Saturday, September 29, 2007

Burmese junta split?

Check out this report in the Scotsman. It's claimed that General Maung Aye is having talks with Aung San Suu Kyi.
Of course, there may be no truth in it, communications have been largely cut making reporting pretty difficult. But it's not as though they don't have previous form, many's the general basking in power and wealth (well, skulking in their lair in Pyinmana) one day, only to find himself in chokey the next. Rather than a united front, they're riven with cliques.
Pretty odd bunch too, who put their faith in astrologers, fortune tellers and conjurors.

C'mon China, do summat!

Boycott Beijing if bloodshed in Burma

The Chinese government is key to the situation in Burma. They can turn the screw on the junta. Ideally they should offer the generals a safe refuge out of Burma and lean on them to leave.
If the Chinese choose to allow the generals to enact vicious reprisals we, as consumers, should boycott the 2008 Olympics and pressure our own governments to withdraw from it. Sorry it's another boycott, but what other power do we Western consumers have?
It's not as though they don't already have problems with junta, they allow narco armies to operate in remote areas as a counter weight to tribal militias, which in turn, leads to southern China being inundated with heroin.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ooh look what I found I on teh internets

Boycott Lonely Planet
Sums it up nicely.

Army mutiny?

Check out the Newsdesk link:

Reports from Rangoon suggest soldiers are mutinying. It is unclear the numbers involved. Reports cite heavy shooting in the former Burmese capital.

The organisation Helfen ohne Grenzen (Help without Frontiers) is reporting that "Soldiers from LID (Light Infantry Divison) #66 have turned their weapons against other government troops and possibly police in North Okkalappa township in Rangoon and are defending the protesters. At present unsure how many soldiers involved."

Soldiers in Mandalay, where unrest has spread to as we reported this morning, are also reported to have refused orders to act against protesters.

Some reports claim that many soldiers remained in their barracks. More recent reports now maintain that soldiers from LID #99 now being sent there to confront them


Military sources in Rangoon are claiming that the regime's number two, General Maung Aye (right), has staged a coup against Than Shwe, and that his troops are now guarding Aung San Suu Kyi's home.

It must be galling for even the most hardened troops to be forced to attack monks, given their position of respect in Burmese society, and must cause a tremendous internal conflict for them. I hope their rebellion succeeds, if not the reprisals taken against them will probably be horrific.

Lonely Planet's PR wallahs respond

Having e-mailed them to let them know I'd be joining the boycott of their products while they continue to produce their guidebook to Burma, I received a response by e-mail trying to vindicate their stance. I won't reproduce it verbatim as that might infringe copyright.

1. Their main claim is that they're providing information to allow 'travellers' (LP don't cater to 'tourists' :) ) to make an informed choice about whether or not to visit Burma. Herein lies the transformation of the last 3 decades or so, LP originally started with a readership that could be considered the tail end of the hippie era, now in common with the rest of society they've become consumers, irrespective of them liking to think of themselves as 'backpackers' or 'alternative'. Today's backpacker is basically a tourist doing it on the cheap (and you'd know how cheap, if like me, you've run a cafe in Thailand and 6 backpackers have spent an entire evening huddled around a single bottle of Coke so as to be able to watch the film we were screening on our TV for free).
So the presence of one of the world's most repressive regimes, comes down to just another factor along with cost, climate, beaches, availability of drugs, etc. If any of their consumers was really that concerned about human rights they'd be perfectly well aware of the horrific nature of the Burmese government.
What if LP had been around in the 1930s, would they have produced a guidebook for Nazi Germany too?

2. They claim that to do otherwise would be banning books and stifling information. Sorry, can't have it both ways - if we the public are no more than consumers and it all comes down to choice, they can hardly complain if a section of that public choose not to buy their books. Is it really stifling information, do their books tell you anything you need to know about the political situation there you can't get from the net or the newspapers?

