Saturday, October 31, 2009

Is the Copenhagen treaty about creating a world government?

Alan Jones talks to Lord Monckton, British climate change sceptic, who says the Copenhagen treaty is about creating a world government

Islam from the perspective of Western views

Most Western people have never set foot in the Arab or Islamic world but have only obtained their impressions of Islam and Muslims through the mass media, or through their contacts with highly diverse groups of Muslim immigrants living in their respective countries. For instance Moroccans in the Netherlands, Algerians in France, Pakistanis and Indians in the United Kingdom, and Turks in Germany.

Or they obtained their ideas about Islam through extreme events, such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, or those elsewhere. Often such experiences or impressions have been more negative than positive.

And it is often not Islam as such which is being perceived, but rather the acts of individual Muslims who provide a distorted image of Islam because they pretend to act "in the name of Islam" but do not in any way represent any substantial Muslim majority. The perception amongst the general population in Europe, or the West in general, is these days often shaped by what happens close at home, just next door, rather than by developments in far away Muslim countries.

In Europe, the view towards Muslims and Islam was in the past heavily influenced by the stereotype thinking which emanated from the conflicts between Christian and Muslim rulers in the Middle Ages. But today's situation in the West has developed further and is different.

Although some of the traditionally preconceived ideas and biases still persist, new elements have come into play. New conflicts have arisen which, although they have little to do with religion or Islam as such, nevertheless strongly reflect upon relations between the West and the Islamic world and Muslims in general.

Of course, the colonial rule of Western countries over the Middle East and elsewhere has left its traces amongst formerly colonized peoples. As far as the post-colonial period is concerned, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been an important factor affecting relations.

At its beginning it was a kind of nationalist conflict about the disputed territory of Palestine. In the course of time, however, it obtained an additional dimension, notably that of a conflict between Jews and Muslims instead of between only Arabs and Israeli Jews.

The Israeli occupation and annexation of Jerusalem have added a religious dimension to the conflict as well. Continuous strong Western support for Israel, and the Western application of - what is often seen by Arabs and Muslims as - double standards in its policies towards the Middle East, also have resulted in hostility within the Arab and Islamic world towards the West.

This, originally nationalist hostility, later on gained the additional dimension of wider Muslim hostility towards the West, resulting in various terrorist operations and other violent outbursts by organizations like al-Qaeda, Taliban and others. Western interventions in Islamic countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Western presence in the Muslim heartland of the Arabian Peninsula have come to play a role in these animosities and conflicts as well.

Another new element today is the strong presence of many Muslim immigrants in Europe with their very different cultural backgrounds. Their presence has had a strong influence on the opinion amongst some European people towards Islam and Muslims in general. Many of these immigrants are from the poorer if not poorest rural sectors of their countries and therefore have generally a much lower educational level than that of the country they have immigrated into. Often they are also not in an economically competitive position. (Although it should be noted that there are many successful entrepreneurs amongst their offspring).

In the Netherlands the rate of unemployment is much higher among the Moroccans, than among any other immigrant group, just as is their rate of criminality.

For that reason they have triggered a negative attitude within certain sectors of the Dutch population towards them, and indirectly also towards Islam. Over the past years, Islam itself has increasingly become a subject of debate in Europe: the attacks by Muslim terrorists on targets in the United States, London and Spain, the pressure on young girls to wear the headscarf, the recruitment of young men for the international jihad, the discovery in particular mosques of books denouncing homosexuals, and the equality of men and women, the implicit condoning of domestic violence and honor-related crimes with reference to the religion of Islam.

In 2004, the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered. The extremist Muslim perpetrator left a written message stating that he had committed the murder because Van Gogh had openly criticized Islam. This brought about a change in the Netherlands: politicians and other participants in the public debate were threatened and there were even sporadic incidents in which mosques, churches and schools were attacked.

These events have raised the question as to which extent Islam, in its present forms, is compatible with the democratic core-values and practices in the Netherlands. Combined with concerns about integration, such as the continued low levels of mastery of the Dutch language, low rates of inter-ethnic marriage (more than 70 percent of the Turkish and Moroccan youth marry a partner from their country of origin), high numbers of school drop-outs and relatively poor school results among the Muslim population, these issues have led to heated societal and parliamentary discussions.

Although the Dutch government and civil society organizations are making serious efforts to implement integration policy, one point remains problematic: the split which threatens to develop between Muslims and non-Muslims. This threat is fuelled by some Muslim fundamentalists who take advantage of dissatisfaction among second and third generation immigrants with the slow progress of integration.

These Muslim fundamentalists do not want to be part of the society in its present form, but place themselves outside of it and even reject the Dutch standards concerning democracy and rule of law. Fortunately, however, this group is just marginal and most Dutch Moroccans (or Moroccan Dutch) and people from other ethnic groups in fact do accept Dutch shared values. But, as is well known, individuals and marginal groups can cause a lot of harm.

Finally, there are political parties in Europe which play upon the theme of Islam and violence. Actually their position may have little to do with Islam as such, but much more with existing feelings of discontent towards immigrants from Muslim countries and the disliked or deviant behavior of some of them.

Usually, discussions about Islam deal mainly with some outward or visible phenomena or symbols. Only rarely is there a discussion about religious principles themselves. Discussions deal with, for instance, women wearing the veil in public life. It being used in Europe is met with opposition, because it is often being seen there as a symbol of non-integration, also limiting the freedom of women.

Other topics of Islam which attract particular attention and usually have a negative connotation in the West are: the carrying out of Sharia regulations such as beheading, cutting off hands, stoning to death or caning; polygamy (men allowed to marry up to four women); marrying girls at a very young age; violent jihad; the issue of having 60 or more virgins in Paradise after men have been "martyred" during a jihad operation; and other phenomena which are not necessarily Islamic, but are nevertheless often being portrayed as such, such as female circumcision (which also is very common in non-Islamic parts of Africa), honor killings, condoning violence against women at home (which occurs even stronger in non-Muslim parts elsewhere in the world like South America.

When such practices are being propagated or carried out in certain parts of the Islamic world, even if they are exceptional, they may in Western public opinion also have a negative side effect on the perception of those parts of the Islamic world where such practices are not followed, or where they are even rejected.

For instance, the Acehnese sha-ria bylaw which makes it possible for adulterers there to be stoned to death (rajam) may negatively affect the positive image existing abroad of Indonesia as a moderate country, even if all other Indonesian provinces would reject this practice. It should be stressed that what may have been considered normal or acceptable in the past is no longer necessarily acceptable by 21st century standards; it is often no longer acceptable to a majority of Muslims, some of whom may take issue with these outdated attitudes. But this is not always clearly seen as such in the West.

It would therefore be very useful if the more moderate Muslims would let their voices and views resonate much clearer and louder, so that they may compete with those radical voices that are currently distorting the image of Islam and so that they may help correct this distorted image of Islam which presently prevails among some people in the West and in some parts of the world. It would be equally useful if people in the West would listen attentively, not dismissively, to these voices.

Submitted by Dr. Nikolaos van Dam Ambassador of the Netherlands in Jakarta and former ambassador to Germany, Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq. He served most of his academic and diplomatic career in the Arab world, also covering Libya, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian occupied territories. This article is part of a lecture he delivered at Bimasena (The Mine & Energy Society) in Jakarta, on Oct. 8, 2009.

Friday, October 30, 2009

What Keeps Arroyo Up at Night

MANILA - With only eight months left in Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's six-year term, talk is rife that she's likely to face charges in court once she steps down.

Leftists are demanding justice for the forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings of human-rights activists, while the opposition is bent on prosecuting Arroyo for alleged corruption. She is barred constitutionally from seeking another term and her anointed presidential candidate for next year's elections is trailing badly in preliminary opinion polls.

Arroyo, also the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, currently enjoys immunity from lawsuits, a protective constitutional provision that also applies to any incumbent president. But once out of office, Arroyo can be sued similar to the cases brought against late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, and ousted leader, Joseph Estrada.

Marcos, who ruled for nearly 20 years, was accused of human-rights violations, graft and corruption and other civil and criminal charges lodged in Philippine and US courts. However, he died in Hawaii in 1989. Estrada was the first ever Philippine president convicted and jailed for plunder, but Arroyo pardoned and freed him in 2007. Now, he's bidding to stage a political comeback by taking another shot at the presidency.

In granting executive clemency to Estrada, Arroyo has set a political precedent, apparently hoping that her presidential successor would extend similar leniency should she end up in disgrace. However, doubts exist that Arroyo would be spared prosecution after her exit because of the numerous scandals hounding her presidency.

