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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:00 pm

Controlympics: Losers (#2 of 4)

We’re taking one last look back at the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. Previously, we looked at the winners.  Now let’s take a look at the losers.

1.  Human rights — the Chinese did everything they could to stifle dissent, and with the exception of a few brave Chinese and Westerners, they succeeded — so much so that they even managed to prevent any protests in the officially managed protest zones.  In the process, they also silenced and/or arrested hundreds if not thousands of dissidents; shipped tens of thousands of migrants and homeless out of Beijing; and perhaps most depressingly, created new electronic surveillance systems that give them the ability to shut down dissent before it starts.

2. Western media — with a few exceptions, the Western media mindlessly bought what the Chinese were selling.  And there was no bigger culprit than NBC, whose commentators (with the notable exception of Bob Costas) often sounded like apologists.  Worst of the worst:  Joshua Cooper-Ramo at the opening and closing ceremonies and Mary Carillo’s insipid travelogues.

3.  Chinese athletes — for all their victories, Chinese athletes didn’t look like they were having much fun.  The pressure to win was so great that it seemed to suck all the joy out of their participation.  There were exceptions, of course, but all too often we saw images of Chinese athletes looking like their lives had ended after failing to win gold.  Best example of this:  Chinese diver Zhou Luxin, who lost to Australian Matthew Mitcham on the last dive of the 10m platform competition.

4.  International Olympic Committee — for seven years, we’ve heard how the Olympics were going to open up China.  When it became clear that wasn’t the case, the IOC fell back on the old trope of the Olympics being above politics.  And when that didn’t work, they tried to change the subject.  From his blather before the games that he couldn’t talk about human rights to his criticism of Usain Bolt to his complicity in the cover-up of the Chinese gymnastic team age scandal, Jacques Rogge looked even worse.

5.  George W. Bush — while Russia invaded Georgia, he was playing hide the volleyball with Misty May-Traenor and Kerri Walsh.  Given his subsequent rhetoric about the conflict, he sure took his sweet time getting back to the States.

Next up:  winners who lost.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Controlympics: Winners (#1 of 4)

Most of you already have forgotten all about the Olympics, but here at Undip, we already have London 2012 fever!  After all, who doesn’t want to see Jimmy Page balance his guitar on top of his walker while some eighteen-year-old in go-go boots mangles Whole Lotta Love?

Oh wait — that already happened.

All kidding aside, I’d like to share a few final thoughts on what arguably were the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. First, let’s take a look at the winners.

1.  The Chinese government. Like it or not, the ChiComs pulled it off.  It was, in many ways, a spectacular show.  Despite some problems, embarrassments, and even a few unscripted moments, the Olympics that Hu Jintao and company wanted were the Olympics they got.  And most of the world bought their message hook, line, and sinker.

2.  Usain Bolt. The Jamaican sprinter not only captured three golds, but he managed to make Jacques Rogge cranky.  That alone made it a good Olympics.  Bolt looked particularly good when, a day after Rogge whined about his “antics,” a Cuban taekwondo athlete kicked an athlete in the face — and Bolt donated $50,000 of his prize money to earthquake relief as a “thank you to the Chinese people.”

3.  Michael Phelps (and his mom). Put it this way:  the Intertubes are still buzzing about the 100m fly.  Debbie Phelps will be the unexpected breakout star of the Olympics.

4.  Clean air. Does it matter whether the Chinese got lucky (rain at just the right moments) or actually knew what they were doing?  In the end, the pollution became a non-story.  And athletes who acted like it mattered — the American cyclists showing up in masks, the Ethiopian marathoner who passed on competing — looked foolish.

5.  Lopez Lomong. The Sudanese lost boy turned American flag bearer may not have won his race, but he had a gold medal moment.  Kudos as well to the American athletes who chose him for the job.

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25 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Controlympics: China Deports Westerners

The BBC is reporting that China has released the Westerners detained for protesting during the Olympics:

China has deported eight Americans detained in Beijing last week for demonstrating about Tibet during the Olympic Games. The eight left China on Sunday while the closing ceremony was taking place after American officials pressed for them to be released.

The eight should be thankful:  they were spared the horror of actually having to watch the closing ceremony.