3. They claim their guidebooks allow tourists to spend money so as to go to the locals rather than the military regime. The regime is primarily a kleptocracy, enriching itself at the expense of the Burmese population, which is why I believe in this case sanctions can have an effect: starve them of cash and they lose their reason to retain power. You have to change your tourist currency for Burmese kyats at some point (presumably you can change some on the black market, be a tad suspicious if you didn't change any at all officially) which puts hard currency their way, the kyat being utterly worthless on the international markets.
Don't forget the generals have to pay for the bullets their troops use on monks and protesters, although AFAIK some of their near neighbours have treated them rather generously in this respect. Also don't forget at least some of the tourist infrastructure that you'll use was built with forced labour.

4. They encourage their tourists to speak out on what they've seen and contact their Burmese embassy. Has any backpacker told you anything you didn't know or couldn't find out through the other media? And while I doubt contacting their embassies will have any effect, I'd still encourage anyone to have a go, but does anyone really think the fact that you've put hard currency in the generals' back pockets mean your opinions will carry more weight?

But I think the overall point is that treating people as consumers, as our society does to such a great extent, means influencing choices. Most backpackers are not stupid, they know full well Burma is a brutally repressive society, but they can feel vindicated in their choice to go there, not only in that a supposedly responsible corporate like Lonely Planet publishes a guidebook but more than that, reassures them their choice is vindicated by maybe spreading on the info about what they've seen.

I'd suggest that people should rather respect Aung San Suu Kyi's request and not go to Burma. May I also suggest that you do Lonely Planet the service of letting them know they're out of order by boycotting their products.

Burma Campaign's rather telling graphic.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Burma, get your news

Some links:

BurmaNet News
The Irrawaddy
Bangkok-based blog with some articles & photos
Mizzima News
Petition to the PM to support the Burmese people
Reporters Sans Frontieres (in English), some articles
Ko Htike - a Burmese guy collating material from 10 sources within Burma
Petition to the PM to boycott the 2008 Olympics in Beijing
Burma Campaign UK
Boycott Lonely Planet Campaign
Protest to Total Oil
Burma Campaign's list of businesses trading / investing in Burma

ITUC Global Action
TUC demonstration
Article on Chevron Oil in Burma
The Buddhist Channel
Newsdesk Special
Burma-Myanmar Genocide 2007 (warning: some shocking pictures)

If you find any other good news sources or campaigns, please use the comments thingy to let me know.

Russia and China

Both oppose even strongly worded criticism of Burma in the UN, relying on cold-war blather about 'sovreignty'. Wonder why it is that the governments with even less legitimacy than Bush during his first term of office would rather ordinary people suffer than a bunch of kleptocratic generals are packed off to an exile well-funded by their criminal exploits and no doubt securely stashed in Swiss bank accounts? Perhaps because they could be next-door neighbours soon?

Certainly they can't in any way go back to justifying their attitude as "anti-imperialist", what is Than Shwe's clique other than a mere proxy for China, Russia, India, France and others to plunder Burma's natural wealth and use it's people for forced labour (while getting their own substantial rake-off)?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Burmese monks shot

monks wounded by security forces in Burma
monks attacked by security forces in Burma
monks attacked by security forces in Burma
According to reports, monks have been beaten with clubs and 11 shot, 1 dead.

The clampdown has started

Riot police attack monks in Burma

Shocked but not surprised.

At least President Bush has spoken out strongly, though will the tough new sanctions include Chevron, he's always seemed to pander to the US's oil industry? You can see a list of companies dealing with the illegal regime at The Burma Campaign's Dirty List. At least he's making some noise, last night on Newsnight, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband merely repeated mantra-like that he'd been advised by the Foreign Office that no major UK company has investment in Burma. Of course whenever a politician hedges like this, it's a fair bet they're not giving you the entire picture - if you consult the Dirty List there are a large number of UK companies, both major (e.g. Rolls-Royce) and minor trading there. On the other hand, he is pressing the EU to take it up in a more robust fashion, and the list reveals a number of French companies with significant dealings.

