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In the Wake of the Floods
May 9, 2008 3:26 PM   Subscribe

On Flooded Burmese Coast, the Smell of Rot and Death The situation in Burma (Myanmar) is deteriorating rapidly. Six days after Cyclone Nargis ripped through Burma, leaving untold devestation in its wake and flooding vast stretches of delta, it is estimated the death toll may climb to 100,000. Now, a Second catastrophe looms in Burma as the regime blocks aid shipments. Time is of the essence. The U.N. has launched an appeal to the Burmese government, who have thus far been slow to act. The news is truly grim: 'I stopped counting bodies on journey down river of death'.
posted by ornate insect (119 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Regime change!
posted by crapmatic at 3:30 PM on May 9, 2008


from the thrid link in the post:

Some 5,000 sq km (2,000 square miles) are flooded and corpses are rotting in the open. “The potential for an epidemic is extremely probable,” Tim Costello, a World Vision executive in Rangoon, said. “Once an epidemic starts it’s very difficult to stop and becomes of apocalyptic proportions.” Neoleen Heyzer, the UN’s leading Asia official, said: “There is a small window of opportunity if we are to avert the spread of diseases that could multiply the already tragic number of casualties.”
posted by ornate insect at 3:32 PM on May 9, 2008


My only question is if there are going to be any Burmese left to revolt in anger after this horror show gets cleaned up.

"Slow to act" is understatement. The junta is outright obstructionist.
posted by absalom at 3:34 PM on May 9, 2008


absalom--Burma has a population of about 55 million, so the answer to your question is yes.

I agree w/you that the junta is being obstructionist.

see also: UN to Resume Aid Flights Despite Seizure of Supplies by Burmese Authorities
posted by ornate insect at 3:41 PM on May 9, 2008


Actually I am wondering whether there is a remote chance that using an assault force to fly in humanitarian supplies is feasible. When hundreds of thousands of lives are on the brink, plus the threat of exposing Thailand, Malaysia, and Bangladesh to an epidemic, I wonder if a joint military force should be sent in to do the job that the junta is not doing. Am I out in left field here?
posted by crapmatic at 3:48 PM on May 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


OI: Well, I'm thinking more about the possibly upcoming pandemic spurred on by having hundreds of thousands of bodies essentially rotting in the beginning of a tropical summer. Statement was hyperbolic, certainly, but epicly horrendous casualty levels to come are not out of the question.
posted by absalom at 3:51 PM on May 9, 2008


crapmatic--I wish I knew more about the available options, although the situation appears drastic and the options few. So the more suggestions put forth the better. I'm by no means an expert either on world relief, emergency management or the geopolitics involved. But this feels like Katrina thousands of times over, and the Burmese leadership is proving to be as willfully negligent as FEMA was.
posted by ornate insect at 3:55 PM on May 9, 2008


the Burmese leadership is proving to be as willfully negligent as FEMA was

OK I'm no fan of the Administration or FEMA under same, but come on.
posted by freebird at 3:58 PM on May 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


freebird--the major difference here is one of scale in my opinion; the delta in and around Louisana and the Gulf Coast was similarly devestated, but the Burmese delta is a lot poorer--and yes the leadership there is probably even worse. But I don't think the comparison is at all out of line.
posted by ornate insect at 4:02 PM on May 9, 2008


What a dangerous game these cats in charge in Burma are playing. It's obvious they are using this disaster as a smokescreen to kill large swaths of people they don't like and simultaneously milk money from the West. But eventually the populace will have nothing to lose by rebelling en mass.
posted by tkchrist at 4:15 PM on May 9, 2008


You know what really turned me around on Burma? Kim Kardashian's college thesis.
posted by thanotopsis at 4:15 PM on May 9, 2008



"Slow to act" is understatement. The junta is outright obstructionist.

It's fucked alright. According the UN spokesman I heard the army will likely seize the aid trucks and sell the supplies like what happened in Darfur and Somalia.
posted by tkchrist at 4:17 PM on May 9, 2008


This move on the part of the Burmese government is disasterous even if they reverse it. That they've been denying aid has made bigger headlines in many places in the U.S. than the Cyclone itself did. Even if they reverse their decision, many potential donors are going to think that they shouldn't give because the junta is just going to turn the aid away.

As dreadful and destructive as the cyclone was, it could end up being just the tip of the iceberg - which suggests a tragedy of overwhelming proportion.

I've chosen to make a donation to Doctors Without Borders in response to this tragedy. If the junta does let relief groups in to help, they'll probably be one of the first groups in. If the junta does not let relief groups in and it turns into an epidemic, well, some of the other countries that will be effected will hopefully benefit.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:22 PM on May 9, 2008


I don't think the comparison is at all out of line.

Fair enough, no comparison is. But I do think it's inaccurate. The difference would be "one of scale" if FEMA had intentionally murdered a smaller number of protestors - but had done so. It would be "one of scale" if FEMA had used military force to keep aid out - rather than being incompetent. But I think it's a bit of a stretch to claim these things, which makes it a qualitative difference - not just quantitative.

Look, there is plenty to denounce the administration for. Katrina was a tragedy and FEMA pretty much screwed the pooch - but from what I've seen this is in a whole different league. Hyperbole like this just lessens the important criticism.
posted by freebird at 4:27 PM on May 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


No one can imagine legitimate suspicions the Myanmar leadership might have that Western aid may be used for political leverage?

