After War, A New Legacy of Peace in Laos


September 8, 2016

Image result for Kissinger-Nixon War in Cambodia

Image result for Kissinger-Nixon War in Cambodia

COMMENT: This scourge of war afflicts not only Laos, but also Cambodia and Vietnam. Lives and limbs were lost, dreams destroyed and hardship and trauma endured  as a result of the LBJ -Nixon-Kissinger pursuit of the Vietnam War.

It is indeed appropriate that in the last days of the Obama Presidency  the United States has renewed and intensified its efforts to deal with this horrible legacy of American aggression. In stead of feeling sorry and expressing remorse, America and American business must now partake in the economic development of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. –Din Merican

After War, A New Legacy of Peace in Laos

by Channapha Khamvongsa, the Executive Director of Legacies of War

When I was 6 years old, my family fled Laos, a country in Southeast Asia the size of Minnesota. As refugees welcomed by the United States, my parents’ wish for their children was to not look back, but to take every opportunity provided in our new homeland to live a happy, fulfilled life .

It wasn’t until I was an adult, long after we settled in Virginia, that I learned of the painful past my parents had left behind.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. dropped more than 2 million tons of bombs over Laos — more than the number of bombs dropped on Germany and Japan combined during all of World War II. Sadly, the people in Laos continue to feel the tragic consequences, long after the last bomb fell.

 
White House staff and others listen to President Obama make a statement after touring the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise visitor center today in Laos. Cluster bombs hang from ceiling. (Photo by Pete Souza)

Too many of these bombs did not detonate at the time. The war left most of the land contaminated with active, unexploded ordnance (UXO), in the form of cluster bombs, bullets, grenades, and mines.

They’ve taken the lives of over 20,000 Lao — often a child playing outside, or a farmer who has no choice but to cultivate on contaminated fields. As a Lao American, I felt I couldn’t help but do something.

So I devoted the past 12 years of my life to promoting greater awareness of the aftermath of war and to advocating for the resources needed to address its painful legacy.

That’s why I’m so proud to say that this week, President Obama became the first U.S. President to visit Laos, where he discussed his work to address this legacy of war and a new path forward to rebuild our relationship with Laos.

Part of my job is to visit with dozens of families in Laos who have lost a child, father, mother, husband, wife or neighbor to a 40-year-old bomb. Just last week, I met five boys who were recently involved in an accident. Their bodies were covered with fresh wounds and stitches that will leave scars for years to come. Fortunately, they survived, but they might not be so lucky next time.

Every day, teams of clearance technicians go out into the fields to detect and safely clear these bombs. It’s painstaking work. But in a country that depends on agriculture for economic development, it couldn’t be more important.

Under President Obama’s administration, and with our advocacy and support from Congress, funding for UXO clearance and support has more than tripled. And today, the President announced that the U.S. will double its annual funding toward this effort over the next three years.

These critical resources support the teams of clearance workers, as well as additional projects like a national survey to locate unexploded ordnance, support for survivors, and better public awareness on how to avoid these bombs.

The President wrote a note in the guestbook at the Cope Centre in Vientiane, Laos.

When our family left Laos, I never thought I would see my birth country again.

And I never thought that an American President would come to Laos to acknowledge the wounds that we still suffer from a decades-old war while offering resources to build a new legacy of peace. I am grateful for his leadership and so especially proud today to be American and Lao.

Kop chai lai lai — thank you.


Read the transcript of the President’s remarks at the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) Centre in Vientiane, Laos:

“Good morning, everybody. As you saw, we just had the opportunity to learn more about the very important work that’s being done here at the COPE Center, and about the magnitude of the challenge posed by unexploded ordnance.

