Agam's Gecko
Friday, October 01, 2004
I very much hope that the Canadian government doesn't display the same limp, wishy-washy attitude in its current diplomatic stand-off with the PRC, that it did a few months ago with the Iranian mullah-cracy following the murder -- almost certainly by officers of that government -- of a Iranian-Canadian journalist (and the sham trial which followed). Today in Beijing, more than forty North Korean refugees successfully entered the Canadian Embassy in an effort to seek asylum. It was an audacious bid for freedom, considering how tight the Chinese have made security around all foreign embassies, clamping down on these embarrassing incidents after several highly publicised occasions -- one of which saw Chinese security officers tackling and wrestling with a cute little 4 year-old girl in pigtails. Immortalised on video, and they hate that.

North Koreans live in fear within China, even though they must breathe a huge sigh of relief when they reach it from North Korea. Fleeing from probably the sickest totalitarianism anywhere at this time, these people are categorised by Chinese authorities simply as illegal aliens, and if caught they are turned back to the brutes they are trying to save themselves from. China leads by example, as it demands the same policy from other neighbour countries who might happen to catch a band of Tibetans hiking over the Himalaya into freedom. Nepal has frequently obliged them, and the refoulement of Tibetan refugees generally sees them transported directly into Chinese detention camps. We can only imagine where the returned North Koreans might be destined. China is well-versed in both sides of this refoulement stuff.

It sounds like it was a pretty straighforward plan: everybody dresses up in workmen's clothes, hard hats, maybe a few paint tins to make it look good, and plenty of ladders. The tall iron fence at Canada's mission looks like it needs a paint job -- wham, bam, and over the top! Only one out of (I think) 45, didn't make it. Some people got hurt on the spikes, but it was practically a total success. Now let's see Canada stand for something, and use her fabled diplomatic skill and political influence to make sure these people find the freedom they have risked so much for. China has demanded that the Canadians turn over the "illegal aliens" to them, so they could be deported back to their country for a severe, ummm, regrooving. Surely this cannot happen, it's a no-brainer, right? I wish I could be confident. The Martin government must honour its responsibility to protect, and get these people out of China as soon as possible.

At long last, the Tibetan government representatives who engaged in two earlier breakthrough visits to the PRC, have now returned for a third mission. As before, it has been coordinated in a very quiet way, with China confirming their presence late last week. As on the previous occasions, we can't expect to hear much until the Tibetans have returned to India, but this comes at an opportune time.

Chinese President Hu Jin Tao has only recently seen previous strongman Jiang Zhemin safely out the back door, as the latter had held on to his chairmanship of the military authority. Only with that problem out of the way, could Hu be considered to have a free hand to make policy. Which direction this might take remains a mystery, since even at this late date few China watchers will hazard a quess at what his actual views are on political reform. For the first time in his climb up the ladder of Party leadership, Hu isn't in anyone's shadow. Of Tibet, he is quite familiar -- he served as Party Chairman in Tibet during a period of frequent unrest and relentless suppression of Tibetan nationalism, between 1988 and 1992. He had a rough time with the altitude, and actually spent very little time in Lhasa. He was the top man in Tibet, from his home in Beijing. His hard line policy in Tibet worked well enough for his political currency in the elite circles, and he became Jiang's hand picked successor.

Also interesting in this mix -- the European Union is sending an official delegation to Tibet right about now, the first in six years. The last time they visited Tibet, there was an inspection of the notorious Drapchi Prison in Lhasa. The prisoners organised a protest, hoping to communicate to the Euopeans. Somehow the Chinese were able to keep the delegation unaware of the situation, which was crushed by the Peoples Armed Police with extreme prejudice. Eleven prisoners are believed to have died in punishments that continued for weeks. Apparently the Euros are not visiting Drapchi his time.

If Hu is thinking to do something with the Tibet issue as a way of improving China's dismal human rights image before the 2008 Olympics (as I very much hope he is), he'll have to get started soon. This is the third occasion for direct face to face meetings, but they have yet to get out of the confidence-building stage. The first delegation of Tibetan envoys visited China almost exactly two years ago. They are willing to go as often, and meet their Chinese counterparts as much as China is willing to allow. It's the Chinese who are limiting the contact, permitting a visit when they choose. At this rate, Hu won't be able to accomplish much in time for China's big show.