Even the U.S. Refused Most Offers of Aid for Hurricane Katrina...
posted by fairmettle at 4:30 PM on May 9, 2008


For a number of reasons, that area tends to be extremely vulnerable. This is far from the worst they've seen.

In 1991 a cyclone killed 138,000 people in Bangladesh. And in 1970 they hit the jackpot: estimates are that up to half a million died in that one.

(No, I'm not trying to say that we shouldn't take this one seriously.)
posted by Class Goat at 4:30 PM on May 9, 2008


This is really serious. Burma accounts for a large portion of the worldwide heroin supply and hence a substantial part of the CIA's funding.
posted by telstar at 4:51 PM on May 9, 2008 [6 favorites]


To make matters worse, heavy rain is being forecast for the region.
posted by ornate insect at 4:53 PM on May 9, 2008


This is really serious. Burma accounts for a large portion of the worldwide heroin supply and hence a substantial part of the CIA's funding

That's one of the most stereotypically "looney left" comments I've ever read here. Are you trolling?
posted by jokeefe at 5:06 PM on May 9, 2008


crapmatic writes: Am I out in left field here?

If you are, then out in left field sounds like a pretty good place to be.

crapmatic for president!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:08 PM on May 9, 2008


Burma accounts for a large portion of the worldwide heroin supply and hence a substantial part of the CIA's funding.

It's kind of funny that you mention this... today at work, someone asked "why Miramar hates us." So I kind of had to start at the beginning, explaining that Myanmar is different from Miramar. And that declining aid doesn't necessarily indicate hatred (although it indicates a dumbass move on their government's part).

Luckily I had an Allen Ginsberg album on my iPod, so I didn't have to explain the CIA heroin connection in the area (although unfortunately the song doesn't actually mention Burma/Myanmar).
posted by synaesthetichaze at 5:12 PM on May 9, 2008


It would be "one of scale" if FEMA had used military force to keep aid out - rather than being incompetent.

But actually that did happen.

Right after Hurricane Katrina, private aid that was being shipped to New Orleans (to the superdome and convention center) was intercepted and, what was done with it, I don't know. The same thing happened to buses that people stuck at the convention center hired to come pick them up. They were intercepted by the Government. Now why that happened, and where the stuff went I don't know, most likely it was sent somewhere that FEMA thought was a more pressing issue. There were problems all over the place, but it just happened that TV cameras were at the super dome and convention center in NOLA.
posted by delmoi at 5:21 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why is a thread about a disaster in Burma turning into yet another thread eviscerating the Bush administration? Can't you people leave your hatred home once in a while?
posted by Class Goat at 5:29 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


> Why is a thread about a disaster in Burma turning into yet another thread eviscerating the
> Bush administration? Can't you people leave your hatred home once in a while?

It's a massively sad thread. They've come to provide comic relief.
posted by jfuller at 5:44 PM on May 9, 2008


the fema response to katrina sucked, but this seems to be of a much greater magnitude in terms of disaster and poor response. after seeing news for days about 4,000 then 5,000 dead, a projection of up to 100,000 is surprising to me. which is not to say that it is inaccurate. i guess in US disasters we start with the biggest possible figure and work our way down or something.

it also makes me wonder what it's like to be on the ground trying to help out or report on something like this. it's like serious problem-solving. i was standing by the UN today and a couple guys were talking and they we're like:

"i just got back from haiti"
"we're you caught in the food riots?"
"that's why i went down there."

blah blah blah about how things are going down there and what people are trying to do. it was pretty cool. i'm pretty good at solving problems at work, but there are definitely things that seem like they could be way more rewarding, and tough, too.
posted by snofoam at 5:46 PM on May 9, 2008


No one can imagine legitimate suspicions the Myanmar leadership might have that Western aid may be used for political leverage?

And? A government doesn't have the "right" to deliberately starve its citizens. Even if influence were a major factor in Western aid it wouldn't justify excluding it where people are starving and exposed to various potential epidemics that make SARS look like the common cold.

Even the U.S. Refused Most Offers of Aid for Hurricane Katrina...(404 error)

Because we were capable of handling it. We didn't do a good job of it, because FEMA sucks, but we had the raw capacity in terms of dollars, tons of grain, clean water supplies, etc. to do it. It is increasingly apparent that even if Burma did (which I'm 100% certain they don't), they won't. Again, there is a difference between screwing up in providing aid versus totally blocking its effective distribution.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:53 PM on May 9, 2008


Myanmar official: "We will accept aid from any corner."
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:00 PM on May 9, 2008


Burma accounts for a large portion of the worldwide heroin supply and hence a substantial part of the CIA's funding.

Regardless of whether you're joking or not, Burma is currently a small player in that market.
posted by thrako at 6:12 PM on May 9, 2008


I wonder if a joint military force should be sent in to do the job that the junta is not doing. Am I out in left field here?

Yes. First of all if there is anything we should have learned from the past 6 years it is that using the military for essentially anything but defending yourself from a serious threat is a recipe for disaster no matter what your intentions are. The military is a blunt instrument. You bash and break things with it. That's it.

