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Monthly Archives: May 2008

What Burma Brings Out in Us

Mike Lillis at The Washington Independent makes a good point about how some commentators — and there have been many — have taken rather unexpected stances with regards to the question of humanitarian intervention in Burma:

The unusual nature of the crisis has turned politics on its head. Critics who have blasted the White House for a lack of diplomacy in relation to Iraq are suddenly calling for an intervention that ignores negotiation — not to mention the sovereignty of a foreign nation. The Bush administration, in turn, seems prepared to leave the responsibility to the same United Nations it has skewered, on occasions, as inept, impotent or both.

However, Lillis’ analysis misses the complexity and the continuity of these two respective groups’ responses. Clearly, not all voices who opposed the Bush administration’s cowboy diplomacy in the run-up to the Iraq War are calling for a unilateral invasion of Burma. As I’ve stressed before, even invoking the Responsibility to Protect doctrine — which enshrines the right to overcome state sovereignty and intervene in cases of crimes against humanity — should not be seen as a short-circuiting of diplomacy, but as an intricate extension of it. Exploring the possibility of some sort of humanitarian intervention in Burma — not necessarily of the military variety, and, crucially, in concert with the international community — is simply not analogous to the rush toward war in Iraq.

As for the Bush administration’s response — “leav[ing] the responsibility to the [] United Nations” — this is not as much of a surprise as Mike suggests. We continually ask the global body to assume more and more responsibilities — urging additional peacekeeping missions, calling for greater humanitarian responses, and pushing valuable political reconciliation missions — yet often neglect to appreciate its accomplishments, continually decry its flaws, and even fail to fully fund its important endeavors. Unfortunately, relying on the UN and questioning the organization’s value do not always seem to be mutually exclusive stances, despite the stunning contradiction of this position. READ MORE

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Wednesday Morning Coffee

Top Stories

>>Lebanon – After five hard-fought days of negotiation in Doha, Hezbollah and Lebanon’s government have agreed to a final agreement to end the 18-month political crisis. Under the agreement General Michel Suleiman, the commander of the Army, will be elected President in the next few days. Also, Hezbollah and its allies will be given an apportionment of cabinet seats sufficient to sustain a veto. And, a new electoral law, governing representative in the government, will be put up for debate.

>>Spain – A joint operation between French and Spanish authorities nabbed Francisco Javier Lopez Pena (aka Thierry), the top political leader of the Basque separatist group ETA, in Bordeaux. Pena is thought to have led ETA since the failed 2006 peace negotiations. He is also thought to have ordered the 2006 bombing of the Madrid airport, which ended a nine-month ceasefire.

>>Uganda – According to foreign investigators and humanitarian groups, the Lord’s Resistance Army has stepped up its campaign of child abduction over the last month, scooping up over 100 children from the Congo, Uganda, and the Central African Republic who will likely be pressed into service or used as sex slaves. This occurred during international efforts to finalize a peace agreement between the LRA and the Ugandan government.

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Ban en Route to Myanmar

From the IHT:

The secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, was on his way to Myanmar on Wednesday, hoping to pry open the door to more international relief aid at what he called a “critical moment” in the country’s slow recovery from the cyclone that left more than 100,000 people dead or missing.

“Aid in Myanmar should not be politicized,” he said as he stopped in Bangkok on Wednesday. “Our focus now is on saving lives.”

But the opening offered by Myanmar appeared to be a narrow one, and some analysts said the ruling generals were conceding only enough to defuse international pressure after the May 3 cyclone.

Read more. READ MORE

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Carbon Obesity Epidemic

Preliminary reports from the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that American CO2 emissions rose in 2007 to 5,984 million metric tons. For those of us who use the English measurement system, that’s over 13 trillion pounds. Let me just write that number out so you can see how long it is:

13,000,000,000,000 lbs.

This means that in 2007, the U.S. alone produced about a ton of carbon dioxide for every human being on the planet. If we just count the American population, our per capita emissions are about 22 tons per person. That’s more than the weight of an 18-wheeler truck per person per year.

A little more perspective: for every dollar in the American economy, there is nearly a pound of CO2 produced.

These figures really draw out what I’m now calling the “American Carbon Obesity Epidemic.” It is an interesting idea to think of carbon weight like human weight. By pairing Americans’ collective desire to slim waistlines with the collective need to fight global warming, hopefully progress toward good habits and reasonable consumption will be made easier. Individuals could even create a “target carbon weight” and try to slim down to fit into that old climate that looked so good on us in the old days. READ MORE

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Trouble in Abyei

The United Nations estimated last week that 30,000 to 50,000 residents of the oil rich Abyei region of Sudan fled their homes last week as fighting broke out there. To understand the broader significance of Abyei, I instruct readers to turn to the Enough Campaign, which has called the region “Sudan’s Kashmir,” and warns that Abyei may be the place where the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Accord (which ended the 20 year civil war between the North and South) is dealt its final death knell.

Here’s why. READ MORE

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Tuesday Morning Coffee

Top Stories

>>Iraq – Today the Iraqi army moved again to take control of Sadr City, the stronghold of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army. The forces have already advanced three-quarters of the way through the neighborhood without meeting resistance. Iraqi security forces have never entered the remaining quarter.

>>Israel – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be questioned again on Friday as part of an ongoing bribery investigation that could force him from office. Olmert, who has already acknowledged that U.S. businessman Morris Talansky raised money for him during two mayoral campaigns in the 1990s, is accused of taking “large sums of money from a foreigner.” If indicted Olmert has said he will resign.

>>Taiwan – Taiwan’s new president, Ma Ying-jeou, the Nationalist Party candidate and a former mayor of Taipei, took office today. Ma has pledged to reopen the dialogue with China. The two sides have not talked since the 1990s.

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