Archive for the ‘International Affairs’ Category

Go On! Be Thankful!

27 November 07

I should have posted this on Thanksgiving, but why restrict being thankful to just one day!?

From Foreign Policy magazine, 5 reasons we should all be thankful:

  1. Your plane isn’t going to crash! Better safety standards make air flight incredibly safe! (I can vouch for this one!)
  2. Fewer kids are dying. Health care basics like vaccines, mosquito nets, breastfeeding, clean water and better access to health professionals are saving children’s lives.
  3. Wars are history. Armed conflicts fell by 40 percent between 1993 and 2003.
  4. Poverty is down. Fewer people are living on $1 a day – from 1.5 billion people in 1981 to 985 million in 2004.
  5. You’re living to retirement. We’re living longer lives all over the globe thanks to modern medicine and improved sanitation.

Sounds great to me! And here I thought the end of the world was nigh. Read more details at FP.


Project Censored

31 May 07

Expand your mind a bit with the top 25 censored stories of 2007. Among the stories are:

  1. Future of Internet Debate
  2. Halliburton Charged with Selling Nuclear Technologies to Iran
  3. Oceans of the World in Extreme Danger
  4. Hunger and Homelessness Increasing in the US
  5. High-Tech Genocide in the Congo
  6. Federal Whistleblower Protection in Jeopardy
  7. US Operatives Tortured Detainees to Death in Afghanistan and Iraq
  8. Pentagon Exempt from Freedom of Information Act
  9. The World Bank Funds Israel-Palestine Wall
  10. Expanded Air War in Iraq Kills More Civilians
  11. Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods Confirmed
  12. Pentagon Plans to Build New Landmines
  13. New Evidence Establishes Danger of Roundup
  14. Homeland Security Contracts KBR to Build Detention Centers in the US
  15. Chemical Industry is EPA’s Primary Research Partner
  16. Ecuador and Mexico Defy US on International Criminal Court
  17. Iraq Invasion Promotes OPEC Agenda
  18. Physicist Challenges Official 9-11 Story
  19. Destruction of Rainforests Worst Ever
  20. Bottled Water: A Global Environmental Problem
  21. Gold Mining Threatens Ancient Andean Glaciers
  22. $Billions in Homeland Security Spending Undisclosed
  23. US Oil Targets Kyoto in Europe
  24. Cheney’s Halliburton Stock Rose Over 3000 Percent Last Year
  25. US Military in Paraguay Threatens Region

As far as I can tell, many of these stories come from known newspapers and organizations. Whether you agree with their findings or not, it is always valuable to read something from different points of view.  Project Censored is a media research group with Sonoma State University. They track news stories printed in independent journals and newsletters, pointing out the most underreported stories in the mainstream press.

Slavery is Still With Us

13 December 06

Speaking of being fortunate…

Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times, recently wrote an article about slavery in the world today. He illustrated the idea that slavery is still widespread these days with the story of a young Cambodian girl who was kidnapped in an attempt to sell her into a prostitution ring.

I keep an eye open for news on Cambodia since my trip there last January. The country had a big impact on me and stories of human rights abuses and rising rates of forced prostitution really breaks my heart.

***Here is the article, reprinted here because there is no access to it on the nytimes website:

A Cambodian Girl’s Tragedy – Being Young and Pretty
By Nicholas D. Kristof
Pailin, Cambodia – Slavery seems like a remote part of history, until you see scholarly estimates that the slave trade in the 21st century — forced work in prostitution and some kinds of manual labor — is probably larger than it was in the 18th or 19th centuries.

Or until you take a rutted dirt path in northwestern Cambodia to a hut between a rice paddy and a river, and meet a teenage girl named Noy Han. The girl, nicknamed Kahan, suffered the calamitous misfortune of being pretty.

Kahan’s village is isolated, accessible most of the year only by boat. There is no school, so she never attended a day of class.

One woman in the village, Khort Chan, had left as a girl and then reappeared years later. One day last year, when Kahan was 16 or 17 (ages are fuzzy here), she ate ice cream that Ms. Khort Chan gave her — and passed out.

Ms. Khort Chan took the unconscious girl away in a boat and disappeared. Kahan’s parents sounded the alarm, and the police quickly found Kahan being held upriver in the hut of Ms. Khort Chan’s grandmother. “Chan was planning to traffic her to Pailin,” a brothel center near the Thai border, said Leang Chantha, the police officer who found her.

Typically, a girl like Kahan would be imprisoned in a trafficker’s house, tied up and beaten if she resisted, inspected by a doctor to certify her virginity, and sold for hundreds of dollars to a Cambodian or Thai businessman. Virgins are in particular demand by men with AIDS because of a legend that they can be cured by having sex with a virgin.