Secondly, the only two or three nations capable of such a thing are the USA, the UK, and maybe France. The USA is fully committed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Where are we going to get the forces if things go to shit? The UK and France ain't going to do it if the US isn't providing the bulk of the forces and, especially, the transport.

So it can't happen and it would be a bad idea even if it could.
posted by Justinian at 6:21 PM on May 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I wonder if a joint military force should be sent in to do the job that the junta is not doing. Am I out in left field here?

That's an interesting idea, but I don't see it playing out well. If the idea is to just give out aid and leave, the junta could threaten to punish anyone taking the foreign aid. If the goal is regime change, we've seen how well that can go.
posted by thrako at 6:23 PM on May 9, 2008


New Orleans was fucked by: Katrina, FEMA, Local administrations and finally The Road Home Project.

Myanmar was fucked by: Cyclone Nargis, their own governmental administrations and I'd be willing to bet all I could gather that there is another entity just waiting to stick it to the unfortunate souls there!

Other than scale of human life lost, it sounds quite similar.

Either way - Mother Nature's a B-I-T-C-H!
posted by winks007 at 6:31 PM on May 9, 2008


From CNN the Myanmar government will now accept outside aid.
posted by lilkeith07 at 6:44 PM on May 9, 2008


Where is the junta's leader? Too much to hope something good for the people of Burma will come of this, I guess. Hope these next aid flights go well.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:55 PM on May 9, 2008


The optimist in me wonders if this horror will lead to some kind of change in Myanmar.
I'm racking my brain for a historical example of a fascist regime that changes due to natural events.
posted by PHINC at 6:57 PM on May 9, 2008


Jesus, stop talking about hurricane katrina and cia/heroin crap, it has nothing to do with the plight of these screwed over innocents aside from giving you something to feel smug about!
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 7:03 PM on May 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


Joey Michaels & Marie Mon Dieu:
It's really not clear from that article whether they will let foreign aid workers in, which seems to have been the main sticking point.
posted by thrako at 7:04 PM on May 9, 2008


I'm racking my brain for a historical example of a fascist regime that changes due to natural events.

Not quite the same thing, but some people have mentioned Aceh as a possible precident.
posted by thrako at 7:12 PM on May 9, 2008


Joint military force: laughable idea.

There is no (expletive) way China will allow a western force to enter Myanmar. None whatsoever. I guarantee they will veto and stall any UN resolution that even hints in that direction.

Look at Darfur -- how many resolutions have been proposed? And that's on an entirely different continent. No way. Everyone involved will let the whole of the Irrawaddy Delta die before aid goes in unwelcomed.
posted by aramaic at 7:15 PM on May 9, 2008


Can someone please explain to me why they are refusing aid?

To be clear, I'm not looking for answers like "Because they're evil!". I mean, in a cold and dispassionate way, I assume that they believe that they somehow benefit by refusing aid ("benefit", at the very least, in a sense relative to accepting aid). What is that benefit that they (assumedly) believe they'll get?
posted by Flunkie at 7:16 PM on May 9, 2008


aramaic, you bring up an interesting point: China probably has the most power in this crisis, but hasn't been part of the discussion.

Look at Darfur -- how many resolutions have been proposed?

I'm not sure - I was under the impression western governments had no interest in sending own their people over.
posted by thrako at 7:30 PM on May 9, 2008


What is that benefit that they (assumedly) believe they'll get?

The junta has become increasingly paranoid and weird over the last few years; they appear to be convinced that the US will randomly decide to invade them (among other things; it's one of the reasons why they moved their entire capital to a newly built outpost in the middle of nowhere). This means they will tend to refuse any US aid, regardless of the cost, for fear that secret soldiers are hiding inside the planes. Yes, really.

They are also paranoid about being seen (internally) as having to rely on outsiders. Like most dictatorships, they rely on being seen as omniscient and omnipotent. Having westerners running willy-nilly about the countryside helping people would undermine that impression. This is why they want to handle all aid distribution themselves -- so they can pretend that they are the ones in charge, they are the ones helping the people, and they are the ones who must be relied upon in times of trouble.

(they also probably want to seize a sizable portion of the aid and distribute it to loyalists to reinforce their loyalty, rather than "waste" it on the truly needy)

Personally, I think they've written off the delta region. They're prepared to let everyone there die, and are only worried about potential famine due to the massive crop failure -- because that might affect the rest of the country.

...this back-and-forth "we love aid, no wait we hate aid, no wait we love it again" is probably a result of various power struggles & general confusion inside the junta. Nobody wants to sign on the dotted line, for fear the guys in charge may later decide that was a bad idea, and imprison/execute you.

For them foreign aid is, in the end, foreign. And that means it's a risk.
posted by aramaic at 7:34 PM on May 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


[side note: I count at least six UN resolutions on Darfur, none of which have amounted to a hill of beans, having been eviscerated behind the scenes and generally ignored by everyone involved: 1556, 1564, 1591, 1672, 1706, 1769, and possibly others I've forgotten. Whether six UN resolutions is a meaningful number or not is another matter.]
posted by aramaic at 7:46 PM on May 9, 2008


Related thread. And as roombythelake pointed out, The Irrawaddy is an invaluable source of news about Burma.
posted by homunculus at 7:54 PM on May 9, 2008


And thanks for this comprehensive post, ornate insect.
posted by homunculus at 8:00 PM on May 9, 2008


What is that benefit that they (assumedly) believe they'll get?