For many people, war is something that you read about in books — you learn the names of battles, the dates of conflicts, and you look at maps and images that depict events from long ago. For the United States, one of the wars from our history is the conflict called the Vietnam War. It’s a long and complicated conflict that took the lives of many brave young Americans. But we also know that despite its American name, what we call it, this war was not contained to Vietnam. It included many years of fighting and bombing in Cambodia and here in Laos. But for all those years in the 1960s and ’70s, America’s intervention here in Laos was a secret to the American people, who were separated by vast distances and a Pacific Ocean, and there was no Internet, and information didn’t flow as easily.

For the people of Laos, obviously, this war was no secret. Over the course of roughly a decade, the United States dropped more bombs on Laos than Germany and Japan during World War II. Some 270 million cluster bomblets were dropped on this country. You can see some of these displays showing everything that landed on relatively simple homes like this, and farms and rural areas. By some estimates, more bombs per capita were dropped on Laos than any other country in the world.

For the people of Laos, war was also something that was not contained to a battlefield. In addition to soldiers and supply lines, bombs that fell from the sky killed and injured many civilians, leaving painful absences for so many families.

For the people of Laos, the war did not end when the bombs stopped falling.Eighty million cluster munitions did not explode. They were spread across farmlands, jungles, villages, rivers. So for the last four decades, Laotians have continued to live under the shadow of war. Some 20,000 people have been killed or wounded by this unexploded ordnance, or UXO.

For the people of Laos, then, these are not just statistics. These bomblets have taken the lives of farmers working in the fields, traders gathering scrap metal, children playing outside who thought these small, metal balls could be turned into a toy.

And for the people of Laos, this is also about the ability to make a good living. In communities that rely so much on agriculture, you can’t reach your potential on land that is littered with UXOs. As one farmer said, “We need our land to be cleared of bombs. If it weren’t for the bombs, I would multiply my production.”

We also know that the people of Laos are resilient. We see that determination in members of the clearance teams that we met, men and women who have worked for years — this very young lady says she’s been at it for 20 years — all across this country to find UXO and eliminate them one by one. And I’m glad that we could be joined by them today.

We see the determination in the survivors of UXOs. Some of you heard me talking to Thoummy Silamphan, who joins us here today. When he was just a young child, he was badly wounded by a UXO explosion and lost his left hand. But rather than losing hope, he’s dedicated his life to providing hope for others. Through his organization, the Quality of Life Association, Thoummy has helped survivors get medical care, find work, rebuild their lives with a sense of dignity.

And we see that determination in the many organizations like this one. Here at COPE, you provide assistance to those who have suffered because of UXO while shining a spotlight on the work that still has to be done. And in that effort, I’m very glad that America is your partner.

When I took office, we were spending $3 million each year to address the enormous challenge of UXO. We have steadily increased that amount, up to $15 million last year. This funding — together with the work of the Lao government, UXO Lao, other international donors and several non-governmental organizations — has allowed us to fund clearance efforts while also developing plans for a nationwide survey that can help locate UXO and focus clearance efforts on areas that have the most potential for economic development.

So yesterday, I was proud to announce a significant increase in America’s commitment to this work. We will invest $90 million over the next three years to this effort. Our hope is that this funding can mark a decisive step forward in the work of rolling back the danger of UXO –- clearing bombs, supporting survivors, and advancing a better future for the people of Laos.

As President of the United States, I believe that we have a profound moral and humanitarian obligation to support this work. We’re a nation that was founded on the belief in the dignity of every human being. Sometimes we’ve struggled to stay true to that belief, but that is precisely why we always have to work to address those difficult moments in history and to forge friendships with people who we once called enemies.

That belief in the value of every human being is what motivates the teams of Americans who travel to remote parts of this land to find the remains of hundreds of Americans who have been missing so that their families can receive some measure of comfort. That belief has to lead us to value the life of every young Lao boy and girl, who deserve to be freed from the fear of the shadow of a war that happened long ago.

Doing this work also builds trust. History does not have to drive us apart; it can sometimes pull us together. And addressing the most painful chapters in our history honestly and openly can create openings, as it has done in Vietnam, to work together on other issues, so that violence is replaced by peaceful commerce, cooperation, and people-to-people ties.