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21 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Controlympics: Protest-Free Zones

So as you’ve probably heard by now, the ChiComs have not allowed a single protest to take place in the three designated zones.  Not one.  Here are some of the details:

  • Chinese officials, by their own admission, have received 77 applications to hold protests.  They have not approved a single one, stating that 74 had been withdrawn because their concerns had been “properly addressed by relevant authorities or departments through consultations.” The other three were rejected for “incomplete information” or violating Chinese law.
  • At least six and as many as eight people have been detained for attempting to organize protests after the government announced that it was settng up the zones.  The families of several of them have not heard anything since their arrests.
  • Two elderly women, aged 79 and 77, have been sentenced to a year of “re-education through labor” for “disturbing the public order,” after they repeatedly applied for a permit to demonstrate in one of the offical zones.  They were objecting to what they felt was insufficient payment for the demolition of their homes. When one women’s daughter attempted to apply for a permit to protest the arrest, officials refused to give her the forms.
  • Gao Chuancai, a farmer from northeast China, was forcibly escorted back to his hometown and remains in custody after he attempted to organize a demonstration against public corruption.
  • Five Americans were arrested for an unauthorized protest after they used LEDs to spell out “Free Tibet” near the Bird’s Nest.  The display lasted for a grand total of twenty seconds before police took it down.  Three other protesters were arrested after trying to use lasers to project the same message on a downtown landmark.
  • In response, the IOC made the following statement to The Financial Times:  “The IOC is not in a position to dictate to city authorities how to run their affairs. However, protest zones are a best practice from previous Olympic host cities for dealing with peaceful protesters who use the platform of the Olympic Games.  We continue to ask for greater transparency from Beijing city authorities concerning the official protest zones in parks near Olympic venues and would like to see them genuinely used in Beijing.”

What’s so sad about all of this is that it was completely unnecessary.  For argument’s sake, let’s say that the ChiComs let all 77 protests go forward.  In zones that average Chinese are avoiding like the plague.  Nobody would have noticed and the IOC wouldn’t have complained.

It’s not like the Chinese haven’t done this before:  in 1995, they hosted the World Conference on Women.  They set aside protest zones.  It was messy, but for the most part it went by unnoticed by the average Chinese.

So what has changed this time around?  What are their spies telling them?  Is there something more to this, or is it about face?

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20 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:46 pm

Bad News for Zambia. . .and Zimbabwe

This didn’t get much coverage in the American press:

Levy Mwanawasa, the Zambian president who was laid low by a stroke hours before he was due to lead a band of African leaders in condemnation of Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe, died on Tuesday at a Paris hospital aged 59.

”I would like to inform the nation that our president, his Excellency Dr Levy Mwanawasa, died this morning at 10.30am at Percy Military Hospital,” Rupiah Banda, his deputy who has been acting president since Mr Mwanawasa suffered a stroke in late June, told the nation in a televised address. . . .

This is a double blow.  Mwanawasa had emerged as a force for stability both in Zambia and the region.  His country has rarely been more stable, and thanks to his leadership, it has the chance to become another Botswana.  The big question now is whether Banda can sustain his legacy.

In addition, Mwanawasa was one of the few African leaders ready and willing to challenge Mugabe.  He was expected to “stiffen the spine” of other African leaders at last month’s African Union meeting.  Tragically, he was felled by a stroke hours before the meeting started.

The death of Mr Mwanawasa, whose health has been poor since a near-fatal car crash in the early 1990s, robs the continent of one of the few leaders prepared to pierce the veil of deference long afforded to Mr Mugabe. Along with his counterparts in Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and Liberia, the Zambian leader was forthright in his condemnation of the abuses that saw the Zimbabwean strongman claim a new mandate after a one-man election in June.

In the weeks leading up to the June 27 run-off Mugabe said that “only God could remove him” as President.  I’m sure he’s gloating right now, convinced that divine intervention struck down one of his most vocal critics.

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15 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:55 pm

Controlympics: Swifter, Higher, Stronger. . .Wetter?

Turns out that there was a higher human cost to the opening ceremonies than the Chinese would have us believe.  From The Bangkok Post:

Thousands of young Chinese women applicants for the 200 jobs to lead each country’s athletes into the National Stadium for last week’s opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games had to be at least 1.66 metres tall, have a pretty face - and strip naked for the job recruiters.

The Beijing News, in a story detailing the latest opening-ceremony outrage, said stripping naked for measurements was a requirement merely to apply for the position.

Thousands of young women from colleges and dance academies in Beijing competed for the chance to appear before a huge worldwide audience.

During the selection process, the women were required to strip so teachers judging whether they were qualified could measure their body proportions, The Beijing News said.