What aramaic said x10.

Also, you need to consider that, to the junta, 100,000 lost lives is barely worth talking about. I mean, we're talking about a government that uses slave labor to build it's tourist spots. If anything, the junta is probably trying to figure out a way to accept international aid and divert it to government warehouses as quickly as possible.
posted by Avenger at 8:10 PM on May 9, 2008


Secondly, the only two or three nations capable of such a thing are the USA, the UK, and maybe France.

China? Japan? Russia? The EU? Any of them could do it, and Asia is their backyard, anyway. Why does it always have to be the anglophones? France is too busy playing at gunship diplomacy in eastern Chad.

I volunteer Hezbollah. They've got guns, Iranian sugar daddies, and a bunch of testosterone-pumped young males with waaaay too much time on their hands.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 8:24 PM on May 9, 2008


now if ever there was a country that needed invading... but nooooooooooo.
posted by quonsar at 9:01 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Tove: None of China, Japan, or Russia have serious conventional force projection. The EU only does because the UK and France are there. Force projection isn't just about having an army, it's about have the logistics, transport, and expertise to carry off moving an army across the world and maintaining it. Those countries could all provide troops if someone else did the logistics, but the USA, the UK, and France aren't going to do it.
posted by Justinian at 9:11 PM on May 9, 2008


What is absolutely flabbergasting and amazing is that an accurate forecast of the cyclone's path was made four days in advance, and made available to the Burmese government, but the authorities did not bother warn the populace.
posted by jamjam at 9:31 PM on May 9, 2008


Justinian: Those nations don't have good navies or air forces, but India and China both border Burma. I don't think they require force projection, as I understand it.

aramaic: good comment, do you think the apparent lack of action by the Chinese government implicitly supports the junta?
posted by thrako at 9:42 PM on May 9, 2008


Jesus, stop talking about hurricane katrina and cia/heroin crap, it has nothing to do with the plight of these screwed over innocents

Neither does getting all butt-hurt that someone dared to inject a little levity with a joke about the CIA or half-serious comparisons to a situation further within one's frame of reference where another government of fascist Banana republic clowns let people die after a national disaster.

Can't you people leave your hatred home once in a while?

Can't you leave your ersatz smug self-righteousness disguising more butt-hurtedness due to your being one of the five or six remaining fans of said clowns at home, oh guy who recently defended Bush re: waterboarding?
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:54 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Justinian: I plead ignorance in the area of military logistics, but... could not even Russia intervene in Burma if it wanted to? It has a considerable air force (although I think it still lacks that warm water port it has wanted for a long time...). It must have the ability to transport troops across the largest landmass on earth. It projected force with great success in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and less successfully in Afghanistan in the 1970s. Is all that capability really gone?
posted by Slithy_Tove at 9:56 PM on May 9, 2008


I understand that Bush caused Cyclone Nargis. I think he doesn't care about Burmese people.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:02 PM on May 9, 2008


Delightful though the idea of a multinational force rounding up the apalling Burmese junta and their loathsome friends is, it seems like an idea that would hard to make work - not because of the idea armies can't do that sort of thing effectively (it may come as a surprise to Justinian, but not all armed services are as incapable of working at this sort of thing as the US one) - but because most of the nations cabale of doing so would likely have a cure nearly as bad as the problem.

Consider: How is the average Burmese likely to perceive a return of Japanese or English/European armed forces? Liberators or a return to horrible colonial periods? Most likely the regime could, like Mugabe in Zimbabwe, stir up a bunch of support from people who would decide that being ruled by a vicious domestic regime is preferable to the risk of a the return of foreign ones who were bloody awful within living memory.

So, maybe not white folks or the Japanese in charge. Someone closer to home? China? Ha-hah. Surely you jest. Cast your eyes over Tibet and see how that looks, and ask yourself how long it would take for Burma to become an indivisible province of China based on some tenuous claims of a thousand years ago. I'll take bets from those optimistic enough to believe that the Chinese army would leave again any time soon and use them to pay off my mortgage...
posted by rodgerd at 10:06 PM on May 9, 2008


Slithy_Tove, first off, all of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Afghanistan were on the USSR's borders and thus accessible by road. (Via Poland, in the case of Czechoslovakia.)

Burma is not. The shortest distance between Russian territory and Burma is 2500 kilometers -- right over the middle of China, who would be likely to take a dim view of a large Russian military force passing through, or overhead.

Or, I suppose, they could fly over Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and India -- that route would be 4500 kilometers, and India is equally likely to take a dim view.

Second, most of the capability from the glory years of the USSR really is gone, not that there really was as much as many thought, even then.
posted by Class Goat at 10:50 PM on May 9, 2008


it's one of the reasons why they moved their entire capital to a newly built outpost in the middle of nowhere

My understanding is that this was the result of a prediction by Shan Thwe's astrologer. Astrology is pretty popular there, from what I can tell.

None of China, Japan, or Russia have serious conventional force projection.