And above all, acknowledging the history of war and how it’s experienced concretely by ordinary people is a way that we make future wars less likely. We have to force ourselves to remember that war is not just about words written in books, or the names of famous men and battles. War is about the countless millions who suffer in the shadows of war — the innocents who die, and the bombs that remain unexploded in fields decades after.

Here in Laos, here at COPE, we see the victims of bombs that were dropped because of decisions made half a century ago and we are reminded that wars always carry tremendous costs, many of them unintended. People have suffered, and we’ve also seen, though, how people can be resourceful and resilient. It helps us recognize our common humanity. And we can remember that most people want to live lives of peace and security. We embrace the hope that out of this history, we can make decisions that lead to a better future for the people of Laos, for the United States, for the world.

Thank you very much, everybody.”

Malaysia on the right track? No


August 4, 2016bee

Malaysia on the right track? No, it has been derailed due to Corruption and Inept and hen-packed leadership

by  Soo Wern Jun

(received by e-mail)

Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak said Malaysia is on the right track towards becoming a developed nation. He was speaking at a dinner function at the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta yesterday.

He cited government’s policies and measures, such as fuel subsidy reduction and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which he said, spurred progress to benefit the people.

Comparisons were drawn with Indonesia that has a population of 261.21 million while Malaysia has 30.84 million.  He said Indonesian President Joko Widodo praised the Malaysian government’s measures and remarked that the challenges faced by Indonesia were greater, even though its policies were similar to Malaysia’s.

Does Najib realise that Indonesia has a population eight times bigger than Malaysia? Should Malaysia strive to be better, should it not compare itself with a developed nation instead?

Najib’s pedestrian solutions and quick fixes

Najib and Jokowi think that reducing fuel subsidy and implementing GST would help the countries achieve developed nation status. This could also be the very reason to why both nations are still struggling with high poverty levels.

According to the World Bank, Indonesia’s poverty rate may have declined by one per cent annually from 2007 to 2011, but has fallen by an average of only 0.3 percentage points per year since 2012.

“Out of a population of 252 million (as of May 2016), 28.6 million Indonesians still live below the poverty line and approximately 40% of all people remain clustered around the national poverty line set at 330,776 rupiah per person per month ($22.60) or RM89.50,” stated the World Bank.

While Malaysia tends to boast about its success in reducing poverty rates, why the high number of soup kitchens and non-government organisations setting up food banks to help feed those who are living below poverty line? As indicated by the World Bank, Malaysia may have a poverty of less than one per cent, but pockets of poverty remain and income inequality is high relative to other developed countries.

This is only one indication that Malaysia is far from achieving a developed nation status as it struggles to achieve income equality and become a high-income earning nation.

Education is another reason to why the country is far from achieving a developed nation. The fact that parents continue to send their children abroad to further their studies proves that the country still does not have a stable and good education system.

As highlighted by the World Bank, although Malaysia performs well in access to education, the quality of education remains low and appears to be declining rapidly by design.

“In the 2012 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), Malaysian students only outperformed Indonesian peers but lagged even lower income countries like Vietnam by a wide margin.

“Malaysian education system is most centralised and quality of teachers reportedly low with the report concluding that ‘there is an urgent need to transform Malaysia’s education system so that it produces quality graduates required by a high-income economy’,” the World Bank stated.

Critics also say too much emphasis on wealth may not be helpful in achieving the status of a developed country – as is proven with the current state of the country.

According to a research by the GlobalNxt University, achieving the income target may not be sufficient to be classified as a developed country. Citing Singapore as an example, it says the island state has exceeded that benchmark some time ago with current per capita income of staggering US$47,210 (RM191,984.23), but in many respects is still not a developed country.

Singapore is listed as a high-income economy as the country is small and per capita income may not truly reflect its real development.