But that’s not all.  Remember the girls in the go-go boots?  Those were the rejects from the placard holder gig.  And they got the privilege of standing, jumping up and down, smiling, and waving for four freaking hours:

Zhang did not qualify [as a placard holder] but she was later selected to be one of the 400 cheerleaders on the stadium who were the longest performers during the three-and-a-half-hour long extravaganza on August 8.  Dressed in short white dresses, boots and caps, the women had to constantly dance and cheer, to create a good atmosphere and rouse the audience of 91,000 people at the stadium.

The 400 women also performed the smiling programme - in which they danced and opened umbrellas each with a smiling face on them.  For that three-minute performance, the women had to undergo half a year of training, rising every day at 5 am to get to the practice site by 6 am and returning to their school dormitory as late as 8 or 9 pm, Zhang said. Sometimes when the training starts at noon, the women would practice till 1 am or 2 am.

They practiced standing in a row at different positions on the stadium, and also rehearsed dance movements and the opening and closing of umbrellas - a simple task which each women had to practise doing for more than 1,000 times, the report said.  Zhang said she smiled so much during practice that her facial muscles stiffened, but she was glad to have been selected.

But it’s not just the women who were subject to abuse:

[O]n Friday, state media said the nearly 900 soldiers operating the huge scroll that formed the centrepiece of last week’s show had to stay hidden under the structure for up to seven hours, wearing nappies because they were not allowed toilet breaks.

I think the Chinese missed a marketing opportunity here:

Depends:  the Official Adult Diaper of the 2008 Olympics!

To be serious for the moment, where the hell was the IOC?  How does any of this garbage fit into the so-called Olympic spirit?   Oh, that’s right, I’m sorry.  The IOC can’t speak to human rights abuses.  Even when they were done in the name of the Olympic Spirit.

Hat tip:  China Digital Times

Photos:  AndyinBeijing via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license

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15 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Controlympics: A Journalist Demands An Honest Answer

From an exchange between a determined British reporter and a craven IOC official:

Question: Hi, I’m Alex Thompson from Channel Four News. My question’s mercifully short, and it’s for Giselle. Given that China got these games largely on making promises on human rights and press freedom, and given that the Chinese government has lied through its teeth about keeping those promises, is the IOC in any way embarrassed?

Giselle Davies, spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee: Good morning, Alex.

Thompson: Good morning.

Davies: There were certainly some hopes and aspirations outlayed in 2001 as to how the games could have a positive impact on the wider social framework. And I think we have to note that there have been enormous steps forward in a number of areas. You’re here reporting on the games. The world is watching. And there will be commentaries made appraising how the games have had an impact, wider through bringing sports, athletes and the world’s attention.

Interestingly, I saw that the Associated Press did a survey whereby their readers say that 55 percent of the respondents of the United States believe the choice was the right choice to come to Beijing, China …

Thompson: Yes, but I’m not asking that. I’m asking the IOC if they are in any way embarrassed about the manifest failure on behalf of the Chinese government to keep their promises. It’s a very straightforward question: Are you embarrassed?

Davies: We are very proud of the fact that these games are progressing with spectacular sports, spectacular sports venues, operationally running very smoothly, and that’s what we’re here focusing on.

Thompson: I’m asking whether you’re embarrassed. I’m not asking about how well the games have been run or how wonderful the venues are. Are you embarrassed?

Davies: I think I’ve answered your question by explaining…

Thompson: I don’t think anyone in this room, if I may speak, I may be stepping out of line, but I don’t think anybody thinks you’ve answered the question. Is the IOC embarrassed about the Chinese government not keeping those promises?

Davies: We’re very pleased with how the organizers are putting on a good sporting event. That’s what this is. The IOC’s role and remit is to bring sport and the Olympic values to this country. That is what is happening, and the organizers have put on an operationally sound games for the athletes. This is an event, first and foremost, for the athletes, and the athletes are giving us extremely positive feedback about how they see these games being held for them.

Thompson: Well, Giselle, we’re certainly not getting anywhere are we? Let’s try it once more time. Is the IOC embarrassed about the Chinese government’s not keeping promises on both press freedom and human rights? One more chance.

Davies: Well, I think probably your colleagues in the room would like to have a chance at questions as well. I think I’ve answered your question.

I’m tempted to award Davies Dillweed of the Day, but since the IOC and the USOC both already have won the thing in the past two weeks, perhaps it’s time to elect Olympics officials to the Dillweed Hall of Shame.