China wouldn't need force projection to invade Burma, since they're next to each other. And the Tatmadaw is no match for the Chinese army. Fortunately for SLORC or whatever they call themselves now, China wouldn't do that if it were the only way to save every Burmese citizen. China values Burma as a trade partner, and they oppose any UN intervention to save citizens from their own governments as a matter of course - they're big on internal sovereignty.

Neither does getting all butt-hurt that someone dared to inject a little levity with a joke about the CIA or half-serious comparisons to a situation further within one's frame of reference where another government of fascist Banana republic clowns let people die after a national disaster.

There's a time and a place for everything. And this isn't it. And what's with the "butt-hurt" crap? Are you twelve?

What is absolutely flabbergasting and amazing is that an accurate forecast of the cyclone's path was made four days in advance, and made available to the Burmese government, but the authorities did not bother warn the populace.

This didn't surprise me at all. The government doesn't have things like evacuation plans, I'm sure, and evacuating farming villages in the Irrawaddy Delta would be a challenge even if you did, I think. It's not like there's any place for these people to go. And, of course, the government really doesn't care about the people at all - they are simply a revenue-generating mechanism for Thwe and his cronies. They would feed them all into meat grinders if there were a market for that.

What's really going to suck, on top of all this death right now, and all the death to come from the direct aftermath, is that the Irrawaddy Delta is where all their food comes from. This is a very poor nation already, and with a global food crisis at the same time, there's going to be a lot of hungry people. Maybe this'll cause the toppling of the regime, but it'll cost a lot of suffering.
posted by me & my monkey at 11:05 PM on May 9, 2008


aramaic writes "The junta has become increasingly paranoid and weird over the last few years; they appear to be convinced that the US will randomly decide to invade them ."

Iraq, Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Afganistan, Cuba, Cambodia, Dominican Republic; if you're a militarily weak country not playing ball with the US this isn't an unfounded fear I'd think.
posted by Mitheral at 11:22 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I mean, we're talking about a government that uses slave labor to build it's tourist spots.

And it's gas pipelines, with the assistance of companies like Chevron and Halliburton, of course.
posted by homunculus at 11:59 PM on May 9, 2008


its. Dagnabit.
posted by homunculus at 12:01 AM on May 10, 2008


Next Month: "A spokesperson for the military junta of Burma, also known as Myanmar, expressed his astonishment at the high number of Buddhist monks and pro-democracy activists amongst the casualties of last month's cyclone. Ye Htut expressed a near-supernatural belief that the storm, which claimed over 200 000 lives, was specifically targeting opponents of the country's military dictators, 'Using its formidable winds to propel small, lead-based projectiles into the back of their heads with an uncanny accuracy'."

"New bodies are being found every day, said the spokesperson, and the junta expects many more to be discovered in the months and years to come."
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:08 AM on May 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


That's some darkly sarcastic wit there, Alvy, and I wish I could say that you were off the mark with it. But I don't believe you are. Hammer. Nail. Straight on the head.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:22 AM on May 10, 2008


China shows little desire to exert pressure on Burma

But that's hardly a surprise since the Junta Supports China’s Crackdown in Tibet.

Birds of a feather.
posted by homunculus at 12:27 AM on May 10, 2008


Burma votes amid cyclone aid row: A constitutional referendum is being held in Burma despite calls from the outside world for a postponement after last week's devastating cyclone.
posted by homunculus at 12:35 AM on May 10, 2008


Or, I suppose, they could fly over Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and India -- that route would be 4500 kilometers, and India is equally likely to take a dim view.

Maybe not. India tilted towards the Soviets during the Cold War, and still has close ties. Russia is India's major arms supplier, for example. New Delhi might well let Russia fly in Indian airspace if Russia marketed the war as Disaster Relief 2.0.

This all counting angels on pins, of course. I can't see Russia having any interest in Burma.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 12:51 AM on May 10, 2008


Burma has air defenses. They have made clear that they will consider unauthorized entry to their country a national security threat.

Can you imagine the big stink that would cause, if they shot down an aid plane? Would we have to then go stomp the crap out of them? Do we want to get caught in that mess? Furthermore, would that help the Burmese people any?

I suppose we could force them to allow foreign help. If they insist on seeing it as a security issue, though, which they are, that would put us in a state of war with them.
posted by ctmf at 1:10 AM on May 10, 2008


"the United States made $250,000 available and offered to send a disaster assistance team"

Wow. .08 cents for every man, woman, and child in the USA. Now that's commitment.

It's great that the USA would defer the cost of the war in Iraq for 2 1/2 minutes in order to help in such a disaster.

Someone please tell me that I'm being excessively cynical and that this is just a preliminary donation.
posted by crazylegs at 1:58 AM on May 10, 2008


From my understanding, China, India, and Russia each want Burma basically so the others can't have it.

For China Burma represents a buffer zone of protection in case anyone else attacks from the south, and also a pathway to water in case the opposite happens, and the military ever needs access to water that way (say, if the eastern shores are blockaded or something). I believe there are already Chinese naval docks on Burma's shores, or at least talks underway about putting them there.

India wants some influence in Burma basically to keep China from controlling it entirely, and again to add a bit of a buffer between the two.

Russia, well, I dunno what the hell Russia wants. Probably just to keep China and India in line. I'll look into that further.