Also, the process of development involves transformation of the entire society and the citizens of a developed country are expected to be highly sophisticated and generous.

Malaysians are still struggling with racial and religion problems which are still deeply influenced by the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1970 to 1990.

While the NEP had a goal to reduce poverty and to increase the participation of Malay community in overall economic activities, it has deepened the problems of racism and had widened the gap between the rich and the poor.

Malaysians are still grappling with racial and religious problems which are still deeply influenced by the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1970 to 1990.

While the NEP had a goal to reduce poverty and to increase the participation of Malay community in overall economic activities, it has deepened the problems of racism and cronyism and had widened the gap between the rich and the poor in particular among the Malays.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) acknowledged Malaysia’s commitment and clear policy to drive science, technology and innovation – a key that placed the country on the right track to achieve developed-nation status.

Are the development of science, technology and innovation seen spread equally nationwide?

The country’s Internet speed is still far lacking behind Indonesia’s, while there are far too many undeveloped areas in the country that have yet to see Internet connectivity. Is Malaysia really on a right track towards becoming a developed country?

 

A Toast to the Right to Development


New York

June 22, 2016

A Toast to the Right to Development

by Martin Khor

http://www.thestar.com.my

Many problems threatening the world can be addressed through the lens of the Right to Development – that should be celebrated on its 30th anniversary.

THE Declaration on the Right to Development is 30 years old. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1986, it has had an illustrious history, having great resonance among and giving a boost to people fighting for freedom and more participation in national affairs, as well as to developing nations striving for a fairer world economic order.

It has been invoked by the leaders and diplomats of developing countries on numerous occasions, when they try to convince their counterparts of the developed countries to show more empathy for the needs of the poorer countries.

It has a central place in the Rio Principles of the 1992 Earth Summit, and most recently it was mentioned in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

On this 30th anniversary, it is fitting to recall the important elements of this right to development. It is human and people-centred, an inalienable human right “to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.”

Politicians and policy makers should take human beings as the central focus of their development policies, and ensure they can actively participate in the process of development and development policy, as well as benefit from the fruits of development. (Article 2.3).

But the Declaration also places great importance on the international arena. States have the duty to cooperate with each other in ensuring development and eliminating obstacles to development (Article 3.3).

And effective international cooperation is essential in providing developing countries with appropriate means and facilities to foster their comprehensive development (Article 4.2).

The right to development recognises that there are national and international obstacles to the realisation of the right to development, and it calls for states to take steps to eliminate these obstacles.

It is useful to identify some present global problems and how they affect the right to development.

First, the global economy in crisis. The economic sluggishness in developed countries has had adverse impact on developing economies.

They are facing low commodity prices, and reduced export earnings. They face great fluctuations in the inflow and outflow of funds, due to absence of controls over speculative capital flows and fluctuations in the value of their currencies due to lack of a global mechanism to stabilise currencies.

Some countries are on the brink of another debt crisis. There is for them no international sovereign debt restructuring mechanism and countries that do their own debt workout may well become victims of vulture funds.

Second, the challenges of implementing appropriate development strategies.

There are challenges in developing countries to have policies right in agricultural production, ensuring adequate incomes for small farmers, and national food security.

Industrialisation involves the challenges of climbing the ladder, moving from labour-intensive low-cost industries to higher technology industries and overcoming the middle-income trap.

There are the challenges to providing social services like health care and education and water supply, lighting and transport as well as developing financial services and commerce.

This policy-making is even more difficult due to premature liberalisation, some of which is due to loan conditionality and to trade and investment agreements which also constrain policy space.

In particular, many investment agreements enable foreign investors to take advantage of imbalanced provisions and shortcomings in the arbitration system that cause countries to lose a lot in compensation and also have a chill effect on their right to regulate and to formulate policies. A review is needed.

Third, climate change is an outstanding example of an environmental constraint to development and the right to development. There is an imperative to cut global emissions as sharply and quickly as possible. But which countries and which groups within countries should cut emissions, and by how much?

