Dec 9, 2010

On eve of Nobel ceremony, China cracks down and lashes out

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 9, 2010

BEIJING, Dec. 9 - Restaurant and bar owners in China have been summoned to local police stations and warned against allowing large gatherings on Friday. Some lawyers, writers and academics have been stopped at airports from boarding their flights; others have been forcibly taken to the countryside. Known activists are under house arrest. And today, several foreign media Web sites and television stations were blocked.
Chinese police have said they were taking these actions to guard against a threat to national security. The threat, apparently, is the 54-year-old bespectacled intellectual Liu Xiaobo, currently serving an 11-year prison sentence in China's northern Liaoning province for the crime of "inciting subversion of state power."
Liu in October was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Since neither Liu nor any of his family members are being allowed to leave China to attend Friday's ceremony in Oslo, the Nobel committee organizers said he will be represented by an empty chair.
It will be the first time the award will not be presented to the laureate since 1935, when imprisoned German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky was prevented by the Nazi regime from attending.
China's Communist government has lashed out ferociously since the award was announced, each day ratcheting up the rhetoric. Foreign embassies in Norway have been warned not to attend the Nobel ceremony or risk unspoken "consequences." China has already broken off trade talks with Norway. The foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, denounced the Nobel committee members as "clowns" and accused them of "orchestrating an anti-China farce."
Thursday's edition of the Global Times newspaper - the English-language tabloid published by the ruling Communist party's main mouthpiece, People's Daily - continued the drumbeat of criticism, in a lead editorial that asked, "Is there a 'plot' among the Western countries against China?"
"The West has shown great creativity in conspiring against China," the editorial said. It added, "the West has not ceased harassing China with all kinds of tricks like the Nobel Peace Prize."
But for all the fury directed outwardly, the fiercest reaction has been internal. Scores of activists, lawyers, professors -- even the family members and aging parents of jailed dissidents - have been prohibited from leaving the country in recent days, or placed under house arrest, with their telephone and Internet lines cut. As the date of the Nobel ceremony drew closer, some were also told not to speak to reporters.
Mao Yushi, one of China's foremost economists, was prevented from boarding a flight last week to attend an academic conference in Singapore, even though he protested that he had no visa for Norway and no plans to attend the Nobel ceremony.
He and other activists said the Chinese government's harsh crackdown has had one unintended, opposite effect - that of visibly underscoring the need for political reform that Liu was awarded the prize for championing.
"This way of doing things is stupid and the government actually is losing face by doing it, " Mao said. "I applaud Liu's award. This incident of not allowing me to go abroad just proves why it makes sense that Liu got the award."
Ai Wei Wei, an outspoken artist often critical of government policies, was stopped at Beijing's airport after he had already gone through immigration and was seated in the waiting room about to board a flight to South Korea. He said the police officers who removed him from the airport had a document saying he might violate national security if allowed to travel abroad.
"They limit lawful citizens from leaving," Ai said. "That means this nation by definition is a jail."
He added, "If the Chinese people …don't know why this prize should be given to Liu Xiaobo, now they should understand."
A member of the Beijing film academy was prevented from traveling to a film festival in Italy. Lawyers were blocked from attending an international lawyers meeting in London.
"The obsessive focus on preventing activists from traveling to Oslo is completely irrational," Renee Xia, the international director of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said in an emailed statement. "The more people are barred from leaving the country, and the harder the government works to stifle news of the Nobel ceremony domestically, the more meaning the event takes on for the curious ordinary Chinese."
Xia said many of China's 400 million-plus Internet users would find ways to circumvent the government's "Great Fire Wall" censorship controls to follow news of the Nobel ceremony on-line.
Earlier Thursday, Web sites of the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC), Cable News Network (CNN), Channel 4 in Britain, and Norwegian television NRK all were blocked, preventing live streaming. Thursday night, BBC went off the air for televisions that have satellite dishes.
In addition to those barred from leaving China, some have been told to leave Beijing - and forcibly taken away when they refused.
Tang Jitian, a human rights lawyer, said four Beijing security policemen forced him into a car while he was on his way to the hospital. Together with security policemen from his hometown of Yanbian, the officers sent him on a night flight back to northeastern China.
"The present situation is very tense, and you have to leave Beijing," Tabg recalled the police telling him. Interviewed by telephone from Yanbian, Tang said the local police warned him not to return to Beijing for now.
Some Beijing café and restaurant owners have been warned by police not to allow any Nobel celebrations or demonstrations at their establishments, not to take any bookings of large groups of Chinese for Friday evening, and to be especially watchful of people coming in carrying banners.
One café owner, who asked not to be quoted by name, was called to the local police station in the Gulou, or Drum Tower, area, and warned that "overseas reactionary forces" might try to "instigate" some actions on Friday night.
Seeking to discredit the Nobel prize, a previously unknown group with links to China's ministry of culture held a hastily called ceremony in a hotel Thursday to award the first "Confucian Peace Prize," which the organizers said was a response to the Nobel being awarded to Liu.
The winner of the Confucian Peace Prize was Taiwanese former vice-president Lien Chan, who the group said beat out Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former South African president Nelson Mandela, among others.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 402-to-1 on Wednesday for a resolution praising Liu Xiaobo. At a regularly scheduled briefing Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the U.S. resolution "confuses right and wrong, and flagrantly interferes in China's internal affairs."
Jiang said American lawmakers should "change their arrogant and unreasonable attitude."
China's foreign ministry has boasted that the peace prize has been discredited because a large number of countries agree with China and will boycott the ceremony. So far, China has listed 18 other countries not attending, including fellow Communist regimes Cuba and Vietnam; Arab monarchies and authoritarian regimes including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia; and China's allies Venezuela, Pakistan, Sudan, and neighboring Russia and Kazakhstan. Iran, Colombia and Ukraine also said their ambassadors will not attend.
The biggest surprise on the no-show list was the Philippines, whose newly-elected president, Benigno ("Noynoy") Aquino III, is the son of the slain opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr.
Aquino Jr. was a political prisoner during the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. The current president's mother, Corazon C. Aquino, was elected president and became known as an icon of democracy.
The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch sharply criticized the Philippines' decision.