Congratulations to Alex Thompson for demanding an answer and refusing to tolerate spin.

Hat tip:  China Media Blog

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14 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:50 pm

Controlympics: China’s 21 Rules

Via The Sydney Morning Herald, twenty-one rules for dating Hu Jintao’s daughter on Olympic coverage, issued by the CCP Propaganda Department:

1.  The telecast of sports events will be live [but] in case of emergencies, no print is allowed to report on it.

2.  From August 1, most of the previously accessible overseas websites will be unblocked. No coverage is allowed on this development. There’s also no need to use stories published overseas on this matter and [website] operators should not provide any superlinks on their pages.

3.  Be careful with religious and ethnic subjects.

4.  Don’t make fuss about foreign leaders at the opening ceremony, especially in relation to seat arrangements or their private lives.

5.  We have to put special emphasis on ethnic equality. Any perceived racist terms as “black athlete” or “white athlete” is not allowed. During the official telecast, we can refer to Taiwan as “Chinese Taipei”. In ordinary times, refer to Taiwanese athletes as “those from the precious island Taiwan…..” In case of any pro Taiwan-independence related incident inside the venue, you shall follow restrictions listed in item 1.

6.  For those ethnic Chinese coaches and athletes who come back to Beijing to compete on behalf of other countries, don’t play up their “patriotism” since that could backfire with their adopted countries.

7.  As for the Pro-Tibetan independence and East Turkistan movements, no coverage is allowed. There’s also no need to make fuss about our anti-terrorism efforts.

8.  All food saftey issues, such as cancer-causing mineral water, is off-limits.

9.  In regard to the three protest parks, no interviews and coverage is allowed.

10.  No fuss about the rehearsals on August 2,5. No negative comments about the opening ceremony.

11.  No mention of the Lai Changxing case.

12.  No mention of those who illegally enter China.

13.  On international matters, follow the official line. For instance, follow the official propaganda line on the North Korean nuclear issue; be objective when it comes to the Middle East issue and play it down as much as possible; no fuss about the Darfur question; No fuss about UN reform; be careful with Cuba. If any emergency occurs, please report to the foreign ministry.

14. If anything related to territorial dispute happens, make no fuss about it. Play down the Myanmar issue; play down the Takeshima island dispute.

15.  Regarding diplomatic ties between China and certain nations, don’t do interviews on your own and don’t use online stories. Instead, adopt Xinhua stories only. Particularly on the Doha round negotiation, US elections, China-Iran co-operation, China-Aussie co-operation, China-Zimbabwe co-operation, China-Paraguay co-operation.

16.  Be very careful with TV ratings, only use domestic body’s figures. Play it down when  rating goes down.

17.  In case of an emergency involving foreign tourists, please follow the official line. If there’s no official line, stay away from it.

18. Re possible subway accidents in the capital, please follow the official line.

19.  Be positive on security measures.

20. Be very careful with stock market coverage during the Games.

21.  Properly handle coverage of the Chinese sports delegation:

A.  Don’t criticise the selection process.

B.  Don’t overhype gold medals; don’t issue predictions on gold medal numbers; don’t make fuss about  cash rewards for athletes.

C.  Don’t make a fuss about isolated misconducts by athletes.

D.  Enforce the publicity of our anti-doping measures.

E.   Put emphasis on  government efforts to secure the retirement life of athletes.

F.   Keep a cool head on the Chinese performance. Be prepared for possible fluctuations in the medal race.

G.   Refrain from publishing opinion pieces at odds with the official propaganda line of the Chinese delegation.

I thought about putting this through the Diplospeak Translator, but it was just too much. The Chinese clearly haven’t learned the most important rule when it comes to propaganda:  don’t get caught issuing rules on propaganda.

A few observations:

  • They’re clearly most nervous about protests related to Tibet and Xinjiang.
  • They think that public interest, even in China, will wane as the Olympics progress.
  • China-Paraguay cooperation?  Apparently this is a reference to the fact that incoming Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo has expressed a willingness to switch its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China.  Who knew?
  • I also hadn’t heard of the “cancer-causing mineral water” question.  I did a quick check of The Googles, and the only stories about it are the few that picked up The Herald’s publication of these rules. And we thought pollution was a problem.
  • Speaking of which, it’s interesting that there’s no rule saying “don’t speak about the pollution,” unless the general prohibition against discussion of health issues applies.
  • We now know why China’s media didn’t cover the controversy over the little girl lipsynching or the computer generated fireworks: “No negative comments about the opening ceremony.”
  • The only specific case mentioned is Lai Changxing, a businessman now on the run after being charged with corruption.
  • There’s no specific prohibition against talking about political dissidents, but of course the journalists aren’t stupid — they can read between the lines.
  • Perhaps the most important sentence is “If there is no offical line, stay away from it.”  That encourages self-censorship to such a degree that it should cover all the issues not addressed by these rules.
  • The one rule they forgot?  Don’t leak the rules.