It's all very Oceania/Eurasia/Eastasia if you ask me, and that's not the only Orwell reference one can make with this government. Still, in a good case of life mirroring art mirroring life, Burma's pretty good at playing one side against the other in this whole situation, and playing each side against the others.
Need an army? Talk to China
Need some cash to fund it? Talk to India. (pdf)
Need some nuclear power? Talk to Russia.
Need your intelligence officers trained? Talk to--wtf, Australia!?!

Anyway, this article talks a bit about the relationships in the region, why Burma is crushed between India and China, why China wants to set up "listening posts" in the delta and why India's afraid of that, as well as who is selling weapons to the Burmese junta (Chile? Seriously?)

These links I'm sure are not the best to reveal what's going on, and I basically just snatched the first that came up while googling. If there's an easier crash course in the geopolitical breakdown available, someone please provide it. I'm usually more interested in the smaller scale issues within the country than the larger scale forces without. But seeing the interests preventing change outside of the country as well as within makes me realize that, as much as I think the UN could be the greatest achievement in human history, it's kinda snookered when it comes to helping the Burmese people in any real way.

It's also why I'm starting to think, after talking it over with someone who knows more about this situation than I do, that sanctions--the guiding fallback solution for Western nations unsure about what to do next to enforce human rights--are not the solution. They've been tried for over a decade, and what difference has it made?

Rather, perhaps the counterintuitive route might be better--get money, and hence interaction, and hence foreign involvement, so the junta isn't the only controlling force at work in the country and the people are not so isolated and unempowered. I hate the oil companies who are complicit in the kind of forced labour and organised rape going on there, so I don't want to advocate cheering them on. But what I do want is an influx: of eyes, ears, ideas, money, hope. Sanctions will bleed the people dry before they bleed the generals.

This runs entirely counter to most thinking on how to deal with the junta. I'd be happy to hear if anyone with more knowledge of sanctions, economics, politics, etc., has any opinions on this.

Me, I'm more cut out for looking at pictures of kids lying in mud after their entire village has been swept away, and tearing up while I question what kind of a person you have to be to purposefully deny help from arriving once it's been offered.

Dammit, Burma, someday your day will come.
posted by roombythelake at 2:23 AM on May 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


I suppose it's too much to expect the Burmese government to put human lives above its own political ends. I wonder what it'll do when it has no citizens to oppress any more.
posted by monocot at 4:45 AM on May 10, 2008


Second Chinese aid shipment arrives in Myanmar
posted by monocot at 5:00 AM on May 10, 2008


"Burma's military government distributed the aid but plastered the boxes with names of top generals in an apparent effort to turn the relief effort for last week's devastating cyclone into a propaganda exercise.

State-run TV broadcast images of senior generals – including the junta leader, General Than Shwe – handing out aid packages to survivors at elaborate ceremonies."

posted by flashboy at 5:18 AM on May 10, 2008


where are the Burma Shave jokes?
posted by quonsar at 5:50 AM on May 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow. I'm grateful for all the info people here are providing on geopolitical relationships in the area, background, strategies and motivations - the whole picture. It helps explain a lot that was puzzling to me, and I appreciate that. Great thread. (I don't think I've ever favorited a news/politics post before)
posted by taz at 6:00 AM on May 10, 2008


Could almost make one wonder if tying up so many of our resources in the middle east for the past seven years has been such a good idea.
posted by notreally at 6:57 AM on May 10, 2008


I know how to fix this.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:14 AM on May 10, 2008


where are the Burma Shave jokes?

In the first post of the previous thread. (Sensibly, we got it out of the way early so we wouldn't have to come back to it later.)
posted by roombythelake at 8:19 AM on May 10, 2008


Oh, and also related to the previous thread...
it happened for voters at at advance polls; it's happened again for voters at the main poll yesterday; no points for guessing it'll happen again for voters (what's left of them, anyway) at the rescheduled poll in two weeks: that's right, folks, it's fraud!

"Many voters ... [said] referendum officials had handed out ballot papers already filled in with a tick, indicating approval of the government’s draft constitution."

Stay classy, junta!
posted by roombythelake at 8:44 AM on May 10, 2008


Flunkie: Can someone please explain to me why they are refusing aid?

Because if they allow foreigners in, the junta is afraid they will instigate the populace to riot against them. They only way they control the people is through force and isolation. If the populace feels the least bit of support from the outside world, it might rise up and overthrow the junta.

I'm sure there's a bit of truth in that; if I were there and saw all the horrors firsthand, I'd be tempted to want it to be stopped. But I would also be wary of a brutal military force ready to mow me down with weapons if I opened my mouth. I do think it's shameful that this has been allowed to go on like this for so long, though. And I'm sure the aid workers' first priorities are helping people, and no, it should not just rest on the shoulders of the United States, the rest of the world needs to have a conscience too. We are all to blame for allowing this to continue.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:25 AM on May 10, 2008


Russia, well, I dunno what the hell Russia wants.

Russia wants to relive the glory days of the Soviet Union, when it was a big player in world politics and had a growing world empire. Imperialism runs deep in the Russian psyche, and the Russians are still smarting from the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Someone please tell me that I'm being excessively cynical and that this is just a preliminary donation.

