Jul 262021
 

Have you noticed that some countries are simply unbearably smug? Take the United Arab Emirates, for instance, that have the gall to do exactly as they please, because they are rich. They don’t even pretend to care about such trifles as “freedom of expression”, for instance, because nobody will presume to castigate a country that is home to a futuristic paradise for the rich (Dubai). Nobody interferes, nobody even lifts a finger, although the emirates have, de facto, occupied Socotra, which is formally part of Jemen. And as for the press …. Have you even heard of Socotra?

By contrast, Norway’s complacency is too subtly disguised to attract much negative attention, but what lies behind the country’s cleverly manicured self-promotion?

It is true, you don’t often hear of people getting arrested in Norway for publicly making rude comments about the King or Prime Minister. But then again, people rarely do (publicly make rude comments, that is), because Norwegians don’t seem prone to get seriously angry. Are they too well-fed, too busy watching Netflix?

Norway claims to be committed to defending human rights all over the world, but has important arms industry or, as the Government terms the exported goods, “defence-related products”. A 2020 press release gives a favourable impression. But does it present the full picture?

In 2018, it became clear that Norway had been selling arms to the UAE, despite “concerns they could be used in the war in Yemen“. Note Reuters’ courtesy in the choice of the term “concerns”, although every informed adult knew perfectly well that the goods were certainly being used in Jemen. Of course, the Government was disconcerted over even the remotest possibility of such misuse of innocently exported goods, and immediately prohibited all export of arms to the Arabian Peninsula.

Yet, just a couple of weeks ago, there was a new “shocking” disclosure of arms sales to the UAE. Again, the Government promptly prohibited export of arms to the Arabian Peninsula. Nobody seemed to remember that they already had done so back in 2018.

Norway claims to be committed to reversing climate change, and if you run a search on the web for “Norway + climate”, sure enough, you will find plenty of results with the key words “climate fund” and “… invests in green energy” – all bollocks, of course, because, Norway has not even started to reduce its CO2 emissions and continues to peg its future to hydrocarbons. Mind you, the country also invests heavily in “promotion”, “public relations” and image building, so the truth of its carbon footprint is not immediately evident.

You may not know, for instance, that the state-owned company Equinor has, since 2007,

…. invested around 40 billion USD in the USA, mainly in offshore and onshore oil and gas exploration and production. Through a series of acquisitions, totalling over 10 billion USD, Equinor built a substantial business in US shale gas and oil, or so called “unconventionals”.

Equinor report 09.10.2020

You won’t find many articles calling into question Norway’s commitment to the “forces of good”. I believe Norway, like the UAE, is so rich that it can pay to have the world look the other way when it behaves badly. It pays liberally for reconstruction of Gaza every time Israel bombs Gaza back to the Stone Age and kills a sizeable proportion of the Gazan population. At the same time, Norway is one of the few nations that never condemns Israel’s concerted efforts to exterminate Palestinians. Norway is best-friends with everybody. Norway can pay and Norwegians sleep well: They have Netflix, plenty of space and social security.

Not everybody living in Norway is Norwegian, however. The country reluctantly admits a trickle of political refugees, though every attempt has been made over the past decades to curtail immigration. An acquaintance of mine ended up in Norway after 9/11 1973. That’s right: 9/11 nineteen seventy three. When he was arrested in his home country during the US-assisted dictatorship there, many of his friends and contacts had already been tortured and/or killed. Thanks to a prisoner exchange program, he was exported to Europe, and he has lived and worked in Norway, and paid taxes to Norway for over 50 years. 50 years! He was granted permanent residency in Norway soon after his arrival, but has nevertheless since had to apply to the police every two years to have his ID card renewed. Every time, he has to go through a humiliating application process on the internet, answering all sorts of intrusive questions such has “how many days have you spent abroad over the past two years.” Now, with Covid, he has been informed that he will have to to wait for several months before he receives a valid ID card. After 50 years!

Norwegians love travelling. They might go shopping in London, spend a weekend or two on a beach in Spain, enjoy a safari in Africa, meet friends at a bar in Copenhagen, all in a single year, without a second thought. But my acquaintance must record each and every entry to and departure from the country. And now, without an ID card, he cannot travel at all. After 50 years!