Critics have roundly accused her of betrayal of the public trust, obstruction of justice and blatant violations of the constitution. Arroyo has faced three separate impeachment motions, but not one prevailed because of her overwhelming number of allies in Congress who quashed them. Invoking executive privilege, she once gagged officials from testifying before the opposition-led senate probing alleged government anomalies.

Arroyo has also survived three coup attempts after army generals loyal to her crushed them with brute force and detained rebel officers and soldiers. Militants staging street protests have been violently dispersed, causing a backlash over Arroyo's alleged authoritarian rule.

While previous presidents were also plagued by scandals, analysts say they pale in comparison with those pinned to Arroyo. In 2005, Arroyo was accused of rigging the 2004 presidential elections when she was caught on tape instructing a senior election official to ensure a winning margin of one million votes over a rival, the late movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. That conversation, inadvertently taped by intelligence operatives, was leaked, touching off waves of street demonstrations. To calm public indignation rallies and coup rumors, Arroyo quickly aired her side of the story on TV, saying basically, "I am sorry." But it was not enough to appease a public incensed over the alleged manipulation of the election result in her favor.
Embarrassed by the incident, at least 10 of Arroyo's senior cabinet officials resigned and joined the opposition's call for her to resign. The senate investigated the alleged vote-rigging, but like previous probes, nothing came out of it.

Other scandals that have tarnished her government's image include:

# The NBN-ZTE project in 2007. A businessman, Joey de Venecia, exposed the alleged overpricing by US$130 million of the $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) contract between the Philippine government and China's ZTE Corp. The overpricing
was allegedly intended as "kickbacks" to Arroyo's husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, and Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos, who later resigned. Both denied the accusation. With plunging popularity ratings, Arroyo was forced to scrap the project. The whistleblower businessman's father, Jose de Venecia, was later ousted as speaker of the House of Representatives.

# Fertilizer fund scam in 2004. Opposition Senator Panfilo Lacson accused Arroyo of illegally diverting part of the government's 700 million peso ($14.6 million) fertilizer fund to help bankroll her presidential campaign that year. The alleged "bagman", former agriculture under secretary, Jocelyn Bolante, was later arrested by US immigration authorities in Los Angeles on the Philippine senate's recommendation and extradited to Manila. He was charged with plunder before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.

# Bribery in 2007. Some 100 congressmen and 200 local officials were each allegedly handed out paper bags containing between 200,000 pesos (US$4,100) and 500,000 pesos after a breakfast meeting with Arroyo at the Malacanang presidential palace. Then-congress speaker Jose de Venecia said the bribe money was intended to rally support against an impeachment case filed against her. Officials and Arroyo have denied the charges.

# Overpriced railway projects in 2007. Opposition legislators denounced what they branded as "the greatest train robbery in history" when the Arroyo government signed loans from China and South Korea for a $503 million NorthRail mass transit project and the US$932 million SouthRail projects, which they claimed were corruptly overpriced.

Asked during a recent TV interview if they would prosecute Arroyo, some aspirants in next year's presidential election said they would initiate the filing of cases if there is sufficient evidence.

"If there's a prima facie evidence, I would prosecute and try to put Arroyo in jail because there are a lot of unfinished questions that hang around her legitimacy and I would not be hesitant to actually pursue a case against her," independent presidential candidate Nicanor Perlas said.

Estrada, however, said Arroyo should not be singled out, apparently in deference to the pardon she granted him. But, he said, he favored cracking down on corrupt government officials. "All those crooks in the government should be given due process and certainty of punishment," the former president, who was convicted on plunder charges, said.

Meanwhile, speculation is mounting that Arroyo will likely run for a congressional seat in next year's elections to stay in power and stave off possible filing of cases against her. Arroyo, however, has kept mum on her political plans, but close aides as well as her congressman son, said that like every Filipino it is her right and prerogative to seek a public office.

"There is no prohibition in the constitution or any law whatsoever that would prevent her from running for another position," Commission on Elections chairman and Arroyo ally Jose Melo said.

Critics, however, have said it would be "foolish" for Arroyo to run for a lower public office, saying it would be tantamount to abandoning the presidency. Her term expires on June 30, 2010. It would also be unfair to other rivals since Arroyo would still have government resources at her disposal. Some speculate that Arroyo may be eyeing the position of speaker of the House of Representatives, whose members have backed her proposal for a shift in the form of government from a presidential to parliamentary system. That would bolster her chances of one day emerging as prime minister and thus keeping the many potential charges against her at bay.

By Al Labita journalist for over 30 years, including as a regional bureau chief and foreign editor for the Philippine News Agency. He has worked as a Manila correspondent for several major local publications and wire agencies in Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Michelle Obama requires More Than Twenty Attendants

"In my own life, in my own small way, I have tried to give back to this country that has given me so much,"
she said. "See, that's why I left a job at a big law firm for a career in public service, "... Michelle Obama

No, Michele Obama does not get paid to serve as the First Lady and she doesn't perform any official duties. But
this hasn't deterred her from hiring an unprecedented number of staffers to cater to her every whim and to satisfy
her every request in the midst of the Great Recession.Just think, Mary Lincoln was taken to task for purchasing china for the White House during the Civil War. And Mamie Eisenhower had to shell out the salary for her personal secretary from her husband's salary.

Total Personal Staff members for other first ladies paid by taxpayers:
Mamie Eisenhower : 1 paid for personally out of President's salary
Jackie Kennedy: 1
Roseline Carter: 1
Barbara Bush: 1
Hilary Clinton: 3
Laura Bush: 1
Michele Obama: 22

How things have changed! If you're one of the tens of millions of Americans facing certain destitution, earning
less than subsistence wages stocking the shelves at Wal-Mart or serving up McDonald cheeseburgers, prepare to scream and then come to realize that the benefit package for these servants of Ms Michelle are the same as members of the national security and defense departments and the bill for these assorted lackeys is paid by YOU, John Q. Public:

Michele Obama's personal staff:
1. $172,200 - Sher, Susan (Chief Of Staff)
2. $140,000 - Frye, Jocelyn C. (Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Policy And Projects For The First Lady)
3. $113,000 - Rogers, Desiree G. (Special Assistant to the President and White House Social Secretary for Mrs. Obama)
4. $102,000 - Johnston, Camille Y. (Special Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the First Lady)
5. $100,000 - Winter, Melissa E. (Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief Of Staff to the First Lady)
6. $90,000 - Medina, David S. (Deputy Chief Of Staff to the First Lady)
7. $84,000 - Lel yveld, Catherine M. (Director and Press Secretary to the First Lady)
8. $75,000 - Starkey, Frances M. (Director of Scheduling and Advance for the First Lady)
9. $70,000 - Sanders, Trooper (Deputy Director of Policy and Projects for the First Lady)
10. $65,000 - Burnough, Erinn J. (Deputy Director and Deputy Social Secretary)
11. $64,000 - Reinstein, Joseph B. (Deputy Director and Deputy Social Secretary)
12. $62,000 - Goodman, Jennifer R. (Deputy Director of Scheduling and Events Coordinator For The First Lady)
13. $60,000 - Fitts, Alan O. (Deputy Director of Advance and Trip Director for the First Lady)
14. $57,500 - Lewis, Dana M. (Special Assistant and Personal Aide to the First Lady)
15. $52,500 - Mustaphi, Semonti M. (Associate Director and Deputy Press Secretary To The First Lady)
16. $50,000 - Jarvis, Kristen E. (Special Assistant for Scheduling and Traveling Aide To The First Lady)
17. $45,000 - Lechtenberg, Tyler A. (Associate Director of Correspondence For The First Lady)
18. $43,000 - Tubman, Samanth a (Deputy Associate Director, Social Office)
19. $40,000 - Boswell, Joseph J. (Executive Assistant to the Chief Of Staff to the First Lady)
20. $36,000 - Armbruster, Sally M. (Staff Assistant to the Social Secretary)
21. $35,000 - Bookey, Natalie (Staff Assistant)
22. $35,000 - Jackson, Deilia A. (Deputy Associate Director of Correspondence for the First Lady)
(Total = $1,591,200 in annual salaries)

There has NEVER been anyone in the White House at any time who has created such an army of staffers whose sole duties are the facilitation of the First Lady's social life. One wonders why she needs so much help, at taxpayer expense.

Note: This does not include makeup artist Ingrid Grimes-Miles, 49, and "First Hairstylist" Johnny Wright, 31, both of whom traveled aboard Air Force One to Europe.

Canada Free Press.Com

Yes, I know, The Canadian Free Press had to publish this perhaps because Americano no longer has a free press and the USA media is too scared that they might be considered racist or suffer at the hands of Obama. Sorry America!