It was great to read some of Victor Davis Hanson's latest pieces this week, about two of the things that I've been writing about lately -- the ineffectual United Nations and the self-parody that some have begun referring to as the "legacy newsmedia". And in two of these articles he reminded his readers of Tibet. I very much appreciate someone who is willing to bring up the subject, even when it isn't on the newspages of the day. In wondering (as I did myself last week), what use is the UN, Hanson includes this passage:
The contemporary UN, then, has become not only hypocritical, but also a bully that hectors Israel about the West Bank, but gives a pass to a nuclear, billion-person China after swallowing Tibet.
Thanks, Victor. My high esteem for you goes up another notch. This is a very strong piece which should be read in conjunction with David Brooks' right on target masterpiece on the UN and Darfur:
Every time there is an ongoing atrocity, we watch the world community go through the same series of stages: (1) shock and concern (2) gathering resolve (3) fruitless negotiation (4) pathetic inaction (5) shame and humiliation (6) steadfast vows to never let this happen again.

The "never again" always comes. But still, we have all agreed, this sad cycle is better than having some impromptu coalition of nations actually go in "unilaterally" and do something. That would lack legitimacy! Strain alliances! Menace international law! Threaten the multilateral ideal!
VDH also has excellent articles up on John Kerry's foreign policy and the media thing. The latest news on the Tibetan envoys trip to China will, as always, be found at Phayul News.

I was very keen to listen to what Dr. Allawi would have to say to the various audiences he addressed in the past week. And thanks to the miracle of modern technology, I was able to listen to him speak to the UN General Assembly, to the joint session of US Congress, a gaggle of legacy media pop stars in President Bush's rose garden, and just last night with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. Those who are opposing the global Islamic terrorist movement could not wish for a stronger or more comitted ally. It's not simply his evident toughness, but also his clearly stated moral principle which impress -- his address to Congress was quite moving in many places.

I wanted to cheer when he repeatedly rebuked the western media for their one-sided coverage of his country. Yes the kidnappings and beheadings, yes the suicide bombers and sabotage (and all the children the vile animals killed yesterday in their well-timed bombs) -- but where do people find out about the rest of the story? It's not there. He spoke in detail about advances and progress in many fields, from economy to services, from education to employment, from ongoing local elections to the upcoming national ones, and plenty more. He is the president of the country, he lives there, had only been away a few days, and the spectacle of those pop stars in the rose garden telling him that he really didn't know what he was talking about (while most of them probably haven't been outside the "beltway" for years) provided a nearly surrealistic moment. One could see how astounded he was, having these spoiled primps telling him what they knew was the definitive truth about his own country -- when he is risking his life every single day that he carries out his duties

But as silly as the media jerks were acting in the garden, John Kerry and his party and campaign flacks were behaving with absolutely disgusting carelessness. Have they been studying the book, "All the Things You Must Never Do During Wartime"? Here comes the leader of the country on the absolute front line of the struggle, who despite the mortal danger and extremely difficult situation, remains steadfast and shoulder to shoulder with us. Kerry is insulting him before he even arrived at the UN, casting the whole visit and all the engagements as simply a Bush campaign ploy. If the message wasn't clear enough, good old Joe Lockhart took time out from his strategic consultations with CBS journalists and forged document purveyors, to quip, "Hey look, you can see the hand under the shirt making his lips move!" What a pathetic bunch. While Kerry's own sister is down in Australia, attempting to affect their election by telling Aussies that they bring on terrorist attacks upon themselves (Sari Club in Bali, Aus embassy in Jakarta) by allying with the US. First of all that's nonsense, Bin Laden's fatwa against Australia long predates the Iraq war -- and so does the Bali bombing. Second, she has no damn business down there campaigning for Mark Latham. And third, does Abu Musab al Zarqawi have anything to do with writing her talking points?

Senator Lurch has been doing this for a while, another fine example of him not knowing which side to take. He will fight a more "sensitive" war on terror, bring in all sorts of allies that don't like us right now, because he's like more diplomatic you know? So the world will rush to become allies of America under John Fauntleroy Kerry, because he would respect them. And so on. At another point in the same speeches, he would denigrate all the 30+ nations of the coalition allies by dubbing them as a pathetic group of "coerced and bribed". Oh, and he intends to begin withdrawal of forces within six months. What a way to win friends and influence people! Prime Minister Allawi last night said that, "calls for early withdrawal are music to the ears of the terrorists and insurgents." Iyad, it's a shame that you even should need to tell these people that. I can almost hear Homer Simpson going "D'oh! I knew that!"

