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Precariously Perilous Position: President Pervez of Pakistan

Mush the Man of Pakistan; on the verge of getting cannedGreetings from Pakistan my Plaid Friends.  Just popped in to the mountains here in Kashmir to pick up a sweet plaid sweater.  Got to love that Kashmir!  And of course trouble follows me…big riots broke out in Karachi this weekend, riots which spell big trouble for the most precariously position Paki of them all: my main man Pervez. Check it:

Senior official of Pakistani Supreme Court is killed

Riots in Karachi leave dozens dead

Strikes paralyse Pakistan amid more violence

Musharraf’s poll strategy in ruins

Pakistan’s Democracy Movement Defies Repression

What happened to our main Pak-man Musharraf? General Pervez Musharraf is also President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. But make no bones about it, while he may be called President and walk around in a nice suit, he is still the main General and commands the armed forces.  Mush took over the government by force in 1999 and has led it ever since. He is a huge US ally (Pakistan is the #3 recipient of US foreign aid), and major player in the fight against global terrorism, but simultaneously is not much loved at home. There have been several assassination attempts, and violent protests always seem to lurk just below the surface of this society.  What is the latest turmoil about?

The run-down:

  1. On March 9th Mush the Man fires the head of Pakistan‘s Supreme Court, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, for bad behavior.  Was Chaudhry really corrupt and doing questionable things? Plaid sez: “probably.” Was he really that much more corrupt than anybody else? Plaid sez: “probably not.”
  2. Ever since, lawyers across the country have staged strikes in a form of protest to Mush’s involvement in the judicial branch. These strikes have completely shut down the court system.  Many think that Chaudhry was fired solely because he had become an outspoken critic of harsh anti-terrorist activity of the Mush government.  Is that true? Plaid sez: “Possibly, but not probably.”
  3. These strikes have now turned into a whole anti-Mush, anti-government, pro-democracy movement across the country, resulting in several big violent blow-ups, the latest being in Karachi over the weekend.  Is all of Pakistan rising up in protest? Plaid sez: “Hard to tell as an outsider. I’d say the country is split: maybe 20% avidly pro-Mush, maybe 20% violently anti-Mush, and everybody else is somewhere in-between.”

Long story short: Mush is in a mess.  I think this guy has got to have the highest stress job on the whole damn planet.  Man, I wouldn’t wish his position on a broke-dick dog. What am I talking about? Dig this:

Musharraf is trying to pacify the wants and desires of 170 million citizens—that’s the 6th biggest population in the world. It’s also a devoutly Islamic society, including the whole spectrum of religious views from the mainstream to the seriously extreme.  It’s a society that has attempted to be a democracy since its inception back in 1947, with less than desirable results—the reason Mush took over the country in 1999 was because of massively widespread government corruption.  There are a slew of extremist factions and separatists groups pulling the country apart, especially all around the Afghan border (look up Waziristan, Balochistan, the Taliban—damn, that sounds like a Dr. Seuss book).  Mush is trying to keep a lid on terrorist activity in Afghanistan, terrorist activity in Pakistan near the Afghan border, terrorist activity in Kashmir, terrorist activity in India, and of course terrorist activity all throughout Pakistan itself.  Damn! Every time a bomb goes off anywhere in Asia, Pakistan takes the heat!

And it gets even worse! In an attempt to keep Pakistan on the list of the ‘good’ countries, Mush has to suck up to the US and the other players in the ‘War on Terrorism’ by cracking down as hard as he can in Pakistan—which of course further infuriates the people of Pakistan, which pushes even more of them to embrace extremism.  Damn! Talk about a vicious circle!  This dude is really between a rock and a hard place! Which brings us back to these current events:

While the Plaid Avenger personally thinks Musharraf is an okay cat, there is no way that he can be considered a truly elected president in a real democracy. Pakistan is in no way, shape, or form a real functioning democracy right now—and maybe its not ever going to be one either.  While Mush certainly has international support from other governments, he certainly does not have clear-cut widespread support of the people.  That’s why this group of lawyers and a fired chief justice are getting so much airplay, as well as inciting the masses.  Many see Mush as an authoritarian dictator and Western-stooge, and it’s not hard to envision why they think that way.  Given his situation, what else can he do? I pose that question to you, readers.  Especially if you live in Pakistan.

