Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Wednesday, September 26th, 2007.


Tiananmen Remix

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Asia, Bush Administration

The Australian news organization ABC reports:

Reports from Burma say at least three monks and a civilian have been killed by security forces in a crackdown on anti-government protests.

A source from inside the military says two monks were beaten to death, while another was shot as he tried to wrestle a gun away from a soldier.

Soldiers have released tear gas in various parts of the city of Rangoon and a western diplomat says up to 300 people have been arrested, including about 100 monks.

The soldiers’ actions against the monks have angered many people, because monks are revered in Burma and have remained peaceful throughout the past five weeks of action against the military government.

Buddhist monks have been leading peaceful street marches for the past nine days in the biggest pro-democracy demonstration since 1988.

The military junta used force to put down that uprising, killing about 3,000 people.

I wrote about the recent protests in Burma/Myanmar a couple of days ago, and mentioned President Bush was going to speak about Myanmar when he addressed the UN yesterday. This has resulted in mostly isn’t it nice that he mentioned Myanmar stories in the U.S. press. But Pepe Escobar writes for Asia Times:

The mystery of why US President George W Bush took center stage at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday but did not promote the next neo-con war on Iran was solved when it became evident that the job has fallen to his new European poodle, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who in his speech once again assumed the inevitability of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Bush instead announced new economic sanctions against the junta in Myanmar and urged the world to apply “diplomatic leverage to help the Burmese people regain their freedom”. Here is Bush engaging in another “liberation from tyranny and violence”, this time in Asia, while trying to start yet another war, as usual, in the Middle East.

The connection is clear: the Bush conception of “human rights” means “oil and gas”. Bush also claimed at the UN that Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq had “asked for our help”. Given the precedents, even the isolated people in Myanmar should be afraid, very afraid.

Myanmar has been in effect off the radar of the international community for years. Why this new, sudden, Bush administration interest in regime change in Myanmar? If the US and the West are so obsessed with “human rights”, why not put pressure on the ghastly practices of the House of Saud? Or the barely disguised repression under the glitz in Persian Gulf petromonarchies? Or the bloody Islam Karimov dictatorship in Uzbekistan?

A vast drug-money-laundering operation, plus full Asian cooperation – to the tune of billions of dollars – helped the Myanmar junta to build its new capital, Naypyidaw, in the middle of the jungle, almost 350 kilometers north of Yangon, in essence using slave labor. The 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, has been very lenient, to say the least, with the unsavory generals, in the name of a policy of “non-interference”. Thailand – for complex historical reasons – would rather co-exist with a weak neighbor. India coddles the generals to get natural-gas deals – like a recent agreement to invest US$150 million in gas exploitation in the west of the country.

Enter the dragon

But Myanmar is above all a key strategic pawn for China. Not only as a captive market for civilian goods in addition to weapons, but as a pawn to keep India in check and assure China of key strategic access to the Indian Ocean. Just like Britain – which twice invaded Burma, as Myanmar was known until 1989 – China’s utmost interest is natural resources. Oil and gas, of course, but also gems and timber: the once-pristine forests at the Myanmar-China border have been practically wiped out. According to the rights group Global Witness, Myanmar exported no less than $350 million in timber to China in 2005 alone, and the bulk of it was illegal.

I apologize for doing so much pasting, but this is a complex issue that I’m learning about myself. There’s more in the article about connections between the Myanmar miitary junta and China, including a 2,380-kilometer oil-and-gas pipeline from Myanmar into China. Escobar continues,

US sanctions are just for internal American consumption; they will have absolutely no impact. For starters, Myanmar is not under a military embargo. A really different story, for instance, would be the Bush administration telling the Chinese to drop the junta, otherwise no US athletes will be seen at the Beijing Summer Olympics next year. London bookies wouldn’t even start a bet on it. The French for their part now say they fear a terrible crackdown – but in fact they fear what happens to substantial oil business by French energy giant Total. The European Union should have a unified position, but for the moment that is hazier than sunrise at the sublime Shwedagon Pagoda in the heart of Yangon.

