Agam's Gecko
Thursday, July 21, 2005

couldn't resist trying out that phrase in the Aceh context. This is the phrase which the Dalai Lama consistently uses, usually several times in every interview or speech, to describe his basic goal for his country and people. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Over the last week in Helsinki, the political leadership of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, or GAM) met for the fifth time with representatives of the Indonesian government since the tsunami disaster which killed more than 130,000 of the Aceh population. The Acehnese delegation relinquished GAM's primary goal of independence, while the Indonesian government gave ground on political representation for the movement. The tentative agreement is due to be initialled at the end of the week, but the details will not be made public until the formal signing ceremony set for August 15.

The process of disengagement looks like it will be monitored by a combined EU / ASEAN mission. The next questions will include whether or not the Indonesian government will be able to exert complete control of the military's behaviour in the field during the withdrawal of forces. The example of East Timor in September 1999 shows how weak the central command and control can be, particularly with field commanders who've been very committed to the total annihilation of separatists. Even after the phenomenal destruction of the tsunami seven months ago, and during the entire emergency relief effort until now, the military refused to observe any sort of humanitarian ceasefire.

Another question will be the extent to which factions in the national parliament will endeavour to scuttle the deal. You would think that having this 30 year struggle coming to a possible end with the separatists giving up their demand of independence, would be something all Indonesian citizens could agree was a wonderful accomplishment. Here is another echo of the Tibet - China issue, where the Tibetan leadership has long set aside the goal of independence, in the interests of reaching that elusive mutually agreeable solution. The Indonesian Information Minister Sofyan Djalil, who participated in the Helsinki talks, even called the deal "a middle way" -- the very same words Dalai Lama has used for years to describe his approach to the China problem. It certainly would seem that GAM has come more than halfway across the table, and still had to struggle to get recognition of its right to engage in politics, which looks like it will require a constitutional ammendment. Yet even this concession will be too much for certain political factions in parliament to go along with, and I'm expecting to see a concerted effort from these quarters to reject the deal. President Yudhoyono, who agreed to the terms proposed for political representation of GAM, will need all his skills in countering these obstructionists in the coming months.

In reporting on the Aceh peace deal, some of the mainstream foreign media has been really sloppy -- surprising in that it has absolutely nothing to do with George W. Bush. So it just goes to show that they can often be ignorant just on general principle. I listened to a reporter on BBC World actually say that the issue of GAM forming a political party would present a legal problem, since "political parties are banned"! Absolute claptrap. The constitutional and electoral laws stipulate that parties running candidates for the national parliament must maintain offices and demonstrate a membership in a certain number of provinces. I forget the particulars, but the bar is set quite high to ensure that participating parties are actually national parties with a nation-wide membership. The DPR (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat or People's Representative Assembly) will need to change the law to allow GAM to form their Aceh-based party, without having to run candidates in Sulawesi and Papua etc. Then they can compete with all the other parties which campaign in Aceh. Pretty simple really, and President Yudhoyono has already given his approval to this. Now to watch all the posturing and nationalist rhetoric about to emanate from the DPR.

It was interesting to watch the news from Jakarta on Monday, when of course the Aceh deal was the main story. But on the Suara Anda program (Your Voice, which I've written about previously a few times) that evening, the main story prior to the viewers' choice section was about the DPR members giving themselves a giant pay raise. In fact it's more than what one would call a "raise", but something more like doubling their paychecks. The facts and figures were presented on screen, and then we transferred to a lengthy interview in Banda Aceh with two tsunami refugees who continue to live in tents, now seven months after the disaster. They're getting little help from the government, food is inadequate, nobody in officialdom has come to see the situation, and both were very articulate as to why the politicians' doubling of their own salaries is immoral when people are still forced to live in tents and getting no attention after seven months. Once again, bravo to MetroTV for putting these issues together and holding them up before the country.


o get an idea of the apparent neuroses exhibited by much of the mainstream US media, one only needs to look at the Plame/Wilson/Rove kerfuffle. The other day I was watching the joint press conference of President Bush with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. There were numerous important issues discussed by both men in their statements from the podium, and the relationship between the world's two largest democracies is of obvious importance to the world.

And how do the US media behave, when it's time for questions? Well naturally, they start shouting to the President about when he will fire Karl Rove! I'm very sure than Mr. Singh is not the first foreign leader to come away from one of these events thinking, "What a bunch of parochial idiots they have for media in this country."

It might be easy for the opinion-shapers to imply all sorts of shady conspiracies to one evil mastermind genius, but it's also pretty silly. Now they think they have Rove in their crosshairs, and it's the most important issue on the planet for them. The general view of the "left" (and thus, most of the MSM), seems to be that Karl Rove is the embodiment of either Darth Vader or Satan (or both, and then some). Yet when one looks objectively at the facts of the Valerie Plame affair, the truly shady behaviour is apparent when media tells one version of the facts to the public, and a different set of facts is presented by them in court briefs -- while they keep that set of facts from the public.