In reality, the west's influence is rather limited (though that's no excuse for inaction, of course). The big player is China. While the 'Communist' government can be rather thick-skinned where business is concerned, it certainly doesn't like to lose face and appears rather vulnerable over the 2008 olympics. How about a "Boycott Beijing if there's Bloodshed in Burma" campaign?

Special mention must go to the travel guide company, Lonely Planet. They still produce a Burma guide and try to get away with it by fudging it that backpackers should leave it to their own conscience, and even claiming that contact with ordinary Burmese people would be beneficial. This advice while patently slimy is borderline hypocritical given their stance of backpackers being so much holier than tourists. Their Thailand guide, I'm told, advises people not to buy from beach sellers, who're among the poorest of Thai people, so as not to encourage them.

Boycotting the olympics is not really an issue for me as I can't be bothered to watch people jumping over sticks and running round in circles in stadia so plastered with corporate branding as to be reduced to a gluttonfest, but I'll certainly never buy a Lonely Planet book again and would urge you, dear reader, to do likewise.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Reasons to be cheerful

Can only hope it's the beginning of the end for the world's vilest regime, the SLORC (or whatever they call themselves now) in Burma.
BBC story
Opposition's growing, not receding. We can only hope they don't end it in major bloodshed like they have before.
It would help if their major backers in China and Japan persuaded them to give up power peacefully. After all, these robbers have probably salted away enough in their Swiss bank accounts to live out the rest of their days comfortably.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A thought that came to me today while chanting

"A galaxy of possibilities"

Friday, September 21, 2007

Northern Rock

Recriminations go on over this fiasco, but without resolve, as both sides of the argument are valid - on the one hand to bail them out is a reward for bad risk-taking, on the other it would be sheer stupidity to allow a crash whose contagion risks bringing down the entire economy.

Alan Bond, when in difficulties said that if you owe the banks $1000 you have a problem whereas if you owe them $1,000,000 they have a problem. Same situation, roles reversed.

On the wider scale, we have an entire economy based on debt, consumer debt estimated at over £1000 million, a huge raft of mortgages based on ever-increasing house prices and behind the scenes, an indebtedness of the big financial institutions to one another made ever more impervious through repackaging and derivative dealing.

The capitalist economy is a cyclical one, of building up huge amounts of false value then shrugging it off. Sadly the Keynsian concern of economists to iron out the peaks and troughs has been replaced by the 'history is bunk' blindness of the Friedmanites.

Disentangling this mess will no doubt be far harder than stacking it up.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Rock the casbah

The banking crisis is starting to get panicky now, particularly with everyone queuing up to get their money out of Northern Rock. We can only hope it doesn't presage a full scale run on the banks, a symptom / cause of the 1929 crash.

Of course, if you revert the politico-economic system to that of the 1920's, you hit Marx's saying about those who fail to understand history. Incidentally, do economists never study economic history?

The 30s saw a depression that was only mitigated by government spending, particularly the New Deal in the USA, but only fully conquered by the outbreak of world war 2.

What a coincidence then, according to Whitehouse / Pentagon insiders, Bush plans to attack Iran next year, his last year in office.

For all that they call themselves 'neo-cons', they're tired old men peddling tired old ideas. Trouble is, they're dangerously close to the big red button.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Very surprised by a tv programme on Indian history the other night, covering the period from Alexander's conquest of the Persian empire through to and largely about the kingdom of Ashoka.

Though the name would be familiar to anyone who's studied even a little about Buddhism, I hadn't realised just how advanced his political ideology was. He forged his kingdom through a terrible war and, horrified by the death and misery created, proceded to run his kingdom on largely Buddhist principles, embracing such ideas as non-violence, respect for the environment, religious tolerance and animal welfare.

As such, he was ahead of much thinking today and, while the 2000+ years since have seen great material and technological progress, in other areas, we've fallen way behind.

Some may object that 'real world' politics requires a more hard-headed attitude, let's not forget they've brought us global warming, failed imperialist wars in Iraq and Vietnam and a world that despite being wealthier than ever has widescale hunger, epidemics and illiteracy.