Posts Tagged 'News'

The New World Order: A Land Grab Looms

Masaola Forest, Madagascar. Photo by glowingz.

Masaola Forest, Madagascar. Photo by glowingz.

SEOUL — SOUTH KOREA’S DAEWOO LOGISITCS recently locked down half of Madagascar’s arable land for agriculture exports back home, according the Financial Times. But the real kicker, and what has the London paper using words like “neo-colonialism,” is that Daewoo isn’t expecting to pay a dollar for the land.

The Indian Ocean island will simply gain employment opportunities from Daewoo’s 99-year lease of 1.3m hectares, officials at the company said. They emphasised that the aim of the investment was to boost Seoul’s food security.

“We want to plant corn there to ensure our food security. Food can be a weapon in this world,” said Hong Jong-wan, a manager at Daewoo. “We can either export the harvests to other countries or ship them back to Korea in case of a food crisis.”

The local Maeil Business Newspaper (매일경제) bitterly refuted the Times’ report on Friday. The paper said Daewoo will invest 6 billion dollars over the next 20 years into the East African island nation. It added that while the South Korean government has not directly responded to the FT’s coverage, Seoul sees the report as a “malicious distortion.”

In an unashamedly biased front-page story Friday, the Maeil asked: “Could (the FT report) be a sign of greed over Europe’s lost hegemony in Africa, once considered its back yard?”

Also on Friday, the FT reported that Kuwait and Qatar, along with Asian nations including South Korea, are looking to scoop up land in Cambodia in return for sizable investments.

The trend is worrisome. Should food shortage fears like those that rippled through Asia earlier this year spike again, capital-rich nations will surely start to horde. Poorer agricultural nations will be left in the lurch, and unable to feed their people, they’ll resort to outside aid. This would give birth to a new power structure that could indeed be characterized as colonial.

If Daewoo’s Hong is right about food becoming a “weapon,” and he may be, then our world is set to open a new dystopian era. It’s hard not to wonder when reading quotes like these whether humanity has lost its vision; whether we have regressed from modern civilization into a new global feudalism.

(Edited on November 22, 2008)

(UPDATE) Irrawaddy Under Attack, Still Unavailable

SEOUL — THE BURMA-FOCUSED MAGAZINE The Irrawaddy sent a message to its on-line subscribers today saying that both its main and mirror sites are down due to Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, one year after the beginning of the Saffron Revolution. The publication is, in the meantime, continuing to report from a blogger site.

On Tuesday, we received reports that the Internet in Burma was running slowly, suggesting a concerted effort to prevent information from going in or out of the country.

Then on Wednesday, our colleagues and subscribers in the US, Japan and Malaysia notified our Thailand-based office that they were unable to access our Web site.

A few hours later, I-NET, the largest host server in Thailand, confirmed: “Your site has been under distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack since around 5pm.”

I-NET finally decided to shut down our server.

Singlehop, which hosts The Irrawaddy’s mirror site, explained: “Your server is under a major attack. Due to the size of the attack our network engineers had to null route the IP to negate it. When the attack has subsided we will remove the null route.”

Singlehop told us that the cyber attack was very sophisticated.

Currently, our Web site is disabled and we have been forced to launch our daily news in blogs. Fellow exiled news agencies Democratic Voice of Burma and New Era were also disabled.

A City Draped in Gray (Updated with Photos)

March on City Hall | Click to view entire set

March on City Hall | Click to view entire set

SEOUL — AS I WRITE THIS thousands of monks and laypeople are converging on city hall. They are unloading from buses that have carried them, along with their signs and banners of protest, from all the corners of the country. Great gray-robed masses make their way across crowded sidewalks, and hung high above the street are PA systems broadcasting dissent in waves of chanting and drums. There is a thrumming energy that emanates beyond the police lines, that sends ripples through the steel and glass.

These people are demanding an apology, they are demanding change. They see the government as isolated from the people, wrapped up in Christianity while a hefty chunk of the country’s faithful adhere to an indigenous brand of Buddhism. Whether their cries of foul are completely legitimate appears difficult to assess, but even some Protestants here admit that the president — a staunch Christian who earlier, as Seoul’s mayor, said he dedicated the city to God — might be throwing around his religious weight.