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12 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 am

What Were You Thinking, Mary Carillo?

So during last night’s NBC Olympics broadcast, correspondent Mary Carillo did one of those annoying features that make the American networks’ quadrennial orgies of of obscure sports so annoying.  This one was about her whirlwind tour of China.

And wouldn’t you know it, two of the things she did during the trip were to visit to the Three Gorges Dam and to ride on the Tibet Railway.

Oh that’s just freaking brilliant NBC:  major human rights violations as tourist hot spots.  Nice going, dimwits.

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7 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:55 pm

Controlympics: A Perfect Choice

Big news today, via The Los Angeles Times and the Telegraph (UK).  Let’s start with the LAT:

Lopez Lomong: US Olympic team appoint Darfur refugee to carry flag

Another stunning chapter was added to the incredible story of Lopez Lomong when his U.S. Olympic teammates chose the Sudanese refugee as the flag bearer in Friday’s opening ceremony at the 2008 Olympics.

Lomong, who made the Olympic track team by finishing second in the 1,500 meters at the U.S. track trials, spent a decade in a refugee camp in Kenya as one of the “Lost Boys of the Sudan.” He resettled in the United States as a teenager with a family in Syracuse, N.Y.

“This is the most exciting day ever in my life,” Lomong said. “It’s a great honor for me that my teammates chose to vote for me. I’m here as an ambassador of my country, and I will do everything I can to represent my country well.”

Lomong, 23, was 6 when he was abducted from a Sudanese church by militiamen trying to turn children into boy soldiers. He and three other boys escaped and walked several days until they were arrested by Kenyan police because they had unknowingly crossed the border into Kenya.

And now the Telegraph:

His first taste of the Olympics was when he paid five Kenyan shillings to watch Michael Johnson winning gold at Sydney 2000 on a fuzzy black and white TV set, an experience which he says ignited his own Olympic dream.  “The American flag means everything in my life - everything that describes me, coming from another country and going through all of the stages that I have to become a US citizen,” Lomong added.

What an amazing story:  a Sudanese Lost Boy** becomes an Olympic athlete and is chosen over thousands of his new countrymen and -women to carry their country’s flag into the Olympic Opening Ceremonies — which is hosted by a government notorious for its disregard for human rights and its sponsorship of the government of Sudan.

It’s nothing less than a Jesse Owens moment.  In the face of tremendous pressure by everyone from the ChiComs themselves to their craven corporate toadies to IOC Chairman Jacque Rogge and other obsequious IOC pond scum, Americans have stood up to to an odious dictatorship.

I guess I don’t have to worry anymore about our flagbearer dipping the flag when he passes ChiCom-in-Chief Hu “Is Lying Now” Juntao.

And it happens the day after the ChiComs denied a visa to Joey Cheek, the Olympic athlete and head of Team Darfur.  I don’t think that that was a coincidence.  The Times of London gets the contrast about right:

There are two pictures here. One comes slightly distorted and airbrushed and will be squeezed into a frame by the IOC and its Chinese hosts in Beijing. The other is a portrait of Lomong. Which would you rather have on the wall?

This is why I continue to be proud of this country, no matter what the Bush Administration does or who gets elected this fall.  It’s further proof that average Americans (take my word for it, even in this day and age, that’s what the vast majority of our athletes in Beijing are) care deeply about basic human rights and fundamental principles of justice.

And isn’t it nice to feel good about this country again?  And have it be not because we won an athletic competition, but because we stood up for what is right and decent?

Hooray for us.

Photo:  Associated Press via the Telegraph (UK).

**If you don’t know the remarkable story of the Lost Boys, do yourself a favor and go out and buy Dave Eggers most recent novel, What is the What, which is a fictionalized account of one of the Boys’ experiences.