Dec 2, 2010

Article about AAI's Peace Caravans in Manila Bulletin

When the youth gather for peace

By Nesreen Cadar Abdul Rauf, Contributor
December 2, 2010, 8:46am
STANDING PROUD – Young lumads get together to embrace their cultures and promote equality and peace. (Photo from
STANDING PROUD – Young lumads get together to embrace their cultures and promote equality and peace. (Photo from

MANILA, Philippines — Muslim, Moro, Manobo, Igorot, Christians.

Utter these words and stereotypes, biases, prejudice, and discriminatory impressions are sure to follow.

We are all guilty. Many of us have been either victims or perpetrators of labeling according to ethnicity and religion.

“Behave or a Moro will take you away and sell you off,’’ parents would tell their misbehaving children. “You’re like a Badjao,” is often told to kids who like to play with dirt.

Even in schools, bullies ridicule their Igorot or Manobo classmates, even cruelly calling them “unggoy na walang buntot (monkeys without tails),” or their Muslim classmates for not eating pork, or associating them with groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.

As a result, children learn to harbor hatred and generalize members of a group. Some even defend themselves with physical violence.

Psychology proves time and time again that childhood is a crucial time for the formation of life-long values and characters.

This is the guiding principle of the non-government organization called Asia America Initiative (AAI), as they started their peace caravan last year.

AAI aimed to make young people understand and appreciate diversity through interaction and sharing when it gathered 40 young Muslims, Christians, and Indigenous People (IP) last October in Benguet State University (BSU), La Trinidad, Benguet. Facilitating were the young professionals and student volunteers of AAI Catalysts for Peace, in partnership with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

Struggles of the minorities
The majority rules in a democratic country. But in a true democracy, the minority has the same rights as the other citizens.

Jason Roy Sibug is the president of Tuklas-Katutubo, a national organization of young indigenous leaders in the Philippines.

He reveals that some indigenous people or acceptably called “lumad,” do not assert their identity because of the wrong perception about them. “They are either referred as backward, or supporters of the National People’s Army (NPA), ever discriminated in social opportunities such as employment, and subject for humiliation in media,’’ Jason remarked.

Common street terms used to describe them are wild tribes, pagan, primitive, uncivilized, ignorant, beggar, and tagabundok, Jason added.

“We are beyond our gongs and attire. We’re not just performers,” lamented Jason, who is a Manobo. He added that lumads number to 13 million, or 10 to 15 percent of the total Philippine population, not including those who write Christian or Muslim as their religion.

He related that some young Manobo students are discouraged to go to school. “They are called Manobo instead of their names.”

But for Jason who founded Tuklas-Katutubo at the age of 17, being an IP is a solution itself. For instance, the organization believes in Balik Tribo programs, hence, it opened an IP-led school in North Cotabato. It is an alternative education for day-care and elementary IP children and is being handled by IP teachers. It is accredited by the Department of Education.

Moreover, Jason divulged that for the lumads, peace is neither about silence nor the absence of bullets. “There can only be peace when we have our own land, basic needs, and absence of discrimination and exploitation.”

Meanwhile, Alnasser L. Kasim, the chairman of the Young Moro Professionals Network (YMPN) and the speaker on Islam faith, said that the situation of the IPs is not far from the Muslims who only form five percent of the country’s population.

“We thought we Muslims are the most marginalized sector in the country.”

A Muslim participant, Alrashid H. Abdulmunat, 24, disclosed, “I just knew about IPs now. I thought Christians hate Muslims but I found out they’re kind and they don’t have bad intentions to Muslims and IPS. Every religion is important and their unity. In the Holy Quran, Almighty Allah mentioned the tribes or ‘qabail’. Peace cannot be achieved if the other tribes are not included.”

Volunteers as social doctors
For Arjie Aguas, 23, a registered nurse, a simple smile and a thank you wash all his sacrifices away as a volunteer.

Sweetheart Peralta, 18, a student in University of Caloocan City, said that volunteering is also a venue to learn and develop skills.

“If my parents were still alive, I am sure they’ll be proud of me for helping in an NGO,’’ said Mercy Gaddi Villarba, 19.

Moreover, working in an NGO is like being a social doctor, or a culture broker. “It entails greater responsibility because everything that you do will stay in the minds and hearts of the people for a lifetime,” said AAI Programs and Resource Mobilization associate Marlon T. Jinon, 23.“Our problems related to peace, he said, are way beyond what the government can handle. All of us in the civil society must do our responsibilities.