Last night on the Indonesian newscast, they reported 2 Indonesian women among the latest 10 foreign hostages seized by terrorists in Iraq. One of the Iraqi bloggers estimated that for every foreign person kidnapped in Iraq, many more Iraqis are being nabbed for ransom. Potentially valuable political pawns are sold on up the ladder, from criminal gangs to the more ideological ones. These are serious problems because this is a serious fight -- and evidently when certain "leaders" are faced with such a reality, have a tendency of offering encouragement to the enemy along with disaster and doom for his own side. Mr. Kerry didn't care much 30 years ago whether all Southeast Asia fell under communism, and his attitude toward his country's allies, and her enemies, doesn't seem to have changed much since.

Last week I tried to describe something of what I saw as the damage to a "national psyche" which results from extended brutal submission to regimes of absolute fear -- and here comes Arthur Chrenkoff again with his Good News From Iraq Part 11, wherein he dubs it "Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder":
For the Westerners, it is a difficult condition to understand. We take so many things for granted - from comedians being able to joke about the President, to the assumption that the next government employee we encounter will not be expecting a bribe from us - that we are quite ill equipped to fully comprehend what life under a totalitarian system must really be like, much less what mental and spiritual legacy its victims have to labor under long after the statues of the Leader are pulled down.
Arthur knows of that which he speaks, having lived under the Soviet communist rule of his home country, Poland.

Dr. Allawi made quite a scene at the UN the other day. While Mr. Kerry and sundry other quagmiristas were mocking him as a puppet campaign tool of Bush, he was nonchalantly shaking hands with the representative of Israel. What's the big deal? It's normal isn't it? It's not actually, but he's making it so. The gasps could be heard from Jeddah to Karachi.

That scene was brought to mind when I read an account of Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg on Powerline. I know nothing about Judaism, but to set the scene for this: there is a 10-day period between the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement which is sometimes referred to as the "days of awe". Apparently earlier this year, President Bush expressed his wish to meet informally with a diverse group of Jewish spiritual figures during their special days. This little anecdote stood out -- Rabbi Ginsberg speaking:
And then I told him a story that I told over Rosh Hashanah about an elderly volunteer for an Israel organization who said that his passion for volunteering for Israel was driven by the fact that he had been part of a liberating group at at one of the concentration camps. An inmate came up to him and saw his name tag and saw that he was Jewish, and said, "Are you Jewish?" in Yiddish. Expecting a hug from this recently freed inmate, the soldier said, "Yes." Instead of a hug, he got a slap, and the former inmate said "You're too late."

The President looked at me in the eye and said, "Part of my job is to make sure we'll never be too late."
I much prefer to hear this direct and simple conviction, than to hear the whining that "it's all our fault, if we change our evil ways will you please leave us alone?" Why, even long committed pacifists are coming around at last. Former Oregon governor and 30 year Democratic Senator Mark O. Hatfield opposed every single war and voted against every single military expenditure that ever came up in his entire career. He opposed the Bosnia mission, Kosovo, kicking Saddam out of Kuwait, you name it he was against it. September 11 changed the world, says the elderly peacenik today, he supports the effort in Iraq and he says he will proudly vote for George W. Bush next month. Hatfield said, "I know from my service in the Senate that Saddam Hussein was an active supporter of terrorism. He used weapons of mass destruction on innocent people and left no doubt that he would do so again. It was crucial to the cause of world peace that he be removed from power." Wow. First Hitchens, and now Hatfield. Of course they're just indicators of a phenomenon: people with the courage to change their mind.

The patience with which Indonesians are playing out the final stage of this transfer of power is really something to behold. Ibu Mega is still the president who has not yet conceded defeat, while Pak Susilo is still the challenger who has not yet claimed victory. Megawati delivered her accountability speech to the final meeting of the People's Consultative Assembly, during which she asked the country to observe the election rules and wait until the official results are announced by the independent Election Commission. And everyone is doing just that. She's been virtually invisible since that day, undoubtedly savouring her last few weeks in Merdeka Palace, while SBY has been holding open house for all at his home in Bogor. Ordinary folks have been pouring in daily to offer best wishes while the president-to-be receives all with equal graciousness -- and with not even so much as a comment on potential cabinet members and such matters. She asked for her time, and he's giving it to her. No need for an unseemly rush.