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7 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:00 am

Five to Watch: The Rest of the World

Between the U.S. Presidential election and the Beijing Olympics, there isn’t much space on the Intertubes or the cabletubes for other stories.  And I understand that The Washington Postdated is running a five-part series on McCain’s wacky aunt, so they’re not going to be much help either.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of the world has taken a break.  Here are five stories worth watching in the coming weeks:

1.  Bolivia.  This Sunday, voters will go to the polls to decide whether to recall Bolivian President Evo Morales (an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez), the Vice President, and nine provincial governors — many of whom are Morales critics.  Originally envisioned as a way to end the political impasse between Morales and his opponents, the vote instead has exacerbated tensions, and could strengthen separatist sentiment in four provinces.  In the lead-up to the vote, Chavez and Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner had to cancel a planned meeting with Morales as a result of the unrest, and Morales had to relocate planned independence celebrations to La Paz from the opposition-controlled Sucre after opposition supporters blockaded the airport.

2.  Rwanda-France. On Tuesday, Rwanda issued a report formally accusing French government officials of complicity in the 1994 genocide.  Rwanda President Paul Kagame, who has steered Rwanda away from the francophone bloc and towards a closer relationship with the United States, cut ties with the French government back in 2006 as a result of a French judge’s efforts to have him charged for allegedly playing a role in the death of President Habyarimana — an event that either triggered the genocide or was used as an excuse for its genesis.  Two separate issues appear to be at play here:  questions about French complicity, which may have included training of and advice to the pre-genocide army, and the role of Kagame’s RPF movement, which human rights groups say is responsible for war crimes (albeit not genocide).

3.  Mauritania. On Wednesday, a group of Army officers seized power from the first-ever democratically elected government in Mauritania.  The coup took place after Mauritanian President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi attempted to fire four senior military officers — who instead led the coup.  The President and Prime Minister are both under house arrest, and while the new leaders have promised new elections, a history of coups and military rule make such an outcome unlikely.  The recent discovery of significant oil reserves further complicates matters.

4.  Iraq. Think everything in Iraq is peachy?  Think again.  The Parliament recessed on Wednesday without passing an essential provincial elections bill, hampering further efforts at reconciliation dependent on the vote’s outcome.  The sticking point is Kirkuk, which the Kurds want to annex but other factions want to keep separate.  Once again, oil is playing a role — Kirkuk has lots of it.  Perhaps the worst news is that the Iraqis decided the best course of action at this point is  to appoint yet another commission to study the matter while the rest of the Council of Representatives went on vacation.

5.  Pakistan. Perhaps the biggest mess in the world today, Pakistan continues to find new ways to destabilize itself.  As a result of the secret police’s (and perhaps the military’s) role in the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, U.S.-Pakistani relations are the worst they’ve ever been.  The military’s accomodation of the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Northwest Frontier Province hasn’t helped much either.  Meanwhile, Parliament is debating whether to impeach President Pervez Musharaf at the very moment that Musharaf has headed to Beijing for the Olympics.  With no one apparently in charge and the ISI and military facing increasing calls for reform, another coup is a real possibility.  This time, however, the generals are unlikely to continue to pursue policies favorable to American interests.

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6 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:55 pm

Dillweeds of the Day: Amanda Beard and PETA

I got excited when I read that American Olympic swimmer (and past gold medalist) Amanda Beard had helped organize a demonstration in Beijing.  I mean, how cool is that?  Take that, ChiComs!

Turns out that her protest involved posing naked.


To oppose the wearing of fur.

Photo after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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5 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:55 am

(No) Fun and Games: The Controlympics

I’ll have a longer post later this morning on the Olympics, but I wanted to share the following story, related by BBC correspondent Nick Bryant, about the Sydney Olympics:

One of my favourite yarns from the Sydney Olympics concerns the thin blue line painted onto the roads as a guide for runners in the marathon. In the middle of the night, as most of Sydney slept, someone armed with a brush and a can of blue paint decided the route was in need of a detour - and redirected it into a nearby pub.

Now contrast that with this story in The New York Times:

Chinese officials have thrown an almost smothering blanket of security across this capital of 17 million in preparation for the start of the Olympic Games on Friday. Above all else, Chinese leaders say, these Olympics will be “safe.”

…[I]n Beijing, the city is edging toward war footing. More than 34,000 military personnel and 74 airplanes, 47 helicopters and 33 navy ships have been deployed, said Col. Tian Yixiang, director of the military affairs department in the Olympic security command center. The Chinese government has also been installing tens of thousands of surveillance cameras on lamp poles and in Internet cafes and bars.