Don't be afraid of soldiers
The Peace Caravan link and mobilize various organizations. Aurelio Ravancho Jr. Ujebon, 36, of the 7th Civil Relations Group of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said that people must not be afraid of soldiers who help in maintaining peace. “Nakikidigma kami sa pagtulong. Hindi iyong pakikidigma na may namamatay.”

The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Assistant Chief of Staff for Civil Military Operations Jose Demar A. Pauly put in that no organization is complete. Human resource is the best resource that organizations must share.

As for Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, 27, the AAI Philippine country director, creating positive change that leads to peace requires not just teamwork but collaboration and an inter-generational approach.

Peace is indeed a shared responsibility.

Let us plant it in our own yards.

Nov 22, 2010

AAI Peace Caravans are proving that peace is possible in areas where religious and cultural violence has been a tragic legacy

Peace warriors hold powwow
By Nesreen Cadar Abdulrauf
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:58:00 11/21/2010

Filed Under: Armed conflict, Schools
AN Asian proverb says, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.”

In October, young professionals and college student volunteers of the Asia America Initiative (AAI) started sweating in peace so other people, particularly their peers, would not have to bleed in war.

AAI, in partnership with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and local organizations, held the fourth Peace Caravan–Luzon Leg in La Trinidad, Benguet to spread the seeds of understanding, appreciation, and coexistence.

At the two-day event, 40 young people representing Muslims, Christians, and Indigenous People (IP) gathered at the Benguet State University to learn how to become future leaders who will promote and maintain peace.

The participants shared personal and group experiences that would help them become Catalysts for Peace—compassionate role models to help heal and unite the nation.

“We often think of peace as something big or difficult but it’s the thought of bringing about peace that is the foundation for change,” said Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, 27, the AAI Philippines country director.

The participants, who were of diverse ethnicities, ages, and religions, were divided into five groups: A, M, I, T, Y. They played games that promoted participation, interaction, and learning. The ultimate activity was “Find the Missing Peace.” Each group had a piece to complete the puzzle that said “The Key to Peace Is You”.

Jassan D. Batalang, 19, said, “The peace caravan wouldn’t be memorable if it wasn’t fun. We smiled and laughed a lot ... already a sign that we were at peace with each other.”

Marc Ceenan Malucay, 18, added, “I didn’t know that I can be a catalyst for peace. In just a short time, we established a bond with each other.”

In peace-building, AAI stressed that peace must begin with one’s self. The intra-faith discussions led to a self-evaluation of their sources of pride, fears, and prejudices, among others.

“If a person doesn’t know his or her religion, he may become violent. That is why intra-faith is important,” said Alnasser L. Kasim, chair of the Young Moro Professionals Network (YMPN) who spoke on “Islamic Faith”.

Brother Mark Joseph Purugganan, a seminarian at the San Jose Seminary who spoke on “Christian Faith”, said some people could misinterpret what their religion was actually teaching them.

Marlon T. Jinon, AAI programs and resource mobilization associate, said differences in religion had never been nor would ever be the cause of lack of peace. “It is our greed, lack of awareness, and misunderstanding of our very own religion and culture, and the religion and culture of other people that fuel the vicious cycle of war and conflict in the country and in the world.”

He said it was wrong to try to make peace with the world or the nation before making peace with one’s self, family, and neighbors.

Jason Roy Sibug, president of Tuklas-Katutubo, a national organization of young indigenous leaders, said the youth should rid themselves of prejudice. “When you don’t have it (prejudice) towards other cultures and religions, there can be harmonious relationships. Do not associate a person’s act with his/her religion and do not generalize. The next step is to share (this attitude) with your family, friends, and community.”

Sibug, 30, a Manobo, founded Tuklas-Katutubo when he was 17. He said IPs accounted for 13 million or 10 to 15 percent of the total Philippine population, not including those who would write Christian or Muslim as their religion.
He added that, when there was interfaith, a person became a Muslim or a Christian or an IP by heart.

Muslim participant Alrashid H. Abdulmunat, 24, said, “I (only learned) about IPs and their struggle now. I also thought Christians hated Muslims but I found out they were kind and they did not have bad intentions toward Muslims and IP. If Muslims (complain) about discrimination and marginalization, how about the IP? In the Holy Quran, Almighty Allah mentioned the tribes or ‘qabail’. Peace cannot be achieved if the other tribes are not included.”

The youngest participant, nine-year-old Joshua Siddayao, said, “Akala ko nangangain ng tao ang mga Muslim, hindi pala (I thought Muslims were cannibals but now I know they are not).”

Through sharing, the participants celebrated commonalities. Jasmin P. Tosay, 17, was teary-eyed as she said, “We’re not just Lumad or Muslim or Christian, we are all Filipinos.”

Sumndad-Usman said, “Being a Muslim, Christian, or IP is the solution itself because our creeds are essentially all for peace. We can all be peace advocates in our own spheres of influence. The peace process is intergenerational. It is a shared responsibility.”

Nov 19, 2010

Philippines: more funding needed as Typhoon Megi survivors face fresh deluge

Three weeks after Typhoon Megi battered the Philippines, the situation for the survivors of Megi worsens as they face more torrential rain.