Some interesting happenings in the political scene have not really been noticed outside the country. Pak Susilo's landslide victory has tossed many of the old political groupings up in the air, and how they settle again will be fun to watch. You see, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has not had any party affiliation at all, until he launched his own new party upon announcing his candidacy just a few months ago. He had served in the cabinets of Gus Dur (Abdurahman Wahid) and Megawati without being affiliated with the party of either. And in his victory, all three of the old time political groupings have, one after the other, appeared to compete in a race for which one will tear itself apart first.

Nowadays of course there are dozens of parties, far too many really for any single country. But this stuff all has to shake out in its own time. But in Suharto's day, only three were legal. His own vehicle was the GOLKAR, Golongan Karya (roughly, Functional Group). A vast system of patronage that tied together the civil service organisations and other social and economic interest groups (including the military) to keep Suharto in power. The symbol is a banyen tree, the colour is yellow, the vote was never less than 75%. The Islamic stream was encompassed by the PPP, United Development Party, the colour is green (what else?) and the symbol is the Ka'aba. Finally the nationalist stream was represented by the PDI, Indonesia Democratic Party, with the colour red and the symbol of a bull. Voting was simple with just three choices, yellow green or red. Yellow always wins, and the smiling general always chose who would be the red and green leaders anyway. Protests took the form known as "Golput", abbreviation for "Golongan Putih", or the "White Group". Which meant that the voter didn't like yellow, green or red, so he or she poked a hole in the white portion of the ballot. For many years, the only form of dissent permitted, was the once every five year chance to "Golput".

When Megawati started coming to the fore of PDI, and finally attaining the leadership, the smiling general engineered a party split which ousted her. The venerable old nationalist party could not be put back together again, and the PDI-P, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle was born. The coup leaders which stole the party from its membership, retained the original identity and name, whereupon they promptly disappeared in shame and were never heard from again. Now some of the top officials of PDI-P are fighting tooth and nail to expel each other at emergency party congresses, GOLKAR members are making noise about taking legal action against the corrupt party chairman, and the green PPP has a faction demanding its chairman to resign (he serves currently for a few more days as Megawati's VP). Exit polls have shown that (of those who agreed to answer questions on election day), the majority of PDI-P people actually voted for SBY. He undoubtedly swept every part of the country, except for Bali which went solidly Mega. Anyway, this is just a cursory thumbnail sketch of the recent political landscape, and the interesting phenomenon of a virtually non-party person coming in and sweeping up the table with support from every side, leaving the most well organised and longstanding party machines trying to put themselves together again.

SBY has always seemed like a decent fellow to me, even while he was still in the army and was known as the intellectual general. I think he's proven himself as a genuine democrat, and has never been accused of the type of misbehaviour that was unfortunately so common with many army officers. He had supported the peace process in Aceh prior to some inexplicable shift in policy which led the president to scuttle the process in May 2003 and launch military operations there. After an extension of military rule in the province ended in May of this year, its status was dropped to "civil emergency". However control is still extremely tight, with outsiders like journalists and international observers (and me!) kept strictly out. I haven't been able to go back since my last visit, which was July 2001.

I very much hope that Pak Susilo will take a new approach with Aceh, and the first step should be to look into a recent report of routine torture of detainees in the province. Under the civil emergency laws, anyone can be held simply on suspicion of being an independence sympathiser, or just as someone who might have information about GAM, the Aceh Independence Movement. People held on this basis seem to be treated as badly as if they were actual GAM fighters. This BBC story cites a new Human Rights Watch report into the routine torture of Acehnese detainees by Indonesian soldiers.

The Human Rights Watch report is online here, and in .pdf format here.

BBC World showed a disturbing documentation this week of a recent incident in Laos, in which one of the small bands of Hmong (who have been living a precarious existence for years, trying to avoid the Lao soldiers by constant movement) had an unfortunate encounter with a military patrol. On this occasion, a videotape record was being kept of the small group's perpetually nomadic life on the run. At a particular encampment where they had felt relatively safe, a small group of five set out on a morning to forage for food. Four girls and a boy, all under 16. The camp heard the shouts, heard the rapes, and then the gunshots. How fortunate that the group itself wasn't detected by the soldiers. When it was safe to go to their children, all had been slain.