India, US: not keen on anyone but Mush with the missiles.But know what’s really going on here Plaid People: the rest of the planet (particularly the US and India) does not want to see nuclear-armed Pakistan fall into total chaos, anarchy, or even a theocratic state.  The other countries of the world will continue to support Musharraf, or even another similar authoritarian leader, in order to keep a lid on the boiling pot we call Pakistan.  The US, the EU, and India all continue to rally around the Mush government because they see no other viable options right now, or even in the foreseeable future.  It gets tricky for true democracies to show support for ‘fake’ democracies like Pakistan—and now perhaps you can see why they do it anyway.

Poor Musharraf. Every single thing this guy does infuriates a shitload of people. And it don’t look like things are going to get any better for him, or his country, for some time to come.

My Mush advice: keep the kevlar on my friend.

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British Bombshell: Bye-Bye Blair, Bring on the Brown Sugar!

Blair: bailing out while the bailing is good!Just woke up from partying in Paris, and popped over to London to start on a pub crawl when I heard this news.  Blair bailing out! Yet another bedrock political leader in Europe bites the dust!  Man, ‘tis the season for change all over the Old World apparently.  Check it:

Blair will stand down on 27 June

Gordon Brown, the Next Man in Number 10 — Most Likely

Smirking Gordon says: bye, bye Tony

Blair: Ten years is enough

The US’ greatest lapdog is bowing out, as in bow-wow-wowing out—pun intended my plaid friends!  Where or where will the US ever find such a loyal pooch to blindly follow them into armed adventures across the globe.  Hmmm…maybe the Japanese after they scrap their pacifist constitution…or maybe the Australians after they triple their population!  Who knows?  One thing is for sure: the Brits won’t be quite as bold supporters of US bombings from here on out.  But I digress, let’s back up the cart…

Prime Minister Tony Blair has been leading Great Britain for a decade straight, and helped his political party win three successive elections—that would be the Labour Party to the unfamiliar.  The Labour Party can be likened to the Democratic  Party here in the US.  And we can go one step further in the analogy: Tony Blair was/is the British version of Bill Clinton.  Both dudes are center-left, socially liberal, youngish, handsome, slick speaking, eye-candy politicians who ushered in a new younger, hipper, liberal age into both countries roughly at the same time.  While the US turned back to the conservative Republicans in 2000, the UK has remained staunchly in the hands of the liberal Labour crew.  Bill and Blair were bosom buddies back in the day…and in the days since, Blair has continued his cozy relationship with the US even under the Bush administration…and perhaps that is why he is bailing out right now.

Blair bailing because of Bush? Many would interpret events that way.  Blair’s unwavering support for the Bush-led US war in Iraq has been extremely unpopular in the pubs and soccer fields of the Kingdom.  Lots of folks now believe that even though Blair may has done very well overall for Britain over the years, he is going to be remembered solely for the Iraq debacle. Specifically, many in the Labour Party have wanted Tony to step down for a while now, so as to distance the Party from the Middle Eastern mess—especially since Labour has been losing support, and seats, for the last year.  And that’s too bad, because under Tony’s tutelage the UK has done quite well economically, socially, and internationally. Blair, and Brown, have helped more often than hindered in places like Africa, China, India, et al.  But who is this Brown fellow?

Gordon Brown: the dumpy smart guy.Gordon Brown aka ‘Brown Sugar’ is the long-serving Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK—the guy who holds the purse strings of the government.  He has served in this role under Tony Blair for the last decade—in fact these guys were buddies even before they achieved the top spots of UK leadership.  And Brown has another distinction: he has dominated the domestic political agenda like no one before him.  Brown is the one largely responsible for the economic success of the country today—and he is the shoe-in to become the next Prime Minister!

Kind of dumpy, plainly dressed, goofy hair, toothy grin: he is the exact opposite of the glibly slick and TV-ready Blair.  But old Gordon is much more of a thinker than Tony, as evidenced by the financial state and competitiveness of the UK, and as such may be much more elusive when it comes to staunchly supporting the US.  The Plaid Avenger predicts that the British lapdog is soon to be jumping off the trousers of Uncle Sam—the puppy is not going to leave the house, mind you, it’s just not going to be on the lap.  Brown is reserved and plays his cards close to the chest, and while is has publicly supported the US, the Bushies, and the War on Terror, I believe he is now going to be trying to associate the ‘Iraq-capades’ distinctly with Blair.  He is not going to abandon the US, but will draw a distinct line with the Iraq War deal making it very clear what his government will and will not do in the future—and increasing troops is NOT going to be on the table for discussion. Ever.