The Red Cross is increasing its relief efforts, but many people are still without emergency shelter largely because the IFRC's emergency appeal has, so far, been poorly funded.

The fresh rain may have deluged typhoon-affected families, but the donations have only trickled in. The IFRC's appeal for 4.2 million Swiss francs (4.3 million US dollars/3.1 million euros) is currently only 20 per cent funded.

"This serious lack of funding constrains our ability to provide much-needed assistance to vulnerable populations whose coping mechanisms have been dealt a double blow," says Selvaratnam Sinnadurai, the IFRC's country representative for Philippines. The stark reality is that the Red Cross is far from meeting the shelter needs of populations affected by Typhoon Megi. If rain continues to fall, the situation will further deteriorate.

The appeal aims to support the Philippine Red Cross in providing relief and early recovery assistance to 60,000 people across the five worst-hit provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Kalinga, La Union and Pangasinan.

Dedicated staff and volunteers of the Philippine Red Cross have already been distributing food packages to over 10,000 families as well as providing other relief supplies such as bedding and hygiene items to some 6,000 households.

Mary Rose Osocho, a 31-year-old mother of two, is one beneficiary of Red Cross relief supplies in Isabela province. Her family received sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets, hygiene kits and jerry cans from the Red Cross. "These items will help us as we struggle to recover a normal life," she says.

However, like thousands of others whose houses were destroyed, her family is still exposed to the elements. For Mary, privacy and security are the least of her worries.

"We put up this structure with materials salvaged from our damaged house. Now rain and flash floods have dealt us another blow. It is really depressing," she laments.

And to compound the problems, the latest downpours have affected those provinces that were hardest hit by Typhoon Megi. According to the national disaster risk reduction and management council, eight deaths have been reported in Isabela, three in Cagayan and one in Kalinga. Some 124,000 families have been affected.

Philippine Red Cross specialized volunteer units and water rescue teams were immediately mobilized. They provided supplies, including ready-to-eat meals, to hundreds of families in evacuation centres.

"Relief distributions by some of our chapters have been hampered as sections of road remain impassable," says Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippines Red Cross.

"We need our partners' help to overcome this. We cannot do it alone," concludes Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross.

Nov 8, 2010

We Need Your Help!
Asia America Initiative is helping 2 million Typhoon Victims

Ongoing rainfall has worsened the suffering of some 2 million displaced persons created by an earlier typhoon the Philippines. They are largely invisible to the world and suffer in silence. Relief is in short supply as multiple natural disasters have struck across the globe. Roads and bridges are washed out, leaving myriad communities isolated. Rock and mud slides have destroyed entire communities that have come isolated. AAI is partnering with brave relief and rescue teams of the Philippine Army, local NGOs and village and mountainous province officials who have run short on medical, food and shelter supplies. AAI is distributing more than a half-million water purification sachets, one ton of medicines and a 40ft container of hospital supplies that arrives on November 8. We need your help in funding these shipments and to purchase more emergency supplies!

Click Here to donate to typhoon relief in the Philippines NOW through Universal Giving

Nov 2, 2010

Chinese Aggression


In the debate among China scholars in the West, the central issue is whether China has historically been a peaceful or expansionist power. The reading of Chinese history will show a pattern of martial rivalries between ethnic Han Chinese kingdoms, as well as with neighboring kingdoms and tribes of other nationalities. In the October 21, 2010 edition of Foreign Policy, scholar Daniel Blumnethal takes a historical view of a rising China’s modern political behavior. -- Al Santoli

How can we make sense of a People's Republic of China that is supposed to be, in the words of Deng Xiaoping, "biding its time and hiding its capabilities," but in fact is picking fights with most of its neighbors, including the United States? The Chinese were supposed to be using their deep reservoirs of "soft power" and practicing a highly skilled diplomacy aimed at assuring all that China is rising peacefully. But over the past year, Beijing has been rather clumsier than the caricature of Chinese cleverness might suggest. China has in effect declared the entire South China Sea -- a body of water that is of critical importance for its abundance of natural resources and for its position as the maritime connection between the Indian and Pacific Oceans -- to be its territorial water…..

A recent book helps explain how PRC leaders think about the world and what may lead China to engage in the behavior we and our allies find offensive. In The Mind of Empire China's History and Foreign Relations, Christopher Ford makes a persuasive case for hardwired cultural conditioning as an explanation for China's imperious behavior. China possesses, well, the mind of an empire. According to Ford, Chinese history has no precedent for stable coexistence among sovereign equals. Moreover, struggle over primacy within China and later with other states is a fairly continuous characteristic of Chinese history.,, According to Ford, China has an enduring sense of global order. Beijing assumes that the "natural order" of the political world is hierarchical and the idea of truly separate and independent states is illegitimate.

The answer may lie in Chinese strategists' cultural conditioning: Many Chinese strategic elites analogize this period in international politics to the Warring States Period. According to Jacqueline Newmyer, the Warring States Period was "a militarized age when roughly seven small kingdoms vied for ascendancy over the territory now considered China's Han core, before the state of Qin emerged victorious, unified China, and launched the dynastic era that lasted into the twentieth century."