Afterward, Kahan would have been locked up in a brothel in Pailin, and sold for $10 a session for the first couple of months. The price eventually would drop to $1.50, and by then she would be given greater freedom.

By being rescued, Kahan was spared all that — but she had suffered an overdose of the drugs. “Kahan seemed like a dead person,” said her mother, Sang Kha. “Her eyes were rolling, she was drooling.”

Even weeks later, Kahan’s face remained partially paralyzed, she could not speak, and she was weak and sickly. Desperate to get medical treatment, Ms. Sang Kha borrowed $200 from usurious money lenders charging 20 percent per month, and the girl’s uncle mortgaged his home to help pay for treatment.

But the family is now broke and heavily indebted, and Kahan still can only mumble. “I’m still very weak,” was all I could coax out of her.

The police had released Ms. Khort Chan after two days, and I was unable to track her down. But neighbors at two of her former houses said she had fled after apparently trafficking her own sister.

Some of the neighbors added a layer of complexity to her story: They believe that Ms. Khort Chan herself had been sold to a brothel as a young woman. She escaped or worked her way out, and then became a slave trader herself.

And slavery is what this is. The real problem isn’t prostitution or trafficking, it’s the enslavement of people.

The Lancet, the British medical journal, once estimated that 10 million children 17 and under may work in prostitution worldwide. Not all are coerced, but in the nastier brothels of Cambodia, Nepal, India, Malaysia and Thailand, the main difference from 19th-century slavery is that the victims are mostly dead of AIDS by their 20’s.

“It seems almost certain that the modern global slave trade is larger in absolute terms than the Atlantic slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries was,” notes an important article about trafficking in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. It adds, “Just as the British government (after much prodding by its subjects) once used the Royal Navy to stamp out the problem, today’s great powers must bring their economic and military might to bear on this most crucial of undertakings.”

President Bush has done a much better job than his predecessors in pressing this issue; his State Department office on trafficking is one of his few diplomatic successes. And the issue enjoys bipartisan support, with leadership coming from conservative Republicans like Senator Sam Brownback and liberal Democrats like Representative Carolyn Maloney.

So President Bush, how about using your last two years to make this issue an international priority? A nudge in your State of the Union address could jump-start a new Abolitionist movement, so as to free children now dying slowly from rape and AIDS because they did something as simple as accepting ice cream from a neighbor.

During our journey out of Cambodia we past through Pailin. We stopped there so our driver and the DH could have a bite to eat. I remember the town being dusty and dirty. It was full of motorcycles. Everyone seemed to be going somewhere. My clearest memory is of a young Muslim girl (wearing a headscarf) driving her younger brother and sister on a small motorcycle.

Thirty minutes later we were across the border into Thailand, a beautiful country with its own ugly sex trade secrets.

The Big Taboo – Toilet Talk

11 November 06

As a nurse, toilet talk has never been a taboo for me, but evidently it is for the rest of the world. I was reading Foreign Policy Magazine’s blog (which is great reading, btw), and learned that it is such a big taboo that millions are dying every year because they don’t have access to basic sanitation. For example, in Mumbai’s biggest slum there is only one toilet per 1,440 people. This is astonishing. This is the 21st century, for crying out loud.

An excerpt from the post:

“…a new report from the U.N. drives home the effects of 2.6 billion people around the world lacking access to a decent bathroom. More than two million children die each year of illnesses caused by contaminated water.

The problem, according to the author of the report, is that bureaucrats and politicians often don’t want to talk about toilets. Such topics are often just taboo. He told the NYT that “issues dealing with human excrement tend not to figure prominently…[on] the agendas of governments.” So, despite U.N. estimates that it would cost $10 billion a year (think about that in terms of most countries’ military expenditures) to cut in half the percentage of people needing clean water and a latrine, little at the government level is ever accomplished.”

Aren’t You Glad You Don’t Live in North Korea?

7 November 06

It’s election day in the US, or at least it will be in a few hours. Instead of talking about politics, I want to return to the topic of internet censorship that I brought up a few posts ago.

Reporters without Borders is organizing an online protest against internet censorship. They’ve highlighted the world’s worst countries in Internet freedom.

Here is what they had to say about China:

China unquestionably continues to be the world’s most advanced country in Internet filtering. The authorities carefully monitor technological progress to ensure that no new window of free expression opens up, After initially targeting websites and chat forums, they nowadays concentrate on blogs and video exchange sites. China now has nearly 17 million bloggers. This is an enormous number, but very few of them dare to tackle sensitive issues, still less criticise government policy. Firstly, because China’s blog tools all include filters that block “subversive” word strings. Secondly, because the companies operating these services, both Chinese and foreign, are pressured by the authorities to control content. They employ armies of moderators to clean up the content produced by the bloggers. Finally, in a country in which 52 people are currently in prison for expressing themselves too freely online, self-censorship is obviously in full force. Just five years ago, many people thought Chinese society and politics would be revolutionised by the Internet, a supposedly uncontrollable medium. Now, with China enjoying increasing geopolitical influence, people are wondering the opposite, whether perhaps China’s Internet model, based on censorship and surveillance, may one day be imposed on the rest of the world.