Last year, the authorities finally allowed people to apply for naturalisation without relinquishing their original citizenship, so he spent a few hours filling out the forms on the Internet, clicking “Next” and “Next and “Next” each time he reached the bottom of a screen. The last screen he reached contained only one word: PAY. The fee, he learnt, was NOK 5500, (USD 642.22 or EUR 540). After 50 years!

That’s a lot of money. Maybe not for you, but for many people, yes, it is an insurmountable amount, certainly for immigrants. Even Norwegians would scream if asked to pay such an amount for anything other than a weekend at 5-star hotel.

Some countries are just simply indefensibly self-satisfied.

Jul 042021
 

During the period 1122–1133, Ari Froði (the Learned) wrote Íslendingabók “the Book about Iceland”. This remarkable piece of scholarly literature was written in Icelandic, or Norse, if you will, although the writer was probably much more fluent in Latin, at least when writing. In those days, Latin was the language of choice for European scholars, of whom there were embarrassingly few, most of them clergymen.

Parenthetically, I should add that in Spain there were lots of scholars at the time, not least Arabs and Jews, and lots of linguists. In the thirteenth century, Spain was even lucky enough to have a king (Alfonso el Sabio 1221–1284 ) who understood the potential of the country’s wealth of learned subjects. Under his reign, tomes and tomes of invaluable scientific literature from all over the world were translated into the vernacular and Latin. Had it not been for this tremendous effort to translate as much as possible of all available knowledge, goodness knows how long Europe would have continued to languish in darkness.

So, during Europe’s Dark Ages, a light shone in the South, in Spain, and in the far North, in Iceland. In the rest of Europe, almost nobody could read or write, and even the Bible was just abra-cadabra for almost everybody.

Ari Froði writes in the “Book about Iceland” that all of the island’s farmsteads date from the first 60 years after the initial settlers arrived in (according to Ari himself) 870. Each and every one of the settlers who reached Iceland’s shores during those first years, is accounted for in another truly iconic historic document, it too in the vernacular, Landnámabók, presumably also written during the first part of the 12th century; author unknown. Of course, the settlers must have had slaves, livestock, wives and children, though there is no mention of livestock, and only occasional mention of wives and children. (An infinitesimal proportion of the settlers were, actually, women!)

Landnámabók sometimes mentions slaves (mostly Irish), either because they were particularly deserving, or because they betrayed their masters, and in some cases, we learn how many slaves a settler brought. Please note that these slaves had been captured or ensnared, as wild animals are captured or ensnared, during their owners’ raids on the British Isles. In other words, the brave and supremely enduring settlers were, in most cases, the same brutes who killed left, right and centre, on their jaunts through Europe.

Yet, having reached Iceland, they almost all demonstrated extraordinary courtesy, asking previously arrived settlers for permission to go ashore. Iceland appears to have been, until about 1262, an anarchist’s wet dream. People (mostly men) occupied large tracts of an otherwise vacant island, respecting the rights of both prior and subsequent arrivals until the island was “fully settled”.

In other words, they were all miraculously governed by a system of common consent which soon evolved into a body of laws recited once a year at Thingvellir. “He who recites the laws” was elected at regular intervals from among the country’s wisest men. There was no army, no police, no king, no president.

What’s more, we must assume that many of them could read; otherwise, why would Ari the Learned have written his book in Icelandic? Not only that: many of them could write! They wrote the most wonderful stories, lots and lots of them, the Sagas.

They had their feuds, true; they sometimes killed a man or two and were driven from the land, as a result, but by and large, they took pride in doing the honourable thing, whatever that was, and were extremely civilised.

WHY? How come bloodthirsty bandits turned a country into a lighthouse on a dark and gloomy continent? I have a theory about that: Of course they had common sense, and common sense told them that unless they were able to cooperate, they wouldn’t survive.

Almost equally important, though, was their concept of honour (sæmd). They knew their actions were being recorded and would go down in history. They assumed that not only their offspring, but whole generations, followed by generation after generation, would know the name not only of every hero but also of every bastard that had ever lived on the island. They behaved well in the hope of immortalising their honour.

Alas, common sense is not our strongest suit. A human being will only be guided by common sense up to a certain point. The same sense of honour that prevented Golden Age Icelanders from misbehaving, would drive them to exterminate one another in a series of skirmishes, including an utterly ludicrous naval battle, during the first half of the 13th century (described in Islendingasaga by Sturla Þórðarson, written early in the 14th century.) Rather than live sensible lives, they died ludicrously honourable deaths.