Yes, you are being excessively cynical. (But it's so fashionable to be cynical, so you get a by.)
posted by Class Goat at 12:54 PM on May 10, 2008


I'd like to know what celebrities are getting involved in this, because they are often the only ones Americans/Westerners will listen to. Look like Jim Carrey, for one. That really raises my opinion of him... Where's Bono and all those other guys? Where's Sting, Mr. Generosity? Where's Kiefer Sutherland, ad infinitum?

This is just wrong. It's been wrong, it continues to be wrong, and we can sit on our asses ALL DAY LONG and talk about it, but if ANY of you know anyone who might bring more awareness and thus, pressure to bear upon someone who's a minor or major celeb, how's about you contact them?

I can contact my brother-in-law, who is a minor celeb, but I bet there are more than a few of you out there who know more people than this lil ole New England grannie. Yeah, I'm not linking to my BIL, cuz I am not self-promoting here, I am for helping people. He works for NBC, btw, among other places. But you all have newspapers, representatives, etc.: email them, phone them, do something. This is some majorly fucked up shit, guys and gals, major. Every second we are sitting here on our arses talking, some kid is thirsty or dying.

Let's show the world that Metafilter can do more than just expose SEO assholes or snark all day long. Let's show the world what Metafilter can really do. Put all your nerdy geeky contact-y whatever-y resources to work and put the pedal to the metal, guys and gals. Let's stop talkin' and start actin'.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 1:40 PM on May 10, 2008


You know some celebrities who can convince the Myanmar junta to not shoot down aid planes? Or that can sneak aid in without them knowing about it? 'Cause that's the big problem here. It's not that nobody cares, it's that you can't help someone who actively refuses to be helped.
posted by ctmf at 1:49 PM on May 10, 2008


ctmf: point taken, but the more awareness, the better.

I've been called a Pollyanna before, but I. Don't. Give. A. Fuck.

I can barely afford the airfare for my son to come visit me this summer, let alone give scads of money to Burma, but I have to do something, and something I will do. Your cynicism just puts a little more fuel on my fire, so thank you, man.

The pen is mightier than the sword, man, and awareness and pressure to bear upon government, any government, has to do something. I can be a member of the DAR and the Mayflower Society if I so choose, same as Laura Bush, but I don't. They are exclusionary clubs and not representative of what America is and should be today.

I guess I'll post it to Projects when/if I get any statements (memail me or gmail in the profile). But I'm not gonna give up. Children, oppressed people, suffering, we need to and should help them in any way we can. If you have a better idea, lemme know.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:24 PM on May 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Getting Americans and Westerners to listen isn't the problem. Getting the Junta to allow aid in is the problem, and I seriously doubt that getting celebrities involved will have any effect on that.

And though I stand in awe of the power of Metafilter, I suspect that this problem is beyond even our power to help.
posted by Class Goat at 2:25 PM on May 10, 2008


...awareness and pressure to bear upon government, any government, has to do something.

Since when?
posted by Class Goat at 2:27 PM on May 10, 2008


Since when?

Since I just wrote to both my senators in about the time it took you to make that statement.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:47 PM on May 10, 2008


Are your senators part of the ruling Junta in Burma?
posted by Class Goat at 3:17 PM on May 10, 2008


Are your senators part of the ruling Junta in Burma?

No. They are my elected officials. Hence, they represent me. Are you deliberately trying to be obtuse or do you come by it naturally? In the time you sit here snarking and trolling, you could be doing something. I'm not going to respond to you again, nor anyone else who wants to wag my tail. I'm too busy doing something, and if you want to shit on me or shit in this thread and shit on anyone who really cares, you can sit in your own steaming pile of shit and believe it smells like roses, man. Class Goat, you have no class. I'm outta here, anyone else who wants in can contact me privately.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:24 PM on May 10, 2008


Imperialism runs deep in the Russian psyche

As opposed to the English, Americans, Chinese, or French, for example.
posted by rodgerd at 4:24 PM on May 10, 2008


AROUND THE CURVE
LICKETY-SPLIT
BEAUTIFUL CAR
WASN'T IT?
Burma Shave

NO MATTER THE PRICE
NO MATTER HOW NEW
THE BEST SAFETY DEVICE
IN THE CAR IS YOU
Burma Shave

A GUY WHO DRIVES
A CAR WIDE OPEN
IS NOT THINKIN'
HE'S JUST HOPIN'
Burma Shave

AT INTERSECTIONS
LOOK EACH WAY
A HARP SOUNDS NICE
BUT IT'S HARD TO PLAY
Burma Shave

BOTH HANDS ON THE WHEEL
EYES ON THE ROAD
THAT'S THE SKILLFUL
DRIVER'S CODE
Burma Shave

THE ONE WHO DRIVES
WHEN HE'S BEEN DRINKING
DEPENDS ON YOU
TO DO HIS THINKING
Burma Shave

CAR IN DITCH
DRIVER IN TREE
THE MOON WAS FULL
AND SO WAS HE.
Burma Shave

And my all time favorite:

PASSING SCHOOL ZONE
TAKE IT SLOW
LET OUR LITTLE
SHAVERS GROW Burma Shave
posted by billybobtoo at 5:06 PM on May 10, 2008


Well, I'm thinking more about the possibly upcoming pandemic spurred on by having hundreds of thousands of bodies essentially rotting in the beginning of a tropical summer. [Way up there]

Some doc on NPR today discussed this as a frequently-repeated but unsubstantiated canard. Rotting bodies, distasteful as they may be, do not spread disease, with the possible exception of plague, which is not factor here. The microbes that infect humans require warm bodies. They don't survive in cold ones. While the situation brought on by the cyclone may encourage diseases like dysentery, it will not bring on a "pandemic" of some infectious disease.
posted by beagle at 5:12 PM on May 10, 2008


Myanmar
Is not the name
But so many dead
Makes shaving jokes lame
posted by roombythelake at 5:25 PM on May 10, 2008


notreally: Could almost make one wonder if tying up so many of our resources in the middle east for the past seven years has been such a good idea.