SICKENING.........ISN'T IT? by Dr.Paul L. Williams

In Cambodia, a Threatened Tribe of Islam

UDONG - Imam San was perhaps once Cambodia's most privileged Muslim. Legend has it that in the 19th century, former King Ang Duong encountered him meditating in the forest and was so captivated by the stranger's spirituality that he offered him land in the royal capital. A more cynical account relates that the Khmer royal family, at a time when its power was dwindling, found a ready and willing ally in the Muslim leader.

On the occasion of Imam San's birthday each October, the sect that emerged from his early followers gathers in the former royal city of Udong, about 30 kilometers outside of the present capital of Phnom Penh, to honor his memory through prayer and offerings. The colorful mawlut ceremony reaffirms the sect's privileged heritage and its continued isolation from the rest of the country's Islamic community, which is dominated by a group known as the Cham.

The Imam San followers are the only group to remain outside the domain of the Mufti, the government-sanctioned leader of Islam in Cambodia - a status that was renewed by the government in 1988. Successive Imam San leaders, or Ong Khnuur, have held the prestigious title of Okhna, originally bestowed by the palace.

Cambodia's estimated 37,000 Imam San followers live in only a few dozen villages spread throughout the country. Geography has reinforced the sect's isolation, and the mawlut has become an increasingly important opportunity to forge friendships and - more essential to the survival of the community - marriages.

At the annual ceremony, parents search for eligible suitors for their children, who otherwise would not come in contact with teenagers and young adults from other Imam San communities. The day's use for matchmaking may have new importance as the sect's
long-standing isolation is challenged by pressures from Cambodia's larger Islamic community as well as from abroad. Many Imam San followers see their sect's relationship with other Muslims as the biggest threat to their way of life, as their most vehement critics come from within their faith.

The pilgrimage to Udong's Phnom Katera - a site of great importance for Khmers' Buddhist and royal traditions - highlights what some other Muslims see as the Imam San community's unholy cultural proximity to mainstream Khmer society. Conspicuously, the mosque on Phnom Katera is adjacent to the tombs of former Khmer kings and its name, "The Islam Cham Temple of Imam San", is written in Khmer, Cham and English, but not Arabic.

Purity Perceptions

Descendants of the Cham Bani from Vietnam, who converted to Islam in the 17th century, Imam San followers view themselves as devoted adherents of the Muslim faith even as they maintain religious and cultural practices that are viewed by some as at odds with Islamic teachings. Because they blend faith in the Koran with other religious customs, including animist-like ceremonies, the Imam San followers are seen by many other Muslims as impure. Perhaps no tradition of the Imam San community is more offensive to critics than praying only once a week, while praying five times a day is standard practice for most Muslims. And none is more bizarre than the chai ceremony, in which they dance in a possessed state, sometimes carrying prop weapons.
In fact, about 85% of Muslims consider the Imam San followers to be so heterodox as not to qualify as Muslims, according to a study by Norwegian Bjorn Blengsli, who has studied Muslims in Cambodia for nearly a decade.

Most of Cambodia's Muslims are ethnically Cham, whose practices have traditionally been moderate. But the last several years have seen a rise of fundamentalism in the Cham community, most notably of Wahhabism, an austere form of Islam originating from
Saudi Arabia. Growing economic ties between Cambodia and Arab countries
suggest the trend will only strengthen.

Last year, after making high-level state visits, Kuwait and Qatar pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in soft loans to Cambodia for agricultural development. The aid sparked concerns among some Western officials that the money could be used not just to invigorate Cambodia's farming, but also to radicalize its Muslims.

The primary focus of the most recent state visits has been trade. Yet cultural ties are also at stake: Kuwait pledged some $5 million for Cambodian Islamic institutions, including renovating the dilapidated International Dubai Mosque in Phnom Penh. Economic ties with Arab countries will reverberate in Islamic practices in Cambodia, according to Blengsli. "Economic ties between Cambodia and Arab countries will lead to more funding for Islamic organisations in Cambodia and, since they are often unhappy with the purity of Islam as its practiced here, there will be increasing Arab influence on local Muslim practices.

Islamic Revivalism

The penetration of Islamic missionaries, as well as development and educational organizations into Cambodia, is problematic because of the separation from other cultures these groups encourage, according to Alberto Perez, a Spanish anthropologist who is writing his PhD dissertation on the Cham.

The Imam San community has been further estranged amid a wave of Islamic revivalism embraced by the majority of Cambodia's nearly 350,000 Muslims. In the past, Imam San followers have rejected donations from wealthy Middle East-based Islamic groups and
resisted pressure from foreign preachers, whose requests that they convert to orthodox Islam are frequently backed by offers to finance the construction of new mosques.

But this long-maintained separation is weakening under the same foreign influences that, according to Blengsli, have made Cambodia's mainstream Muslims one of the fastest-changing Islamic communities in the world.

The Imam San community is losing numbers to other Muslim sects, including the Salafi, Jamaat Tabligh and Ahmadiyya, which have international standing and deeper pockets, he said. In particular, young Imam San followers who are sent to Phnom Penh to continue their studies face pressure from other Muslim communities to convert to orthodox Islam. By Brendan B Brady freelance journalist Phnom Penh.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE The future path for an East Asian community

THE CLEAREST MESSAGE from the Cha-am Summit over the weekend was about the futre of regional architecture in East Asia. A consensus emerged from the three-day meeting that for East Asia to lead the world and maintain prosperity, the countries in the region have to work together and form a closer community that can link with the rest of the world.

In the long run, whatever shape this regional community building will eventually evolve is anybody's guess. The fact that Japan, which strongly backs such a community, has not yet come out with the blueprint is indicative of the challenges lying ahead.

What was pivotal at the summit was the determination and shared vision manifested by all concerned countries. Interestingly, this time, there was no discord among Asean members and their dialogue partners on the need for a more inclusive regional grouping.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama must be credited for rejuvenating the discussion of East Asian integration and cooperation after he took power recently. Before Cha-am, he had already held discussions with his counterparts from China, Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Muong-bak at various meetings. They all supported the idea.

Next month, the Japanese leader is scheduled to meet US President Barack Obama in Tokyo where the plan will be discussed. The absence of Washington's objection to a new regional bloc shows fresh pragmatism in US policy on Asia.

In months and years to come, Japan will certainly have to play the leading role in constructing this new regional architecture. Deep down, Hatoyama's plan can become a reality only if certain criteria are met. Like a juggler, Japan has to keep three pins staying afloat and engaged: Asean, its tripartite ties with China and Korea; and the US.

Over the weekend, Hatoyama stressed that both Asean, as a grouping, and the US, as an ally, are imperative in the perceived regional architecture. As far as Asean is concerned, its full integration in 2015 would be the key.

Even though Asean has become a rules-based organisation after the Asean Charter went into force last December, the grouping still lacks a clear common vision. The squabbling over the interface between the Asean leaders and representatives of civil society organisations on human rights treatment of its own citizens are just a few symptoms.

Furthermore, in the past several weeks Japan's idea on a new regional community in East Asia has been frequently reported as a model akin to the EU-style community - something that has troubled the Asean members and could complicate the future process of regional community-building.

At this juncture, it is clear that Asean has no intention to follow the European model even though the grouping has borrowed some of EU's best practices.
The Asean leaders have cited numerous obstacles to pursue that road to integration - political diversity, different stages of economic development, respect for national sovereignty, equal voting rights and lack of institutionalisation.

It is hard to foresee that these issues would be resolved before 2015 among the Asean members. For instance, the new members of Asean have insisted on an equal voting system, which has impeded numerous Asean decisions as well as mobilisation of financial assistance from the richer members.

The EU has a weighted voting system, depending on the size of population and economy. Beyond Asean, China, Japan and Korea continue to wrangle about their national sovereignty. They probably would not give away their equal sovereignty rights in the foreseeable future.

If closer economic integration and cooperation among the three Asian economic powers proceeds smoothly before 2015, it could propel Asean to accelerate the grouping's integration. Back in 2000, when faced with the prospect of a looming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation's announcement of tariff reduction schemes, Asean members moved to counter by |moving up the date of Asean's free trade area.

The centrality of Asean in this future scheme will depend on the grouping's integration and performance. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva articulated well in his opening speech on Friday that Asean no longer has the luxury of time, it needs faster action and better execution of policies as well as greater connectivity within Asean and wider East Asia.

Equally important are the healthy ties between the three Asian giants.
In the past two years, they have improved their friendship greatly, which have remained steady and on an upward trend. They have in their own ways treated Asean as strategic partners. Japan and Korea have both submitted reports of their wise-man groups to bring their relations with Asean to the next level.