So know this:  Brown knows that his buddy Blair and his Labour Party have taken a rap for their lapdog role, and he is getting ready to reign in the leash.  Just at a time when the Frenchies may be more accommodating to the US-led role in the war (remember, they just elected a conservative president—Sarkozy).  How bizarre is that?

Maybe Tony can now join me for that pub crawl since he’s got nothing better to do.  British Real Ale—can you get anything real-er than that? Look it up my Plaid friends!  It’s the good shit!

Real Ale and kidney pie!



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Abe Aspires to Arm

Shinzo Abe:Watch out kids! Godzilla! Godzilla! Hello again my friends.  The Plaid Avenger is back again in full force to force you to focus on the foreseeable future of forces in Japan…military force that is. Perhaps you already know that Japan does not have a military. No army, no navy, no air force or marines….at least that’s what is says on paper.  Of course, our pacifist Pacific pals do have a bunch of dudes running around in uniforms, with guns, on planes, and in tanks.  So what jives Japan?  Take a look:

Abe facing battle over constitutional change
Japan marks 60th anniversary of postwar Constitution
Japan PM calls for defence review
Japan extends its military reach

Oh Abe, Abe, Abe, you are a busy bee! Not ‘Honest Abe’ Lincoln mind you, but Abe Shinzo the recently elected Japanese Prime Minister.  And the ‘recently –elected’ descriptor is important for you to know, because it means that he is going to be a player for a while on the global stage.  So know Abe, but more importantly for this blog, know that Abe wants some changes.  Constitutional changes to be precise…

Former Prime Minister Koizumi: Our main man Abe is actually guiding Japan in a new direction regionally as well, as he is making a concerted effort to warm the often frigid relations between Japan and China.  His predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, was a much more hawkish figure who regularly pissed off China and Korea by visiting the Yasukuni shrine—a war shrine honoring the Japanese dead from World War II, including soldiers and convicted war criminals who committed all manner of atrocities against the Koreans and the Chinese, among others.  It appears that Abe is not going to be visiting the shrine in an effort to not piss off everyone else in the region, but we shall pick up on that subject in a different blog.

However, while Koizumi and Abe have different approaches to shrine visits, they are of one mind on the military: they both want it back.  Want it back? What the hell does that mean Plaid Avenger? Where did they lose their military? Under a rock? In the Sea of Japan? Did Godzilla eat it? No, no, no…it’s nothing like that.  It’s more like this:

During World War II, Japan was on the bad guy team.  You know, the Nazis, Mussolini’s Italy, and the Japanese. What a bizarre grouping.  Anyway, as you should know, the bad guys lost WWII, and for Japan this meant occupation by the United States—since it was the US who conducted the entire War in the Pacific component of the fighting, and after we dropped a mega-shit ton of bombs across the country, followed up by a couple of atomic ones.  Lights out. Game over. US takes over.

Under direction of General Douglas MacArthur, the entire country was remodeled based on the ‘western’ example. The educational systems, banking systems, government systems, and for this discussion in particular: the constitution. The US basically wrote it, and told the Japanese leadership: “Okay, sign here on the dotted line.” So what? Why is this important for our discussion? Because in that constitution was placed a pacifist clause which prohibited Japan from ever having a military.  And they still don’t. And that is what Abe wants to change.

“But wait Plaid Avenger, I’ve seen pictures of army dudes, and Japanese naval vessels, and Japanese guys helping the US in Iraq—but mostly I’ve seen all sorts of Japanese armaments as they battled Godzilla in all those movies…so what gives?”  Excellent question!  What you have seen/are seeing is what’s called the Japanese Self-Defense Force—a group of guys with guns and toys that look a hell of a lot like a military, except for one thing: they don’t leave the country.  It’s supposed to be the equivalent of the National Guard in the US: there for emergencies and self-defense of the motherland if anyone were to ever invade.