I found only a short account of this on the BBC site, but the report on BBC World was quite extensive. It showed a lot of the original video, and spent a lot of time interviewing the Hmong man who with one other, split from the fugitive group to make a difficult and very dangerous trek to get the tape out of the country. His plea for the world to help them was heart rending. Maybe the tape will have an impact with somebody who matters. The pained bleatings of the "Lao People's Democratic Republic" spokesman quoted on that page sounds just exactly like the communist Chinese officials when cornered on abuse of Tibetans or Falun Gong people. The video was "doctored" he says. Amnesty just wants to "mudsling and wreak havoc on my country." It's all just an effort of "bad people to cause public disorder and accuse our government." And never forget the ubiquitous, "groundless fabrication". Yawn. If you've heard one spokesman of a "People's" Republic, you've hear them all.

I notice that the only BBC web story on this that I found, was dated Sept. 14, but the broadcast was just last week. They do make short videos available to view online, this should really be one. Amnesty will probably have more, as will Hmong International Human Rights Watch.

Whether the farce of the forged documents was simply a case of plain old sloppy negligence (or just that "we let our guard down" as one CBS figure termed it - and which could be read with an interesting secondary interpretation) cannot continue to explain the behaviour of various CBS figures. The producer of the infamous 60 Minutes II episode, Mary Mapes, persuaded one of the top Kerry campaign officials, Joe Lockhart, to contact the long-evident loony, Moore-ista brand Bush-hater Bill Burkett, who was holding the forgeries and later gave them to CBS. Burkett has been easily researched through his many writings on Democratic activist internet fora, and he is known to have offered to "sacrifice everything" in order to ensure Bush's defeat. He bragged of having "reassembled Bush's military records", although it's generally accepted that he is not smart enough to have created them.

But aside from the question of who actually engineered the passing of these forgeries to this gullible patsy for further distribution, not to mention the issue of "journalists" advising and facilitating a presidential campaign party operative, I'm extremely curious about the original motivations of some of the "media workers" involved here.

A small sidetrack here. For a long time, I didn't even bother paying attention to the arguments for the existence of a strong bias in the mainstream, "respected" media. These arguments were just the deluded rantings of the "vast right wing conspiracy" after all. But at some point I found the slanted reporting to be too much to ignore (I suppose when they started leaning opposite to my own readjusted views). I suppose I stopped ignoring the evidence of bias -- and becoming more willing to read and listen to a wider variety of views -- within a few short months of September 11, 2001. The America led liberation of Afghanistan from a sick, medieval theocratic dictatorship, was a watershed for the generally "progressive" media, which seemed to consolidate its "progressiveness" more than ever. Of course the Operation Enduring Freedom was derided immediately by the "left-leaning" parties and organisations around the world (including within France and Germany, even though those states which were onside with that operation), but in short order the mainstream media were emboldened by all this popular anti-American "quagmire" talk that they largely joined in unreservedly.

The more this bias annoyed me, the more likely I was to notice it; the more pervasive it seemed to be, and the more willing I was to listen to those who had been pointing it out all this time, while I had been writing them off as cranks. So, perhaps as penance for past unwillingness to look at the whole picture, MSM bias has become an interest of this blog. So it's with great interest that I watch while the backgrounds of some of the principals in the story begin to dribble out in bits here and there, including this little account of Mary Mapes' (Rather's producer for the forgery deal) earlier antics:
Kerry campaign officials confirmed again on Wednesday that Mapes arranged a phone call between Burkett and Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart. . . . It is also not the first time that Mapes has agreed to be a go-between in a controversial setting. FOX News has obtained a letter written to Mapes by the warden of a high security federal prison in Colorado.

He accused the CBS producer of concocting a scheme to help secretly pass information between convicted white supremacist Peter Langan and another federal prisoner, a violation of federal regulations. "Phone monitoring reveals that you agreed to this request," the letter reads. "Your attempted misuse of the special mail privileges placed members of the public at risk."

The warden of the prison then revoked Mapes' correspondence, telephone and interview privileges with the high security inmate.

Jeff Fager, the executive producer of 60 Minutes, is on record singing the praises of Mapes. But Fager should be well aware of Mapes' past scrapes with the Bureau of Prisons, because he's among those copied in the letter from the Colorado prison warden.
Mapes had been working on her project of proving that Bush skipped out of Guard duty, going AWOL and so on, for the past five years. Burkett must have seemed like an angel answering her prayers. And a lot of other prayers as well -- check the coordination of the Network, the Party, the Campaign, the separate advertising groups, the launch of "Operation Fortunate Son" -- with an almost machine-like precision timing -- in the fascinating whodunnit, The Case of the Phony Memos .

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