The chieftain Kolbeinn Tumason allegedly offered up his prayer “Heyr himna smiður” the night before his ludicrously honourable death in 1208. The translation is literal and does not convey the musical beauty of the verse. (Source: Wikipedia as at 4/7/2021)

Hear, smith of the heavens,
what the poet asks.
May softly come unto me
thy mercy.
So I call on thee,
for thou hast created me.
I am thy slave,
thou art my Lord.

In the course of the following three centuries, Iceland would turn into a depressing blot on European maps. For hundreds of years, the godforsaken island would be inhabited by near-starving bedraggled primitives. WHY? How come these eminently civilised farmers in the far north lost everything?

For the same reason that those of us who live in wealthy countries in the twenty second century are soon going to lose everything: Common sense, I repeat, is not our strongest suit.

The nice part of this story is that even after Iceland was virtually wiped off the map, its people’s sagas would live on, translated into many languages. To this day, then, readers all over the world can enjoy compelling tales about how Icelanders dealt with greedy bastards. No doubt, in time to come, future generations will read about our scuffles with the greedy bastards who will have turned our beautiful planet into a wasteland and our young democracies into neo-liberal fiefdoms.

Jun 122021
 

The race trick has been played since time immemorial, you may be sure. For all I know, it dates back to when we were competing against and possibly exterminating the Neanderthals.

Our race plays the power game with all kinds of tools, some of them legal. No country’s legal code has been able to foresee all the low-down, dirty tricks a totally callous person can concoct, and the race trick is one of the simplest.

If, for example, you can convince your compatriots that blue-eyed people belong to an inferior race, you are in business. Blue-eyed people, you will explain, tend to be less resistant to heat and sun than people with darker eyes and skin colour, and since our planet is growing hotter, heat resistance will prove to be an asset. You might suggest limiting university admission to those who have passed an infernal heat resistance test. Some 30 years later, you will find, to your delight, that relatively few blue-eyed kids have parents who can afford sending them to university even if they pass the heat resistance tests. Then you can say you told us so: “they are born losers, ” you will explain.

You will not find it quite as easy to explain that people with a certain shape of nose and – say : large feet, narrow hips and thick lips – are members of a superior race, in spite of eager sponsoring from the Botox camp. True, Hitler managed to pull off the Arian Race hoax a few years ago, but I’m not sure voters would make the same mistake again, at least not yet.

No, for the “superior race” trick, you should ally yourself with a religious charismatic movement such as that of an Ayatollah Khomeini – if it makes you feel comfortable – or that of a Pentecostal Flor-de-Lis, if you prefer. (Jair Bolsonaro hoodwinked under-privileged Brazilian voters by claiming to be Evangelical. The Guardian has a very interesting article explaining why Evangelical movements attract so many people in the favelas.) Let the preachers do the work for you. Let them chant that those who vote for you are God’s chosen people. “The others” are scum.

God will protect his chosen people from Covid. In Israel, he does so by providing vaccines, whereas the others (who have been denied vaccines) will die like flies in the window sill. In Brazil, God admittedly withholds vaccines from those who cannot afford them. But they will survive anyway, thanks to the Lord, of course. (Those who don’t won’t live to tell the tale.)

Denying vaccines to an ethnic group is one of the measures that can be used to achieve “ethnic cleansing”. “Ethnic cleansing” is a modern term for one of the darkest and most horrible crimes known to humanity. We used to call this particular form of crime “genocide”.

Ethnic cleansing is practised to this day. In China, it appears, it is practised against the Uigurs; in Myanmar against the Rohingyas (cf. the euphemistic “displacement crisis” of 2017 – NB before the recent military coup); and in Israel’s occupied territories and Gaza against the Palestinians.

So what about the term “racism”? If, strictly speaking, there are no human “races”, may we no longer denounce white supremacists as “racist”? Of course we may! Whoever actually believes or pretends to believe in racial hierarchies is obviously a racist.

E.g.: Israel maintains that anybody who condemns Israel’s treatment of the population on the West Bank is “Anti-Semite”. This means that Israel nurtures a racist ideology.