However, this Self-Defense Force has been changing rapidly here lately. In 2004, a small contingent of this force was sent to help the US in Iraq.  That was the first time since WWII that any Japanese soldier was sent abroad.  Many people in Japan were outraged—how could such a move be justified as defending Japan? To be sure, it was mostly a move of political support for the US (I think only 19 Japanese guys actually went, but the US got to chalk up a whole other country to its list of supporters).  After all, Japan has to keep kissing the US’ ass since Uncle Sam is the real protector of Japan, specifically against any current threat from North Korea, and any possible future threat from China. 

And know this too: China, Korea, and many other Asian nations are not happy about Japan possibly re-arming, as they are still plenty pissed about WWII.  See…this is why you have to know your damn history people!

So on one side you have a lot of Japanese folks and surrounding countries who want to keep Japan as a pacifist state.  And on the other hand you have Abe and others in the leadership who now want to change the constitution to allow for a true defensive and offensive military, both for their security and to appease the US.  The US really wants Japan to re-arm, and is pushing hard for this. Why? Because the US wants to use the military might of a re-armed Japan as a counter-balance to the growth of Chinese power in the region.  It’s all such a delicious game of RISK, you know, the military game of dominance from Milton Bradley.  Check and check-mate!  Oh waiter, check please!

Oh wait, we have to stop and savor the historical irony here: the US is pushing hard for Japan to scrap part of its constitution that the US forced Japan to adopt 60 years ago. Ha! How hilarious!

Could you make this shit up if you tried?

We shall see how this plays out in the very near future.  The changing of a constitutional clause in Japan will cause considerable consternation in the Pacific.  Too true, too true.  Watch out! Godzilla may rise again!

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Ruskie Bites the Dust-kie

I'm not really dead! Just really, really hungover!Back in Plaid!  Let’s get back into it with a bit of bantering about Boris…Boris Yeltsin that is: a huge figure, literally and figuratively, of the 20th century that you should at least have a working knowledge of. He is the guy who oversaw the transformation of the USSR into what we call Russia today. And what a transition it was!  It’s nothing short of a miracle that this guy survived his time in office, much less all the vodka he drank while doing it! But I digress…

Yeltsin is laid to rest in Moscow

Lost on the Road to Yeltsin’s New Era

Memories of Yeltsin

Ah…..a man after my own heart! Revolutionary leader, statesman, reformer…and a total drunk to boot.  What a combo!  This rant won’t be long, but let me at least point out several things this guy did to make the history books.

First off, who was this dude?  Boris Yeltsin was originally a building engineer by training, but entered politics at an early age and never looked back.  Of course, if you are a politician in the USSR, then you are by default a communist party member too—after all it was the only political party to be in, and all the cool kids were commies since the Stalin era.  So Boris was a commie working his way up the ranks of leadership up until the late 1980’s…you know, when things really turn to shit for the USSR. The Cold War was winding down, while Ronald Reagan was ratcheting up the heat on the ‘Evil Empire’ by building more bombs than ever.  Ron Rocks!

So Yeltsin becomes somewhat of a visionary by figuring out that the soviet system was going to collapse, and he actually started speaking out for reform and accountability, which of course got him fired.  But his cult of personality had already started in Moscow, and people liked the dude, and they simultaneously hated the commies, so his popularity grew. He was elected to the Russian Congress, and in 1991 he was elected as the President of Russia. (Remember, at this time Russia is simply one of the Republics in the greater USSR political organization, a sub-state if you will.)

Gorbachev: Maybe Boris spilled wine on his head?

What happened next is out of a storybook. The leader of the entire USSR at the time was Mikhail Gorbachev—you know, guy with the wine stain on his forehead—was trying himself to reform the crap-ass soviet system, while desperately trying to hold the impending shit-storm of a strained socialism together.  In August of 1991, some hard-line commie hold-outs staged a coup to depose Gorbachev, and guess who comes to the rescue?  You know this! Our main booze-hound Boris!  He rallied the population, made a speech from atop a tank, re-captured the ‘White House’, and restored Gorbachev to power.  All while brown-bagging a handle of Smirnoff! Wow! That is a historical figure I can rally behind!