During this period of Chinese history, roughly coequal sovereigns competed for primacy until, as Ford says, "a just and moral unitary Confucian state" dominated for two millennia and established the correct pattern of hierarchical relations with China's neighbors.

The strong counter-reaction[ to he South China Sea claims [and aggression toward Japanese-claimed islands in the East Sea]m not to mention China’s academic claims over northern Korea on=under the pretext of who ruled the ancient Koryeo kingdom 935 to 1392 A.D.], by U.S. Secretaries Clinton and Gates took the Chinese by surprise and left Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi stunned and furious. But precisely in his moment of fury, Foreign Minister Yang had much to reveal about how the Chinese elite think. In Yang's view, Secretary Clinton was "attacking China." And as Yang said, "China is a big country and other countries are small countries and that is just a fact." First, Beijing sees itself as in an intensive competition for primacy that parallels the Warring States Period. U.S. attempts to stand up for its interests and allies are not taken at face value, they are "attacks" on China. Second, the natural order of things is that the "small countries" must accept China's superior position.

Oct 27, 2010

Defense Policy: Navy Flexes its Muscles on High Seas

By Kathrin Hille
October 27, 2010

"Last month, a few fuzzy photographs posted on a Chinese military enthusiast’s website caused a huge stir in the international defence community. They showed a new submarine in a shipyard that looked unlike any of the vessels the country’s military has in service so far. Security experts in the US quickly concluded that Beijing had added another impressive piece of equipment to its fast-growing naval arsenal. Just like the new boat appearing out of nowhere, the Chinese navy has moved with surprising speed and boldness to claim its place on the high seas. For more than two decades, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has worked to transform itself from being inward-looking and land-focused, relying on a large headcount, into a technology-intensive force capable of roaming the seas and the air. Part of that transformation has been creating a navy capable of moving beyond the coastal zone and operating on the high seas over extended periods..."
To Read Full Article Click Here

Oct 22, 2010

Join AAI in Typhoon Emergency Relief in the Philippines

On the weekend of October 18, 2010 a massive typhoon with winds up to 200 miles per hour struck the northern Philippines with full force. Trees were uprooted and mudslides wiped out entire villages. Some 6,000 impoverished families are known to be affected and are now homeless. Based on request from local humanitarian relief organizations, AAI has already begun a rapid shipment of humanitarian supplies from the United States and Manila to the mountainous rural areas. We have sent a large amount of water purification sachets, emergency hospital supplies and are now preparing antibiotics, nutritional supplements and anti-bacterial medications to prevent fever that rapidly kills dehydrated infants and children.


For $20 you can help us provide antibiotics and nutritional support to save a child's life for up to one week. For an additional $20 you can help us rent and provide fuel for a truck to bring the emergency supplies to rugged rural areas.

To Contribute to Emergency Relief for Typhoon Megis:

Oct 18, 2010

After Service, Veteran Deaths Surge

The psychological and physical impact of soldiers who participate in any war are always the hidden cost of combat. However, new information is emerging regarding veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars showing an alarming number of deaths by suicide or self inflicted trauma such as car or motorcycle accidents. Asia America Initiative has dedicated our peace building programs in areas of armed conflict to take the pressure off of American and allied soldiers, prevent harm to innocent civilians, and to prevent soldiers from having to experience the types of trauma that cause post conflict self inflicted casualties.--- Albert Santoli President Asia America Initiative

The New York Times
"In the six years after Reuben Paul Santos returned to Daly City from a combat tour in Iraq, he battled depression with poetry, violent video games and, finally, psychiatric treatment. His struggle ended last October, when he hung himself from a stairwell. He was 27.

The high suicide rate among veterans has already emerged as a major issue for the military and the families and loved ones of military personnel. But Mr. Santos’s death is part of a larger trend that has remained hidden: a surge in the number of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans who have died not just as a result of suicide, but also because of vehicle accidents, motorcycle crashes, drug overdoses or other causes after being discharged from the military.

An analysis of official death certificates on file at the State Department of Public Health reveals that more than 1,000 California veterans under 35 died between 2005 and 2008. That figure is three times higher than the number of California service members who were killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts over the same period. The Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs said they do not count the number of veterans who have died after leaving the military.

The figures, according to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, legislators and experts in post-traumatic stress, underscore how veterans in Bay Area communities and across the state engage in destructive, risky and sometimes lethal behaviors.

The data show that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were two and a half times as likely to commit suicide as Californians of the same age with no military service. They were twice as likely to die in a vehicle accident and five and a half times as likely to die in a motorcycle accident.

“These numbers are truly alarming and should wake up the whole country,” said United States Representative Bob Filner, Democrat of San Diego, who is the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “They show a failure of our policy.”