What, so we can tie them up in southeast asia instead? Any invasion would be ugly - a lot of the population is brainwashed, and some it is ideologically opposed to us.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:35 PM on May 10, 2008


(warning: disturbing images...)

What you won't see on junta's official broadcasts.

What you will see instead.
posted by roombythelake at 7:09 PM on May 10, 2008


Are you deliberately trying to be obtuse or do you come by it naturally? In the time you sit here snarking and trolling, you could be doing something.

Yes. I could be doing something completely useless, that made me feel better but had no other practical effect, just like you did.

I don't believe in empty gestures. I think that results are more important than intentions, and I don't buy the idea that if enough people just want something bad enough, it'll happen. The world ain't like that.

I'm not trying to be obtuse, I'm trying to be realistic. Your senators can't do any more about this than you or I can. I'm sure they'd like to be part of the solution, too, but just what would you suggest they do?

Sadly, not all problems in life can be solved. And sometimes they can be, but only by people who don't want to solve the problem. That's the situation here. Unless the government of Burma asks for help, and accepts it, there's not a damned thing any of us can do about the situation.

That's how it is in Burma. That's how it is in Darfur. That's how it is in Zimbabwe. That's how it is in North Korea. We can't unilaterally solve those problems, no matter how much we wish we could. Solution isn't possible without active cooperation by those governments -- and they're not interested in our kind of solutions.
posted by Class Goat at 7:31 PM on May 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


McCain Convention Manager Resigns After NEWSWEEK Reveals Burma Ties
posted by homunculus at 9:53 AM on May 11, 2008


Preventing Disease Outbreaks is 'Race against Time'
posted by homunculus at 10:19 AM on May 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


In Burma, Fear Trumps Grief
posted by homunculus at 10:56 AM on May 11, 2008


This photo says it all. Something must be done.
posted by ornate insect at 2:37 PM on May 11, 2008


Myanmar and China's natural disasters: Good relief, bad relief, no relief
posted by homunculus at 9:12 AM on May 13, 2008


Danger: Getting the Truth Out of Burma
posted by homunculus at 9:13 AM on May 13, 2008


Junta Leader Won’t Answer My Calls: Ban Ki-moon

Thai PM to Travel to Burma at UN Chief’s Request
posted by homunculus at 1:16 AM on May 14, 2008


UN says Another Cyclone Forming near Burma
posted by homunculus at 1:18 AM on May 14, 2008


Monks Help Cyclone Victims Despite Military Pressure
posted by homunculus at 1:22 AM on May 14, 2008


In Myanmar, a humanitarian crisis - so why can't the U.N. be more forceful?
posted by homunculus at 11:26 AM on May 14, 2008


Wow!

Red Cross: Myanmar toll could top 127,000.
posted by ericb at 3:22 PM on May 14, 2008


Junta Keeps Aid Workers From Victims
posted by homunculus at 5:43 PM on May 17, 2008


Myanmar Victims Have Nowhere To Go
posted by homunculus at 9:33 AM on May 18, 2008


Save the Children Warns of Starvation in Burma
posted by homunculus at 11:04 AM on May 19, 2008


Burma Continues to Recruit Child Soldiers
posted by homunculus at 2:12 PM on May 21, 2008


And on Wednesday, Burma's Leaders Were Still Bastards
posted by homunculus at 9:23 PM on May 21, 2008


Monks on secret aid mission
posted by homunculus at 3:31 PM on May 24, 2008


At home with the General
posted by homunculus at 3:37 PM on May 24, 2008


Aung San Suu Kyi: Release Deadline Imminent
posted by homunculus at 6:09 PM on May 24, 2008


Aid donors turn up heat on Burma
posted by homunculus at 9:58 AM on May 25, 2008


Military rulers silent on Suu Kyi's detention deadline as donors gather in Myanmar
posted by homunculus at 1:42 PM on May 25, 2008


Myanmar extends Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest
posted by homunculus at 9:35 AM on May 27, 2008


Burma grants all UN visa requests
posted by homunculus at 11:43 PM on May 29, 2008


Burma Must Stop Evicting Cyclone Survivors, Rights Groups Say
posted by homunculus at 9:14 AM on May 31, 2008


Monks Succeed in Cyclone Relief as Junta Falters
posted by homunculus at 10:24 AM on June 1, 2008


On the heels of the estimable homunculus:

Burma's state-run media has strongly condemned media reports of the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis.
posted by aramaic at 11:59 AM on June 6, 2008


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