And North Korea:

Like last year, North Korea continues to be the world’s worst Internet black hole. Only a few officials are able to access the web, using connections rented from China. The country’s domain name – .nk – has still not been launched and the few websites created by the North Korean government are hosted on servers in Japan or South Korea. It is hard to believe this is simply the result of economic difficulties in a country which today is capable of manufacturing nuclear warheads. The North Korean journalists who have found refuge in South Korea are very active on the Internet, especially on the website.

North Korea really frightens me. Have you seen or read reports coming out of there? The people are probably the most brainwashed I’ve ever seen. A while ago I read in a Spanish newspaper a story about a Spaniard who somehow became a North Korean citizen. He came to Spain as a representative of North Korea. If you could read what he said you’d be shocked. He spoke about how NK is the best nation on the earth. Everything there is perfect. There is no crime, only comradely-cooperation. Everyone has food and a home and work. They don’t have the evil decadences of the West like TV, books or the Internet, and that is fine with them because they know they are better off. It was really disturbing.

Other “Internet Black Holes” are Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.

These countries are judged to be black holes because a) the internet is heavily censored and/or b) cyber-dissidents have been detained or imprisoned.

Also, FYI, Yahoo is also a target of the protest because, according to Global Voices Online, “Yahoo! is a special target for RSF because the company’s has cooperated with Chinese authorities in investigations of journalists, supplying information that helped lead to the arrest of Shi Tao, a journalist serving a ten year sentence for “divulging state secrets abroad.””

This was a huge controversy when I was there. I also had personal encounters with China’s Internet censorship, thanks in a huge part to good old Google. I found that if you typed in certain search terms, you would get information different from other parts of the world, and sometimes, after one or two searches, Google would just not function anymore. (Especially when looking at images.)

One famous Google search blockage: Within China, if you type in “Tienanmen Square” in the image search, you will be greeted with photos of happy tourists posing in the square. Outside of China, this same search will lead you directly to photos of the infamous 1989 massacre. Most of my students had never heard of the incident. One student who has a great deal of family in the US, told me that he learned nothing of it in school, but a family friend who claims to have been there told him what happened. Our tour guide in Beijing told my family – we all know something happened here, but don’t ask me about it in the square because there are plain-clothed policemen listening.

If you should ever find yourself confronted with a blocked web page, do what I did everyday in China, visit Anonymouse and type in the web page you want to visit.

So Long, Saddam

5 November 06

Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to hang.

How do I feel about that? I don’t really like to talk about the impending death of anyone. I’ll be honest that I am a pacifist. I think it is difficult to be in the medical profession, especially in the role of a nurse, and not be a pacifist. However, I do not feel any sorrow for Saddam.

I’ve seen his handiwork in Kuwait. I was there after the first Gulf War and I saw firsthand what the Iraqi invasion did to the country. Saddam hurt his own people – the Marsh Arabs, the Kurds, all Iraqis – to an even greater extent. He is a mad, mad man and he deserves his punishment.

My time in China was blissfully free of reality. I hardly heard a word about the war in Iraq, and if I did it was in Chinese and I couldn’t understand it. I think to some extent I purposefully walled myself off from the war – I had internet access after all. Only recently have I started to listen to news channels again. Only recently have I paused on Iraq stories. Only recently did I find a world of blogs that shared Iraqi viewpoints. (Iraqis on Global Voices)

There are many horrific things happening in the world right now, and there are no easy answers to any of the conflicts. It is all so complex that I am reminded of why I chose not to pay attention while in China.
It all feels hopeless. The execution of Saddam should have brought a sense of justice to the Iraqis who suffered under his rule, but with no sense of calm, safety, nor end to the war, I’m afraid it is an empty victory.

Reflections on August 2nd

2 August 05

Strange things always happen on August 2nd. Today a plane crashed here in Toronto. Luckily, everyone survived, but it still looked pretty scary. I have flown a million times, but crashing is still always in the back of my mind. A friend of mine sub-let her apartment for the next couple of months to a girl from Germany who just happened to be on the flight.

Every August 2nd I also observe that this was the day, 15 years ago, when Iraqis invaded Kuwait. Has it been 15 years? WOW. Kuwait sometimes seems a million years away, and at other times it seems like yesterday. My time there, in retrospect, was a very unique time. At times happy, strange, exciting, fun and boring. It is an experience that changed my life forever – in a good way.