To Read Full Article:

Oct 14, 2010

Open letter from Party elders calls for free speech

By David Bandurski
October 13, 2010

On October 11, 23 Chinese Communist Party elders known for their pro-reform positions, including Mao Zedong’s former secretary Li Rui (李锐) and former People’s Daily editor-in-chief Hu Jiwei (胡绩伟), submitted an open letter to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, formally China’s highest state body, calling for an end to restrictions on expression in China.
The letter urges the Communist Party to abolish censorship and realize citizens’ right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Seizing on the opportunity afforded by the awarding of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) with the Nobel Peace Prize last week, the letter refers explicitly to prior statements on reform and free speech made by both President Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) and Premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝). [CORRECTION: It is premature to conclude that this letter has any connection whatsoever to Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Prize. The letter is dated October 1, one week before the announcement from the Nobel Committee.]
Enforce Article 35 of China’s Constitution, Abolish Censorship and Realize Citizens’ Right to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press: A Letter to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress

Written by Li Rui (李锐), Hu Jiwei (胡绩伟) and others
Dated: October 11, 2010
Dear members of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress:
Article 35 of China’s Constitution as adopted in 1982 clearly states that: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” For 28 years this article has stood unrealized, having been negated by detailed rules and regulations for “implementation.” This false democracy of formal avowal and concrete denial has become a scandalous mark on the history of world democracy.
On February 26, 2003, at a meeting of democratic consultation between the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and democratic parties ['s_Republic_of_China], not long after President Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) assumed office, he stated clearly: “The removal of restrictions on the press, and the opening up of public opinion positions, is a mainstream view and demand held by society; it is natural, and should be resolved through the legislative process. If the Communist Party does not reform itself, if it does not transform, it will lose its vitality and move toward natural and inevitable extinction.”
On October 3, America’s Cable News Network (CNN) aired an interview with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝) by anchor Fareed Zakaria. Responding to the journalist’s questions, Wen Jiabao said: “Freedom of speech is indispensable for any nation; China’s Constitution endows the people with freedom of speech; The demands of the people for democracy cannot be resisted.”
In accord with China’s Constitution, and in the spirit of the remarks made by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, we hereupon represent the following concerning the materialization of the constitutional rights to freedom of speech and of the press:
Concerning the Current State of Freedom of Speech and Press in Our Country
We have for 61 years “served as master” in the name of the citizens of the People’s Republic of China. But the freedom of speech and of the press we now enjoy is inferior even to that of Hong Kong before its return to Chinese sovereignty, to that entrusted to the residents of a colony.
Before the handover, Hong Kong was a British colony, governed by those appointed by the Queen’s government. But the freedom of speech and freedom of the press given to residents of Hong Kong by the British authorities there was not empty, appearing only on paper. It was enacted and realized.
When our country was founded in 1949, our people cried that they had been liberated, that they were not their own masters. Mao Zedong said that, “From this moment, the people of China have stood.” But even today, 61 years after the founding of our nation, after 30 years of opening and reform, we have not yet attained freedom of speech and freedom of the press to the degree enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong under colonial rule. Even now, many books discussion political and current affairs must be published in Hong Kong. This is not something that dates from the [territory's] return, but is merely an old tactic familiar under colonial rule. The “master” status of the people of China’s mainland is so inferior. For our nation to advertise itself as having “socialist democracy” with Chinese characteristics is such an embarrassment.
Not only the average citizen, but even the most senior leaders of the Communist Party have no freedom of speech or press. Recently, Li Rui met with the following circumstance. Not long ago, the Collected Works in in Memory of Zhou Xiaozhou were published, and in it was originally to be included an essay commemorating Zhou Xiaozhou that Li Rui had written for the People’s Daily in 1981. Zhou Xiaozhou’s wife phoned Li Rui to explain the situation: “Beijing has sent out a notice. Li Rui’s writings cannot be published.” What incredible folly it is that an old piece of writing from a Party newspaper cannot be included in a volume of collected works! Li Rui said: “What kind of country is this?! I want to cry it out: the press must be free! Such strangling of the people’s freedom of expression is entirely illegal!”
It’s not even just high-level leaders — even the Premier of our country does not have freedom of speech or of the press! On August 21, 2010, Premier Wen Jiabao gave a speech in Shenzhen called, “Only By Pushing Ahead With Reforms Can Our Nation Have Bright Prospects.” He said, “We must not only to push economic reforms, but must also to promote political reforms. Without the protection afforded by political reforms, the gains we have made from economic reforms will be lost, and our goal of modernization cannot be realized.” Xinhua News Agency’s official news release on August 21, “Building a Beautiful Future for the Special Economic Zone,” omitted the content in Wen Jiabao’s speech dealing with political reform.
On September 22, 2010, (U.S. local time) Premier Wen Jiabao held a dialogue in New York with American Chinese media and media from Hong Kong and Macao, and again he emphasized the importance of “political system reforms.” Wen said: “Concerning political reforms, I have said previously that if economic reforms are without the protection to be gained by political reforms, then we cannot be entirely successful, and even perhaps the gains of our progress so far will be lost.” Shortly after, Wen Jiabao addressed the 65th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, giving a speech called, “Recognizing a True China,” in which he spoke again about political reform. Late on September 23 (Beijing time), these events were reported on China Central Television’s Xinwen Lianbo and in an official news release from Xinhua News Agency. They reported only Wen Jiabao’s remarks on the circumstances facing overseas Chinese, and on the importance of overseas Chinese media. His mentions of political reform were all removed.