“Safe,” maybe, but fun?  Not gonna happen.  If Chinese security sees people having fun, they are under instructions to deport them immediately.  If Sydney was the most fun you could have at the Games, Beijing is going to be the exact opposite — the no fun Games.  You will only have fun if we say you are to have fun, and then you will have fun now.

To put it another way, if you were in a bar with a guy who spends his life surfing and a guy who works airport security, which one would you rather hang out with?

Welcome to the Controlympics.

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28 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:55 am

Dillweed of the Day: Jacques Rogge

News flash:  IOC Chief Jacques Rogge lacks a spine, among other things.  I’m tempted to use the Diplospeak Translator on this one, but it’s just too vomit-inducing to subject you to that.

Read the rest of this entry »

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28 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:00 am

Wonk’d: How to Cover the Olympics

Technically, this is not wonk-y, but press-y.  But I don’t have a category called Press’d.

Thomas Crampton has a great interview with former CNN Beijing bureau chief Rebecca McKinnon, who offers tips to other reporters on how best to manage censorship and media interference while covering the Beijing Olympics.

Money quote:  “I’ve told my Chinese friends to avoid the visiting journalists….It’s probably not worth it…. [They'll] accidentally get you in trouble.”

Even if you’re not a journalist, this is worth watching to get an idea of just how bad the Olympics are going to be for things like free speech and free expression.

For new readers:  Wonk’d is an occasional feature highlighting how things work (process) rather than why things take place (policy).  General readers are warned in advance that reading Wonk’d is known to cure insomnia and even cause narcolepsy.  But for those who love stories on the State Department clearance process or foreign service career paths, Wonk’d is just what you’ve been looking for.

Hat tip:  Danwei

| posted in globalization, media | 0 Comments

27 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:00 pm

The Olympics’ Real Legacy: Greater Repression

From Geoffrey York’s fine piece in today’s Toronto Globe and Mail:

In the small Beijing suburb of Hongxialu, there’s a new force in town. The government has recruited a special unit of 288 residents, mostly middle-aged or elderly, to work as “security volunteers” in the lead-up to the Olympics.

Wearing red armbands with Olympic badges, the volunteers loiter near the entrance gates of their neighbourhood. They scrutinize every visitor and report to the police if they see anyone unfamiliar or suspicious.

The volunteers of Hongxialu are just one cog in a vast machinery of surveillance in Beijing these days. Across the city, a network of 400,000 informants and volunteers has been mobilized to keep an eye out in their communities. The old Maoist system of neighbourhood committees, which had largely fallen into irrelevance in the past decade, is being revived again as a tool of social control.

When the last gold medal has been awarded and the athletes have left, this network of informers – along with an estimated 300,000 surveillance cameras and a strengthened security apparatus – will remain as perhaps the biggest legacy of the historic Beijing Olympics….

So far, it seems clear that the Beijing Olympics have led to a deterioration of human rights and freedom in China. “It has reversed the clock,” says Nicholas Bequelin, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Over all, the Games are having a negative impact on human rights. It has stunted the growth of civil society and civil organizations.”

Congratulations, International Olympic Committee.  Boy, the idea that the Olympics would force the ChiComs to open things up has worked brilliantly, hasn’t it?  Instead of Seoul 1988, what we’ve gotten is Berlin 1936 without the racial ideology:  fascism with a smiley face.

More from York:

“This government is bent on recentralizing policy and authority generally, so this tightening will not be temporary,” said Russell Leigh Moses, a political analyst in Beijing.

“I think that we will look back upon these Games as representing not a move towards political reform or rethinking power but bolstering the confidence of officials that they can indeed micromanage events.”

Some of the new restrictions – including the tighter controls on visitors and foreigners – will not only remain in Beijing but will probably be extended to other cities, Mr. Moses said.

“For all too many officials, these Games are not about international co-operation but about Chinese power,” he said.

In place of the greater freedom you promised, the Chinese people are instead getting greater surveillance, greater repression, more centralization of control, and a return to long-discredited tactics once abandoned as an outdated remnant of Maoism.

People are going to have to wear gas masks in Beijing — not because of the pollution, but from the stench of your sycophancy and denial.

Hat tip:  Beijing Wide Open

| posted in globalization, politics | 0 Comments

27 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:15 am

Mbend It Like Mbeki

I bet that if Thabo Mbeki were to have a Facebook page, he would be one of those people who friends everybody, but who has almost everyone ignore the request.  Everyone except dictators, that is.

