister and Musharraf staying on as president.

The current set-up, with Musharraf as its architect, concentrates most of the power in the president’s hands, not the prime minister’s. This is not what Benazir Bhutto is use to (or wants), and I hope she’s not deluding herself on this score. Now, knowing this, is Benazir Bhutto willing to be Musharraf’s sock pocket? This is, after all, Shaukat Aziz’s current role: a pretty-faced figurehead, who is willing to act out the script given to him. I doubt Bhutto will stick to script once in power: she is much too power-hungry and ambitious, like her father before her.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bangladesh: I Can Call From Anywhere!

Bangladesh has undoubtedly many shortcomings—politically, economically, socially—but to its credit it can boast about one thing at least: possessing one of the best cellular phone networks in the world; better than India, Canada, and even the United States.

Rezwan, in this great post, recounts the experiences of an expatriate Canadian: who was able to access the internet through his cell phone from a remote village. I have no doubt. Even when I was in Bangladesh a few years ago, I was surprised that people were able to talk on cellular phones in the middle of nowhere, while I can barely get a signal outside my house.

Another thing that amazes me about Bangladesh’s cellular phone market is the level of penetration it has achieved, not only among the rich and middle-class, but the lower classes and the poor too.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Nawaz Sharif Sent Packing

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was suppose to make a grand return to Pakistan, made possible by a favorable Supreme Court ruling, but was immediately sent packing upon his arrival. He’s back in Jeddah now, finishing up the remaining term of his exile (10 years). And just to make sure he stays there, Saudi Arabia has confiscated his passport.

Nevertheless, one must appreciate the irony of the situation. Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that Nawaz Sharif could return to Pakistan forthwith. This is the same Supreme Court Sharif, then Prime Minister, treated with such contempt when he allowed his minions to storm the court and ransack it in an attempt to intimidate the justices. That someone like Sharif would champion the Supreme Court’s ruling is too delicious an irony to ignore.

At the same time, sadly, it is another body blow for the rule of law in Pakistan. In the space of a few months, we have seen a Chief Justice removed and, just as quickly, restored. Now we see the government thumbing its noses at the court—yet again. It would be a comedy if it weren’t such a tragedy.

Lastly, there’s clear-cut collusion between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that is not being reported. Even with the Supreme Court ruling, Saudi Arabia insisted that Nawaz Sharif serve out his exile. Why the Saudis would do this is unclear unless there was some prodding by President Musharraf, whose position greatly weakened, wanted to short-circuit the Supreme Court’s ruling without appearing like, well, a dictator. Too late for that, I guess.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Apple Tries To Appease

In an attempt to make amends, Apple has decided to give a $100 credit, to be used only at Apple stores, to those early adopters who complained about the recent price drop, from $599 to $399, of the iPhone.

Anyone who has visited an Apple store knows first hand there is nothing there of value that can be purchased for a mere $100, including accessories, but, then again, this is the genius of Steve Jobs: to make people spend more while while making them believe they are not.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Apple Chops iPhone Price

Apple just slashed the price of its 8GB iPhone from $599 to $399. This, of course, has pissed off a lot of the early adopters who not only paid the higher-price but waited in line for hours, sometimes days, just to get one. Steve Jobs says tough shit:
"That's technology. If they bought it this morning, they should go back to where they bought it and talk to them. If they bought it a month ago, well, that's what happens in technology."
Yes, I would have to agree with Jobs on this one, the arrogant prick. The early adopters paid a premium to be the first people to purchase a new high-tech product, forgoing future price drops as a result of market satuation. We've seen this with video game systems, flat-screen televisions and DVD players. In fact, I paid $400 for my first DVD player back in the day, only to see the price drop to $25 today.

Just heed this maxim: it pays to wait-- usually, er, most of the time. Whatever. Nevertheless, even with the price drop I'm still not enamored with the iPhone. And the technology is so new, in fact, it still needs a lot of tweaking. But I do love the new Motorola
RAZR phones, though.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Left Front's Audacity

I took much of August off for rest and relaxation. In the interim, I landed a new contract with a supermarket chain-- out of finance and into retail. It's a nice change of pace, I suppose. You may have noticed, I haven't blogged much lately either. No mood to write a single word. Nothing at all. Been doing lot of reading, though. Mostly fiction: the historical/mystery variety, anyway. The lazy summer days doesn't lend itself to heavy reading (or thinking, for that matter); I'll leave that to cold days of winter, when time moves at a glacial pace.

But I would like to make a brief comment about the Left Front's discomfort with the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement. I'm quite pleased how agitated the Left Front has become over the deal which, without understanding all the particulars, sounds like a win-win for India. They finally reveal their true colors. So why is the Left Front so hot and bothered by it? It's not just knee-jerk anti-Americanism, which is to be expected.

The reason the Left Front opposes the nuclear deal is, simply, because China opposes it. And the Left Front does China's bidding: after all, they are their eagerly willing agents. That Left Front loyalty is, first and foremost, to China (and the odious, outdated ideology they represent), and India is a far second. This is historically consistent. The Left Front had no qualms carrying water for the Soviet Union during the Cold War; and later, after the Soviet Union collapsed, quickly switched its allegiance to China, whose economic and political model (capitalism without democracy or rule of law) the Left Front desparately wants to emulate. Read their mouthpieces, and leftist rags like Frontline, where they often praise China while accusing India of needlessly antagonizing the Red Dragon with unwarranted provocations.

Honestly, their behavior is borderline treasonous. Will anybody call them on this?