But please note that no modern government will admit it differentiates between people on the basis of “race”. The reason Tom, Dick and Harry still imagine there are genetically significant bases for identifying discrete races is that the powers-that-be have not made it sufficiently clear that such is not the case. There are, in many countries, political, religious and/or economic forces that benefit from nurturing racist ideas.

Let’s face it, the Homo sapiens sapiens is not angelic, no matter how evangelic it claims to be.

May 142021
 

A friend from a country far hotter than my own, sometimes asks me: “How can you consort with other species?”

— I don’t consort with…
— You live with a dog.
— But I never let her into my bed!
— Dogs carry parasites, diseases. They pick up all sorts of nasties from the ground and…

He’s right about that, of course, but my dog regularly gets de-wormed and vaccinated against a plethora of diseases and there is plenty of literature attesting to the beneficial effects dogs can have on humans’ mental as well as physical health. In fact, ever since I was a child I knew I had much less to fear from dogs than from humans. So, yes, I can live with other species (cats, dogs) but can I live with humans?

Today, all humans are members of the human race, of which there is only one, as opposed to in the very distant past, when there were Denisovars and Neanderthals and goodness knows what else. Though scientists are still uncertain as to why all the others vanished, I’m convinced that our race, the homo sapiens sapiens, exterminated them. After all, “we”, the sapiens sapiens have demonstrated certain sinister proclivities throughout history. To this very day we continue to exterminate opponents, contestants, protesters and heretics, not to mention species..

So “The Human Race” it is. To quote a Harvard University website, which in turn quotes the Scientific American, “two people of European descent may be more genetically similar to an Asian person than they are to each other”. In short, it would appear that the concept “race” (with regard to humans) is claptrap, a social construct, more often than not used for convenience, or out of old habit, or to excuse a rabid aversion to people perceived to be trespassing. To make matters very much worse, politicians are often quite happy to let us blame immigrants (“Blacks”, “Arabs”, “Latinos”…) for our misfortunes.

No, I’m not being politically correct! I’m merely being reasonably informed. So if you loathe your neighbour, do not, please, be a hypocrite and do not cower behind an ignorance for which you have no justification. Have a conversation with yourself in the mirror. Do you dislike your neighbour’s political views, and/or the way he/she dresses, and/or his/her ignorance, and/or his/her arrogance, and/or the fumes that emanate from his/her kitchen, and/or his/her car, and/or his/her dog? Fine, so do I. But have, at least, the decency to admit that is why you dislike him/her.

Do you dislike his religion? Ask yourself, then, why his religion should concern you. Do you not expect others to accept that your religion (or non-religion) is your business and yours only?

Does it annoy you that he insists on continuing to live in your neighbourhood although you have made it clear that you want him to leave because you know he hates you because your people drove his people off their farm? I put to you, then, that the problem is that his family was driven off their farm. You’ll solve no problem until you admit that injustice was done. The disadvantage of such an admission is the price of making amends. Yet, the cost is far less than perpetual mutual hatred and perpetual external condemnation.

Do you ostracise him because he is an underdog while you have the upper hand? Ah, well then I admit you can play the “race” card, because you are after all only a homo sapiens sapiens, and being rather despicable is unfortunately a widespread trait of your race… ours, that is.

Fortunately, there are other people in your neighbourhood, and mine, that are not despicable even though they belong to the same race. And for that we must be grateful.

Please see B’Tselem

May 082021
 

The lesson should have been learnt a long time ago, back in 2013, when Edward Snowden revealed that the United States helps itself to just about any information it wants, about anybody. I won’t go into details about his assertions, as they are very beautifully explained and substantiated in his book Permanent Record.

US surveillance programmes also cover European and goodness knows what other countries, including mine, the purpose allegedly being national security, just as the invasion of Iraq was for national security reasons. In practical terms that means that if somebody reveals anything that embarrasses the powers that be, that person must be hunted to the ground and destroyed, to wit, the shameful case vs Julian Assange (see Deutsche Welle), and that vs Snowden himself who has had to apply for citizenship in Russia, of all places, so as not to suffer Assange’s deplorable fate. I’m sure Putin must be laughing.

Now the US is definitely not the only country that destroys those who would cast aspersions on its greatness and best-ness and Democratic-ness. On the Press Freedom Index, the US now ranks as no. 44, which isn’t so bad, really, only marginally behind South Korea, though considerably worse than the UK which ranks at no. 33.