The danger is that the burden will mainly be passed on to developing and poorer countries and to the poor and vulnerable in each country.

The Paris Agreement of December 2015 was a success in terms of reaching a multilateral deal.

But it is not ambitious enough to save humanity, and it also failed to deliver confidence that the promised transfers of finance and technology will take place. Much more has to be done and within a few years.

Fourth, the crisis of anti-microbial resistance brings dangers of a post-antibiotic age. Many diseases are becoming increasingly difficult to treat because bacteria have become more and more resistant to anti-microbials.

The World Health Organisation Director General has warned that every antibiotic ever developed is at risk of becoming useless and that we are entering a post-antibiotic era.

The World Health Assembly in 2015 adopted a global plan of action to address anti-microbial resistance but the challenge is in the implementation.

Developing countries require funds and technology such as microscopes and diagnostic tools; they also need to have access to existing and new antibiotics at affordable prices.

Fifth, the challenges of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, which are closely linked to the right to development.

For example, Goal 3 is “to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. One of the targets is to achieve universal health coverage, that no one should be denied treatment because they cannot afford it. But unless there are sufficient funds, this will remain an unfulfilled noble target.

The treatment for HIV/AIDS became more widespread only when generics were made available at cheaper prices, and since then millions of lives have been saved.

Many of the new cancer drugs and the new “biologics” are priced above US$100,000 (RM408,850) for a year’s treatment. Unfortu­nately, due to global patent rules, most patients have no access to cheaper generics.

For the SDGs to succeed, finance and technology have to be transferred to developing countries and some international rules on trade and intellectual property have to be altered if they are found to be obstacles to the right to development.

All the above global challenges have to be diagnosed as to where they comprise obstacles to realising the right to development, and the obstacles should then be removed.

That is easier said than done. But the Declaration has thrown light on the way ahead.

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

 

 

 

WEF ASEAN 2016–Opening Plenary Shaping the ASEAN Agenda for Inclusion and Growth


June 1, 2016

WEF ASEAN 2016–Opening Plenary Shaping the ASEAN Agenda for Inclusion and Growth

Listen to Prime Minister of Malaysia. Don’t you think he should start with Malaysia first and get on with good governance? Right now, Malaysia is credibility is low. We want good and competent leaders. Otherwise, it is all empty talk. Prime Minister Najib Razak,just do not play with words.–Din Merican

The American Dream: Detroit’s resuscitation


April 4, 2016

The American Dream: Detroit’s resuscitation

by Shrey Srivastava

If one could epitomise the phrase “could have been” in one simple image, it would indubitably be the image of Detroit. The unyielding forces of time have taken a once great city and denigrated it to the status of one of not only one of America’s most economically destitute, but also one of its most dangerous regions. Nowadays, Detroit carries many of the hallmarks of the lesser developed countries of the world, especially with roughly 47% of the population being described as “functionally illiterate” by The National Institute for Literacy, a rate only 13.8% higher than that of Afghanistan. Despite this, Detroit still carries as much, if not more potential as it did in the 20th century, and is simply crying out for some economic solutions to its varied and diverse range of problems. Much of Detroit’s high crime rate can, in truth, be narrowed down to a high unemployment rate, leading to a lack of jobs for people to occupy themselves with, so even this ailment, is, at its core, financial. What this means is that there is still hope for this long-suffering city, as long as the relevant American policymakers act in a fashion that is both effective and sustainable; alas, it is clear to see that this has not happened thus far. Nevertheless, what I endeavour to achieve with this article is to perhaps shed some light on how Detroit can again become the bustling, cosmopolitan hub that it once was, through, primarily, the introduction of a special economic zone.

