Archive for April, 2008

Voting, Burma-Style

Posted on April 30, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under International, Politics.

The Burmese government has rigging votes down to an art. In the aftermath of protests demanding political reform, the Burmese junta is holding a referendum on its new constitution. The vote represents the junta’s way of appeasing the international community by pretending to enact democratic reforms. The referendum will be May 10, and advance voting has begun this week. But there is nothing “democratic” happening; and these aren’t “reforms.” Here is how the junta holds a referendum. Let’s call it, “Voting, Burma-Style.”

First, the government handpicks the delegates who write the new constitution. Second, it adds a clause that forbids the national hero and Nobel Peace laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, from ever running for office.

The junta then makes amendments impossible; harasses, assaults and arrests pro-democracy activists; forbids criticism of the draft constitution; and bombards the state media with a campaign to promote the referendum. It prevents media outlets inside the country from publishing the views of anyone against the referendum. The junta doesn’t tell people what the draft constitution actually says. Then it insists that all civil servants and their families must vote and must vote “yes” - or lose their jobs.

Think that’s enough? Nope. The junta also prints some ballots with the “yes” box already filled in. An anonymous source told the Irrawaddy, a magazine based in Thailand and run by Burmese exiles: “I was given the ballot already marked—my duty was just to put it in the ballot box.”

And finally, just in case the above tactics fail, the junta writes the constitution ensuring that the military government will remain in power.

Michael Green, a professor at Georgetown, and Michael Schiffer of the Stanley Foundation wrote in an op-ed in the Boston Globe, “The junta has mastered the art of fending off international pressure with empty gestures. It is exploiting divisions in the international community to block pressure for real change.”

If Machiavelli were around, he could learn a thing or two.


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Rebate Checks, Keep ‘Em Coming

Posted on April 28, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under Business.

My husband and I will soon get $600 from the U.S. government in tax rebates. The IRS will start sending rebates via direct deposit today and via snail mail May 9. Unlike 82 percent of the public, as determined by a Los Angeles Times/ Bloomberg poll, we will spend our money. We are both students, both broke, and both determined to use the money on more groceries, gas and even clothes. Therefore, we are clearly good Americans (well, I’m a good American; my husband, Aung Moe, is a good permanent resident).

Unlike all those rebate collectors who want to pay off debt or save - read “hoard” - their new cash, we promise to spend it. We will pump it back into the economy, exactly what the rebates were intended for. President Bush said in January: “Letting Americans keep more of their own money should increase consumer spending.”

In exchange for our patriotism, I for one think we should be given more money. President Bush and Mr. IRS, if you would like to help the economy even more, if you are serious about pulling this nation out of a recession, go right ahead and send us another check. (1917 Rodney Drive, Apt. 203, Los Angeles, CA 90027). You have our word that we will spend it.

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NYT Journo Tells His Jail Story

Posted on April 26, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under International, Media, Uncategorized.

The New York Times has an excellent piece in tomorrow’s paper by Barry Bearak, its Johannesburg co-bureau chief who was arrested and jailed while reporting in Zimbabwe earlier this month.

The floor was filthy. The odor of human waste infected the air. More bothersome were the bugs. “Cockroaches the size of skateboards,” I quipped. This was hyperbole. The insects were mostly tiny and black, others short, white and wormy. We were soon sharing our clothes with them.

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Workplace Raid Nets Americans

Posted on April 25, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under Crime, Immigration.

A group of U.S. citizens and greencard holders are pissed off after immigration agents - on a raid for undocumented workers - entered their job site, blocked the exits, didn’t let them use their cellphones and detained them for 45 minutes. A civil rights lawyer, Peter Schey, filed 114 federal claims for damages on their behalf yesterday.

The raid, which took place February 7 at Micro Solutions Enterprises in Van Nuys, California, led to the arrest of 138 undocumented immigrants.

Putting aside the immigration issue, and whether workplace raids are effective, humane or good public policy, the rights of the U.S. citizens and greencard holders caught up in the raids poses a fascinating debate. Should all citizens and permanent residents, if they have not committed a crime, be allowed to go to work, do their job and mind their own business free of nuisance? Do law-abiding citizens have a right to work in peace and quiet? A right to not have to provide identification, be harassed by federal agents or explain their immigration status? A right to not be searched or detained for no reason? Isn’t that the point of the fourth amendment?