Nonetheless, I guess no whistle-blower in his sane mind would turn to US American bona fide media outlets — not that I’m suggesting that Snowden was insane. As a matter of fact, he didn’t turn to the US American press but to Glenn Greenwald; speaking of whom, I urge you to read his latest article on substack.

At any rate, today, the New York Times has a very dry article, way below the main headings on its website, the sub-heading of which is directly misleading: “Federal prosecutors sought phone records for three Washington Post journalists as part of an investigation into the publication of classified information in 2017.” The main heading which, I repeat, was way below the rest of the news, is actually more accurate: “Justice Dept. Seized Washington Post’s Phone Records“. The key word here is seized. I don’t know about you, but I almost overlooked the heading. Justice departments are always seizing something or other, it’s their job. (The highlights are mine.)

The point is: The authorities not only sought but obtained all they wanted in order to uncover certain journalists’ whistle-blowing source. This was, admittedly, onTrump’s watch, but is the US Justice Dept. the President’s lapdog? The NYT fleetingly mentions, en passant, “a case where prosecutors secretly seized years’ worth of a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records. That case signaled a continuation of the aggressive prosecutions of leaks under the Obama administration.” The NY Times refrains from going into details here; after all, the present incumbent of the presidency is on Obama’s side, as it were. The NY Times knows who butters its bread, let’s face it.

Nevertheless, the USA’s position 44 on the Press Feeedom Index is vastly better than that of the United Arab Emirates, at 131. You don’t get much worse than that, do you?

Or what? Well, yes, you do: India at no. 142 – repeat – one hundred and forty two – is the world’s largest so-called Democracy. The country’s president, Narendra Modi, is a pretty nasty piece of work, if you ask me. I leave you to a few sources in chronological order (all regarding India).

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) claims to be a-political. Already in 2018, the organisation noted red lights for the Indian press: Troll armies in PM Modi’s “pay”

In February this year RSF reports: Raids on critic al outlets in India.

In April the New York Times started looking at the matter.: NYT: India’s press not so free and NYT: Covid – Critical posts taken down

Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post, which discusses how the media discusses big topics, has been following India for a while, for instance here: Al Jazeera: Navigating bad Covid stats

Finally, a wonderful Indian author writes about Covid in India: Arundathi Roy: Covid in India

And the lesson? The one I referred in my first paragraph? It is very simple: Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt.

Apr 222021
 

Now that spring has reached the northern hemisphere, now that we northerners can raise our faces to the sun, pull our hands out of our coat pockets or, even, take off our coats, we tell ourselves once again that the task of living is indeed worth the effort. After all, birds are a-courting, yellow flowers humbly brighten road-sides, and nothing but nothing can dim the optimism of swelling and bursting buds on tree tops.

Sitting in a nearly empty subway carriage today, I longed for the pre-pandemic afternoon throng, the tired faces, the weary postures of people of all social classes on their way home from work. (Where I live, even the fairly rich use public transportation, if only because there is hardly any parking in the city. The extremely rich are probably driven to work by chauffeurs. ) Today, we were few and far apart, most of us dressed neither for work nor play, our expressions literally veiled by masks.

I wondered: Who are they? Have they been laid off?

What about you: Have you by any chance lost your job or been evicted from your house? Or are you working from home? Maybe you are what is called “a critical employee”, so that you have to brave Covid on a day-to-day basis. Whether you belong to the first, the second or the third category, I should stress that I do not belong to any of them. What I’m trying to say is that regardless of how life is hitting you, I am unable to imagine what it is like.

True, I am not without imagination, so I have a fair theoretical idea of what it means to inhabit categories 1 and 3, both of which involve professional activity coupled with social paralysis. Category 2, however, …

I was once poor, many years ago and for many years. Really poor. But then I got lucky, and the pandemic has left me high and dry. The strange thing is, however, that I am now unable to remember what it was like to be “really poor”. At least I know and will never forget that anybody, absolutely anybody, could be born into poverty, struck down by poverty, or slide into poverty through an amalgam of unfortunate circumstances. And I shall never ever forget that being poor is very expensive. To put it differently: Getting out of poverty requires money.