We already knew that the MBekster had a soft spot in his head heart for Zimbabwe President-for-Life-of-Misery Robert Mugabe.  It turns out, however that no dictator is safe from this guys warm embrace:

South Africa’s president has called on the International Criminal Court not to prosecute Sudan’s leader for war crimes in case it upsets Darfur’s peace talks.

Thabo Mbeki told South African TV that Omar al-Bashir’s continued presence as head of state was also needed to assist the country’s post-civil war security.

Maybe Radovan Karadzic can get Mbeki to put in a good word for him at his upcoming trial.  I understand that Mbeki feels he’s essential to peace and reconciliation in Bosnia.

UPDATE: So I just checked.  The MBekster does not have a Facebook page.  But here are some of the groups others have created to express their feelings about him:

  • South Africans Embarassed by Thabo Mbeki (233 members)
  • Leave Thabo Mbeki Aloooooooooone!! Alone He is the Best President Ever! (174 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki — Africa’s Newest Dictator (59 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki is on Mugabe’s Payroll (62 members)
  • I Hate Thabo Mbeki (43 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki Sucks…. (35 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki:  South Africa’s Downfall! (15 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki “I am Not Useless” (11 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki is a Coward and a Danger to South Africa (9 members)
  • Rein in Thabo Mbeki (7 members)
  • Remove Thabo Mbeki from Office Now! (7 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki Go to Hell (2 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki Is Spineless (2 members)

Come on, folks, how do you really feel?

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

27 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:55 am

Diplospeak Translator: Bush’s “Freedom Agenda”

You probably missed it, but President Bush went over to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on Thursday in order to give a big ol’ speech on his “Freedom Agenda,” whatever that is.

I was invited to attend, but I’d rather have my toenails staple-gunned to my forehead that listen to Bush prattle on about how much he’s done for  human rights.  If you look closely enough at this photo,  you can almost see the beacon of freedom shining down on the smirk of hubris and denial.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put his speech through the Diplospeak Translator.  And to save you the trouble of poking out your eyes with a sharp stick, I’ve included only the best parts.

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 2 Comments

24 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:30 pm

Some Unsolicited Advice to China’s “Anti-Terror” Squads

Clearly the ChiComs are concerned about terrorism in the run-up to the Olympics — as well they should be.  Terrorism has been a plague on the Olympics, both in terms of actual attacks and in terms of turning the Olympic celebration into a miniature police state.  But when a police state starts ratcheting up the repression, things can get a little freaky.

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, globalization, pop culture | 0 Comments

4 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:54 pm

Friday Night Surprise, Thursday Edition: Bush to Attend Opening Ceremony

Since Saturday is the lowest circulation day for Newspapers and the least-watched day for cable and network news, some low-level White House flunky senior White House aide once came up with the brilliant idea of releasing bad or unwanted news on a Friday evening, preferably after the final broadcast of the half-hour-geriatric-product-infomercials charmingly nicknamed “evening news.”  This is not, sadly, something that can be blamed on the Bush Administration, as the Clinton White House used to do it as well.

Today, in the intertube era, there are far too many sharp eyes around for the White House to get away with such a move.  That’s why it took your humble correspondent only 28 hours to notice the following announcement, released on a Thursday night to take advantage of the three day weekend:

In China, the President looks forward to seeing President Hu and other senior Chinese leaders for discussions on a wide range of issues including the way ahead on North Korean denuclearization. The President and Mrs. Bush will attend the Opening Ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games on August 8.

Approximately forty-one months ago, our fearless President took the oath of office a second time and used his inaugural address to state boldly that “From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value….except, of course, the Tibetans, the Uighurs, human rights advocates, Falun Gong practicioners, Christians, and anyone else who gets in the way of my jackbooted rights-crushing pals the ChiComs — you know, the guys who loaned us that nifty little torture manual.”

Okay, I made up that last part.  That’s not what our President believes — it’s merely the consequence of his actions.

But hey, the Chinese can’t be all bad — they have Segways too!  Maybe the President can join the new synchronized Segway team elite anti-terrorist unit set up by the Chinese government to crush dissent defeat terrorists.

Oh wait, he fell off that Segway, didn’t he?  Maybe not.

Photo credits:  L: China News Agency.  R:  Reuters via depresident.com

| posted in foreign policy, pop culture | 0 Comments

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