Or is working in peace and quiet a privilege that ICE agents can take away if necessary? Maybe upholding immigration law is more important than the right to some privacy at the office.

Schey said the raid violated his clients’ fourth amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure and was therefore unconstitutional. Listen to a discussion with Schey on KPCC Patt Morrison today. (I intern for the show.)

Schey said 300 people were detained and kept in a state of fear and confusion. “People were told they could not use the bathroom. People were told they could not use their cellphones,” he said. “In essence, they were locked down until they were questioned by ICE agents regarding their status and their citizenship.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the search was fair because the agents had a warrant and followed all the rules. Steven Camarota, the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, said there are plenty of circumstances in which people not accused of a crime are affected by law enforcement activities. For example, if an officer storms into your friend’s house during a drug bust, and you just happen to be over visiting, you can’t simply get up and leave. He said to Patt Morrison: “If you are in a home, if you are in a business, in which dozens of people all around you are violating the law, and they come in with a legitimate warrant signed by a judge, they are going to detain you. “

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Facebook Joins the Fight

Posted on April 23, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under International, Media.

There is even a Facebook group - with close to 1,000 members - to organize a campaign against the ship sending 77 tons of arms from China to Zimbabwe (see recent post).

A Facebook member named Joseph Nicholas Katongole, who says he’s from South Africa, wrote on the group wall:

thanks to all u guys that are opposed to this “death ship”. we africans are simply tired of countries that continue to ‘feed’ war/torture/genocide on our continent. China and its like, we are not stupid. we know the roles u have played in rwanda, darfur and now u aim to pour fuel onto the fire that is zimbabwe. oh sorry!.. as long as u get paid its fine with u. just another bunch of africans killing each other. with the political background of china i still truly wonder how it is that the IOC chose china to host the olympics. dont mix politics with sports?? ….give me a break. in this global village that we live in… everything is connected, whether one likes it or not

The group, called STOP Zimbabwe’s Weapons Ship, has links to recent articles and video clips on the controversy.

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A Halt on Arms to Zimbabwe

Posted on April 23, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under International.

Thanks to protests from trade unions, church leaders, human rights groups and the international community, a ship carrying 77 tons of arms from China to Zimbabwe has been unable to dock and is now left hanging out at sea.

The groups argue that China sent the ammunition, rockets and mortar bombs to help Robert Mugabe win his country’s March 29 presidential election and suppress any opposition. It originally went to South Africa, but dockers banned together and refused to unload the ship, called the An Yue Jiang. It then tried Mozambique and Angola - but the people refused to let the ship dock.

According to the New York Times, the president of Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa, called on other African nations to deny the ship access to their ports. A spokesperson said: “He actually said that it would be good for China to play a more useful role in the Zimbabwe crisis than supplying arms…We don’t want a situation which will escalate the situation in Zimbabwe more than what it is.”

Zimbabwe’s justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, commented on the public outcry at a press conference: “I don’t understand all this hullabaloo about a lone ship,” he said.

The International Action Network on Small Arms, which works to stop the proliferation of small arms, shows a map on its website where you can follow the course of the ship.

Beijing said yesterday the ship may be forced to return to China.

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LAX Can Search Your Laptop, No Reason Needed

Posted on April 22, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under Crime.

A U.S. federal appeals court ruled yesterday that customs officers can search your laptop at the airport for absolutely no reason. No need for suspicious activity. You don’t even have to make a bomb joke (see below). Even if you look and act as innocent as a child, your laptop, cell phone and Blackberry are all fair game.

After a case involving a customs official finding porn on the laptop of a man from Orange County, California, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco decided that customs officers don’t need reasonable suspicion to search your personal and electronic belongings coming over border checkpoints.

Officers randomly searched Michael Arnold’s laptop at LAX on July 17, 2005, and found folders with child pornography. Arnold faces charges of possessing and transporting child porn and attempting to engage in illicit sexual conduct abroad with a minor, according to the ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that evidence is not needed to search at a border in order to protect the country’s “territorial integrity,” and airports count as borders. Therefore, the appeals court decided, a laptop is no different from a suitcase and can be searched at an international border.