Valerie Plame worked as an analyst at the CIA headquarters, nothing was covert about her job. Nevertheless, journalists continue the standard mantra that the case is about "the illegal outing of a covert CIA operative." She got a CIA sponsored gig for her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to go to Niger and check out reports of Saddam Hussein's attempt to buy nuclear fuel there. Wilson later lied about his wife getting him the gig, and even misrepresented his own report in a bombshell partisan attack op-ed in the New York Times. It was all part of the campaign last summer against President Bush's re-election. The whole thing fell flat when it became clear that Wilson was at best, a fact-twisting political hack for John Kerry, and at worst was a bald-faced liar. Now all that's left for the effort, is to try and bring down the evil genius Rove for having "outed a secret agent", even while Wilson admits that she wasn't anything of the sort, and while the prosecutor in the case affirms that Rove, who himself learned about Plame from one of the noble journalists, is not a target of his investigation.

But of course, Rove Rove Rove, Haliburton, Rove, Bush lied, Rove Rove Rove, all the live long day. They should be ashamed to carry on like that in front of an important world leader like Prime Minister Singh.

In another fine piece of writing -- of the genus "Let's get real here, folks, and stop pissing around" -- Mark Steyn writes:
This controversy began, you'll recall, because Wilson objected to a line in the president's State of the Union speech that British intelligence had discovered that Iraq had been trying to acquire ''yellowcake'' -- i.e., weaponized uranium -- from Africa. This assertion made Bush, in Wilson's incisive analysis, a ''liar'' and Cheney a ''lying sonofabitch.''

In fact, the only lying sonafabitch turned out to be Yellowcake Joe. Just about everybody on the face of the earth except Wilson, the White House press corps and the moveon.org crowd accepts that Saddam was indeed trying to acquire uranium from Africa. Don't take my word for it; it's the conclusion of the Senate intelligence report, Lord Butler's report in the United Kingdom, MI6, French intelligence, other European services -- and, come to that, the original CIA report based on Joe Wilson's own briefing to them. Why Yellowcake Joe then wrote an article for the New York Times misrepresenting what he'd been told by senior figures from Major Wanke's regime in Niger is known only to him.
As Steyn reminds us, the flakiness of the "Wilson Report" was well evident a year ago, when he wrote that, "...an ambassador, in Sir Henry Wootton's famous dictum, is a good man sent abroad to lie for his country; this ambassador came home to lie to his." Now, a year later, the Fourth Estate won't let go; they feel they still have a chance to topple somebody. Steyn is brilliant at putting it all in perspective, as always. He reminds us of some of the vastly more important things that could do with a fraction of the focus the media puts on this nonsense.

Andrew C. McCarthy is a former federal prosecutor, and he writes in National Review:
With each passing day, the manufactured "scandal" over the publication of Valerie Plame's relationship with the CIA establishes new depths of mainstream-media hypocrisy. A highly capable special prosecutor is probing the underlying facts, and it is appropriate to withhold legal judgments until he completes the investigation over which speculation runs so rampant. But it is not too early to assess the performance of the press. It's been appalling.
The whole article is well worth reading, to see just how much of this story is being studiously hidden by "reporters". As he concludes,
We'd probably know the answers to these and other questions by now if the media had given a tenth of the effort spent manufacturing a scandal to reporting professionally on the underlying facts. And if they deigned to share with their readers and viewers all the news that's fit to print ... in a brief to a federal court.
And for a very useful timeline of the events at issue, please see Fat Steve's Linkfest; a compilation with dozens of linked citations that show the whole sorry contrived mess for what it is, and the vast gulf between whatever lurks inside the heads of the White House press corps, and reality. As Steve notes at the end of his piece, this whole thing might provide clues as to the reason many of these journalists will continue to rely on unnamed, confidential sources for their rumour mills, and to cover for their sheer inability to get the simplest things right.


t's wonderful to see Stephen Sullivan posting again on his blog, The China Letter, after quite a long hiatus. I've just noticed a couple of short pieces he posted at the end of June, in which he links to the story of an Uyghur writer named Nurmuhemmet Yasin, who wrote a fable called "Wild Pigeon". The work was published late last year by the official Kashgar Literature Journal. The story is described as a "first person narrative of a young pigeon" who is caged by humans, and who finally finds his freedom by eating a poison strawberry. You can read this short work in two parts at the above link, translated into English by Dolkun Kamberi, director of Radio Free Asia's Uyghur service.
This cage is supremely clever in its cruelty, I think, in allowing anyone caught inside ample view of the freedoms denied to him--with no hope of regaining them.
Freedom is as necessary as air or water for the storyteller, and he seeks it finally with his entire being:
The poisons from the strawberry flow through me like the sound of freedom itself, along with gratitude that now, now, finally, I can die freely. I feel as if my soul is on fire--soaring and free.
Chinese authorities apparently understood the allegory in their own inimitable way. Nurmuhemmet Yasin was arrested on November 29, 2004. After a closed trial in February in which he was re

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