Dissent Blaster | Jogye Temple

Dissent Blaster | Jogye Temple

UPDATE September 1 — Dissent continued to foam over the weekend. A local paper reported that about 2,000 people joined in a gathering at Jogye Temple, the heart of the Buddhist order that organized last Wednesday’s rallies, which was titled “a service to condemn the Lee Myung-bak administration’s destruction of the Constitution and religious discrimination.” On Saturday, at the same temple, a high-ranking monk attempted to disembowel himself in protest. (He was rushed to the hospital, and his injures were not fatal.)

The force with which these demonstrations have arisen begs the question: Why? Is there good reason for the anger? Speaking in real terms, President Lee has filled his administration with people who attend his own right-leaning church — the now-famous Somang Presbyterian. Major Buddhist sites have been left off of new government maps, while the smallest of churches are given mention. The chief of the National Police Agency, Eo Cheong-soo, appeared on a poster promoting police personnel’s “fasting prayers for the evangelization of all the police.” A presidential secretary reportedly called demonstrators opposed to U.S. beef imports “a host of Satans.”

In terms of the more nebular realm of history, the current uprising is perhaps afforded added momentum due to an anxiety of repeating the past. As blogger Korea Dispatch points out, many of the monks who are participating in the rallies now remember the early 1980s, when then President Chun Doo-hwan mobilized a massive police force to arrest over 150 monks labeled as dissidents. Chun forced the head of the Jogye order to step down, accusing him of “corrupt activities.” Buddhists were beaten and tortured — as many political dissidents were then.

The difference now is that Lee’s brand of religious bias apparently has more to do with a fervent belief in evangelism, rather than a simple greed for power. In this way, the current situation is perhaps even more dangerous. Indeed, we need not look far back for vivid examples of what brutal kinds of things humans can do to each other in the name of God.

Beijing to Drop Broadcast Delay

photo by Thomas Tribe

SEOUL – BEIJING’S CCTV WILL DROP its normal 30-second broadcast delay on channels covering the Olympic games, according to the official Xinhua News Agency, allowing viewers to see the events in real-time (via Reuters):

China Central Television (CCTV) has always built a 30-second delay into the transmission of live programs to ensure they aired “smoothly and safely,” the report said.

The time lag also gives the government-controlled broadcaster a brief window to stop images of protests or content critical of officials from reaching ordinary viewers.

Broadcasters in the U.S. have occasionally delayed footage in a similar way — especially after the Janet Jackson incident at the superbowl in 2004 — although it could be argued that the practice is largely employed Stateside to protect media from litigation-happy viewers. CCTV’s use of of the delay is more insidious on a couple levels, as it functions mainly to keep citizens in the dark by (sometimes literally) blacking out events and because the broadcaster controls a total of 17 channels.

Despite promising press freedom during the games, Beijing is keeping a close watch over foreign journalists, especially if they don’t procure the proper visa. From a recent NYT blog post:

Less clear is the fate of thousands of freelancers and reporters for local papers, smaller news outlets and niche publications. One freelancer in the U.S. told [the Committee to Protect Journalists] that, having heard of the problems getting a journalist’s visa, she tried to enter the country as a tourist, only to be told that she would have to sign a pledge promising not to write a magazine article about her experiences. Apparently, Chinese immigration agents have learned the power of Google.

This raises questions about the rights of foreign bloggers in the country as well, as there is little doubt that the local government will be keeping a close eye on the Internet; dozens of postings on riots in southwest China last month were apparently blocked by local censors.

U.S. Pushes Japan to Expand Defense Budget (Hello, Military Industrial Complex?)

THE RECENT PUSH FROM U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer for Japan to “consider the benefits of increasing its own defense spending” should be viewed as highly suspect. His suggestion that the nation — whose military forces were restricted to a self-defense role following WWII — invest in new fighter jets with equipment that is compatible with U.S. weapons systems should draw even more scrutiny.

Schieffer, who was an investment buddy with George W. back in 1989 when they and ‘Rusty’ Rose bought the Texas Rangers Baseball Club (ref. State Dept), at best seems more interested in the U.S. defense department’s bottom line rather than in respecting a 1960 agreement which states that both nations will provide mutual support in the event of attack. At worst, Schieffer seems to be looking out for the interests of U.S. weapons manufacturers.