If a police officer pulled over Arnold while driving, and Arnold looked and acted completely normal, the officer would have no right to search Arnold’s trunk. If the officer found child porn or drugs in the trunk, he would have a hard time using it as evidence against Arnold in court.

And yet, put Arnold in an airport, and all the rules change.

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Bomb Jokes at Airport Continued

Posted on April 22, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under Crime.

A couple days after I wrote about the illegality of making a joke about a bomb at an airport, the Associated Press reported on a woman arrested at JFK airport for doing just that.

When the woman was not allowed to board, she allegedly asked a JetBlue flight attendant, “What if I had a bomb in my bag?” The woman, Rosalinda Baez, has been accused of falsely claiming there was a bomb in her suitcase.

Maybe if she had read my blog, she wouldn’t have gotten into so much trouble. Let this be a lesson.

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No Laughing Allowed

Posted on April 18, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under Crime.

I have been dying to discuss this. Finally, I have my own blog! So…does anyone else think it’s a little strange/anti-American that we can’t make jokes at the airport? As you go through security in American airports (at least the ones I’ve been in - i.e. ones on either coast), there are big signs telling you it’s against the law to make jokes about bombs. Such jokes have led to travelers being charged with a felony disorderly conduct and falsely making a terrorist threat.

The rule wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that what else do you do when you’re passing through airport security besides make a bomb joke? I flew last night from Los Angeles to New York for Passover with the fam, and sure enough I was at LAX airport security and couldn’t resist - despite all the rules, I had to make a bomb joke. As we were going through security, my husband, Aung Moe, left his carry-on suitcase in the line unattended as we both stepped aside to get our boarding passes stamped. I came back to the line and found a man staring at the lonely suitcase, looking like he was contemplating alerting the troops. I grabbed the bag and said: “Don’t worry - no bomb.” We both smiled. “Ooops,” I continued. “No bomb jokes allowed.”

It’s shocking how often this happens to me. I suspect many people are in the same boat. When we have been bombarded (ignore the pun) with messages about terrorism at airports, to the point that it’s become part of our national psyche, you can’t (or at least I can’t) go through airport security without thinking about bombs.

It’s also hard not to find the security effectiveness laughable. I must take off my shoes and sweater as I pass through, but the pepper spray on my keychain has accidentally slipped through undetected countless times. Back when I was a smoker (approximately 28.5 days ago), the lighters and matches in the bottom of my purse passed through unnoticed on almost every trip. Yet my water bottle was seized.

When did our nation become so scared about a bomber in the airport that we decided to chuck the First Amendment? When did we get to the point where poking fun or using comedy was against the law? Or right, on September 11, 2001. (Though it’s not just us - people have been arrested for making bomb jokes at airports in Edinburgh, Manila, Devon and elsewhere.) It’s always been against the law to make a fake bomb threat, but did 9/11 make us willing to prioritize so-called security over everything else?

I was living in Denmark on 9/11. While I felt tremendous grief for the victims and their families, I did not experience the collective trauma like most Americans. From Copenhagen, I couldn’t understand why it was necessary to throw American Flags on every SUV and front porch in the country. And now, when I go through airports, as sick as this might be, I just want to make a cynical joke. Safety is obviously incredibly important, and the country should invest in better security. But as an American, I feel like the right to laugh and joke shouldn’t be sacrificed so easily. At least not without some discussion. What do you think?

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Burmese Water Festival in Monterey Park, LA

Posted on April 17, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture.

These photos are from Thingyan (Water Festival) to celebrate the Burmese New Year. The festival was April 13, 2008, in Monterey Park, Los Angeles.

In Burma, all businesses, shops and restaurants close for the week to celebrate the holiday. Burmese society is typically conservative - except on Thingyan. Young people wear Western clothes, girls look sexy and all rules are ignored. Children run through the streets throwing water at anyone they can find. Or they wait by the windows of their apartment, ready to dump a bucket of water on the next passerby.

In Rangoon, teenagers and young people load up in cars or trucks and ride by stages set up in the streets with people spraying water hoses. Kids scream, sing, dance and try to find a police officer to taunt. Normally, being rude to a man in uniform would get you in serious trouble in this totalitarian country. But on Thingyan, anything goes.

Photos by Hanna and Aung Moe

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