At Cha-am, China has said very little on new regional architecture. Instead, during the Asean-China summit, Wen chose to focus on the six-point plan to beef up ties and cooperation with Asean in all areas including infrastructure construction, human resource development, agricultural and rural development, environment, disease control and intellectual property rights protection.

Beijing plans to set up a permanent representative office in Asean later this year.
Beijing has been supporting the Asean+3 process as the model of regional community building. China and Japan used to clash over this issue as the latter wanted to be more open to include the US.

Beijing would like to see a more Asian-oriented framework. For the time being, both have kept their differences under the carpet.

In a similar vein, since its inauguration in 2005, members of the East Asia Summit (EAS) or Asean+6, such as Australia, India and New Zealand, have been promoting this forum as a more fitting regional framework.

But Asean prefers the plus-three for fear of losing control and its leading edge. The bloc has treated the EAS as a discussion forum for global issues.
However, given the new regional dynamics including the proactive US policy on Asia and dialogue partners, there could be new thinking emerging in various capitals about the future framework of an East Asian community. By Kavi Chongkittavorn The Nation

Thailand's Political Muddle

An ailing king, a feckless heir, political rivalries and conniving unions make the future uncertain

Thais were happy last week to see King Bhumibol Adulyadej out in the open after weeks on his sickbed. But the pictures of the thin, wan figure in a wheelchair were also a reminder of the uncertainties of Thailand without him.

That Thailand's politics are convoluted is hardly news but the twists and turns can still surprise. Take, for instance, another event earlier this month – former prime minister, retired General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, announced he was joining the Pheu Thai (For Thais) Party, the successor to deposed prime minister and now fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra's outlawed Thai Rak Thai party. Other retired military types did the same. Chavalit earned a rebuke from his former colleague, ex-general, ex-prime minister Prem Tinsulanond, who now heads the Privy Council and is widely credited with leading the monarchist drive against Thaksin.

This could be dismissed as irrelevant. Chavalit and fellow retirees are yesterday's men and may be simply trying to find a way back into relevance. Nonetheless, it could also be seen as symptomatic of the fact that despite the apparent deep divisions in the country between the pro-Thaksin Reds and the anti-Thaksin Yellows there is still more than enough scope for opportunistic politics of the sort that brought about the current support for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's Democrat Party from former Thaksin ally and rural power broker Newin Chidchob. Purchasing the support of Newin's northeast allies secured the government but added to general cynicism about politicians, not least those claiming to be cleaning up after the Thaksin era.

The Democrats now face a challenge from a different direction, Yellow Shirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul, the rabble-rouser behind the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that led the charge against Thaksin, and his New Politics Party formed in July. The new party gives Sondhi a vehicle for his own continuing political involvement off the streets as well as, potentially, on. It may well draw more votes away from the Democrats than from other parties. Sondhi, a media baron, will continue to push his agenda through his newspapers, TV stations and websites.

Pheu Thai's proximity to state enterprise unions is also a worry for a Democrat-led government. The party's first leader was Somsak Kosaisuk, who led the fight against privatization of the Electricity Generation Authority of Thailand and is viewed as behind recent labor problems at the State Railway of Thailand, a corrupt and over-manned entity that many in the government and bureaucracy would like to see at least partially privatized.

The monarchists need Sondhi, who proclaims monarchism as his party's ideology, but do not much like him. Abhisit makes a more credible leader than most of the alternatives but the Democrats could be hard-pressed on all sides when they face elections due in late 2011, assuming they take place on schedule.

Put this mess into the context of a possible royal succession and it is no surprise that no sensible person will provide a forecast of the future. A hundred and one different scenarios can be readily sketched.

In the more immediate future, there is the issue of what will happen to Thaksin's assets. Will they be seized or is it possible that there will be a deal to let him keep them so long as he stays out of the country and keeps his mouth shut? But can he just be an offshore businessman? It seems unlikely. But any kind of deal, such as the royal pardon sought by some Thaksin supporters, is also unlikely. Indeed he might fear for his own life if he did return home.

Monarchist fears of him and his supposed republican sentiments may be exaggerated but they are still very strong. Thaksin may be loathed by many, but he is likely to remain second only to the king in popularity. No other politician comes close. Even in absentia he is likely to be a shadow over Thai politics for years, just as Argentina's President Juan Peron was for decades after his overthrow and even after death.

Nor would the departure of Prem, now 89, likely make a difference. His probable successor is the like-minded retired General Surayud Chulanont, who served as prime minister after the military coup that removed Thaksin.

The problems for the monarchists and the army however go beyond the issue of Thaksin. Both of these institutions face storms. First, the death of King Bhumibol will be a huge blow. It is hard to measure how much loyalty is given to the king as an individual who has done much for the nation and how much to the institution of the monarchy as a keystone of Thailand. But it is clear that no one has the standing to fill the king's shoes.

As for the army, defending the monarchy against “republican threats” becomes another role. Its budget has been boosted by the Abhisit government but the raison d'être for a large military budget is none too obvious. Indeed, there are concerns that military desires to justify its existence lie behind contrived border spats with Cambodia and stand in the way of any attempt to resolve the problems of a Muslim insurgency in the south by offering the provinces a degree of autonomy. In the short run the situation in the south may have improved slightly but the problem will linger.

But the army itself is not free of factions, nor are the courtiers who surround the monarchy. The monarchists need a credible monarch. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, who spends much of his time in Germany, and also may not be fully fit, may lack the popularity accorded to his father and sister Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. But no one doubts his determination to succeed his father. Nor is there any obvious way, short of death, that he won't achieve that goal, however much some close to the palace might like to see Sirindhorn succeed or become Regent till the Crown Prince's male heir reaches maturity. He was anointed as heir back in 1972 when he was 20.
Will the successor need to do some political deals of his own to protect his back? And if so, which side will Thaksin be on?

Beyond the issue of Thaksin and the politics of patronage are real issues of income distribution and the metropolitan/rural divide. Income distribution may not have been getting any worse in recent years, but the media and the declining supply of cheap rural labor have all helped raise political awareness. Thaksin's populist policies, with handouts to farmers and cheap health care, were nothing very radical. Certainly they did not risk – as the pampered Bangkok middle class claims – massive wealth redistribution or a dangerous government debt burden.

In practice there has been little to choose between macro policies under Thaksin and those of his successors, both military and civilian. Abhisit has even expanded some Thaksin policies to try to win rural support at the next election.

But class tensions have increased and among the Red Shirts there are plenty of aspiring radicals who have been demonstrating against the Bangkok-elite system rather than in favor of Thaksin the man. The media may have become generally compliant, almost unanimously pro-establishment and hostile to Thaksin, but non-governmental organizations still flourish. Some critics still brave the lese majeste laws, and long prison terms or voluntary exile to foster anti-monarchy radicalism that is as yet more incipient than real but could develop into a threat if the prestige of the monarchy plummets and democratic aspirations are thwarted by the military.

On balance a muddle-through scenario looks more likely as ideological positions yield to the power of money and the cynicism of public and politicians alike. But any forecast may be foolish. by JCK Lee Asia Sentinel

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Filipinos society has left behind

It comes and goes yearly—the National Correctional Awareness Week—without the Congress and the Executive announcing a new initiative to reform the penal system and give thousands of inmates a second chance in life.
Thousands of Filipinos congest city and municipal jails, provincial prisons and the national penitentiary and its satellites in the regions. The population thickens daily owing to growing crimes, the harshness of the anti-drug law, the absence of alternatives to imprisonment and lapses in the criminal justice system.

Most inmates suffer squalid conditions. They crowd jails that were built decades ago to house a limited population but have not been expanded or rebuilt to accommodate the fast-growing newcomers. In many prisons in the big cities, including those in metropolitan Manila, prisoners have to take turns sleeping. Congestion in local jails has erupted in frequent violence.

Overcrowding breeds filth, disease and fetid air. Toilets are dirty and private showers are unheard of. Gang rivalry and custodial neglect are commonplace. When storm Ondoy struck, many of its victims were prisoners who had to survive flooded cells.

Guess how much the government spends daily for prison food; about P40 for three meals a day.

Malnutrition is a scourge in many jails. To make up for the insufficient, unappetizing food, the authorities have allowed families to stay on prison compounds or bring food to their relatives.

Wardens in prisons maintained by the Bureau of Corrections (Bucor), Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), and provincial and national governments say that given the scant budget and failure to upgrade prisons, they have to cope and to improvise.

The Department of Justice which runs Bucor and the Department of the Interior and Local Government which supervises the BJMP, have not done enough to reform jails and improve the plight of the prisoners.

They also have to contend with a stingy Congress which has not produced an advocate for penal reform and a spokesman for the prisoners and their families.