This year China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the junta’s human-rights record. It’s virtually impossible that the collective leadership in Beijing will let one of its neighbors, a key pawn in the 21st-century energy wars, be swamped by non-violent Buddhists and pro-democracy students – as this would constitute a daring precedent for the aspirations of Tibetans, the Uighurs in Xinjiang and, most of all, Falungong militants all over China, the embryo of a true rainbow-revolution push defying the monopoly of the Chinese Communist Party.

So this seems to be the trillion-yuan question: Will Chinese President Hu Jintao sanction a Tiananmen remix – with Buddhist subtitles – less than one year before the Olympics that will signal to the whole world the renewed power and glory of the Middle Kingdom? If only the Buddha would contemplate direct intervention.

Just think of it — if the U.S. and other western democracies put China on notice to put a leash on the Myanmar junta or face a boycotted Olympics, think of the good it would do for hundreds of thousands of people in Asia. And at no loss of blood and treasure.

Well, I can dream. Maybe some other nations would consider it.

Sue Pleming of Reuters reports that the White House is “very troubled” today.

The United States said on Wednesday it was “very troubled” by the harsh crackdown against protesters in Myanmar and pressed China to use its influence to get the military junta to change its repressive policies.

The Bush administration was responding to word from hospital and monastery sources that two monks and a civilian had been killed, as Myanmar security forces tried to quell the biggest protests in 20 years.

“If these stories are accurate, the U.S. is very troubled that the regime would treat the Burmese people this way,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said as President George W. Bush pressed his foreign policy agenda in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

I’m sure the Myanmar military is “very worried.” Oh, and the UN Security Council is meeting today to consider action against the junta. They might decide to send an envoy. Yeah, that’ll fix it.

History can be a prickly thing. Back in the1990s Hallliburton CEO Richard Cheney grumbled because Congress got in the way of business deals with places like Myanmar.

He cited Iran, which is making overtures toward renewed trade with the West, Myanmar (formerly Burma), and Nigeria as oil-rich regions that have come under fire in Congress because of their internal politics and accusations of wrongdoing.

Some are suggesting boycotts of countries that fail to protect religious liberties, he said.

“I don’t agree with that approach,” Cheney said.

There’s no profit in that approach, you see. It’s better to start a war; then Halliburton can get the contracts.

Jawahara Saidullah writes of the monks,

There are thousands of them but they are unarmed. Their saffron and maroon robes, their heads shaved, they march down the streets of Yangon. With dignity and non-violence, exhorting people to stay away for they don’t want others to face the wrath of the army. They are Buddha’s warriors.

They converge at the two pagodas: Shwedagon and Sule though they have been closed. With no weapons except their will and the belief in a cause that is just, these are the monks of Burma.

This really is a Tiananmen remix.

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The SCHIP Hits the Fan

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Bush Administration, Congress, Health Care

That’s Dan Froomkin’s headline, but it was too good not to steal.

I’ve written about S-CHIP before, so I’m going to skip the background and go right to the update. Yesterday the House approved S-CHIP legislation. Tony Pugh writes for McClatchy Newspapers:

In one of the biggest congressional health care votes since 2003, the House of Representatives voted 265 to 159 to reauthorize and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years.

But the victory tally fell short of the tally needed to override a promised veto of the measure by President Bush.

Forty-five Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the bill that provides health coverage for 3.8 million uninsured children and has the support of most health industry organizations as well as most of the nation’s governors, religious leaders and patient advocacy groups.

But expanding government programs to cover more uninsured Americans has proven ideologically intolerable to President Bush and to many House Republicans, whose opposition left the legislation well short of a veto-proof, two-thirds majority despite an all-out push by hundreds of lobbyists.