For these matters, if we endeavor to find those responsible, we are utterly incapable of putting our finger on a specific person. This is an invisible black hands. For their own reasons, they violate our constitution, often ordering by telephone that the works of such and such a person cannot be published, or that such and such an event cannot be reported in the media. The officials who make the call do not leave their names, and the secrecy of the agents is protected, but you must heed their phone instructions. These invisible black hands are our Central Propaganda Department. Right now the Central Propaganda Department is placed above the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and above the State Council. We would ask, what right does the Central Propaganda Department have to muzzle the speech of the Premier? What right does it have to rob the people of our nation of their right to know what the Premier has said?
Our core demand is that the system of censorship be dismantled in favor of a system of legal responsibility (追惩制).
The rights to freedom of speech and the press guaranteed in Article 35 of our Constitution are turned into mere adornments for the walls by means of concrete implementation rules such as the “Ordinance on Publishing Control” (出版管理条例). These implementation rules are, broadly speaking, a system of censorship and approvals. There are countless numbers of commandments and taboos restricting freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The creation of a press law and the abolishment of the censorship system has already become an urgent task before us.
We recommend that the National People’s Congress work immediately toward the creation of a Press Law, and that the “Ordinance on Publishing Control” and all of the local restrictions on news and publishing be annulled. Institutionally speaking, the realization of freedom of speech and freedom of the press as guaranteed in the Constitution means making media independent of the Party and government organs that presently control them, thereby transforming “Party mouthpieces” into “public instruments.” Therefore, the foundation of the creation of a Press Law must be the enacting of a system of [post facto] legal responsibility (追惩制) [determined according to fair laws]. We cannot again strengthen the censorship system in the name of “strengthening the leadership of the Party.” The so-called censorship system is the system by which prior to publication one must receive the approval of Party organs, allowing for publication only after approval and designating all unapproved published materials as illegal. The so-called system of legal responsibility means that published materials need not pass through approval by Party or government organs, but may be published as soon as the editor-in-chief deems fit. If there are unfavorable outcomes or disputes following publication, the government would be able to intervene and determine according to the law whether there are cases of wrongdoing. In countries around the world, the development of rule of law in news and publishing has followed this path, making a transition from systems of censorship to systems of legal responsibility. There is little doubt that systems of legal responsibility mark progress over systems of censorship, and this is greatly in the favor of the development of the humanities and natural sciences, and in promoting social harmony and historical progress. England did away with censorship in 1695. France abolished its censorship system in 1881, and the publication of newspapers and periodicals thereafter required only a simple declaration, which was signed by the representatives of the publication and mailed to the office of the procurator of the republic. Our present system of censorship leaves news and book publishing in our country 315 years behind England and 129 years behind France.
Our specific demands are as follows:
1. Abolish sponsoring institutions of [Chinese] media [NOTE: This is the controlling organization that exercises Party control over the media], allowing publishing institutions to independently operate; Truly implement a system in which directors and editors in chief are responsible for their publication units.
2. Respect journalists, and make them strong (尊重记者,树立记者). Journalists should be the “uncrowned kings.” The reporting of mass incidents and exposing of official corruption are noble missions on behalf of the people, and this work should be protected and supported. Immediately put a stop to the unconstitutional behavior of various local governments and police in arresting journalists. Look into the circumstances behind the case of [writer] Xie Chaoping (谢朝平). Liang Fengmin (梁凤民), the party secretary of Weinan city [involved in the Xie Chaoping case] must face party discipline as a warning to others.
3. Abolish restrictions on extra-territorial supervision by public opinion [watchdog journalism] by media, ensuring the right of journalists to carry out reporting freely throughout the country.
4. The internet is an important discussion platform for information in our society and the voice of citizens’ views. Aside from information that truly concerns our national secrets and speech that violates a citizen’s right to privacy, internet regulatory bodies must not arbitrarily delete online posts and online comments. Online spies must be abolished, the “Fifty-cent Party” must be abolished, and restrictions on “tunneling/[anti-censorship]” technologies must be abolished.
5. There are no more taboos concerning our Party’s history. Chinese citizens have a right to know the errors of the ruling party.
6. Southern Weekly and Yanhuang Chunqiu should be permitted to restructure as privately operated pilot programs [in independent media]. The privatization of newspapers and periodicals is the [natural] direction of political reforms. History teaches us: when rulers and deliberators are highly unified, when the government and the media are both surnamed “Party,” and when [the Party] sings for its own pleasure, it is difficult to connect with the will of the people and attain true leadership. From the time of the Great Leap Forward to the time of the Cultural Revolution, newspapers, magazines, television and radio in the mainland have never truly reflected the will of the people. Party and government leaders have been insensible to dissenting voices, so they have had difficulty in recognizing and correcting wholesale errors. For a ruling party and government to use the tax monies of the people to run media that sing their own praises, this is something not permitted in democratic nations.
7. Permit the free circulation within the mainland of books and periodicals from the already returned territories of Hong Kong and Macao. Our country has joined the World Trade Organization, and economically we have already integrated with the world — attempting to remain closed culturally goes against the course already plotted for opening and reform. Hong Kong and Macao offer advanced culture right at our nation’s door, and the books and periodicals of Hong Kong and Macao are welcomed and trusted by the people.
8. Transform the functions of various propaganda organs, so that they are transformed from [agencies] setting down so many “taboos” to [agencies] protecting the accuracy, timeliness and unimpeded flow [of information]; from [agencies] that assist corrupt officials in suppressing and controlling stories that reveal the truth to [agencies] that support the media in monitoring Party and government organs; from [agencies] that close publications, fire editors and arrest journalists to [agencies] that oppose power and protect media and journalists. Our propaganda organs have a horrid reputation within the Party and in society. They must work for good in order to regain their reputations. At the appropriate time, we can consider renaming these propaganda organs to suit global trends.
We pressingly represent ourselves, hoping for your utmost attention.