Gorbachev was back in power, but the back of the soviet system was now totally broke. Yeltsin was now the man! In a matter of months, the Russian government assumed all powers of the Soviet government (you follow me here?), and in November of 1991, Yeltsin outlawed the Commie Party outright.  In December, he set up the dissolution of the USSR into the independent states that you see on the map today.  On Christmas Eve, Boris assumed the USSR seat at the UN in Russia‘s name, and officially declared the end of the Soviet Union. Game over dude.  Cold War done.

And now I can more succinctly summarize what he did while in office as Russia‘s first President (ever!) from 1991-1999. Yeltsin can be credited/blamed for several things of particular note:

  1. Shift to market economy: He oversaw the transition from socialism to capitalism in what can only be called a ‘wild west show’ of privatization. During this orgy of capitalism, massive government rip-offs occurred which brought tremendous wealth to a small class of businessmen—now called the ‘oligarchs’, remember that from class?  This transition initially caused widespread turmoil and near economic collapse, but it seems to have leveled off after a decade. It just happened so damn fast! People were in shock, and in fact Boris called his plan “Shock Therapy”.
  2. When this shock took full force, the Russian “congress” basically revolted in 1993 and was going to toss old Boris out, but he sent in the army tanks to shell the senators back into place. Seriously!  He fired rounds at the damn building in order to maintain the fledgling democracy!  This guy was nuts!  The other use of military force that Yeltsin will be remembered for is the start of the war in Chechnya in 1994: a conflict which has mired Russia in death and destruction right on up to the present.  He did this on the grounds of maintaining the integrity of the Russian state…but at a terrible cost so far.
  3. Entrenched democracy: Oversaw first full ‘real’ elections in 1996, which he won, but by all accounts was pretty darn fairly run.  Also, his stepping down in 1999 is a momentous event in that it’s always the first real test of a true democracy when the first transition of power happens willingly, and peacefully.  And that’s exactly how Boris did it.  And who did he hand power to?  Why our main man in Russia, Vlad ‘The Man’ Putin of course! Party like Putin!

Boris paved the way for Putin!!!

Of course I need to finish this rant with the booze. Boris loved the booze man!  He was widely considered a drunk by his opponents, and a hard partier by his allies…hey, that’s kind of like me!  He was often tipsy at meetings, late for appointments, or just overslept his duties outright trying to beat down hangovers. One famous story concerned Yeltsin flying to Ireland for a meeting with the President, and being so drunk he could not even get off the plane! Ha! That’s usually how people leave Ireland, not arrive in it!

He was a loose cannon, a partier and possibly a drunk….and that’s why people were drawn to him. His easy-going friendly nature made him extremely popular in Russian eyes (they aren’t the friendliest folks, those Russians) and abroad.  His was a big figure who oversaw big changes in the biggest country in the world.  And through one of its most turbulent periods ever too! Perhaps it took a drunk like Boris to be able to survive thru such events and still maintain a sense of humor, and still get things done.  Either way, he was a unique individual who made a big mark in history.  And probably left a big unpaid tab at the local pub too.

It may take years for the Russian vodka industry to recover from the economic shock of his passing…

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Trust in Ataturk: 200,000 Turks Talk Tough

Don't mess with the #1 Turk!Let’s hit it again Plaid Friends!  Today’s titillating talk tilts towards the Turks and the two to three hundred thousand of them that are talking tough on maintaining their Ataturk traditions.  And the legacy of Ataturk, the stalwart role of the Turkish military, and the tensions between secular and religious ideologies are all important components of today’s Turkey—affecting things like their political allies worldwide and more importantly their possible ascension into the EU.  Ataturk? Military? Secular? EU? What?  Well, read these, and let’s discuss:

Pro-secular Turks stage ‘Solidarity with Republic’ rally

200,000 protest against Turkey PM

Secular rally targets Turkish PM

Turkey academics oppose PM’s run

Turkish army keeps eye on politicians

As mentioned previously in the blog on Turkey‘s stymied ascension into the EU, Turkey is quite a unique country on today’s Plaid Planet.  Turkey is an overwhelmingly Muslim country (99% of the population), but is simultaneously a 100% secular state.  This makes it one-of-a-kind as far as states go, especially ones so close to the Middle East.  What does secular mean? It means that there is a strict separation between church and state—you know, just like the USA. 