A bright note is the work of the Supreme Court with its “Justice on Wheels” program and the Public
Attorney’s Office (PAO) which seeks prisoners needing help, primarily for their deserved freedom. The SC’s “Justice on Wheels” project has enabled hundreds who are in jail for the wrong reasons or have served their terms to secure their liberty. Both programs deserve recognition and support.

Filipinos who are rightly or wrongly (think of the poor who cannot post bail) in jail deserve better treatment. Those who have violated the law must “pay” for their crime of course, but modern penology focuses on training, education and preparation for a useful life after prisons. Instead, current policy turns them into recidivists.

“A penological monstrosity” was the phrase used by a UN team that visited metro jails in the 1990s. The leaders of the European Union in Manila are aghast over prison conditions. “I am a human being!” protested an inmate in a Nueva Ecija jail, “not an animal!” Prison life in many jails has been described by inmates and penal reformers as a “a living death.”

The Constitution is explicit on state policy for humane penology. Section 19 (2) of the Bill of Rights provides: “The employment of physical, psychological, or degrading punishment against any prisoner or detainee, or the use of substandard or inadequate penal facilities under subhuman conditions, shall be dealt with by law.” The State is a lawbreaker in this instance.

Rehabilitation, not retribution, is necessary to humanize our prisons. Prisoners deserve support and care from the government, the Church, business and civil society. They are being left out of the system and mainstream. They are the Filipinos society has left behind.

Conflict Risk Alert: After Afghanistan's Fraudulent Elections


Kabul/Brussels, 27 October 2009: Widespread fraud in the 20 August presidential and provincial council polls has deeply undermined the credibility of Hamid Karzai’s government, the main beneficiary of the rigging. Afghanistan faces a critical test in the run-off between President Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah on 7 November and afterwards. A flawed second round will hand Taliban insurgents a significant strategic victory and erode public confidence in the electoral process and the international commitment to the country’s democratic institutions. Reforming and strengthening state institutions and establishing genuine constitutional governance must be tackled as the top priority if the political rot is to be stemmed and the insurgents denied yet another opportunity to exploit the crisis of legitimacy that is the product of a dysfunctional political order.

Unless steps are urgently taken to reform Afghanistan’s electoral institutions, in particular to reconstitute the Independent Election Commission (IEC), there is little chance of reversing public disillusionment with elections. There are as yet few signs that the U.S. and others who wrestled with President Karzai to obtain his acceptance of a run-off have either the time, political will or resources available to correct the many flaws that led to the fraud. Barring sanctions against those at the highest-level responsible for the rigging and the swift adoption of extra security measures ahead of the run-off, it is more than likely that earlier missteps will be repeated.

Preliminary results issued by the IEC on 16 September, amid reports of widespread intimidation at the polls, ballot stuffing, ghost polling stations and interference by IEC staff and candidate agents, had indicated a majority win for Karzai. A review completed on 18 October dropped Karzai below the 50 per cent mark needed to win the presidency in the first round. A protracted investigation by the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) into more than 600 high-priority complaints and a simultaneous audit of results from nearly 3,400 polling stations led to the disqualification of fraudulent votes. The lack of transparency and resulting confusion surrounding the electoral review process conducted by the ECC, the partisan actions oft2 0the IEC and unresolved frictions between Afghanistan’s electoral institutions could easily be repeated on 7 November, deepening tensions within the country.

Although the 20 August elections were for the first time conducted ostensibly under sole Afghan leadership, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) was heavily involved in planning and preparations. In local perceptions, the international community was an active participant. When its representatives quickly declared the elections a qualified success in August, they reinforced widespread Afghan sentiment that the political expedience of the rubber stamp was preferred to an honest assessment of systemic flaws in a process the international community helped put in place and has failed to remedy. The early endorsements may have cost particularly the U.S., European Union and UN what little credibility they had left with the p ublic.

The international community must now realise that stabilising Afghanistan requires a drastic overhaul of the institutions they have helped put in place and subsequently supported. These include a highly centralised constitutional order in which the legislature has been denied the tools to check an overbearing executive, and a neglected judiciary, which contributes to the climate of impunity and corruption fuelling the insurgency.

The insurgents believe that they now have the upper hand. The security situation has deteriorated significantly during 2009, and the weeks before the August election saw the worst levels of violence since the U.S.-led intervention in 2001. At least four candidates for the provincial elections were killed, and many more attempts were made. At least 71 members of the international military force (ISAF) were killed in July the highest monthly toll since 2001, and UN figures show that 1,013 civilians were killed between January and June, up from 818 in the same period in 2008.

The elections were preceded by a large increase in foreign troops, 21,000 from the U.S. and a further 5,000 from other NATO members. Most troops were deployed in the south and east. On election day at least 31 people were killed, including eleven IEC workers, making it the most violent 24 hours since the fall of the Taliban. Violence has proliferated since then across the country, with several incidents resulting in large numbers of casualties, including a bombing attack on the Indian embassy on 8 October that killed at least seventeen and injured 76.

The Taliban announced towards the end of July that they would attempt to “disrupt the elections”. They have now declared their intention to attack election officials and voters alike. Not only could the deteriorating security environment adversely affect the turnout on election day, but the fraudulent first round and the last two months of political uncertainty have been a boon for the insurgency. A second round of polls in which even fewer voters show up to cast their ballots in predominantly Pashtun areas will feed directly into Taliban claims that electoral processes will bring few real changes.

The Taliban’s growing tactical advantage now rests not only in its ability to operate freely in areas where Afghans have largely been abandoned by their government but in its ability to point to the Karzai government’s failure to deliver on the electoral process. In the remaining days before the second round, IEC Chairman Azizullah Ludin should be replaced, and IEC staff and government officials implicated in the fraud should be removed. More effort should be made to secure polling sites and balloting materials. Once the polling process is completed, the ECC and IEC must proactively investigate evidence of fraud and make the complaint review process transparent and comprehensible.

The candidate who ultimately wins the presidential contest will take office with a much-weakened mandate but will face challenges posed by a pandemic of corruption and a stronger Taliban insurgency. Political deals struck to corral votes and appease rivals are likely to stymie progress on governmental reform. Pressure must be brought to bear on Kabul to strengthen state institutions and to make them more accountable to the Afghan public.

The political system itself is in need of fundamental reform. Focus is required on making the system more functional and representative. Provincial and eventually district councils must be given more opportunities to influence local outcomes, while remaining accountable to the political centre in Kabul. Broad agreement is needed to improve the very poor working relationships between the branches of the state and to make the balance-of-power concept effective. An ultimate constitutional arbiter must be identified in order to ensure that remedies sought in court are adhered to and respected.

Afghans and the international community alike must set their sights on genuine political change. Vigorous constitutional reform is what is needed most now, and this can only be undertaken through a loya jirga (grand assembly). The formation of a loya jirga to amend the constitution requires the participation of the National Assembly and both the district and provincial councils. This means that credible district council elections will have to be held alongside parliamentary polls in 2010.

Kabul failed to delineate district council boundaries and hold district council elections when the security situation was far more conducive; it is likely that it will be tempted to postpone those elections again, using the rise in insurgent attacks as justification. The delineation of district boundaries under the compressed timeline mapped out in the constitution may be difficult and contentious, but it must be made a priority in the coming months if district council members are to be properly elected. Failing that, the National Assembly in its current composition must move forward with a loya jirga so that the work of overhauling the constitution can begin.

Parliament can no longer allow itself to be sidelined by executive power run amok in Kabul. Deliberations over constitutional reform are likely to be contentious, and possibly drawn out. But there are no quick fixes on the route to stability. Anything less than vigorous constitutional and electoral reform will only fuel further conflict in Afghanistan.

For more information and background on the elections, see Crisis Group Asia Report N°171, Afghanistan’s Election Challenges, 24 June 2009. Other recent Crisis Group reports on Afghanistan include What Now for Refugees? (31 August 2009), on addressing the needs of returning refugees and those still in neighbouring countries to prevent further instability and violence; New U.S. Administration, New Directions (13 March 2009), on why defeating jihadi extremism in Afghanistan requires the Obama administration to adopt ne w political, economic and military policies that empower civilian institutions; and Policing in Afghanistan: Still Searching for a Strategy (18 December 2008), on the urgent need for police reform.
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Monday, October 26, 2009

The Great Superpower Meltdown

Welcome to 2025: American Preeminence Is Disappearing Fifteen Years Early

Memo to the CIA: You may not be prepared for time-travel, but welcome to 2025 anyway! Your rooms may be a little small, your ability to demand better accommodations may have gone out the window, and the amenities may not be to your taste, but get used to it. It's going to be your reality from now on.