His supposed reasoning? That the Asian nations surrounding Japan are boosting their defense spending. According to the AP article linked above, Schieffer said that China has increased military expenditures by an average of 14.2 percent annually in the last 10 years, while South Korea’s defense budget has grown 73 percent. And that may well be true, but those numbers are out of context. China itself has grown exponentially over the past decade, and South Korea is taking over military operational control from the U.S. in 2012.

If the U.S. is truly interested in Japan bearing more of a load in its own defense, then it needs to consider scaling back its own military presence in the country — a move which many have been calling for in the wake of a sexual abuse case involving a US Marine, only the latest installment in a string of embarrassments. An even better move would be to advocate that all nations in the region curb military spending, taking a proactive approach to averting future tense situations.

Police Plan to Prosecute Seoul Protest Organizers

FOLLOWING MASSIVE CANDLELIGHT VIGILS protesting the resumption of US beef imports, police in the South Korean capital say they are planning to crack down on demonstration organizers. Critics are calling the move an “arbitrary application of the law,” an argument further bolstered by the fact that protests so-far appear to have been entirely peaceful.

The Hankyoreh quoted a police official today who defended plans to prosecute organizers by saying : “The event was registered as a cultural event but it was in fact a political gathering overflowing with agitation and agitating slogans.” That’s some shifty legal ground for the government to be walking on — just a few steps away from the blunt politics of the 80s, when demonstrators who voiced their opposition were harshly silenced.

Meanwhile, South Korean officials are detailing new guidelines for beef imports, which will allow bone-in cuts and intestines; both were previously barred. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry says it plans to send four special investigation teams to inspect meat processing facilities in the US, and is promising strict screening in an attempt to cool public health concerns.

But despite taking careful measures to prevent instances of mad cow disease, what appears to be left unaddressed is how the government will control prices to protect South Korean farmers — an increased supply of cheap meat from the US is sure to put them in a pinch. If president Lee Myung-bak is truly interested in reviving the local economy, his policies should take a holistic and sustainable approach, instead of solely weighing the interests of his conservative counterparts in Washington.

Perspective: The Food Crisis, from Wisconsin to Cambodia

bags of rice, thailand. photo by IRRI images.

I WISH I’D HAD A TAPE RECORDER. One day the manager at the cafe where I work was lamenting the climbing cost of her weekly groceries, the next she was attempting to justify the higher prices on our soup.

“[Another cafe] is charging five dollars for a cup that’s the same size!” she said, explaining why it was now costing our customers a dollar more for a product that we dump out of a bag. The economic reasoning seemed rather dubious to me, especially juxtaposed against her earlier complaints.

“This is how food prices go up,” I said to her dryly. She shot me a look that seemed to say, Whatever.

It was an illustrative moment. While I can’t pretend to fully understand the complexities of the looming food crisis, amid all the factors that lay out of human control — floods, poor crops, shortages, etc. — the common denominator appears to be human greed. This has manifested itself on a range of levels, from questionable price gouging to grain hoarding.

With recent riots over food prices in Haiti and the IHT reporting that elementary schools in rural Cambodia are being forced to suspend free breakfast programs, it’s obvious that — as ever — the world’s poorest are the first to feel the pinch of this greed. But in some backwards way it’s hopeful that Americans are too; proof that the distance of oceans doesn’t insulate us from everything.

The worrisome aspect of that equation is this: Americans have agency and buying power, whereas citizens of third world nations have little to none. Bloomberg says that hoarding by eager Wall Streeters is already adding to the pain of farmers and consumers.

And so we’re left with a reality that has always existed in some form but has rarely been so plainly presented — unless we check greed and panic in this situation, people will starve and die.

Looking at soaring food costs as an opportunity for capital gains is one-dimensional and shortsighted. Those inching up their prices hoping to make an extra buck are only going to turn around to find their dollars don’t go as far in the aisles of the grocery store. But Statesiders ought to reflect on the fact that on the other side of the world, the consequences are more real; kids going to school with empty bellies, families grinding by on rations bought with $2 a day.


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