Special economic zones, which seem like a highly unusual step for a developed country such as the USA, may in fact be a simple and effective solution to revitalise the city of Detroit. The step of making the city a special economic, or more specifically, an industrial zone could potentially be the catalyst for a holistic revitalisation of the Detroit economy. In a nutshell, an industrial zone is a zone specifically made out for industrial development, where tax cuts and tax holidays, among other financial incentives, would incentivise corporations to set up operations in Michigan’s largest city.

Detroit’s unemployment rate was a whopping 29% during the worst that we saw of the 2008 recession, meaning that more than 1 in 4 people were unemployed at the time. Despite having reduced somewhat due to, among other causes, a steady outflow of people from the city, unemployment rates are still grossly high, and if Detroit wants to reverse its fall from grace, this is one of its first facets that need changing. The only way to do this, in truth, is by somehow persuading businesses to come to this dilapidated zone of urban decay, and invest in the revitalisation of the area. Now, feasibly, the only way in which this can happen is by supplying them with the aforementioned financial incentives to encourage them to locate in Detroit, supplying jobs for a great proportion of the population. This is the intuitive first step to Detroit’s regeneration.

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Functional illiteracy, as alluded to above, is also a major proverbial roadblock to the future success of Detroit. The solution to this is almost as obvious as its problems itself; to invest more in education. Despite politicians’ repeated assertions stating the importance of education, they themselves seem not to believe in what they say, the evidence of which lies in Detroit’s astonishingly abysmal literacy rates. Regardless, education is quite frankly one of the most important facets of any developed region, so for Detroit’s schools to be in the state they are in (as repeatedly shown by the mass media) is frankly shocking. Needless to say, this can only be solved through an increase in education spending in the city, which would give a better education to many residents of the city, thus giving them more transferable skills with which to work and earn money. In addition to this, education has a vital role to play in keeping school-aged adolescents off the streets, thus reducing crime rates, and making the city overall more attractive for people to relocate to. With the low house prices across the whole of Detroit nowadays, it could prove a popular location for many individuals desiring a lower cost of living, if only there was a basic level of security and educational services in the area. By spending more on education, many of Detroit’s fundamental problems could perhaps be ameliorated or even eradicated altogether.

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To make sure that Detroit does not fall prey to the same evils which caused its dilapidation decades ago, they need to learn from their various mistakes. The biggest of these was to rely far too much on the car industry, which turned into its Achilles heel when Ford Motors, among other corporations, left the city. Diversification is the key here to financial prosperity, as Detroit needs to ensure that when one industry perhaps fails in the city, there are many others to continue to back up the city financially. This was exactly the problem with the city before; they did not have a backup plan for when demand for automobiles lessened. The conversion of Detroit into an industrial zone and a renewed focus on education will only be sustainable if the city manages to provide wide-ranging sources of income; otherwise, they will simply consign themselves to the same fate as before. In addition, without diversification, a great deal of brain drain would occur, with talented residents leaving the city due to lack of opportunity in their chosen field of expertise. As such, it is crucially important for Detroit to spread its roots far, not deep, if they want to ensure their continued financial prosperity. Of course, in addition to the 3 economic reforms outlined here, much social reform needs to take place in the city before we can truly say that it has been regenerated, but these financial steps provide the building blocks to restore Detroit, again, into a great pillar of the USA.

 

 

Listen to Tshering Tobgay, Enlightened Prime Minister of Bhutan


 

March 26, 2016

Listen to Tshering Tobgay, Enlightened Prime Minister of Bhutan at TED

We in Malaysia can learn a thing or two from a landlocked nation like Bhutan about good governance and global citizenship. We have a corrupt leadership and a mismanaged economy, whereas Bhutan has a democracy which  was imposed upon its people  by its revered King and a government which cares for its citizens, manages its affairs in an exemplary manner, and protects the environment. Pristine Bhutan is not just a carbon neutral nation; it is a carbon negative one.

Let us protect our environment, fight climate change and, as  the Prime Minister of Bhutan, H.E. Tshering Tobgay said, let us do it together.–Din Merican