Okay, now for the serious version of the above: In November 2008, the National Intelligence Council (NIC), an affiliate of the Central Intelligence Agency, issued the latest in a series of futuristic publications intended to guide the incoming Obama administration. Peering into its analytic crystal ball in a report entitled Global Trends 2025, it predicted that America's global preeminence would gradually disappear over the next 15 years -- in conjunction with the rise of new global powerhouses, especially China and India. The report examined many facets of the future strategic environment, but its most startling, and news-making, finding concerned the projected long-term erosion of American dominance and the emergence of new global competitors. "Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor [in 2025]," it stated definitively, the country's "relative strength -- even in the military realm -- will decline and U.S. leverage will become more constrained."

That, of course, was then; this -- some 11 months into the future -- is now and how things have changed. Futuristic predictions will just have to catch up to the fast-shifting realities of the present moment. Although published after the onset of the global economic meltdown was underway, the report was written before the crisis reached its full proportions and so emphasized that the decline of American power would be gradual, extending over the assessment's 15-year time horizon. But the economic crisis and attendant events have radically upset that timetable. As a result of the mammoth economic losses suffered by the United States over the past year and China's stunning economic recovery, the global power shift the report predicted has accelerated. For all practical purposes, 2025 is here already.

Many of the broad, down-the-road predictions made in Global Trends 2025 have, in fact, already come to pass. Brazil, Russia, India, and China -- collectively known as the BRIC countries -- are already playing far more assertive roles in global economic affairs, as the report predicted would happen in perhaps a decade or so. At the same time, the dominant global role once monopolized by the United States with a helping hand from the major Western industrial powers -- collectively known as the Group of 7 (G-7) -- has already faded away at a remarkable pace. Countries that once looked to the United States for guidance on major international issues are ignoring Washington's counsel and instead creating their own autonomous policy networks. The United States is becoming less inclined to deploy its military forces abroad as rival powers increase their own capabilities and non-state actors rely on "asymmetrical" means of attack to overcome the U.S. advantage in conventional firepower.

No one seems to be saying this out loud -- yet -- but let's put it bluntly: less than a year into the 15-year span of Global Trends 2025, the days of America's unquestioned global dominance have come to an end. It may take a decade or two (or three) before historians will be able to look back and say with assurance, "That was the moment when the United States ceased to be the planet's preeminent power and was forced to behave like another major player in a world of many competing great powers." The indications of this great transition, however, are there for those who care to look.

Six Way Stations on the Road to Ordinary Nationhood

Here is my list of six recent developments that indicate we are entering "2025" today. All six were in the news in the last few weeks, even if never collected in a single place. They (and other events like them) represent a pattern: the shape, in fact, of a new age in formation.

1. At the global economic summit in Pittsburgh on September 24th and 25th, the leaders of the major industrial powers, the G-7 (G-8 if you include Russia) agreed to turn over responsibility for oversight of the world economy to a larger, more inclusive Group of 20 (G-20), adding in China, India, Brazil, Turkey, and other developing nations. Although doubts have been raised about the ability of this larger group to exercise effective global leadership, there is no doubt that the move itself signaled a shift in the locus of world economic power from the West to the global East and South -- and with this shift, a seismic decline in America's economic preeminence has been registered.

"The G-20's true significance is not in the passing of a baton from the G-7/G-8 but from the G-1, the U.S.," Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University wrote in the Financial Times. "Even during the 33 years of the G-7 economic forum, the U.S. called the important economic shots." Declining American leadership over these last decades was obscured by the collapse of the Soviet Union and an early American lead in information technology, Sachs also noted, but there is now no mistaking the shifting of economic power from the United States to China and other rising economic dynamos.

2. According to news reports, America's economic rivals are conducting secret (and not-so-secret) meetings to explore a diminished role for the U.S. dollar -- fast losing its value -- in international trade. Until now, the use of the dollar as the international medium of exchange has given the United States a significant economic advantage: it can simply print dollars to meet its international obligations while other nations must convert their own currencies into dollars, often incurring significant added costs. Now, however, many major trading countries -- among them China, Russia, Japan, Brazil, and the Persian Gulf oil countries -- are considering the use of the Euro, or a "basket" of currencies, as a new medium of exchange. If adopted, such a plan would accelerate the dollar's precipitous fall in value and further erode American clout in international economic affairs.

One such discussion reportedly took place this summer at a summit meeting of the BRIC countries. Just a concept a year ago, when the very idea of BRIC was concocted by the chief economist at Goldman Sachs, the BRIC consortium became a flesh-and-blood reality this June when the leaders of the four countries held an inaugural meeting in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

The very fact that Brazil, Russia, India, and China chose to meet as a group was considered significant, as they jointly possess about 43% of the world's population and are expected to account for 33% of the world's gross domestic product by 2030 -- about as much as the United States and Western Europe will claim at that time. Although the BRIC leaders decided not to form a permanent body like the G-7 at this stage, they did agree to coordinate efforts to develop alternatives to the dollar and to reform the International Monetary Fund in such a way as to give non-Western countries a greater voice.

3. On the diplomatic front, Washington has been rebuffed by both Russia and China in its drive to line up support for increased international pressure on Iran to cease its nuclear enrichment program. One month after President Obama cancelled plans to deploy an anti-ballistic missile system in Eastern Europe in an apparent bid to secure Russian backing for a tougher stance toward Tehran, top Russian leaders are clearly indicating that they have no intention of endorsing strong new sanctions on Iran. "Threats, sanctions, and threats of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be counterproductive," declared the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, following a meeting with Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton in Moscow on October 13th. The following day, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the threat of sanctions was "premature." Given the political risks Obama took in canceling the missile program -- a step widely condemned by Republicans in Washington -- Moscow's quick dismissal of U.S. pleas for cooperation on the Iranian enrichment matter can only be interpreted as a further sign of waning American influence.

4. Exactly the same inference can be drawn from a high-level meeting in Beijing on October 15th between Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Iran's first vice president, Mohammed Reza Rahimi. "The Sino-Iran relationship has witnessed rapid development as the two countries' leaders have had frequent exchanges, and cooperation in trade and energy has widened and deepened," Wen said at the Great Hall of the People. Coming at a time when the United States is engaged in a vigorous diplomatic drive to persuade China and Russia, among others, to reduce their trade ties with Iran as a prelude to toughened sanctions, the Chinese statement can only be considered a pointed rebuff of Washington.

5. From Washington's point of view, efforts to secure international support for the allied war effort in Afghanistan have also met with a strikingly disappointing response. In what can only be considered a trivial and begrudging vote of support for the U.S.-led war effort, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced on October 14th that Britain would add more troops to the British contingent in that country -- but only 500 more, and only if other European nations increase their own military involvement, something he undoubtedly knows is highly unlikely. So far, this tiny, provisional contingent represents the sum total of additional troops the Obama administration has been able to pry out of America's European allies, despite a sustained diplomatic drive to bolster the combined NATO force in Afghanistan. In other words, even America's most loyal and obsequious ally in Europe no longer appears willing to carry the burden for what is widely seen as yet another costly and debilitating American military adventure in the Greater Middle East.

6. Finally, in a move of striking symbolic significance, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) passed over Chicago (as well as Madrid and Tokyo) to pick Rio de Janeiro to be the host of the 2016 summer Olympics, the first time a South American
nation was selected for the honor. Until the Olympic vote took place, Chicago was considered a strong contender, especially since former Chicago resident Barack Obama personally appeared in Copenhagen to lobby the IOC. Nonetheless, in a development that shocked the world, Chicago not only lost out, but was the city eliminated in the very first round of voting.

"Brazil went from a second-class country to a first-class country, and today we began to receive the respect we deserve," said Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at a victory celebration in Copenhagen after the vote. "I could die now and it already would have been worth it." Few said so, but in the course of the Olympic decision-making process the U.S. was summarily and pointedly demoted from sole superpower to instant also-ran, a symbolic moment on a planet entering a new age.

On Being an Ordinary Country

These are only a few examples of recent developments which indicate, to this author, that the day of America's global preeminence has already come to an end, years before the American intelligence community expected. It's increasingly clear that other powers -- even our closest allies -- are increasingly pursuing independent foreign policies, no matter what pressure Washington tries to bring to bear.

Of course, none of this means that, for some time to come, the U.S. won't retain the world's largest economy and, in terms of sheer destructiveness, its most potent military force. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the strategic environment in which American leaders must make critical decisions, when it comes to the nation's vital national interests, has changed dramatically since the onset of the global economic crisis.

Even more important, President Obama and his senior advisers are, it seems, reluctantly beginning to reshape U.S. foreign policy with the new global reality in mind. This appears evident, for example, in the administration's decision to revisit U.S. strategy on Afghanistan.