In Utopia for Realists (2016), Rutger Bregman cogently stressed that part of the problem “poverty” is the sadly prevailing fallacy that poverty is due to laziness or other kinds of good-for-nothingness. If you are, say, a Central American illegal alien working till your hands, lungs or feet bleed, you will be socially branded as lazy or at least delinquent, alcoholic or otherwise undesirable. Let me tell you, in case Rutger Bregman has not yet hit your bookshelf, that poverty is due to anything but laziness.

If the pandemic has struck you where it hurts, you will know what I mean. Maybe you have contacts that can lend you a hand. Maybe, on the other hand, you find yourself on your own. If that is the case, all I can say is, to quote Bob Dylan, “the times are a-changin”. True, wealth inequality has augmented during the past 15 months, BUT so has awareness of wealth inequality.

I did not take much note of the news of the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer – after all, we’ve all seen the video. What moved me to tears, however, were the images on the evening news of people sobbing in the streets. Sobbing for joy! I had not fully taken in, until then, that blacks actually feared Chauvin would be acquitted. Gosh! I mean, really: Wow. Can I even imagine what it must feel like to be a 24/7 walking and talking bullet target for so-called law enforcement? No I cannot.

Imagination is a strange thing: Under certain conditions, most of us are able to imagine unlikely situations and events. Some of us honestly fear that the air plane they are in might fall down, or that a sinister creature could be lurking in a corner or under the bed. Some fondly fantasise about the sweet scent of wood burning in a fire place. Oddly, however, few of us are able to imagine spending a cold night in a refugee camp, or even on the pavement, home to the homeless, in any one of our big cities.

The pandemic has left each and every one of us more or less imprisoned, alone or with household members, hence also far more emotionally vulnerable, perhaps also more sensitive. We are vulnerable not only to what surfaces from our own interiors, but also to what the few voices we hear tell us. From an anthropological viewpoint the past 15 months have been a tremendously exciting global experiment. Have our baseline attitudes changed?

Mar 272021
 

Here he is, General Min. It’s tempting to call him a monster, but we don’t really know, do we. Nobody seems to know much about him. Maybe he is his wife’s or his mother’s puppet; women can be as vile as men, you know, as greedy and as manipulative. Maybe he is the puppet of his fabulously rich children. Or of some other general. All we can say with absolute certainty is that he is contemptible; the kind of creature you would want to crush under your boot, if you had a boot, that is, and if you lacked self-restraint. What a civilised person does, however, is to hand him over to an international criminal court, where he will undoubtedly be convicted. He will then spend the rest of his life in a clean prison cell, with a TV screen showing, again and again, year after year and in colour, the atrocities his troops commited against the population of Myanmar. Even in prison, he will be lucky to evade the fate of Libya’s handsome erstwhile President Muammar Gaddafi.

They say he was a retiring sort of fellow. Some sources use the word “taciturn. According to Reuters, he made annual applications to join the country’s military university, the Defence Services Academy (DSA), succeeding only at his third attempt in 1974. Reuters adds that according to a member of his DSA class, he was “not an outstanding student. Not a driven person, (but) not a lazy person…. He was promoted regularly and slowly”. The classmate said he had been surprised he had risen beyond the officer corps’ middle ranks.

Nikkei Asia quotes Nicholas Coppel, Australia’s former ambassador to Myanmar: “The senior general is not a listener – he talks and others listen.” Mr Coppel holds that the general’s “big-man management style” is due to “ignorance and arrogance…. the isolation that comes from being at the top.”

So how come this mediocre character reached the top? Who paved the way for him and why? You will not find the answer in this post, because I don’t know. Let me be quite frank: I know little about Myanmar. Never been there. Never intended to go there. You don’t visit countries that are committing genocide. So I must rely heavily on what I find on the net, not least on the insight of Mr David Scott Mathieson, a Senior Researcher in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.

What I do know is that the general and his family are filthy rich, cf. Justice for Myanmar and Amnesty International.

Below is a long quote from Japan Times which explains the wealth in less legalese terms:

Through two highly secretive military-controlled behemoths — Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) — at least 133 companies in the country are wholly or partially overseen by generals, according to a report by Justice For Myanmar (JFM).

The opaque groups have their tentacles in industries as diverse as beer, tobacco, transportation, textiles, tourism and banking.

Much of the lucrative — and largely unregulated — jade and ruby trade is controlled by military-owned businesses.

Although Myanmar is the world’s largest producer of jade, and the trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year, only a very small part of the financial windfall ends up in state coffers — with most high-quality stones believed to be smuggled over the border into China.