Oct 13, 2010

China's Burden of Shame

This is a crucial moment in China's history, as the Norwegian Nobel Committee clearly understands. Liu rightly wants to underline how far his country has to go to secure the basic democratic freedoms of speech and association. But we also need to remember how far it has come. In the 1960s and 1970s, during the Cultural Revolution, a whole generation of intellectuals was uprooted. Millions were displaced. The situation today is very different in ways both heartening and discouraging. Now we can identify somewhere between 40 and 50 writers and bloggers whom the Chinese state has imprisoned simply for peacefully speaking their mind.

And then there are people like Gao Zhisheng, the army veteran and human rights lawyer who hasn't been seen since this April. Gao -- whose struggle to achieve an education began in a cave in Shaanxi province, where he was born to a peasant family -- has been tortured and imprisoned in the past. And all because he has learned the law, committing great volumes of the Chinese legal code to his formidable memory, and used it to fight corrupt officials and the suppression of religious minorities. While we celebrate Liu, let's also ask the Chinese government where Gao is and what has happened to him.

China continues its petty response to Nobel Peace Prize ... how low can they get?

The Chinese government continued its vilification campaign against the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a jailed dissident, Liu Xiaobo, by canceling another meeting with Norwegian officials and denouncing the award as an affront to the Chinese people and a ploy to try to change the country’s political system.

Mr. Liu, 54, a veteran pro-democracy advocate, is serving an 11-year sentence for his essays and a manifesto he helped draft, Charter 08, that demands political reform, human rights guarantees and an independent judicial system

As part of their efforts to reduce any impact of the prize domestically, the authorities have placed restrictions on scores of intellectuals, academics and bloggers who have previously expressed support for Charter 08 or Mr. Liu. Several have been given eight-day administrative detentions, while others have been placed under an extralegal form of house arrest that often includes the loss of cellphone and Internet service.

Oct 6, 2010

Tea as a Weapon: Does Democracy Have a Chance in Afghanistan?

As casualties mount and the political and military situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan spirals out of control, the question remains does democracy have a chance in Central Asia? Is it possible to ultimately defeat terrorism and extremism by countering it with extreme violence and corrupt warlords? Is it possible to promote democracy by putting billions of dollars into central governments who blatantly steal elections and have no base of popular support? A key Constitutional provision of American democracy is to rely on citizen volunteers to fight our wars. A cornerstone of America's democracy is that the Constitution calls for a citizen soldiery to fight its own battles. Yet, since 9/11 we have increasingly relied upon domestic and foreign mercenaries from some of the most undemocratic and impoverished countries in the world? Can anyone achieve a negotiated peace settlement with religious extremists who abuse their own countrymen and women because they believe that God is telling them to do so? Sadly these questions have been largely missing from ongoing policy decisions -- Al Santoli

For Female Marines, Tea Comes With Bullets

The Washington Post

October 2, 2010

By Elisabeth Bumiller

Photo by Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

They expected tea, not firefights. But the three female Marines and their patrol were shot at late on a recent day, when a burst of Kalashnikov rifle fire came from a nearby compound. The group hit the ground, crawled into a ditch and aimed its guns across the fields of cotton and corn.

Six months ago, Lance Corporal Robertson arrived in with 39 other female Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., as part of an unusual experiment of the American military: sending full-time “female engagement teams” out with all-male infantry patrols in Helmand Province to try to win over the rural Afghan women who are culturally off limits to outside men.

As new faces in an American counterinsurgency campaign, the female Marines, who volunteered for the job, were to meet with Pashtun women over tea in their homes, assess their need for aid, gather intelligence, and help open schools and clinics.

“It’s not the living conditions, it’s not the mission, it’s this,” she said, gesturing toward a memorial display of boots, rifles and dog tags belonging to the dead Marines. She was, she said quietly, “too much of a girl to deal with these guys getting killed.”

There have been many other strains as well, not least some male officers who question the female Marines’ purpose and young infantrymen who remain resentful of the attention from commanders and the news media that the women have received A number of the women have seen their marriages end or their boyfriends leave them.

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Afghan colonel vital to U.S. despite graft allegations

The Washington Post

October 4, 2010

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran

IN SPIN BOLDAK, AFGHANISTAN When Abdul Razziq, a colonel in the Afghan Border Police, walks through the chockablock bazaar in this sand-swept trading hub on the frontier with Pakistan he is mobbed by a crowd that deferentially addresses him as General Razziq.

U.S. officials say Razziq, who is illiterate and just 32, presides over a vast corruption network that skims customs duties, facilitates drug trafficking and smuggles other contraband. But, he also has managed to achieve a degree of security here that has eluded U.S. troops elsewhere in the country: His force of 3,000 uniformed policemen and several thousand militiamen pursue the Taliban so relentlessly that Spin Boldak has become the safest and most prosperous district in southern Afghanistan.

Despite the allegations of graft, which he denies, Razziq represents the Obama administration's best hope for maintaining stability in this important part of Afghanistan.

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