It was only in March, after all, that the president embraced a new counterinsurgency-oriented strategy in that country, involving a buildup of U.S. boots on the ground and a commitment to protracted efforts to win hearts and minds in Afghan villages where the Taliban was resurgent. It was on this basis that he fired the incumbent Afghan War commander, General David D. McKiernan, replacing him with General Stanley A. McChrystal, considered a more vigorous proponent of counterinsurgency. When, however, McChrystal presented Obama with the price tag for the implementation of this strategy -- 40,000 to 80,000 additional troops (over and above the 20,000-odd extra troops only recently committed to the fight) -- many in the president's inner circle evidently blanched.

Not only will such a large deployment cost the U.S. treasury hundreds of billions of dollars it can ill afford, but the strains it is likely to place on the Army and Marine Corps are likely to be little short of unbearable after years of multiple tours and stress in Iraq. This price would be more tolerable, of course, if America's allies would take up more of the burden, but they are ever less willing to do so.

Undoubtedly, the leaders of Russia and China are not entirely unhappy to see the United States exhaust its financial and military resources in Afghanistan. Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that Vice President Joe Biden, among others, is calling for a new turn in U.S. policy, foregoing a counterinsurgency approach and opting instead for a less costly "counter-terrorism" strategy aimed, in part, at crushing Al Qaeda in Pakistan -- using drone aircraft and Special Forces, rather than large numbers of U.S. troops (while leaving troop levels in Afghanistan relatively unchanged).

It is too early to predict how the president's review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan will play out, but the fact that he did not immediately embrace the McChrystal plan and has allowed Biden such free rein to argue his case suggests that he may be coming to recognize the folly of expanding America's military commitments abroad at a time when its global preeminence is waning.

One senses Obama's caution in other recent moves. Although he continues to insist that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran is impermissible and that the use of force to prevent this remains an option, he has clearly moved to minimize the likelihood that this option -- which would also be plagued by recalcitrant "allies" -- will ever be employed.

On the other side of the coin, he has given fresh life to American diplomacy, seeking improved ties with Moscow and approving renewed diplomatic contact with such previously pariah states as Burma, Sudan, and Syria. This, too, reflects a reality of our changing world: that the holier-than-thou, bullying stance adopted by the Bush administration toward these and other countries for almost eight years rarely achieved anything. Think of it as an implicit acknowledgement that the U.S. is now descending from its status as the globe's "sole superpower" to that of an ordinary country. This, after all, is what ordinary countries do; they engage other countries in diplomatic discourse, whether they like their current governments or not.

So, welcome to the world of 2025. It doesn't look like the world of our recent past, when the United States stood head and shoulders above all other nations in stature, and it doesn't comport well with Washington's fantasies of global power since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. But it is reality.

For many Americans, the loss of that preeminence may be a source of discomfort, or even despair. On the other hand, don't forget the advantages to being an ordinary country like any other country: Nobody expects Canada, or France, or Italy to send another 40,000 troops to Afghanistan, on top of the 68,000 already there and the 120,000 still in Iraq. Nor does anyone expect those countries to spend $925 billion in taxpayer money to do so -- the current estimated cost of both wars, according to the National Priorities Project.

The question remains: How much longer will Washington feel that Americans can afford to subsidize a global role that includes garrisoning much of the planet and fighting distant wars in the name of global security, when the American economy is losing so much ground to its competitors? This is the dilemma President Obama and his advisers must confront in the altered world of 2025.

By Michael T. Klare professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and author of Rising Powers,

Bali Updates

Om Swastiastu ...

Bali is suffering a draught as seasonal rains are late this year. As a result, 73 of the island’s rivers have run dry and the Water Board (PDAM) is meeting water demand by tapping into already over-exploited subterrain water tables. There’s several articles on the water situation in this week’s edition.

Not unrelated, former Minister of Tourism, Post & Telecommunications Joop Ave sounds reminder to the Balinese to preserve their culture, natural environment and surrounding seas – all key to keeping the island’s tourism industry truly sustainable.

The filming of “Eat, Pray, Love” -starring Julia Roberts, continues in Bali. Governor Pastika has criticized villagers who are coercing money from the film's producers. There’s a separate story from the filming on how difficult it’s proving to cast one of the main Indonesian roles.

Crime appears to be on the rise in Bali. Last week a broad daylight bank robbery took place in Denpasar. We also offer some practical advice on how to protect yourself from a spree of snatch and run robberies done by people who begin by first puncturing your tires.

The reappointment of Jero Wacik to the role of Tourism Minister has brought some tough questions on his past performance and questions about what can be expected during the coming five years, Suggesting a possible new dynamism in his second term, Wacik also lays out goals he wants to achieve in the next 100 days.

We’ve got some valuable information on the current weather situation and the increased threat of water and land spouts. And there's the inspiring story of how an America swimmer continues to work hard to make a positive difference in the life of his adopted homeland.

Mark your calendars. There’s an evening of fine Antinori Wines and a 5-course tasting menu on November 7th at the Ayana Bali Resort; a Rotary Nusa Dua Golf Tournament at the Bali Golf & Country Club on October 31st; and an international festival of meditation in Ubud November 14-15th.

To get Bali news as it happens, follow me on at

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...
J.M. Daniels - Bali Update
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Read the full report at

Sunday, October 25, 2009

West Papuan issues and the prospects for dialogue

As Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono begins his second term as President, it is worth considering the prospects for dialogue to resolve Indonesia's most intractable conflict. West Papua has been part of Indonesia for more than four decades, and calls for dialogue with the central government have reverberated in West Papua for years.
The West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL) recently said dozens of organizations were calling for talks with the central government to find a peaceful solution to many issues, including human rights problems.

Talks held by then president Habibie in 1999 broke up when the Papuan delegation raised the issue of independence. Caught unawares, Habibie closed the meeting, saying only that the matter "needed further consideration".

In 2000, after the downfall of then president Soeharto, a congress in Jayapura attended by tens of thousands adopted a program that included the demand for independence. It set up the Papuan Presidium Council and called for pelurusan sejarah, a reappraisal of the history of West Papua's incorporation into Indonesia.

Earlier this year, in an attempt to inject new life into the dialogue, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), published a Papua Road Map to consider how to take the dialogue forward. It called the talks in 1999 "a missed opportunity" that deepened the mistrust between the two sides.

The implementation of the 2001 Special Autonomy Law (Otsus) for West Papua has been woeful. While the exploitation of Papua's natural resources earned huge revenues for Jakarta, West Papuans are among the poorest in Indonesia.

Without consulting the Majelis Rakyat Papua, the Papuan People's Council, set up in compliance with Otsus, the central government split the territory into two provinces. Dozens of new districts have been created to facilitate access for people in remote areas, but they have gobbled up most of the funds allocated under the Otsus law to build new offices and pay new staff, most of whom are non-Papuan.

The Papuan people have enjoyed little improvement in health and education. LIPI concludes that education is worse today that when West Papua was still a Dutch colony. While many schools have been built, there is a serious shortage of teachers willing work in remote villages.

According to a survey in 2006, thousands of children in the Central Highlands had never been to school. Many Papuan families cannot afford to send their children to primary school. A secondary school teacher in Merauke said she could not teach children from local primary schools because so many couldn't read, write or count. In Yahukimo district, there were only 331 teachers for 15,662 children.

The state of health was just as bad: malnutrition is widespread and there is hardly any access to clean water. There are only 12 government hospitals and six private hospitals, plus a few poorly equipped health centers. Ninety percent of Papuan villages have no access to clinics and the few that are located in the interior have only a midwife and a nurse, with no doctors in sight.

Malaria, dysentery and acute respiratory disorders are widespread, not to mention HIV/AIDS, the incidence of which is worse in West Papua than anywhere in Indonesia, except Jakarta. The researchers concluded that "the government fails to recognize *the health situation* as being a threat to the existence of the Papuan people".
Papuans are unable to compete with Indonesians now doing business in West Papua. Whereas in 1959, outsiders accounted for 2 percent of the population, this rose to 35 percent in 2000, and 41 percent in 2005. By 2011, Papuans are likely to be out-numbered.

Although dialogue has been successful in Aceh, Jakarta fears that dialogue with West Papua will get bogged down over the issue of independence. The guiding principle for Indonesia is the preservation of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI), at all cost, while many Papuans see independence as their objective. If such attitudes persist, dialogue is like merebus batu (trying to cook a stone).

Papuans have experienced years of military operations and violence. While the perpetrators enjoy impunity, Papuan groups that organize demonstrations are accused of being anti-NKRI or "separatist", with dire consequences. Even flying the Papuan flag, the Kejora, risks heavy punishment.