Since 2011, the disaster-prone jade industry has remained “controlled by a network of military elites, drug lords and their cronies”, according to NGO Global Witness.

An MEHL subsidiary reportedly holds the largest number of jade mining licenses.

The company, Myanmar Imperial Jade Co. Ltd., was among the three gems entities slapped with U.S. sanctions Thursday.

MEHL has partnerships with companies in China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, among others.

It has enriched its shareholders in Myanmar, who — according to the conglomerate’s government filings — are all current or retired military officials.

I recommend reading the entire above-linked article from Japan Times. You might also want to take a look at the Asia Times expose of the assets belonging the general’s family members.

There is nothing like a Count Dracula to attract attention to a small corner of the earth. While Myanmar’s ethnic majority have not seemed very preoccupied by the fate of the Rohingyan minority, you cannot but admire the pluck of protesters’ peacefully going out to defy the soldiers that shoot them in the head by the tens every day.

And what about the soldiers, sons and brothers of the very protesters they are shooting. Wow! That country is really fucked up. So General Min has at least earned his country a lot of attention. When General Min and and his fellow generals, at some point in the inevitable future, sit in their prison cells or languish underground in their coffins, we, tourists of the world, will flock to Myanmar to honour the thousands and thousands of demonstrators and Rohingyans who lost their lives to the “ignorance and arrogance” and, allow me to add, the barbarity of the generals who have governed Myanmar ever since it gained its so-called independence in 1962.

Meanwhile I put it to you that what triggered the recent coup, was not electoral irregularities, not even, perhaps, that General Min resented the little lady with flowers in her hair. I suspect that when she won 83 – eighty-three – per cent of the vote, he and his ilk panicked. What happens now? they asked themselves. According to CNN, Mr David Scott Matieson suggests they thought “she has a mandate now to dilute our economic power and our constitutional power, and our immunity from prosecution. There is no way that we’re going to allow ourselves to be that vulnerable.”

Mar 092021
 

At a time when news outlets are preoccupied by the fate of imprisoned princesses and fleeing princes and duchesses, I feel called upon to bring to your attention another piece of news about royalty.

In light of the fact that US authorities seem reluctant to take punitive action against the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (usually referred to as MBS), the non-governmental organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has taken a somewhat unusual step.

RSF is trying to take MBS to court, no less, and to have him convicted of crimes that are routinely referred to as “heinous”, i.e. crimes against humanity.

The official phrasing of RSF’s actions so far is that they have:

filed a criminal complaint with the German Public Prosecutor General against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and [4] other high-ranking Saudi officials for crimes against humanity. The complaint concerns the widespread and systematic persecution of journalists in Saudi Arabia, more specifically the imprisonment of 34 journalists and the assassination of Jamal Kashoggi.

The principle of universal jurisdiction with respect to crimes against humanity is enshrined in German Law. RSF may have chosen to request prosecution in Germany because a German court recently convicted a former Syrian secret police officer for his role in the torture of protesters. Anybody who has ever heard or read detailed accounts of protesters’ prison life in Syria will have wept for joy to hear the verdict. RSF has heard and read many, many such accounts.

The problem is, of course, that in most countries, even the judiciary is subject to political pressure. What would be the fallout for Germany of challenging MBS? Does the German prosecuting authority have the guts to go through with this?

There is every reason to cross our fingers here. These days, deluded “generals” are stampeding all over the place in Myanmar like rabid bulls, killing left, right and centre. The idea that some court might one day convict and sentence the generals may not comfort the victims, but it could discourage megalomaniacs from choosing killing sprees as a strategy. Even MBS has generally used more sophisticated means of repression.

(While you’re here, you might take a look at RSF’s country ranking index.)

Feb 122021
 

There isn’t much good news going around, but when a prominent Israeli humanitarian organisation uses the word, maybe people will finally listen.

No need to expound. BTSELEM explains it all very clearly here:
https://www.btselem.org/publications/fulltext/202101_this_is_apartheid

Please do read the entire report. It’s important to understand on what grounds the word is found to be applicable.

Here is a shorter, animated version.

For the record: In case BTSELEM is ordered to take down the report, I have downloaded a copy of it and will upload it here.