I just learned that one of the handful of Dems who voted against it was Dennis Kucinich. Jerid at Buckeye State Blog writes that Kucinich won’t vote for any health care measure other than his own universal coverage bill. Rosemary Palmer, a Democrat who is challenging Kucinich in the primary next year, said,

On one hand, President Bush vows to veto the bill, and on the other, Dennis Kucinich votes against it because he doesn’t think it is perfect. This is a perfect example of what is presently wrong with Washington decision-making. Polarizing positions work against functional compromise resulting in a government that cannot serve in the nation’s best interest. While fringe politicians like President Bush and Congressman Kucinich rant like petulant children, the nation remains stagnant and desperately needing effective leadership. Unfortunately, children in Northeast Ohio and around the country will pay the price for their obstinate actions.

I believe Kucinich also had a problem because House Democrats agreed to drop language from the bill that would have allowed foreign-born children who are here legally to obtain coverage. Apparently this was a sop to right-wingers who feared SCHIP benefits might go to illegal aliens in spite of identification requirements. The provision for legal immigrants was being called ” a gaping loophole to allow states to give taxpayer benefits to illegal immigrants” by ring-wing congress critters like Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee).

You know the rightie principle — better to let American citizens do without than allow one thin dime of taxpayer money benefit illegals. Back in the day we called that attitude “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

Back to Tony Pugh:

A vote on the measure is expected Thursday in the Senate where a two-thirds majority is likely. The bill will then go to President Bush who is expected to veto it. In the interim, Democrats will temporarily fund the program, possibly through mid-November, until a long-term funding agreement can be reached, according to a senior Democratic aide.

Dan Froomkin:

President Bush may be courting the ultimate presidential indignity — a Congressional override — with his threatened veto of a bill to expand poor children’s health care access, which many members of his own party enthusiastically support.

Bush is still able to bully Congressional Democrats when it comes to the war and national security. But, in the realm of domestic politics, he’s the archetypal lame duck. About the only power he has left is the veto — and then, only if he can maintain enough Republican backing to sustain it.

Yet, astonishingly enough, Bush not only remains dead-set on vetoing the popular child health-care initiative, he’s once again pushing a dead-on-arrival proposal to give tax breaks to people who buy private insurance. Even some leading Republicans are agog.

The House vote suggests that overriding the veto is a long shot. Karen Tumulty writes at Swampland:

We’ve discussed before why this is a fight President Bush is likely to regret having won–and why millions of uninsured children are likely to regret it even more. Now, with House passage of the children’s health insurance bill having fallen about two dozen votes short of a veto-proof majority, it appears the bill is indeed headed for doom because of what Bush’s HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt has called “the ideologic question.”

Democrats have been handed what could be a powerful issue going into an election year in which health care ranks at the top of voters’ domestic concerns. The bill got 45 Republican votes in the House–a sharp increase from the five who supported the original House version of the bill and more than some of its sponsors expected. That isn’t much consolation to all those children, though. Which is why Nancy Pelosi vows this won’t be the end of it.

An example of the nonsense going on surrounding this bill is provided by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The Georgia congressional delegation split on the vote:

Republicans opposed it, Democrats supported it, and the only exception was Rep. Jim Marshall, a Macon Democrat, who voted against the expansion. Marshall is one of the most vulnerable congressmen in the country is once again facing a strong Republican challenge in next year’s congressional elections.

PeachCare, funded through SCHIP, has been successful and popular in Georgia so state Republicans were careful to praise PeachCare while denouncing SCHIP, which provides health insurance for poor kids, as a first step toward socialized medicine.

Is that slick, or what?

“Reauthorizing SCHIP is essential,” Rep. Tom Price, a Roswell Republican, said. But “I was forced to oppose the bill.”

“The reality is this bill does not protect the most vulnerable amongst our citizens,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey, a Marietta Republican. “Rather it diverts precious resources from those who need it the most in order to cover adults and already privately insured children.”

As explained by Jeanne Lambrew at the Center for American Progress, Gingrey’s charges are bogus. The bill does not expand coverage to adults, and the charge that the bill would divert money from poor children to less needy children comes from data promoted by Secretary Mike Leavitt of the Department of Health and Human Services that has been widely discredited, in particular by the Congressional Budget Office. See Lambrew for details.

The Senate bill is expected to pass tomorrow.

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