Recognizing that dialogue is fraught with difficulties, LIPI recommends an "incremental process" which would mean abandoning the armed struggle by the Papuans and the implementation of Otsus and demilitarization by Indonesia.

The suggested agenda would include: the history and political status of Papua; justice for human rights victims; the failure of development in Papua and the marginalization of the Papuans.

Jakarta needs to have the courage to approach Papua, learning from what has been achieved in Aceh. The LIPI recommendations deserve the government's serious attention.
By Carmel Budiardjo the founder and co-director of TAPOL, the London-based human rights organisation set up in 1973.

Hun Sen shows lack of class and tact

Cambodian premier's provocative remarks won't help Asean or bilateral relations

You can take the man out of the jungle but you cannot take the jungle out of the man, or so the saying goes. At this moment, that could be said about mercurial Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen after the verbal sparring of the last few days.
"Millions of Thai people, the red shirts, support Thaksin [Shinawatra, ex-PM]. Why, as a friend, can't I support Thaksin? Without the 2006 coup these things would not have happened," said Hun Sen shortly after arriving in Cha-am for the annual Asean Summit.

Throwing caution and discretion to the wind, the Cambodian leader argued further: "Many people talk about Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar [Burma], why not talk about Thaksin? That cannot be referred to as interference."

Perhaps the Cambodian premier thought he was still leading some Khmer Rouge faction, and did not think that as prime minister of his country there was a need to be considerate to others' feelings, much less diplomatic protocol.

For a man with nearly three decades of regional experience, one would have thought that he would exhibit better diplomatic manners than what one has seen so far.
His provocative recent statements really ripped at the heart of so many Thais at a time when the country is bogged down with internal strife. One wonders what Hun Sen would have got out of rubbing more salt on open wounds.

Sadly, he has permitted himself to be part of a cheap ploy by fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra to steal the spotlight from a major international event that brought together leaders from 16 Asian and other nations, including India, Australia and New Zealand.

Thaksin had the audacity to tell Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to show some manners by not putting domestic politics over regional concerns. What else could one expect from Thaksin?

But what is Hun Sen's motivation? Is he desperate for attention and recognition at an international gathering after being in power for nearly three decades but with nothing much to show for it?

Holding on to power by any means and turning his once war-torn country into his personal playground would not count for much in terms of achievements in this day and age. Under his rule, Cambodia continues to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world. We think the Cambodian people deserve better.

But then again, what else can you expect from a man who is doing his best to obstruct the UN tribunal from putting more members of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime on trial?

Is it because the Cambodian leader does not want the tribunal to reach too far as some of his Cabinet members might be named? After nearly 2 million deaths, a lot of people have blood on their hands, so it seems.

Hun Sen knows better than anyone about realpolitik when he staged a coup in early 1997 that delayed Cambodia's admission into Asean. Deep down, he still resents Asean and its treatment of his government.

Incidentally, it was the Thai government that was instrumental in helping him and Cambodia's return to the Asean fold and eventually the grouping's membership.
Moreover, he should be reminded that the current Thai government came through a parliamentary process, not because of the 2006 coup.

One also wonders what was Hun Sen's logic in comparing Thaksin with Burmese pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi. Is he bereft of any sense of proportion? Comparing Thaksin to Suu Kyi is an insult to the millions of Burmese people who are suffering at the hands of the ruling junta.

The Asean Summit should have been an occasion to consolidate among members. But instead, it has been sidetracked into trivial personal issues.

General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who has a penchant to stir the hornet's nest, should be condemned for internationalising a domestic issue for his own benefit. Giggling at reporters while talking on the phone with Thaksin, Chavalit showed how puerile he could be, or perhaps how low the former premier and Army chief could stoop. It's hard to fathom his behaviour, except that desperate situations call for desperate acts.

Perhaps it would be better for Hun Sen to keep his friendship with fugitive Thaksin, and their mutual admiration, in the closet. It could be a case of twisted minds thinking alike.

What he has done is not only harmful to the Thai-Cambodian relationship but also Asean's reputation and solidarity.

But, maybe, he just doesn't care.

Australia's obligation as a developed nation

THE fiction of 18 years past has illuminated itself these past weeks: Blanche d'Alpuget's Turtle Beach may not have been as innocent as the more generous of spirit might be prepared to accept of that 1991 Australian film set in Terengganu. Footage of Malaysian authorities of the 1970s and 1980s turning back Vietnamese boat people at gunpoint may not have been officially sanctioned in Australia, but it would have served Canberra's purpose -- then and now. It was -- and is -- an easy political sell to "outsource" Australia's problems be for Turtle Beach would make for popular viewing in the cinema.

Self-preservation, selfish gain, appeal to base human instinct. Border protection, border security, is ingrained in the Australian psyche.From the "reds under the bed" parodied paranoia of Robert Menzies' 1950s, successive governments of both mainstream persuasions have pandered to the politics of fear of invasion. One tongue-in-cheek letter to the editor takes the instinct back into history: "Australia has had an illegal immigrant problem for more than 200 years," it said. "Just ask any Aborigine."

Increasing waves of boat arrivals over this past year have brought the periodic ebb and rise of the phenomenon to shrill hysteria.A boatload of 255 Sri Lankans originating from Johor Baru and diverted to Indonesia two weeks ago has plunged politicians in government and the opposition to the most vituperative of rhetoric in recent times.

Border security is the base argument of Malcolm Turnbull and his conservative Liberal-National coalition in opposition. Tough, but humane, counter Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his social democrat Labor of their policy.

"The key is to have a balanced policy," Rudd told the 7.30 Report of national public broadcaster ABC, "one which is both tough but humane".

On commercial (populist) talkback radio, the message just comes across as "tough ... tough ... and tough". Scare-mongering is a potent political tool. "We decide who comes into this country, and the circumstances in which they come," was the repeated assertion of John Howard, predecessor to Rudd as prime minister, in the 2001 campaign that returned him to his third of four terms in government.

The celebrated statement of Rudd's today: "I make absolutely no apology whatsoever for taking a hard line on illegal immigration to Australia." It's the palatable message. Every poll since 1977 confirms that at least a third of Australians want every single boat person kept out, The Age in Melbourne reported. Rudd is reasonable on the 7.30 Report. "(We have) an orderly migration programme ... which deals with humanitarian considerations and our obligations under the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ," he says.

"It's (about) having effective arrangements with so-called transit countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Effective also (is) engagement with source countries, in this case Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. "It is the entire ... spectrum from source country, transit country, people on the high seas, as well as proper processing arrangements and dealing with asylum-seekers if they had established to have that status."

Immigration Minister Chris Evans puts the pressure on Australia in a global context. It's a global phenomenon, as desperate people flee war and persecution. "The facts are that there has been a global spike in irregular people movement around the world," Evans writes in the online National Times. "The UNHCR 2008 Global Trends Report released last month stated there were 42 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, driven from their homelands by insecurity, persecution and conflict."

Of that, arrivals in Australia are minuscule, says human rights specialist Professor James Hathaway, dean of law at the University of Melbourne.

"Even with those resettled affirmatively from overseas, Australia receives only about one-tenth of one per cent of the world's refugees," Hathaway tells the New Sunday Times. That in a country proud that, on the findings of the UN Human Development Report 2009, it has the second-best quality of life out of 182 countries surveyed.

Why would Rudd not stake his legacy on taking Australia beyond the tired argument and counter-argument of border security -- of all description; military, strategic, economic and environmental? He has political capital in stacks, his government commanding a primary vote in the order of 47 per cent, to the opposition's 32 per cent.

In two-party-preferred terms, this translates to 58 per cent for Labor to 42 per cent for Turnbull's coalition. It would return Labor to government in landslide proportions were an election to be held. In the better prime minister stakes, Rudd trumps Turnbull 67 per cent to 18 per cent. Sure, one-third of Australians would turn the boats back. Of the remaining two-thirds, it's not clear how many of them might be agnostic on the question, or apathetic. Public opinion acknowledges that Australia is a nation of immigrants; one in four Australians has either been born overseas, or has a parent born abroad.

A poll in National Times has 47 per cent pressing to turn the boats back; two per cent say Australia is obliged to help people seeking protection from persecution.

All said and done, the question of refugees and asylum-seekers boils down to one of values. "Clearly we are not leading by example," Hathaway laments, pitching policy responses against the UN Human Development Report findings.

As with climate change -- which an increasing number of Australians accept has to take into account global poverty -- increasingly with refugees and asylum-seekers, many are coming to the view that Australia needs to rise above the singular question of border security and take into account "push" and "pull" factors, and the obligations of Australia as a developed nation. K.C. Boey, New Straits Times