Feb 082021
 

For various reasons, a growing number of people are beginning to wonder whether Democracy is just a fading daydream. The long-predicted effects of climate change are one by one starting to unfold and are shaking our faith in the future. Meanwhile, the spectacular cognitive contortions of many politicians and their followers have seemed beyond belief and have generated distrust in our governments. Finally, people like Bolsonaro, el-Sisi, Duterte, Trump, MBS, Netanyahu (Apartheid politician), Erdogan, Putin, and Burmese generals … to mention just a few, do not inspire hope for the human race, far less for Democracy.

But I put to you that in spite of all this, Democracy is not an illusion, not make-belief, not a silly fantasy!

There is nothing wrong with the concept of Democracy as outlined, however roughly
by the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Democracy is a system of government in which laws, policies, leadership, and major undertakings of a state or other polity are directly or indirectly decided by the “people,” a group historically constituted by only a minority of the population (e.g., all free adult males in ancient Athens or all sufficiently propertied adult males in 19th-century Britain) but generally understood since the mid-20th century to include all (or nearly all) adult citizens.

and recommended by the United Nations:

When the founders of the United Nations drafted the United Nations Charter, they did not mention the word democracy. In 1945, many of the UN Member States did not endorse democracy as a system, or didn’t practice it. Yet, the opening words of the Charter, “We the Peoples”, reflect the fundamental principle of democracy – that the will of the people is the source of legitimacy of sovereign states and, therefore, of the United Nations as a whole.

The problem we are facing these days is not that the concept Democracy is any more fantastical than it ever was, but that the word Democracy has been high-jacked by the United States – where it has been married to an economic (and governmental) system, commonly referred to by detractors as Neoliberalism – and where it has failed ignominiously to curb ubiquitous economic and racial injustice.

Since time immemorial there have been, here and there, patches of what could be called Democratic societies: A model example is that of the San [quote from Wikipedia]:

Traditionally, the San were an egalitarian society. Although they had hereditary chiefs, their authority was limited. The San made decisions among themselves by consensus, with women treated as relative equals. San economy was a gift economy, based on giving each other gifts regularly rather than on trading or purchasing goods and services.

True the San may not have exercised “separation of powers” (legislative, executive and judiciary) and a transparent system of checks and balances, without which I cannot conceive of a modern Democratic society. On the other hand, they managed something no “modern” society would: to survive in the Kalahari Desert.

With or without separation of powers, one thing is certain in the Kalahari Desert as in a post-modern society: Democracy is contingent on informed choices, and that is what has been missing in so many so-called democracies all over the world. The San People will not have known about quantum physics, but what knowledge they had, they shared and without shared knowledge, there is no Democracy.

Again I quote Encyclopedia Britannica:

The hallmark of democracy is that it permits citizens to participate in making laws and public policies by regularly choosing their leaders and by voting in assemblies or referenda. If their participation is to be meaningful and effective—if the democracy is to be real and not a sham—citizens must understand their own interests, know the relevant facts, and have the ability to critically evaluate political arguments. Each of those things presupposes education.

Education, then, is key!

But who gets to decide what goes onto the curriculum? A bellowing bull in Ankara (who is at this very moment clamping down on his countries’ universities)? Or a Christian fundamentalist? Well, that’s where the free press comes into the picture, isn’t it, because if either one or the other fiddles with the curriculum, the press pounces on them, unless…

Unless what? Well, the press isn’t entirely free, is it. The press has powerful owners and/or backers; military dictators, autocrats, Savonarolas, billionaires, cranks, Qanonites and nut cases who will apply every trick in the book to gain and retain control, including the tricks of editing curriculum and controlling the press.

So Democracy is not something that just falls into our laps and stays there. We have to work for it, and we have to defend it. Mind you, this is not new. Since time immemorial, the world has been hectored by power freaks, and has survived. But one thing has changed: change itself, or rather, the speed of change.

Like it or not, change happens and will continue to happen at a breath-taking speed.

Change brings us pandemics, but also improved vaccination technology. Change brings us affordable audio-visual communication across continents, but also the means to whip up insurrections through social media.

More than ever before, education – good education – is needed so that we all can contribute, each in our different ways and to the extent of our capacity – by asking questions, answering questions, squabbling about the answers; by conducting research and questioning results. Like the San, we must share available knowledge about what lies ahead so that we all can take part in deciding how to deal with it.