Except you should know this: the Turks are even more extreme and protective over this separation than the US, or really any other secular democracy on the planet.  The state is the state, Islam is Islam, and in Turkey, the two shall never meet.  This can be seen in its most dramatic form by laws in Turkey which completely ban all forms of religious dress, symbols or ornaments inside government buildings.  Total ban.  So, if you want to visit the Turkish parliament building, you can not wear the traditional Muslim headscarf, a funny Pope-style hat, or even a pair of Star-of-David earrings. Not that I’ve tried…okay you got me—I actually was busted wearing all three at one time.  It did not go well.  Luckily, I was undercover in Brooklyn, so I didn’t have to tangle with any pissed off Turks…

But I digress.  Turkey has been this extreme on religious separation since the inception of the modern republic back in 1923.  Under General Mustafa Kemal aka Ataturk, Turkey embraced western-style democracy and social systems, tried to modernize and industrialize, and looked to emulate the Western European states as much as possible—which included adopting a staunchly secular outlook.  Just so you know, Ataturk is short for ‘Father of the Turks’ and he is largely seen as ‘the George Washington’ of today’s Turkey.  He is revered and respected still; perhaps even more than good old George is here.  He was a strong leader, with a strong military background, who genuinely believed that Turkey‘s best chance for the future was to look West rather than embracing religious/political systems from the East…Middle East that is.

He felt so firmly in this that he made sure that the Turkish military was very strong…specifically strong enough to always be able to thwart any organized attempt to introduce religion onto the political system. And thwart they have.  The Turkish military has cleaned house several times in the last few decades: essentially by conducting military coups, firing all the lawmakers/heads of state, and then re-establishing the democracy with fresh elections.  Hardly the most democratic way to do things, by western standards, but it still has seemed to work for Turkey.

Erdogan: Walking the Turkish tightrope

And thus, this: today’s Turkey is becoming tumultuous because there is a perceived threat that political Islam is making headway into the system.  As cited in the stories above, the current Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is himself from an Islamist party, and many fear he may pursue a pro-Islamic agenda if elected to become the next President…a post which will be vacant soon.  The Turkish ‘Congress’ is controlled by the same Islamic party and thus Erdogan would be a shoe-in for the nomination, and the subsequent victory if he so desires. (The ‘Congress’ elects the President, not the people—they vote for the Prime Minister position) 

And that is why secular fans are protesting across the country right now—to show at least through demonstrations that they are not keen on such a venture. Look at the pictures too—posters of Ataturk are everywhere.  After reading this short blog, you are probably now aware of another group that would not be keen on Erdogan as President.  Can you guess? Yep, that’s right: the military.  Look again at the story above about the general giving Erdogan a polite ‘warning’ concerning his possible candidacy.  Interesting stuff.

Is Erdogan actually going to push for an Islamic state?  In the Plaid view: not hardly.  No one in Turkey is dumb enough to do that, at least not openly.  Why?  The military coup option of course!  But beyond any threat of military action, Prime Minister Erdogan is a fairly ‘westward-leaning’ guy himself: he is one of the biggest forces behind EU entry.  And he has already been smacked down by the EU before for trying to pass laws to criminalized adultery (among other things), which where interpreted by the EU as being too religious-based.  So Erdogan may be from an Islamic party, but his EU-minded sensibities would argue against any radical ‘Islam-itization’ of the government. Well, that and the fact the army would probably come kick his ass.  Hmmmm…possible ass-kicking always seems to weigh heavily on the minds’ of world leaders…

Speaking of ass-kicking and world leaders, have you seen what Vladimir Putin has been up to?  Damn, that is one world-leader-cat that I would never want to piss off.

Anyway, be sure to watch Turkish developments in their next presidential election to see how things turn out.  The Ataturk secularists will be watching close, as will the Turkish military, as will the EU, as will the US—because the US wants Turkey to stay staunchly in that secular/western-leaning column since they are a NATO ally, and perhaps our ony damn friend left anywhere in/near the Middle East.  But that’s another story….

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Issue 2: Battle For Burma

Well, the battle for the heart and soul of this country is on, but no one outside Burma seems to be able to do a damn thing about it! Why not?

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